Walking out of the Bruce Springsteen concert in Philadelphia last week, I heard a yalmuke-wearing teenager exclaim, “If Bruce Springsteen was a rabbi, I’d go to his shul [synagogue]!” The 62-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee had just delivered a three-hour concert—without even an intermission—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 “Dancing in the Dark,” and pointed heavenward for several minutes during the encore, “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” paying proper respect to “The Big Man,” 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 6thseder night—with Bruce, the E Street Band, and 20,000 close friends at Manhattan’s famous Madison Square Garden!

Many Jews are connected to Bruce. Fans have long speculated on the extent of the Boss’s connection to all things Jewish. Here is a partial list of obvious (though admittedly “long shot”) connections to Judaism, the Jewish People and Israel.

1. His Name

Many have (incorrectly) speculated that the Boss’ last name gives him away as Jewish. Adam Sandler set the record straight in his “Chanukah Song Part II”:

So many Jews are in the show biz/ Bruce Springsteen isn’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 “was my way of living a life of tikkun olam.” Weinberg also said, “I 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.”

Max’s son, Jacob, briefly toured with the E Street Band when Max was tied up with his commitment to the Conan O’Brien TV show, and Springsteen’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 70’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:

“Rocky Ground”

Forty days and nights of rain have washed this land…
Flood waters rising and we’re Canaan bound

“Red Headed Woman”

Well, push comes to shove
Man, and shove comes to push
And I was Moses standing ‘fore the burning bush

“Adam Raised a Cain”

In the Bible Cain slew Abel
And East of Eden he was cast,
You’re born into this life paying,
for the sins of somebody else’s past,

4. Jewish References

Springsteen’s hometown of Long Branch, long associated with the seaside town of Asbury Park, is a stone’s throw from Deal, New Jersey—home to nearly 5,000 Syrian Jews who vacation in there each summer. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but as one blogger noted, a line in “Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” 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/Chasin’ all them silly New York virgins by the score

5. “Shtick” in Concerts

Generally reserved for klezmer bands, “Hava Nagila” is not the first song you’d expect “The Boss” to play. Columnist Jeffrey Goldberg reports that Rahm Emanuel, President’s Obama’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 famous—albeit unlikely—song:

“My daughter (a Jewish day school student) didn’t want to go because of homework, so I figured she needed a Jewish excuse to go to the concert. I made the ‘Hava Nagila’ sign—I’m in the mortgage credit market, so there’s not a hell of a lot for me to do these days—and we brought it to the concert,” he said. “I made it like the Torah, two sticks on each side.”

And, in his Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: Live in New York City record, while getting the crowd pumped up, Bruce references…a bar mitzvah! He says, “ I’m gonna throw a rock and roll exorcism…a rock and roll baptism and a rock and roll bar mitzvah!”

6. Israel

First the bad news—he ain’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 31st—he just doesn’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 can’t hold it against him—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 I’m convinced: I want Bruce to be my Rabbi.

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‘Etrog’ by Anna Shteynshleyger

A religious woman with two wigs, a shriveled etrog in an etrog holder and an unhappy expecting couple sitting on a futon are but three of the riveting photos which greet the viewer of “City of Destiny,” an exhibit of the works of photographer Anna Shteynshleyger, a graduate of Yale University School of Art. Shteynshleyger’s photos will be on exhibit at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in Manhattan through May 6.

“City of Destiny” is the motto of suburban Des Plaines, Ill., the tight knit Orthodox religious community where Shteynshleyger lived for four years.

Shteynshleyger was born in Moscow in 1977 and moved to suburban Gaithersberg, Md. at the age of fifteen. “I didn’t speak English, I couldn’t drive — it was awful,” recalled Shteynshleyger in a phone interview from her office in Chicago, where she spoke of her first exposure to both photography and Judaism. “My father gave me a camera — it was my only way to connect with the world.”

In order to deal with what Shteynshleyger describes as “isolation and loneliness,” she discovered the nearby public library and their books on Judaism. While the Shteynshleyger family was not particularly observant, Anna enjoyed books about every aspect of Jewish life.  She recounts that she learned both the Shema prayer and the Shabbat candles blessings from books found in her local library.

