Rebecca Ramo-Cofino

Matisyahu and a Glimmer of Hope

Matisyahu 3/2/2024 Photo Credit: Rebecca Ramo-Cofino

Last Saturday, a crowd of Denver Jews gathered together at the Ogden theater, unsure of what to anticipate in the coming hours. The variety of religious observance among Jewish concert goers was particularly diverse, creating a compelling atmosphere from the get-go.

The headlining performer was Matisyahu, a reggae singer and rap artist who infuses modern music with spiritual Judaic themes. The age range was also uniquely wide, and it is highly plausible that the majority of concert goers were not Jewish. (The Ogden Theater can hold about 1600, and the venue was full.)

I had last seen Matisyahu right here, at the Ogden, in 2008. It was a sleepier Denver at that time, and a matinee performance. It was also before last October 7th, a time when extreme anti-Israel bias and antisemitic seedlings mostly kept to themselves on elite college campuses. A public Israeli flag was not controversial and one didn’t really have to think twice about having a visible Jewish identity.

That world had been starting to slow-dissolve even then, and in 2024, it is certainly gone.

Gone…except for a magical, spellbinding few hours when Matisyahu resurrected it for us.

He opened with “Tzama Lecha Nafshi,” (My soul thirsts for you,) a melody attributed to Rabbi Shneir Zalman of Liadi. (1) This was the first of many mesmerizing moments when Jewish attendees were stunned into feeling spiritual safety.

He made sure to perform his older hits like “King Without His Crown,” eliciting the safe nostalgia of decades ago, but with his more recent vibe, which kept it current. 

Against the backdrop of massive antisemitism and the forced cancellation of Matisyahu’s concerts in other states (2,) we waited for the booing, the accusations of genocide, a storm of protestors on stage–or something more sinister while he performed…and they simply didn’t materialize. We all felt an inner gasp as he draped himself in an Israeli flag. But no one protested. Only cheering and listening. We needed to blink a few times to in order fully recognize this utopian reality–which, for other nations, is simply normal. 

Matisyahu dedicated the concert to the hostages taken from Israel. There should be nothing controversial about calling for the release of hostages…And there wasn’t. There was no “mixed reaction” to support for the Jewish state or any cowardly need to pretend Israel and the Jews have no connection.

Similarly, when concert attendees exited the venue, no sea of swastikas, calls of “by any means necessary,” or accusations of genocide and ethnic cleansing, greeted the people exiting a concert, with the words of Matisyahu’s unbelievable finale of “One Day,” still swirling around in our ears. 

As we poured out into the lobby, which was all of a sudden a birthright trip or youth group convention, at least three generations of Jews were singing “Am Yisrael Chai!” and “Od Avinu Chai!” In those moments, there was no distinction between the old, the young, the affluent, the struggling, alone, in a group, observant, or not. We were all on Ben Yehuda street and at the Western Wall, in a Messianic bubble on Colfax and Ogden.

About the Author
Rebecca Ramo-Cofino is a satirist, singer, special education teacher, and amateur violinist. She currently is the head of a special education department in Denver Public Schools. Her unique voice is informed by her extensive experience in education, as well as her involvement in many different types of Jewish communities.
Related Topics
Related Posts