Rock for the Ages

In 1995, while on the Florida leg of a concert tour, Bob Dylan walked into Temple Beth El in West Palm Beach and attended Yom Kippur services. You would have thought Elijah had come through the door as worshipers who recognized him did double takes. Say what you want about Bob “Robert Zimmerman” Dylan’s late 1970s experience as a born-again Christian, the enigmatic superstar’s real roots were showing. Dylan’s synagogue appearance made the local papers. It also made local Jews proud.

It did not make national news, which is probably how Dylan, who likes maintaining an air of mystery, preferred it. In fact, throughout the rock era, most Jewish performers, songwriters and musicians preferred keeping their Jewishness and Judaism out of the spotlight.

The influence of Judaism on these performers, musicians and songwriters has been substantial but little-publicized. Identifying as a Jew was considered bad for business.

As Dylan may have unintentionally illustrated, that’s been dramatically changing throughout the 1990s. Jewish rockers may not be trumpeting their Jewishness as powerfully as many fans might like, but, the truth is, they’re singing its praises louder than ever before.

“Our parents’ cry to us was: ‘Be American. Fit in.’ So we were changing our ways. We realized 20 years later, it wasn’t working. For the last 15 years or so, many people have been realizing that assimilation and intermarriage haven’t been working,” says longtime record producer Brooks Arthur, who began his career as the studio engineer on most of Neil Diamond’s hit singles and more recently produced Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song.” “Your Jewish pride was more covert back then, and now it’s overt.”