Matt Rissien

Matt Rissien

Not many people can say their original Purim rap music video has more than 18,000 views on YouTube—but Matt Rissien can. In addition to his work as a fun-loving and dedicated youth director at Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, Matt is musically gifted, and known for his talented singing voice and original rap videos about Jewish holidays.

His girlfriend, Brittany, described him as genuine, creative and humorous and says his enthusiasm for his work is contagious: since he started his job in August, he is responsible for recruiting 30 new teens to join his USY chapter. “Matt is dedicated to making the kids feel comfortable and happy,” she said. “I have never seen so many kids who love spending time at shul so they can hang out with him.” 

Already a Jew everyone knows in Kansas, where he grew up and attended college (he’s an avid Jayhawks fan, and trust us, that’s putting it lightly), Matt, who moved here about a year ago, is focused now on becoming an involved member of Chicago’s Jewish community. He looks forward to meeting new people and learning more about what his new community has to offer—beyond the kosher food joints he often frequents. Coming soon: his original Chanukah rap video! 

Matt Rissien


Pays the bills:
Director of Youth Activities at Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook

On the side:
Make Jewish Rap YouTube videos; currently working at Z Frank Apache Day Camp in Northbrook as the Israel Experience Specialist; will be starting the Masters of Arts in Jewish Professional Studies program at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies this fall. 

Relationship status:

Describe yourself in 10 words or less:
Funny, outgoing, friendly, passionate, spontaneous and huge Kansas Jayhawks fan.

Celebrity doppelganger:
Mario Lopez or Adam Sandler

How do you Jew in Chicago?
Aside from working at Congregation Beth Shalom and running our USY chapter, I very often frequent the fine dining at Milts BBQ, Ken's Diner, Mizrahi Grill and the Sandwich Club.

My biggest passion is my Judaism. It is not the easiest thing to engage the younger generation, but that is what drives my passion—finding fun and creative ways to connect youth/teens of all ages to Judaism. I also love singing/rapping on the side. Lastly, while I know many Illini fans are bitter about Bill Self leaving, I will proudly freely admit that one of my biggest passions is the Kansas Jayhawks. Don't worry though; I like the Cubs and Blackhawks as well.

How do you give back?
I give blood when I can, recycle, and always cut the plastic that holds soda bottles together so it won't strangle birds (learned that from Happy Feet)!

Fill in the blank: If time and money were limitless, I would:
Open a center that provides weekly Shabbat services and meals that accommodate each sect of Judaism, so we can all join together in one place. There aren't enough times and places where we can embrace our differences and come together. Every Jew enjoys Shabbat, so this would be a place where we could all celebrate together.

Chicago's Jewish community in 10 years:
In 10 years, I expect the Jewish Community to have grown even more, but to be more unified. I moved to Chicago this past year because of its vibrant Jewish community. I've found that Chicago is so large, that even some Jewish organizations don't know about one another. Every few weeks I find myself learning about really amazing organizations I didn't know existed. The Jewish community in Chicago isn't going to slow down, and I expect they will come up with ways to create even more opportunities for Jewish networking, so we can all work together to unite the Jewish community of Chicago. 

Me in 10 years:
I'm a Midwest guy, so I'm planning on staying somewhere around the Chicago area. I can't get enough of the Jewish community here. I even walked into Dairy Queen in Northbrook yesterday and saw a bar mitzvah catalog in the front window.  Hopefully, I'll still be working at Congregation Beth Shalom, but if not at least I know there are a lot of options out there of great Jewish organizations I could work for. This year I made my first Jewish music video with Purim Thrift Shop, and  I would love to keep coming out with more Jewish raps, songs and music videos...I'm working on an original Chanukah rap right now!