Why Jews Should Love Bruce Springsteen
April 5, 2012 by Howard Blas
Walking out of the Bruce Springsteen concert in Philadelphia last week, I heard a yalmuke-wearing
teenager exclaim, â€œIf Bruce Springsteen was a rabbi, Iâ€™d go to his shul
[synagogue]!â€ The 62-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee had just delivered a three-hour
concertâ€”without even an intermissionâ€”during which he crowd-surfed
across the pit of the Wells Fargo Arena, danced on stage with his almost 90 year old mother during crowd-favorite
â€œDancing in the Dark,â€ and pointed heavenward for several minutes during the encore, â€œTenth Avenue Freeze Out,â€ paying proper respect to â€œThe Big Man,â€ Clarence Clemons, who died last June. Springsteen kicked off his Wrecking Ball tour on March 18th, to promote the release of his 17th album.
The young fan was suggesting that Springsteen knows how to connect with people and inspire them with his message. Charismatic and caring, he even knows his fair share of Bible.
I overheard another, less-observant, friend confided that he was planning on spending the eve of Friday April 6thâ€”seder
nightâ€”with Bruce, the E Street Band, and 20,000 close friends at Manhattanâ€™s famous Madison Square Garden!
Many Jews are connected to Bruce. Fans have long speculated on the extent of the Bossâ€™s connection to all things Jewish. Here is a partial list of obvious (though admittedly â€œlong shotâ€) connections to Judaism, the Jewish People and Israel.
1. His Name
Many have (incorrectly) speculated that the Bossâ€™ last name gives him away as Jewish. Adam Sandler set the record straight in his â€œChanukah Song Part IIâ€:So many Jews are in the show biz/ Bruce Springsteen isnâ€™t Jewish/But my mother thinks he is.
2. Jews in the Band
The Mighty Max Weinberg (drummer), spoke at the American Museum of Jewish History in Philadelphia
the night before two gigs at Wells-Fargo. Weinberg played his first bar mitzvah at age 7, attended synagogue at Temple Sharey Tefilo in East Orange, and in a recent email interview with the JTA, reported that drumming â€œwas my way of living a life of tikkun olam.â€ Weinberg also said, â€œI was greatly influenced by the poetic approach to leadership by the late Rabbi Avraham Soltes, who made the stories and scripture come alive through music and his charismatic teachings.â€
Maxâ€™s son, Jacob, briefly toured with the E Street Band when Max was tied up with his commitment to the Conan Oâ€™Brien TV show, and Springsteenâ€™s longtime manager and producer, Jon Landau, is Jewish. Pianist Roy Bittan is Jewish. And Suki Lahav, an Israeli post-army
violinist from Kibbutz Ayelet HaShahar, toured and recorded briefly
with Springsteen in the 70â€™s before returning to Israel. Her then-husband, Louis Lahav, was a recording engineer for Bruce.
3. Biblical References
A former student of the St. Rose of Lima Catholic school in Freehold Borough in New Jersey, Springsteen knows his bible. Aside from the occasional Jesus reference, lyrics contain gems such as these three:
Forty days and nights of rain have washed this landâ€¦
Flood waters rising and weâ€™re Canaan bound
â€œRed Headed Womanâ€
Well, push comes to shove
Man, and shove comes to push
And I was Moses standing â€˜fore the burning bush
â€œAdam Raised a Cainâ€
In the Bible Cain slew Abel
And East of Eden he was cast,
Youâ€™re born into this life paying,
for the sins of somebody elseâ€™s past,
4. Jewish References
Springsteenâ€™s hometown of Long Branch, long associated with the seaside town of Asbury Park, is a stoneâ€™s throw from Deal, New Jerseyâ€”home to nearly 5,000 Syrian Jews who vacation there each summer. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but as one blogger noted
, a line in â€œFourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)â€ might have been inspired by the Syrian Jewish Beach Club Casino in Deal:
And the boys from the casino dance with their shirts open like Latin lovery on the shore/Chasinâ€™ all them silly New York virgins by the score
5. â€œShtickâ€ in Concerts
Generally reserved for klezmer bands, â€œHava Nagilaâ€ is not the first song youâ€™d expect â€œThe Bossâ€ to play. Columnist Jeffrey Goldberg reports
that Rahm Emanuel, Presidentâ€™s Obamaâ€™s former White House Chief of Staff, prompted Springsteen to play 45 seconds of the Jewish melody at a Washington, DC area show in May, 2009. Emmanuel spotted a sign made by a hardcore fan, requesting the famousâ€”albeit unlikelyâ€”song:
â€œMy daughter (a Jewish day school student) didnâ€™t want to go because of homework, so I figured she needed a Jewish excuse to go to the concert. I made the â€˜Hava Nagilaâ€™ signâ€”Iâ€™m in the mortgage credit market, so thereâ€™s not a hell of a lot for me to do these daysâ€”and we brought it to the concert,â€ he said. â€œI made it like the Torah, two sticks on each side.â€
And, in his Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: Live in New York City record, while getting the crowd pumped up, Bruce referencesâ€¦a bar mitzvah! He says, â€œIâ€™m gonna throw a rock and roll exorcismâ€¦a rock and roll baptism and a rock and roll bar mitzvah!â€
First the bad newsâ€”he ainâ€™t coming to Tel Aviv. But, back in November, there were articles in several Israeli publications speculating that he might finally perform in the Promised Land. Unlike Elvis Costello and Pete Seeger, Bruce has not criticized Israel or called for its boycott or divestment. When Bruce completes the US leg of his tour in May, he will then traverse Europe before wrapping up in Helsinki, Finland on July 31stâ€”he just doesnâ€™t have enough time to hit the Holy Land. The closest the Boss gets to the Middle East is Lisbon (June 3rd), Milan (June 7th), Florence (June 10th), Trieste (June 11th) and Madrid (June 17th).
But I canâ€™t hold it against himâ€”The Boss is clearly a fan of the Jews! His lyrics, show antics, and band that nearly comprises a minyan point to his connection to Judaism. He might not be Jewish, but Iâ€™m convinced: I want Bruce to be my Rabbi.