Interview with Julie Geller: Mom, Singer, and Songwriter

Just Julie Geller and her guitar (JulieGeller.com).

Just Julie Geller and her guitar (JulieGeller.com).

Editor’s Note: Altcatholicah is committed to interfaith dialogue and fostering fruitful conversation about faith and gender. Here, Melissa Langsam Braunstein interviews a Jewish singer and songwriter about the challenges of balancing career and motherhood as well as about the role her faith plays in influencing her music.

Julie Geller is living her musical dream. The Denver-based mother of three children aged three to eleven, writes and performs her own music. Her melodies are catchy and her lyrics, whether Jewish or secular, are inspiring. She recently spoke with me about parenting, performing, and Passover.

How do you juggle motherhood, teaching, and a singing career?

I work during school hours. I used to work from 9:30 am-12:30pm, then the youngest would nap and I’d work for a few more hours, but she’s stopped napping. So now, I take the kids to school, work after they’re asleep, and at 5 a.m. before everyone else is up.

I feel so lucky to do what I’m doing that I don’t mess around. I just work. I travel in short spurts so I don’t miss the kids too much. I try to be as present as possible for both my family and my work. The key is not to make excuses and use your time. No more “I’d do this, if only that.” I also give myself two or three years to be with my kids when they’re little, before ramping up fully with work again.

Both you and your husband have fathers who trained as Rabbis. Does that impact your life and parenting?

I get so much inspiration from the Jewish prayers, holidays, and Psalms. My kids go to an Orthodox day school, even though we’re not party-line Orthodox. We value our kids speaking Hebrew and knowing religious texts. They can use this knowledge in any way they want later, say, by becoming another Marc Chagall, but it’s important that they have this knowledge. Shabbat is also huge for us. My parents and in-laws are nearby, so it’s a special time when we all get together.

Your song “Please Don’t Go” captures that universal parental wish to stop time. Did something specific inspire you to write it now?

It’s something that’s been bubbling inside me. It’s coming to terms with likely not having another child, unless G-d intervenes. With my youngest, whenever she does things, I’m aware it’s probably the last time I’ll see it, and I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I’m definitely done having kids. Also, at eleven, my oldest is already in a different stage.

How does the “I Believe in Miracles” song define “miracle”?

I think of my song “Min HaMetzar,” the idea that you’ve been constricted, suddenly you aren’t, and all that’s changed is something internal. That’s a miracle.

This time of year, how do you involve your kids in Passover preparations?

This year, we’ll have them write a play or skit; my husband did that growing up. My daughter is artistic, so she’ll do Seder decorations. My eleven-year-old boy is a CEO type who likes organizing, so he’ll post signs in cleaned areas. They clean their rooms and study Passover in school. We teach them songs, and they stay up until the Seder ends at 2 a.m. They’re part of everything.

Does your Seder involve a lot of singing?

Definitely! Among our favorite Passover songs are “Chad Gadya,” sung with two or three parts. We sing all the tunes we know. We sing “Who Knows One?” in Ladino and all of Hallel. Wherever the Haggadah has a song, we sing. Since we host the Seders now, we get to sing all we want.

Part the Waters” mentions a man named Nachshon, who bravely crossed the Red Sea first. Who is he?

There’s a PJ Library book on him, Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim [https://www.pjlibrary.org/Books-and-Music/BooksDetail.aspx?bookId=47]. He’s in a Midrash, not the text. Nobody was willing to go in the water, but he did up to his nose. He had total faith in G-d, so he’s very inspiring. He makes us ask, is your compass looking at people around you, or is it looking at G-d? If it’s the latter, you can do brave things, regardless of what others think.

Can you describe your new Passover song?

I released a new song called “Raise Your Hand” on April 8. My husband generated the title and concept, and my son helped with the imagery. It’s inspired by the Haggadah’s instruction that each person is obligated to feel as though they themselves went out of Egypt. It’s about knowing our history and using it to move into our present and future.

Watch the “Raise Your Hand” video by visiting Julie’s blog, www.juliegeller.com.

Melissa Langsam Braunstein, a former State Department speechwriter, is a freelance writer in Washington, DC.

This article appeared in Altcatholicah.

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