EXCLUSIVE: The Secret Jewish History Of Charlie Daniels

In this new column, ‘You Don’t Have to be Jewish,” Cindy Grosz will sit down with non-Jewish friends of the Jewish people to discuss their connection to Israel and our tribe.

Music legend Charlie Daniels is a prolific musician and fiddler best known for his hit song “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” He is less known for, but equally proud of, his connection to Israel and the Jewish people.

The country music superstar recently wrote a memoir, “Never Look At The Empty Seats,” which hit bookstores October 24th. It took him years to sit down and reflect upon memories from his childhood, like teaching himself how to play both the fiddle and guitar, his breaks into the music business, meeting the love of his life, Hazel, working on “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame and working with many entertainers, some of whom he admired and others that he mentored.

The tie that holds this easy to read and enjoyable book together is one word: Faith. That was the thread that tied Daniels’ interest to Judaism and Israel.

When I recently sat down with Daniels, I asked how he learned so many historical facts about the Jews. “I knew nothing until it ‘just happened’ as I began reading the Old Testament. I understand what ‘The Chosen People’ means and why they land of Israel is their homeland.”

The book is also filled with examples of events in Daniel’s life where he puts actions into words.

He has visited Israel three times. Each time he went, he felt a “life-changing” experience and a deeper connection between his own Christian faith and Judaism. “Until you visit, you don’t appreciate the land and it’s people. The state itself is so small, so when [you are] there you have the best understanding of how important decisions like borders, security and how this land is important to my people as well as the Jews.”

One of his most “surreal” moments in Israel was visiting the Western Wall and putting a note in it. “It makes you aware of all life,” Daniels stated. He attended a Bar Mitzvah and watched in amazement. “It was truly a highlight of my life standing with international visitors.”

Another highlight was entertaining at the Christian Embassy in Jerusalem and visiting the holy spots of his religion with Pastors and members from his church. His family was baptized in the Jordan River, had communion at the garden tomb and the Mount of Beatitudes and walked on the Via Dolorosa where Christ carried His Cross to the Cavalry. “You know Jesus was Jewish,” Daniels stated.

“If I could take one more trip anywhere in the world, it would be to Israel, “Daniels admitted enthusiastically. Amazingly, he has never professionally toured in the country, but with a new book and CD coming out, who knows what the future may hold?

“The Bible states salvation comes to the world through the Jews. God chose the Jews to bring His salvation to mankind. The Bible tells us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. I do it.”

He also respects the Jewish heritage because of his visit to Yad Vashem, which he writes about in detail in his memoir. “I grew up in a time where the only news you got was from Newsreels screened in movie theaters during the war. The actual footage of American soldiers entering the camps was graphic. I still today can never forget the images of bob wire, mass graves and people barely alive. It left an impact that is simply indescribable.”

Charlie Daniels’ respect for the American military is universally known. The book discusses multiple trips internationally. He told me how proud he was to visit the birthplace of the biblical Abraham during a trip to Iraq and how some of the groundwork has been restored. Charlie Daniels has been in the music business for over forty years. Many Jewish personalities in front and behind the scenes with have influenced and helped Charlie Daniels become the legend he is todau. He writes about his connections to both Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen front both in front of and behind center stage.

One person who had helped bring Charlie Daniels’ career to a superstar level was New Yorker Ron Alexenburg. Alexenburg, who is still a close friend, was an executive at Epic Records. “He did something that was unheard of today. He took a chance and signed Daniels to a six album deal. “I have great faith in you. If the album doesn’t sell, the next one will,” Daniels recalled

Charlie Daniels has been the recipient of awards from multiple Jewish organizations, including B’nai Brith.

In addition to this new book, Daniels is on a national tour and songwriting for a yet-untitled new album that he is planning to release next year. He also has two more books “in the pipeline” including one fictional novel and an inspirational guide. He stays 81-years-young by exercising regularly, keeping close business and personal relationships and maintaining a work ethic he began when he started in the music business. It is best understood as he describes the love of his life, his wife, Hazel, who he has been married to for over 53 years. “We are best friends. Recently, we were snowed in several days in Colorado and had the best time together, just enjoying each other’s company.”

Daniels will be performing on the tri-state area on November 18th in Torrington, New Jersey. “Never Look At The Empty Seats,” published by W Publishing Group, a Thomas Nelson company, is available in bookstores and online.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

EXCLUSIVE: The Secret Jewish History Of Charlie Daniels

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