At a Washington, DC concert this week, Bruce Springsteen gave the question “Why is this night different from all other nights?” a resounding new answer. I was primed for a rollicking performance, but I never expected a moment of Jewish bliss, since I knew The Boss had been ordained as a preacher in the Church of Rock ‘n’ Roll. He brought a revival tent feeling to the arena, with exhortations such as:
“We made a solemn vow…
to ROCK the HOUSE! But we’re not just gonna ROCK the house,
we’re gonna BUILD a house… We’re gonna take despair,
and build a house of HOPE! We’re gonna take sadness,
and build a house of JOY! We’re gonna take frustration,
and build a house of SEXUAL HEALING!”
That was my first clue that The Boss was ecumenical in his religious fervor. Then he waded into the sea of people at his feet. He saw dozens of signs held aloft by the crowd, collected 10 of his favorites and laid them out on the stage for review. The first one he chose read, “Jonas Brothers, Shmonas Brothers — put these 9-Year Olds OUT ON THE STREET; it was a crowd-pleaser but hardly history-making. But the third sign, it turned out, had the magic touch: It was a huge banner that read, “HAVANAGILA”. I stared in disbelief. I turned to a friend, a veteran of 20 Springsteen concerts, but he’d never experienced a moment like this, either.
As Springsteen stretched his arms wide to show the scroll to the audience, the band got the message and started playing the classic Jewish folk song. The crowd erupted in cheers as Springsteen began a one-man hora, sliding his feet across the stage. Chills washed over me and time stood still. Yes, a miracle happened here as Washington’s Jewish soul melded with the legendary E Street Band for one brief, shining moment … until The Boss tossed that sign on the ground and picked up the next one. But the power of his gesture had its desired effect: I was a changed man — suddenly, I had rhythm!
So the next time you hear The Boss sing the lyric, “A one-way ticket to the Promised Land” in the song “Johnny Bye-Bye,” it might be a sly encouragement to make aliyah, from a preacher who appreciates a banner with chutzpah.