If you’re into power pop (a musical sub-genre that originated when melodies started coming back into punk music), then you’re probably a fan of The Lilacs. Since 1990, the band has recorded The Lilacs Love You, The Lilacs Hate You, The Lilacs Rise Above the Filth, and Penelope. Frontman David Levinsky sings and plays guitar.
Their most recent release, Endure, is doing well. Rodney Bingenheimer (also known as the Mayor of the Sunset Strip) gave it play on SiriusXM. That’s a big deal. Rodney has been a tastemaker since the early ‘70s and introduced music greats like David Bowie, Oasis, and the Go-Go’s to American radio.
The Lilacs — Ken Kurson, Tom Whalen, Arthur Kim, and David — recorded four new songs at Winfield Scott “Scotty” Moore III’s (Elvis’ guitar player) studio in Nashville and were produced by Richard Lloyd from the band Television.
“It was a dream to be playing again with a musician of Richard’s stature,” says David. In the past year, The Lilacs have played at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, England (the birthplace of The Beatles), the International Pop Overthrow festival in New York City, and in Chicago.
But maybe power-pop music isn’t your thing. Maybe, you know David from temple. In which case, you know he’s the rabbi of Temple Har Shalom in Park City. “Reform Jewish communities are increasingly diverse,” says David. “I’m pleasantly surprised by how many young people we have in our congregation. Jews are marrying non-Jews, our communities are more welcoming, we have LGBT members, and Park City is no longer an empty-nester playground, people are raising families here.”
Being a rabbi was a childhood dream for David. A scholar of religion with a doctorate from Stanford, he attended rabbinical school in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem — dedicating 12 years to graduate school. That education informs his approach. “It’s important that people understand the historical context of where and when these scriptures were written,” he says. “Only then can they use them in a responsible manner and create inspirational, personal forms of religion for the present day.”
For him, music bridges ancient text and contemporary services. “I’m a rock musician — that makes me happy, and I’m proud of it,” he says. “Music is an essential part of our services at Har Shalom. I play acoustic guitar and sing. Some of the melodies are common to Reform Judaism, and others I wrote.”
David also used to be a serious skateboarder. After he was injured in a fall, he learned to ski. Now, the only ski-in, ski-out Jewish religious service in the U.S. is at Deer Valley Resort; Friday afternoons at 3 p.m. in the Sunset Cabin. It might be one of the coolest ways to practice religion. Ever.
“About 10 years ago, I realized I had all these different parts of me that I loved: Judaism, studying, and playing rock ‘n’ roll,” he says. “I kept them in separate boxes. I thought, what if I was just all of these things at once? Would I be happier? And the answer was yes.”
David is all about integrating various passions or identities to create a more authentic whole. “I try to meet people where they are. I don’t try to change people,” he says. “I ask: How would Judaism inspire this person to make the world better?” Then he nudges them forward, whether it’s comfortable or not. Because being whole is a beautiful thing.
“I’m a 52-year-old rabbi jetting around the world playing in a rock band,” David says. “How did this happen to me? I’m amazed and filled with genuine joy.”