Yes, the concert was undersold. And, while some said that it was just OK, that Jagger’s voice is showing its age (71, to be precise), that Keith Richards’ guitar licks were a tad uninspired, that the set list could have been better (perhaps too many relatively obscure songs), it doesn’t matter.
Why? Because it turns out that the most important words that emanated from Mick Jagger’s throat were not the words that he sang.
They were the words that he said.
I’m referring, of course, to this week’s Rolling Stones concert in Tel Aviv. Dayennu that the Stones bucked the BDS movement. Dayennu, as well, that the Stones decided to begin the concert later so as to accommodate fans who wanted to observe Shavuot. Dayennu, as well, that Ronnie Woods and Charlie Watts took a pre-concert detour to Jerusalem to visit the Western Wall.
But back to Mick Jagger. What was it that he said to the crowd in Tel Aviv that was so memorable?
Erev tov, Tel Aviv (“Good evening,Tel Aviv!)
Chag Shavuot Sameach, Yisrael (“Happy Shavuot, Israel”)
Anachnu HaAvanim Hamitgalgalot (“We are the Rolling Stones”)
Todah. Shukran (“Thank you”, in Hebrew and Arabic)
Hakol Sababa? (“All good?”)
Referring to sneakers that guitarist Ronnie Wood was wearing, he asked: Kanita Na’alayim Bashuk? (“Did you buy shoes in the market?”)
Jagger went on to refer to backup vocalist Lisa Fischer as maksima.
Not only was Charlie Watts al ha-tupim (“on the drums”)…
Jagger reminded the crowd that it was also the drummer’s Yom Huledet (“birthday”).
Jagger asked the crowd Atem Nehenim? (“Are you enjoying yourselves”?)
And told them Atem kahal meturaf (“You’re a crazy audience!”)
And then, it was Layla Tov, Ve’Shalom Tel Aviv (“Goodnight and goodbye, Tel Aviv!”)
But here’s what’s most impressive about Jagger’s foray into Hebrew:
First, he made the effort to inquire about how to say certain phrases. They’re not even standard phrases — did he go to some quickie ulpan in order to learn how to ask Ronnie about his shoes?
Second: he actually took the time to learn them.
And third: he spoke in both Hebrew and Arabic, reminding the world of the linguistic, ethnic and cultural diversity of modern Israel.
And now, the big, disturbing question: How is it that Mick Jagger, an English gentile rock star with no detectable Jewish background, actually spoke more Hebrew in one night than most American Jews will ever speak in their lives?
Because, as we all know ( or at least suspect), when it comes to Hebrew, American Jews have utterly failed the literacy test. Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, has called this generation of American Jews the “spoiled brats of Jewish history” — not only because of our failure to create a Jewish culture that is rooted in Hebrew, and not only for having the historical hutzpah to think that we are the only Jewish civilization that thinks that it can dispense with Hebrew, but for not even having the basic desire to learn Hebrew.
Now, I’m not going to get all Eliezer Ben Yehuda on you, and remind you of the miracle of the resurrection of a language and how that resurrection of a language mirrored and echoed the resurrection of a people in its land.
Why should I? Mick Jagger did it for me.
Just twelve phrases in Hebrew (one for each tribe of ancient Israel?). To paraphrase the Stones themselves: it’s only Hebrew, but I like it.
Rabbi Jeff Salkin is a well known writer and rabbi of Temple Beth Am in Bayonne NJ.