Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan! Highway 76 – Dylan’s Jewish Moments

The exhibition Forever Young – Bob Dylan at 75 was displayed in 2017

Highway 76 – Dylan’s Jewish Moments

Born Robert Zimmerman to a Minnesota Jewish family with routes in Russia, Lithuania and Turkey, Bob Dylan’s career epitomizes the wandering Jew. Exploring and researching spiritual directions Dylan has grown far and then close to his Jewish origins. On his 76th Birthday we look at some distinctive Jewish moments in Dylan’s life.

  1. Dylan grew up in Minnesota’s small Jewish community. He celebrated his bar mitzvah at age 13 and went to Herzl Jewish summer camp. After leaving Minnesota, he “set aside” his Jewishness to reinvent himself as an “authentic” American folk singer. In the early 1980’s, Dylan was rumored to have “returned” to Judaism under the tutelage of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, New York. He expressed his closeness to the Lubavitcher Hasidim by receiving a dollar and blessing from their leader “the Rebbe”, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
  1. Dylan has a long-standing relationship with the Jewish state and has visited Israel many times. In 1971, he visited a yeshiva (religious seminar) in Jerusalem and Kibbutz Neve Eitan in the Beit She’an Valley. Upon returning to New York, he filed an application to move to the kibbutz for a year as a prelude to becoming a member. Neve Eitan didn’t bother to answer.
  1. Dylan’s three concert tours to Israel were not without hitches. Dylan admitted that his long-awaited, but heavily criticized debut in Israel in 1987 was far from his best performance. However his 1993 tour was a success and he returned in 2011 to play at Ramat Gan Stadium.
  1. Not too long after releasing the last of his Christian music albums in the early ’80s, Dylan made an extremely Jewish statement: he held his eldest son Jesse’s bar mitzvah at the Western Wall. Jesse, born to Dylan’s first wife Sara (née Shirley Marlin Noznisky), went on to become a music video director and founded the media production company Wondros.
  1. Just after his son’s bar mitzvah at the Kotel — and a year after Israel’s controversial first Lebanon War — Dylan released the song “Neighborhood Bully” on his 1983 album “Infidels.” In what is arguably one of the most pro-Jewish rock songs ever recorded.
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