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Punk Rock and Jewish Identity

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on June 14, 2009

When I was on a bus in Israel heading to the Golan Heights in the spring of 1990, I was sitting with a couple dozen college-age Jewish women and men. We had all volunteered for a brief stint in the Israeli Defense Force through the Sar-El program. I was the only Christian aboard, and had a world to learn about Judaism — and as it turned out, about rock, too, through Jewish lenses. Midway through the long drive into a spare and unfamiliar darkness, a group of guys started singing, and got most of the rest of the bus to join in for the next hour. They worked their way through nothing other than a remarkable chunk of the Billy Joel catalogue.

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This lively introduction to rock and Jewish identity came back to me when I read an interesting story yesterday by Ralph Blumenthal in the New York Times, titled “Punk, and Jewish: Rockers Explore Identity,” describing a recent forum investigating the links between punk rock and Jewish personae. The article also refers to a 2006 book by Steven Lee Beeber, called The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGBs: A Secret History of Jewish Punk. I have not yet read it, but look forward to learning from it as bringing forward essential dimensions of the rock and theology conversation.

It turns out it may not be that far from Billy Joel to the Beastie Boys.

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

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