Shteynshleyger’s Jewish journey continued as a student at the Maryland Institute College of Arts in Baltimore. She spent most Sabbaths with an Orthodox rabbi and his family in the Park Heights section of Baltimore. She then moved to New Haven, where she completed an MFA in 2001 at the Yale University School of Art in the department of photography. She had some involvement at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, though she playfully notes it was mostly around “food and holidays.”

After graduating from Yale, Shteynshleyger settled in a small Chabad community in Des Plaines. The photographs on display in “City of Destiny,” mainly of family and close friends, capture her experience in Des Plaines. One photograph, “Backyard” is taken at a distance and depicts a girl with family members, appearing small as they are surrounded by very tall trees.  “Picnic” captures pink Crocs, dirty paper plates, a beer bottle and package of cigarettes—all sitting on a child’s play table. Another, “Portrait with Mordecai,” features the artist (pregnant) and her husband.

“Anna’s work offers an almost voyeuristic inside view of her small tight-knit community of family and friends,” notes art collector Mitchell Presser of New York. “It also provides great insight into her personal struggles and development.” For example, he says, “In ‘Etrog’ we see the fruit, once used in religious ceremonies, now dried and shriveled, but still encased in a protective womb appearing as a trophy of things past. The portrait of her with Mordecai, her ex-husband, is a narrative of her life through a single moment in time, without a single word of explanation. ‘City of Destiny’ is a portal into Anna’s challenges and development.
It tells a very personal story.”

(Source: http://www.jewishledger.com)

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Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

Jordan Farmar is carefully moving around the court, shooting three pointers and free throws. This is despite a groin injury, which has kept him out of the New Jersey Nets lineup for four straight games. It was only a week ago that Farmar’s three-point last-minute score led the Nets to victory. Towards the end of a practice session at the New Jersey Nets training facility in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the bearded 1.88 m, 82 kg guard sat down with the Jerusalem Post to discuss basketball and life in America and Israel.

The 25-year-old Farmar grew up in Los Angeles, California. His father is African-American and Christian. His step-father, who raised him and is a huge influence on Farmar, is Israeli and Jewish. Farmar studied at UCLA and was the 26th pick in the first round of the 2006 NBA draft. He played with the Los Angeles Lakers from 2006-2010, has played with the New Jersey Nets since 2010 to the present and played for Maccabi Tel Aviv for four months, during the recent NBA strike. His teams have won the NBA championship twice and he was selected as Euroleague Player of the Week in November, 2011. Farmar wears number 2 and averages 10.6 points per game.

You are very close to Omri Casspi. Did you get to hang out with him when the Cleveland Cavaliers were in town recently? How is he doing?

I saw him last Monday night. He is in a tough spot.The NBA is a big business. He’s gotta keep working. It goes up and down if you are not a super star player. I know he had an injury recently and is trying to get back in form.

How did you guys first meet?

For a while, I was the only Jewish player in the NBA. Then he got drafted and joined me! He is the first Israeli-born player. He came to town to play us – we connected around Israel and being Jewish.

What is your best move? How would you describe your style?

Up tempo. Get people involved. Score when need to. Be able to run a team. I like to get out and run, set a screen, make a pass. I appreciate a good game of basketball and people who understand the game.

What is the main difference between basketball in the NBA/US and Israel?

There are superstar players in the US like Lebron, Kobe, Dwight, Howard. You don’t see guys like that overseas. They are incredible. In Israel, the little things are appreciated — the pass and the assist are appreciated as much as the actual stats. And it seems to be about winning – guys want to win. Here, the business of basketball can sometimes get in the way.

What was it like playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv during the strike? You were a Euroleague player of the Week in November, 2011! Was your role different on your Israel team?

I played for four months “I played a lot ” maybe 30 games. In Israel, my team would go as far as I could take them. Here I back up Deron Williams, probably the best point guard in the world!

How were you received in Israel?

Everybody embraced me. I was very welcomed, and wanted and appreciated for having made the decision to play. I felt like I was at home it was a whole family atmosphere wherever I went.

How is your Hebrew?

It is not my strong point! I can definitely understand conversations, I can understand what is going on and I can get my get point across, but I don’t speak well.

What is your relationship with Israel?

My stepfather is from Tel Aviv and we have a lot of family in Israel in the Shabazi neighborhood of Tel Aviv. My daughter, my fiance and I spent a lot of time with family during our four months in Israel.

