Noam, left, and Jonah Brenner have their own brand of what they like to call Jewish “mad rock,” full of throaty, screaming lyrics. Staffers at the Jewish music label JDub love the music and say it has “a cool urgency.” Their first track made it onto the JDub homepage in March.
Photo by Johanna Ginsberg
Making the list
If the Brenner kids take their moment of fame in stride, perhaps it’s a trait they have learned from their more prominent dad. On snagging spot number 28 on Newsweek’s list of the 50 most influential rabbis, Daniel Brenner said, “I’m not even the most influential rabbi on my block. The Conservative rabbi, he’s more influential here than me!”
Brenner first learned about his coup in an e-mail from an employee at Birthright Israel, where Brenner conducts alumni affairs. “I think it’s very silly,” he said, but he acknowledged that it does help to position him to accomplish his agenda.
“It raises awareness of the organization and what we’re trying to do. I do think that’s cool,” he said.
April 23, 2009
The sound has the screaming urgency of punk rock. The lyrics question everything. A snippet of their first recording, heard on the blog of the hip Jewish music site JDub Records, is appropriately titled “Why Why Why.”
But the Brenner boys are not exactly alienated punk rockers. Rather, Noam and Jonah Brenner are 10-year-old identical twins in the fifth grade at Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union.
And if they’re not exactly household names in the tradition of the Jonas Brothers, give them time. JDub even has a name for their “minimal, raw, urgent, no-rules brand of music”: “kidcore” — a tribute both to hardcore punk and the Australian Jewish punk band Yidcore.
“We kept playing the track in the office because it has a cool urgency to it,” said JDub chief operating officer Jacob Harris. “It’s on all of our iTunes lists.”
The duo does not yet have a name, although “Jonah and his Brother” (groan) and “The Jewish Brothers” are currently under consideration.
The boys, with longish hair and surfer dude shirts decorated with guitars and skulls, sat sheepishly in the living room of their Montclair home on April 12, slowly relaxing into a conversation with a visitor.
Their father, Rabbi Daniel Brenner, was only slightly less casual in his baseball cap, button-down shirt, jeans, and Teva sandals. Their mom, Lisa Silberman Brenner, is a playwright and assistant professor of theater at Drew University. But only dad was around on this particular day, and he offered instruction to the boys on how to do an interview. He obviously has had some practice: Brenner, the executive director of Birthright Israel NEXT, was just that week named to Newsweek magazine’s 2009 list of the country’s top 50 most influential rabbis.
But he is happy to turn the spotlight on his sons. “They’re awesome,” he wrote earlier in an e-mail.
The boys are much more at ease once they’re playing their instruments, an electric guitar for Jonah and an electric keyboard for Noam, both set up in a dedicated music area squeezed in between the living room and the den; it also includes a piano, drums, and several microphones.
They play their two most recent songs for a visitor, both with Passover themes. There’s the blues-y, throaty, call and response “Where’s the Afikoman,” now on the boys’ My Space page, and dad’s favorite, “Passover,” which includes a full-on singing of the order of the seder — and no, it’s definitely not the tune you learned in Hebrew school.
The boys started playing together almost as soon as they started taking lessons, two years ago.
“Both were very, very, very musically inclined,” said Brenner senior. “Since they’re identical twins, we were happy they picked different instruments.”
Now if they could only get along with their eight-year-old sister Adira, who plays the African drums, she could be part of the band, too, their father suggested. But Noam and Jonah shake their heads.
They aren’t sure exactly what punk rock is, but they call what they do “mad rock.” They described how they settled on the punk version of “Why Why Why,” which also has a Passover theme.
“We actually did different verses in different ways,” said Noam. As a low cracking sound came from one of their wrists they both began to giggle, and eventually continued the conversation. “We decided to go with the punk version. The other ones were just like singing; this one’s like, you have to go ‘Whoa.’ That makes it more fun.”
They submitted the “Why Why Why” track to JDub records on a fluke in the summer of 2007.
The song stayed around the JDub office, Harris explained, until they relaunched their homepage in a blog format in February.
The boys take their moment of fame on the JDub website in stride. “I don’t want to be famous because I don’t want to be too well known then not have a normal life,” said Jonah. “I just want to sell things and have enough money and have another job.”