What Bruce Springsteen taught me about Zionism

November 16, 2008 by

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I was floored. Sixty thousand people filled Giant’s Stadium. As the sun set over the New Jersey Meadowland’s, the lights went up on stage for three hours and 17 minutes of some of the finest rock and roll alive today: Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band. I couldn’t help but paraphrase Hazal’s comments on Herod’s Temple – “One who has never seen a Springsteen Concert has never attended a live show.” It was more like an enormous block party – non-stop dancing, clapping, beer drinking. People sang along with nearly every song and Springsteen told his signature stories between numbers – playing the part of joker, working class Joe, and storyteller with electrifying verve – even when it was hard to make out the exact words through his acquired drawl and the constant hum of the thousands like a generator waiting for the switch to be turned on. When he belted out Promised Land, Giant’s Stadium jumped. No doubt that some East Coast seismologist measured the seismic rocking of coastal plates along the New Jersey shore that evening and wondered about the source.

The concert reminded of a few things about myself. Firstly, after spending over half of my life as a proud Israeli-by-choice, Springsteen reminded me again – like Dylan and Mellencamp, like Whitman and Thoreau, like O’Keefe and Adams – that “I am rooted in two different landscapes”. Secondly, Springsteen and my other quintessential American travelling companions, remind me what it means to be a citizen, a community member, a faithful son of a proud people. No doubt that Springsteen celebrates America. His music, like other storyteller-critics, celebrates the best of America – freedom, equality, the opportunity to go above and beyond. At the same time, Springsteen is not afraid to raise the tough issues that tarnish, that pervert, and that may ultimately ruin the best that America can be. In songs like “Born in the USA,” “Promised Land,” and on albums inspired by broken dreams and the possibility of repairing them – like “Nebraska,” “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” and “We Shall Overcome,” Springsteen knows that being part of a real community demands both celebration and criticism, both hugging and wrestling.

What is really strange about my great affection and admiration for Springsteen is that although they never performed at Giants Stadium, the greatest teachers of the Zionist movement – Buber, Brenner, Katzlnelson – have an enormous amount in common with Bruce. They too celebrated their community – and knew that if we only lived up to what we say are our most cherished values and stories, we would have the chance to build an Israel that would be a source of pride and responsibility, of celebration and creativity. Engagement with home and community no matter where is all about combining hugging and wrestling, about mining tradition for those nuggets that empower the present to enter the future with the hope that through vigilance and hard work – “We Shall Overcome.”

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