Tell us about the basketball camp for Israeli Jewish and Palestinian children you were involved with:

I got involved through my agent, who is Jewish. It started with the Seeds of Peace. They bring kids from different conflict areas Egypt, Jordan, all over. They all come to a summer camp in Maine. They live together, sleep together, eat together. I spent a day there during my first year. Then I worked with them in Israel in 2008. It is through the Peres Peace Center. They have eight camps all over the country. At the beginning of the program, kids argue. Then, with sport as the medium, they forget about everything they were taught (about the others). They are “just kids” they work together to accomplish a goal. And they high five each other.

Any plans to do it again?

(Smiling). I got pretty busy winning an NBA championship, free agency, having a baby….

It sounds like your Israeli step dad was a pretty important influence on you.

My dad was always around, but my step dad was with me every day. My step dad raised me. We are close. He worked six days a week. He instilled good values in me. He is the only person I know who can wake up without an alarm at the time he planned to wake up. He is disciplined and responsible. Aman! A great father figure. He was in the army in Israel.

Does your step dad get to watch you play?

He is a huge Lakers fan. He loves to watch me play. It was great to be part of that team. When he came to the States, he loved Magic (Johnson), (Nick) Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Kobe, and Shaq.

Were you connected to the LA Jewish and Israeli community?

Growing up in LA was great! I love LA! We were a Jewish household. We had visitors from Israel and family coming in and out. I went to Hebrew school, had a bar mitzvah….

What is your favorite Israeli food?


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Flat Stanley is the beloved “flat” character from the 1964 children’s book of the same title, written by Jeff Brown and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer.  Every teacher and parent of young children know the story of Stanley Lambchop, who gets “flattened” in his sleep when a big bulletin board falls on him.  He survives and discovers the advantages of being “flat.”  For one, he can visit friends by being mailed in envelopes.

On a recent trip to Florida, I saw a man on the beach, dressed in a white button down shirt and khaki pants—with a camera in one hand and Flat Stanley in the other!  He had obviously promised his young son or daughter a photograph of Stanley at the Atlantic Ocean.  And on a trip to Israel, a day care director in our tour group must have snapped 100 pictures of Stan—from Zichron Yaakov to The Sea of Galilee.

It seems other “Stanleys” have also visited the Holy Land. A tour guide in Israel writes of the day a Flat Stanley arrived in the mail from Los Angeles.  He had recently guided the family on a bat mitzvah tour.  Now, the younger sister was writing with a special request—to take Stanley with him on his tours of Israel.   “At first I did not understand what I was supposed to do with this weird thing. It could easily be thought of as a joke, but after reading the “manual” I became quite enthusiastic… We fed him traditional Israeli salad, put him in a Succah we built in Kiryat Yovel neighborhood in Jerusalem.”  Flat Stanley was even photographed with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat!

Apparently, Flat Stanley had had similar adventures all around the world.  The Flat Stanley Project encompasses more than 6000 schools registered in 88 countries.

All of the Flat Stanley hype, coupled with a TV commercial a few years back for Travelocity–with a talking gnome-gave Rachel Kirschbaum, a Jewish Day school teacher in New York City, an idea—Chayim Yerushalayim!!  According to Kirschbaum, the chair of the Tanach department at the prestigious Ramaz School in Manhattan, “Chayim Yerushalayim” has followed her from teaching positions in several New York area Jewish day schools.  “He started with SAR 2nd graders, continued with Heschel 5th graders and after a brief hiatus, took up travel again with 8th graders (or their parents) at Ramaz.”  Kirschbaum currently teaches 6,7 and 8th grades at Ramaz.

Chayim has been to Jerusalem many times. He has been to the Dead Sea and, Kirschbaum reports, “His skin should be soft and supple by now”—thanks to all of the Dead Sea mud smeared all over his body.   He has been to the Tayelet in Tel Aviv, to Caesaria, and to  Masada.  “The kids love it.  They think it is the cutest thing.  I usually do it with younger students but even the 8th  graders were ecstatic to see the pictures and so excited…it works every time!”

Next time you are in Israel, keep your eyes open for Flat Stanley or Chayim Yerushalayim. Both are great travelers and can be useful in teaching all ages about Israel! [full disclosure: Chayim recently accompanied me and I group I led on a trip to Israel!  See photo below]

(Source: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com)

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