Almost 12 million Canadians were glued to their TVs and computer screens Saturday night for the CBC’s broadcast of The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration. The three-hour concert was an emotional experience for so many of us, perhaps the last opportunity we will ever get to witness Tragically Hip lead singer Gord Downie, who was diagnosed in May with terminal brain cancer, in live performance.
In the days leading up to the concert, more than a few people pronounced The Hip “Canada’s greatest rock band.” Sentimentality aside, I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but it got me thinking: Who is the greatest Jewish rock band of all time?
For the sake of this list, let’s define “Jewish rock band” as a group of Jewish musicians who a) perform traditional chassidic niggunim, b) adapt lyrics from biblical/liturgical text, and/or c) sing about identifiable Jewish themes in Hebrew or English – all with a rock sound.
Here are my top three Jewish rock bands:
3. Blue Fringe: In the early 2000s, this group of Yeshiva University students was the biggest thing going in Jewish music. Flippin’ Out, the New York-based band’s most noteworthy song, from their first album, My Awakening, lampooned the North American Jewish teen who embarks on a year of study at yeshiva in Israel after graduating high school. (The term “flipping out,” refers to the manner in which many of these students embrace a more strict form of Judaism while at yeshiva.) The song’s chorus – “I’m flippin’ out/ And my rebbe’s shepping nachas/ I’m flippin’ out/ And my parents will kick my tuchus” – is both literal and ironic at the same time.
2. Reva L’Sheva: Heavily influenced by Shlomo Carlebach and the Grateful Dead, Reva L’Sheva formed in Jerusalem in the early 1990s. In 1998, the band reached the height of its popularity with the release of its third album Kumu. Ahavat Yisrael, the album’s penultimate track, is a modern Zionist anthem and remains a popular Jewish rock hit 10 years after Reva L’Sheva originally disbanded. The song’s refrain – “Ahavat Yisrael baneshama” (“Love of Israel is found in the soul”) – is a powerful reminder of the unbreakable link between the Jewish spirit and the land of Israel.
1. Diaspora Yeshiva Band: Taking its name from the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem where the band members first met and began performing together, Diaspora Yeshiva Band embodied Jewish rock before the genre existed. Led by guitarist/singer Avraham Rosenblum, who had come to the yeshiva to study in the mid-1970s, Diaspora blended rock with a devout Orthodox ethos, and their Saturday night concerts near David’s Tomb on Mount Zion were the stuff of Jewish rock legend.
By the late ’70s, the band had achieved fame beyond Israel, touring Canada, the United States and just about everywhere else in the Jewish Diaspora. They broke up in 1983, but returned for a legendary concert at Carnegie Hall in 1992. The live version of Lulei Hemanti from that album presents Diaspora Yeshiva Band at its best – a contemplative ballad with a searing guitar solo and a timeless message about Jewish strength and courage.
There you have it – my favourite Jewish rock bands. Who’s on your list? Let us know at [email protected].