On November 16, I’ll be the guest speaker for Book Fair Shabbat at Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains, New York. In addition to giving an overview of Jewish punk, I’ll be sharing Shabbat songs and talking about my writing process.
Here’s an excerpt from a great article on the front page of the shul’s monthly newsletter, Makom.
One doesn’t usually think of “punk rock” and “Judaism” in the same sentence. But on Friday, November 16, at this year’s Book Fair Shabbat, author Michael Croland will make the connection.
In 2005, Croland, a book editor who lives in Astoria, was working on a review of Fiddlin on Ya Roof for New Voices when the editor asked for some context. The Jewish punk band Yidcore’s full-length cover of Fiddler was masterful, Croland says. But did it exist in isolation or was it part of a larger scene?
Answering that question led to a feature on Jewish punk bands, then covering a West Coast Hanukkah tour of Jewish punk bands for The Forward. He continued to write about the Jewish punk scene, which led to his book, Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, which covers both the history of Jews in punk music and the musicians who use punk to put their Jewish identities front and center.
From punk music’s start in the 1970s at CBGB’s nightclub, some of the key players in punk music have been Jewish, including CBGB’s owner, two of the Ramones, and all of the Dictators. Punk is infused with nods to Jewishness, whether it’s humor as a coping mechanism, demands for social justice, or a a stray line referencing things in a Jewish way.
But the bands that really animate Croland’s interest are the ones that are overtly Jewish, not just Jewish-influenced.
“This is my passion,” he says. “When I found out about one band, I thought it was great. Now I’ve found out about at least two dozen.”
These bands approach their music in many ways.
The band Jewdriver, for example, performs parodies, taking the white nationalist songs of a band called Skrewdriver and turning them into emphatic odes to Jewish culture—to bagels and even Chuck Barris, the creator of a kitschy 1970s talent show called The Gong Show. Yidcore has a whole song about wooing Natalie Portman.
Other Jewish punk bands take an overtly religious approach. Moshiach Oi!, for example, uses its music to praise G-d, and even hopes to use punk to bring the messiah. “They think if you can scream the Sh’ma from the bottom of your gut, that’s a way to really feel it,” Croland says.