Jewish Guy of the Week – RJ

Your Facebook profile says “RJ Matt Brodsky”…  Is Matt your real first name and RJ a nickname?  What’s the deal?  I’ve always wondered…
Good question and one I’m frequently asked. My real first name is Matthew but really, only my Mother calls me that and usually, because I did something wrong. “RJ” is a nickname a friend gave to me when I switched schools when I was younger. He thought it would be amusing to introduce me as “RJ” instead of “Matt” and so the nickname stuck with me. Or, at least that’s my story and I’m sticking with it. Funny thing is when I was living in Israel, many Israelis had trouble pronouncing it because there is no “J” sound in Hebrew. They would pronounce it as a Yud instead and call me Aryeh, which means “lion” in Hebrew. And yes, I still have met people in the U.S. who will ask me how to spell my name. In most cases, my inner-smartass can’t resist answering it’s “Are-Jay.”


As long we’re talking about names, the name of your band — “Paul Pfau & The Dimestore Band” — also confuses me.  Explain?
As a band, Dimestore has been around for several years and there have been many versions of the band before this line-up. Paul came along after the last lead singer spontaneously combusted and the rest is history. With his writing, singing, and playing capabilities, we have a newer sound. We are also called, “PPDB” or “Dimestore” for short, but Paul has really brought the band to the next level. Come see a show and you’ll understand why.

How did you get involved with the band?  How long have you been playing keyboard?
Interestingly enough, the story of how I became involved in the band revolves around the Jewish community here. Over a year ago, I met Amy, Stacy, and Becky at a young professional BBQ at Adas Israel. We quickly became great friends and that summer we ended up going to most of the Screen on the Green movies. On one of those Mondays, I went to pick up Amy and she had invited another friend, Michael, to join. She introduced me to him and he mentioned that he played the electric cello for an original funk rock band. I told him that I play the keys and used to sing for an original funk rock band. They were looking for keys; I was looking for artistic expression. The fit was natural.

I’ve been playing keyboards since I was around nine or ten years old. Like many kids, my parents had me taking violin lessons from first through third grade but I didn’t enjoy it. We took a family trip—my first trip to DC—when I was probably around eight years old. As I recall, we ended up staying at the Marriott in Woodley Park in a suite that happened to have a piano. I remember plucking out some notes and deciding then that the piano was meant to be my instrument. I played professionally for many years after college where I double-majored in Music Marketing and Middle Eastern Studies.

Tell us about some of the stuff the band has coming up.
This has been an unbelievable summer for us musically and we have had and continue to have a tremendous amount going on. On Thursday, August 25, we are returning to play at the 9:30 Club for the second month in a row. That is an honor by itself as the venue has recently been rated as one of the most influential clubs in America. But this Thursday show is the finals in California Tortilla’s Battle to Break Out. Our band is in the final three from a wide pool of talent from DC, Maryland, and Virginia. There will be judges there and the winner will play at this year’s HFStival in September at the Merriweather Post Pavillion. So it will be a huge night for us, win or lose. We could use all the support we can get from our fans so I hope to see many people there. We are playing at 9pm. Also, the following Friday, September 2, we are having our CD release show for our new album, “7” at the Rock & Roll Hotel. We continue to tour the region on weekends and still have several outdoor festivals coming up where we are headlining. The most up to date information is on our website at www.funkyrockandroll.com

Remember how we all had to choose personal theme songs for our high school graduation publications?  I (Stephen) chose “Damn It Feels Good To Be a Gangster.”  Fitting.  As a musician, is it something you take a bit more seriously?  What are some of the songs that have best described you over the past few years?  YouTube links please!
Hmmmmmm. I’m having visions of that super cheesy pseudo-uplifting song from the original Karate Kid. I think it was called, “You’re the Best Around,” by Joe Esposito. Okay, not really—but that was an insanely bad song that would get stuck in my mind for hours. In fact, I think new kinds of cheese were invented just to describe that tune. Back then, anything from U2 was getting heavy play on my stereo in addition to REM—hmmmm, I think I’m starting to see a pattern pertaining to my apparent love of abbreviations. As far as songs that best describe me? That’s a tough call. I have written many songs over the years so they all describe me better than anything commercially available on the radio. And sometimes words can get in the way of music that genuinely expresses something real and deep.

