Remembering Jewlia Eisenberg, 1972-2021, z"l
Almost 25 years ago, my wife and I attended a Bar Mitzvah on the Lower East Side in an historic synagogue. Good friends provided the dance music, but what I remember most isn't the Bar Mitzvah, nor the location, nor the band, but a young woman, radiating energy and life, who got the assembled guests singing Israeli folk songs together.
Jewlia Eisenberg, that singer, passed away March 11, 2021, of complications from a rare auto-immune disorder, after a compressed lifetime of making some of the most interesting, innovative, wonderful human music.
First recorded in a band called "Charming Hostess," which provided a place to explore everything from Balkan and Israeli and Yiddish and anything else that offered a place to express the sheer joy of singing, and then on to more avant garde music—including setting Walter Benjamin's love letters to music, setting poems composed during the siege of Sarajevo, and then the "Bowls project," in which she found art-song, spirtual, and Americana settings for ancient Babylonian blessings and curses.
Most recently, sensing that something else was needed, she and Jeremiah Lockwood formed "Book of J" and sang old protest songs and other topical songs, returning to the sing-alongs—and joy and energy of making good music, with which she started.
Along the way, she was a good friend. She introduced me to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and to the erotic poetry of Yiddish poet/author Celia Dropkin. We tried to get together whenever she was in town to give a workshop or a concert. During the KlezmerShack's 10th anniversary year, we managed to get a gig together in a small coffeehouse/women's book store and brought in three members of "ChoHo"—Charming Hostess.
One of my fondest memories was providing places for most of the band to stay, on the same weekend that my Business School professor brother visited from Israel and our youngest son brought his college girlfriend home for a first visit. It was a full, wonderful house of people and Jewlia is part of why it was special.
Jewlia exemplified the exuberance and joy of making good music, and her many friendships and considerable influence reflect that. There are many people who knew her far better, but that was Jewlia—even those of us on the periphery were drawn in and sustained by her work and the joy with which she lived it. We miss her tremendously