May 8, 2011

by Reb Yudel
Finding Bob Dylan in the JTA archives

The news service formerly known as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has unveiled its new Jewish news archive of all its articles from 1917 on.

So what did the official news service of the Jewish people have to say about Bob Dylan? A search turned up only a couple appearances before his late canonization by the establishment through Oscar and National Book Awards.

On July 10, 1970, JTA reported that

Abraham L. Feinberg, rabbi emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto
and known as an anti-Vietnam war activist, has produced an album of
songs under the label of Vanguard Records in New York. The album
contains 10 songs including Leonard Cohen's anti-war "Story of Isaac,"
"Simple Child" by Robbie MacNeill, "Warm Traitor's Breath" by Arthur
Gee, "I Shall Be Released" by Bob Dylan and "Bells of St. Pierre" by
Michael Stanbury. Rabbi Feinberg will turn his royalties over to the
orphans and maimed children of North and South Vietnam. Now 71, Rabbi
Feinberg is the son of a Chazan. In the early 1930's he left the
rabbinate for several years and was a popular radio singer ("Anthony
Frome") on the NBC network.
A year later, Dylan crops up in an article about a new student-run Coffee House at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where "Sipping coffee while comparing thoughts on Dylan Thomas, Anwar Sadat, Bob Dylan, or Hebrew grammar till all hours is called 'doing your own thing.'"

The most interesting report is from April 2, 1975: Brando, Dylan, Other Theater Stars Participate in Seder.
LOS ANGELES - Marlon Brando, the screen star, made an impromptu
appearance at the congregational seder of Temple Israel of Hollywood and
gave an impromptu rendition of the Kiddush, in English, to begin the
festival meal. Bob Dylan, the folk singer of the youth rebellion, began
the Grace After Meals by singing his "Blowin' In The Wind," with the
congregation joining in.

Brando and Dylan were accompanied by friends from the entertainment
world, including Helaina Kallianiotes. Sarah Dylan, wife of the folk
singer, and Kenneth Banks, a leader of the American Indian Freedom
movement. The appearance of the theater personalities was a surprise
both to Rabbi Haskell Bernat, the senior rabbi of the congregation, and
the congregants. Rabbi Bernat said the visitors joined spontaneously in
the worship and festivities. The artists made reservations anonymously,
through a friend, Brando, asked why he and his friends had come to the
Reform synagogue, said "It was the rabbi's ability to create warmth,
social activism and worship innovation which had contracted them.

Rabbi Bernat, in introducing the luminaries, said it was in the
spirit of the festival of freedom to have present "unexpected guests."
adding that Brando, Dylan and Banks "had contributed to the sense of
justice and social awareness of the American people," He said that
"Blowin' In The Wind" had become part of the freedom songs which had
found their way "into the informal liturgy of liberal congregations."

The article concludes with more details about Brando's yiddishkeit.

The fourth Dylan reference in the '70s is to a proposal to build a Jewish Hall of Fame in Jerusalem, which would salute Dylan as well as Karl Marx.

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