Tubman and Torah


Performance on Egyptian Bondage and American Slavery Comes to Owings Mills.

“Liberation in Our Bones Creator” Marques Hollie. Photo by Basil Rodericks.

(Update: March 11), This event has been postponed.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to postpone our March 15 event with Marques Hollie, ‘Liberation in our Bones,’” said Beth Israel Congregation of Owings Mills’ administration in an email. “We are planning to reschedule this event when the Coronavirus is no longer a threat to public health. We want everyone who wishes to attend to feel safe with the large crowd we expected to be present for Marques Hollie’s program. He has expressed his willingness to come at a better time for all involved. Beth Israel’s first priority is ensuring a healthy and safe environment for our members and guests.”

“Some of the inspiration for this came several years ago at a Passover Seder with a Haggadah that was focused on the issue of human trafficking,” said Marques Hollie, tenor, “Jewsician,” and creator of “Liberation in our Bones,” a musical-narrative exploration that will be performed at Beth Israel Congregation of Owings Mills, March 15 at 4 p.m.

“And that really got me thinking about what kind of parallels there are between Passover and modern issues … between American chattel slavery and Passover.”

“Liberation” is intended to “show the connection between Harriet Tubman and Moses, using storytelling and music in the tradition of Negro spirituals and some things that I’ve written in this vein,” said Hollie. Aside from some possible piano accompaniment, it will essentially be a one-man show starring Hollie. The program is sponsored by the Sabina and Walter Dorn Education Endowment Fund.

Portrait of abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Photos.com

“Harriet Tubman and Moses are both symbols of freedom, fighting for liberation of their people,” said Valerie Thaler, Beth Israel’s synagogue director. Thaler said that the theme of liberation forms a connection between Jewish and African American history, and that Hollie’s music will touch on both of those histories. “Given that on Passover we celebrate the freeing of the Jews from slavery, you can see the connection this time of year.”

According to Thaler, Hollie’s performances explore what it means to have “multiple identities, such as what it means to be Jewish, black, and queer.”

Hollie said that his spiritual journey toward Judaism began in his early 20s, after leaving the Evangelical Pentecostal Church, “which left a spiritual crisis, and launched an exploration of ‘what do I believe,’” he said.

He eventually began studying the Kabbalah, which in turn led him toward more mainstream Judaism. “I will say what I found interesting about Kabbalah,” Hollie said, “is that Judaism is a major world religion, and yet it made space for the mystical, and Christianity does not do that.”

At one point, he was invited to a synagogue service. When reciting the Shema, “in that moment I felt like my spirit had returned home,” Hollie said, “and I knew that is where I was meant to be.”

Hollie officially converted to Judaism about two years ago, he said.

Beth Israel hopes to attract a diverse segment of the local community for the performance, according to Thaler. “Certainly we’re trying to appeal to as many members of the Jewish community as possible,” she said, “in addition to doing outreach with African American audiences.”

“Liberation in Our Bones Creator” Marques Hollie. Photo by Basil Rodericks.

When asked what she hopes the audience will take away from the performance, Thaler said that “I hope that people feel a message of hope in a time of great divisions in society. Perhaps a message of unification and of strength and inspiration.”

“With our tradition, we spend a lot of time engaging with thoughts and practices that are thousands of years old,” Hollie said, “and looking for ways to make them relevant to all Jews in our era. I hope that whoever comes finds a new way to connect with Passover and the themes of liberation there.”

Beth Israel Congregation is located at 3706 Crondall Lane, Owings Mills. For more information, call 410-654-0800.


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