You write songs too?!  Do you want to write GTJ’s theme song?  What would it be like?
Yes, I am a songwriter as well. A GTJ theme song? Count me in. Off the top of my head I’m hearing something over the top—a positive harmonic convergence like the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it Be Nice.” There are many directions we could go here. I’d be happy to explore.

When you’re not rocking out, you work for the Jewish Policy Center, correct?  What goes on there and what do you do?|
Ah yes. I definitely have two sides. I am the director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center. It is a 501(c)3 think tank that focuses primarily on the Middle East and issues of great importance to the Jewish community. I write op-eds, give speeches, talk to important people, and generally seek to positively affect U.S. foreign policy. Our organization has a journal, inFOCUS Quarterly, that I edit with brilliant contributors. Our upcoming issue is on the current Palestinian push for a unilateral declaration of statehood. We also have had the Palestinian Rocket Report and that will soon be expanded into GazaWatch, a program spearheaded by Samara G. And we have conferences and forums across the country. Our next one is on September 8th in New York. Michael Medved is the moderator and Ari Fleischer, Donald Rumsfeld, and Michael Mukasey will be on the panel. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting panel or event within several days of the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.

Ok.  Top three issues facing Israel today are:
1) The “Arab Spring.” No one knows how this will turn out and each Arab state is different. History will record how monumental these events are. Getting this wrong would be devastating to American and Jewish interests.

2) While the “Arab Spring” is unfolding and we hope it doesn’t become winter, Iran is still pursuing a nuclear program and developing the missiles to deliver it as a weapon. The regime in Tehran doesn’t mix words when they say that they would prefer that Israel not exist. This issue should be #1 but events on the ground have shifted our attention. At the moment, Iran is bolstering the Asad regime in Syria as they slaughter their own citizens, and they together control Hezbollah in Lebanon. At the same time, they support Hamas in Gaza. There may be many sides in the Middle East, but a region where Khameni from Iran, Asad from Syria, Nasrallah from Lebanon/Hezbollah, and Haniyeh or Mishal from Hamas are making gains is bad for the U.S. and very bad for Jewish people.

3) This one is equally important. The Jewish identification with Israel has been fading. Israel is the center of Judaism. Rebuilding Jerusalem is central in Jewish prayer. You can’t Bench or do the Birkat Ha’Mazon, without paying homage to the Jewish center in Jerusalem or recalling the Exodus from Egypt to Israel. This should be central but it fades for many reasons. As young professionals, we are not our parents’ or grandparents’ generation. We are not the Holocaust generation. We appear comfortable in the United States—as we should anywhere as Jews. But governments, people, and many organizations think Israel should not exist at all, and the slope has proven slippery when it comes to the line between anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic. There is no shortage of pet-causes to support. Today, it is fashionable to bash Israel. American Jews don’t know enough history to respond in campuses across the United States. I don’t think young professional Jews in the United States fully appreciate how hard it was for them to have this opportunity. This was never a given. As Jews we should appreciate this. That’s why I love programs like Birthright Israel or summer camps such as Ramah, or GTJ. I say, Gather the Jews! Let’s talk; let’s bond; let’s reflect; let’s go on.

Ok.  Top three issues facing you today are:
I see.

So is one of these personal questions here where I’m supposed to tear up?

I really love where I am at in life and I see the future as endless possibilities. I’m not sure if ‘issues’ best describes what I’m facing but every day I wake up and think “how can I affect Jewish thinking?” I also think, “how can I reach someone through music and connect through art?”   I’m also looking for a special woman that is so unbelievably cool, rare, honest, beautiful, loving, that I would marry her. I suppose websites were invented for this task. I guess I want it all.

My eyes are open.

If you could change one thing about the young professional DC Jewish community, it would be:?
It would be that new arrivals to the DC area would stay longer. At the same time, there is a constant influx of new young professional Jews, and it seems that just as many are leaving.  Only three years have passed but I’m feeling the roots are already established.

As far as changing anything else in the Jewish community? I have honestly not been a part of a better, more widespread, and diverse Jewish community in any place I’ve lived. When I moved here in August of 2008, I didn’t know anyone. I went to young Jewish professional events to meet people. I’ve met some of my best friends by doing this.

I really see DC as a model for other cities. It’s a big community here. Look at New York. Very many Jews, but the Jewish identity aspect loses out. In DC there are so many options. I wouldn’t change much about the young Jewish professional DC Jewish community. I would simply say, gather more Jews more frequently.

Let’s build this community!