Josh Nelson
Internationally Renowned Jewish Musician, Educator, & Activist

One Sermon. One Song. One and Only.

A rabbi (who is also one of my dearest friends) once taught me that “everyone only has one sermon…”

I’ve thought deeply about her lesson. While all humans are inherently complex creatures, each of us seems to have a core message, a distilled ideology that shows up (consciously or unconsciously) in our thoughts, our conversations, and our actions.

Over time, I’ve tried to isolate and define exactly what my “one sermon” might be. Unsurprisingly, it only became clear when I expressed it through a piece of music.

All things considered, I feel like my personal “one sermon” has more relevance today than ever before. And as Shavuot illuminates our ongoing relationship with Torah, I feel compelled to share it…

At the core of my work, there has always been a simple message that transcends my creative/artistic output, my spiritual journey, and my daily intentionality. It is a personal distillation of Torah that defines my spirit. I have found that it angers a small subset of the Jewish community, those that consider the concept of universal spiritual equality as a heretical idea that challenges their narrow interpretation of the “chosen people” construct. 

Reading back some of my previous writing, I found this passage:

“Monochromatic faith is like tossing a baseball in the air and catching it yourself. Sure, you are technically throwing and catching, but it’s ultimately a poor substitute for tossing the ball around with another person. You learn, you adjust, you see more clearly when another person plays catch with you. You appreciate how the ball approaches you in different ways, and you enjoy throwing it back and forth. It builds camaraderie. It creates relationships. It puts us all on the same field. I want to live in a world where everyone gets to play catch.”

Right now, when we are forced to be apart, it’s more important than ever to remember our shared humanity, to transcend the issues that divide us, and to embrace the fact that despite our temporary physical separation, we are all moving through this life together.

This is my Torah: We are all made of the same stuff. Each of us is created in the divine image, born into a universal family of human beings, and blessed with equal access to God in all of God’s forms. There is nothing more powerful than this unbreakable, holy connection we share.

When weighed against our similarities, our differences are strikingly minimal. Though each of us is beautifully unique in our own way, we are still kindred beings. And when we focus on what connects us rather than what separates us, we cannot help but grow closer to God and to each other.

“If your God is my God, and my God is everything,
aren’t we all, aren’t we all, part of one God?
So, let your God be my God and our God be everything.
Oh, we’ll all know we’re all part of one God.

So open up your heart, to all the lost and lonely.
Let no one be
alone tonight,
before our One and Only.”

These lyrics have become the chorus of a new song/video called “One and Only.” If you’d like to check out how this “one sermon” was expressed as art, it is available here: tr.im/OneandOnlyJN

Wishing you a deep and meaningful Shavuot.

Be strong and stay safe.

-jn

About the Author
One of the most popular performers and composers in modern Jewish music, Josh Nelson brings his extraordinary message of hope, unity and spirituality to concert stages and worship services across the globe. Josh is a gifted multi-instrumentalist and songwriter whose work is celebrated and integrated into the repertoire of congregations, camps and communities around the world. A classically trained musician who is equally versed in rock, jazz and world music, Josh combines his broad range of influences into a breathtaking musical style that is accessible to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Josh previously served as director of Jazz Programs and an adjunct professor at Boston University, where he is currently completing a doctoral degree in music. While he performs professionally on as many as thirteen different instruments (though not at the same time), he is most widely considered an extraordinary guitarist, pianist, and vocalist. Recently hailed by Time Magazine as a “star of the New Jewish Music,” Josh is the music director for the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial Convention, faculty for the Hava Nashira Music Institute, and a musical artist in residence for the JCC Maccabi Artsfest. He also serves as a member of the URJ Faculty of Expert Practitioners, is the recipient of a PresentenseNYC Fellowship, and is an active member of the Schusterman ROI Community. Josh leads high holiday services at New York’s historic 92nd St. Y, and is the founder and creative director of THEWAREHOUSE, an alternative Shabbat experience for unaffiliated young Jews in major metropolitan areas. Performance highlights include: International Symphony of Peace Prayers, Mt. Fuji, Japan; March of the Living, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland; South by Southwest (SXSW), Austin, TX; Limmud Conferences, Warwick, UK and Istanbul, Turkey; international conventions for each of the major youth movements in the USA (NFTY, USY, BBYO, etc.); URJ Biennial Conventions; the USCJ Centennial Convention; JCCA National Conventions; JCC Maccabi Games; CAJE Conferences; and Jewish music festivals, synagogues, and concert halls around the world.
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