Despite feeling at home in Israel and visiting the country a handful of times
over the last two decades, Lou Reed kept his feelings about Judaism private,
according to a Jerusalem rabbi who befriended the fabled rocker and his wife,
performance artist Laurie Anderson.
“I would say that Lou definitely had
a Jewish soul, even though he never revealed it to me,” said Rabbi Levi Weiman-
Kelman, the spiritual leader of Jerusalem progressive Judaism congregation Kol
Haneshama on Wednesday, three days after Reed died in Long Island at the age of
Along with Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, Reed rounded out the American
Jewish songwriting triumvirate that helped to redefine popular music in the
1960s, thanks to his work in The Velvet Underground and a long, varied solo
“A lot of the obits have identified him as a counter-Jew – a New
York hipster who challenged authority and tradition, and yes, that’s him,” added
Weiman-Kelman, who showed Reed and Anderson around Jerusalem’s Old City during
their last visit to the country in 2011, and dined with the couple on many
occasions in Israel and New York.
Lewis Allan Reed was born in Brooklyn
to a middle-class Jewish family, but had a troubled youth, and by his teens he
was sent by his parents to receive shock therapy aimed at ‘curing’ his
“I think he had quite an unhappy childhood and still had
anger toward his parents, and I think he associated that with Jewish stuff,”
said Weiman-Kelman. “So he wasn’t really open to talking about his
Still, Reed, who has family in Israel, found different avenues
to express his Jewish identity throughout his career and life.
He was a
regular attendee of the Downtown Seder at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, asking
the traditional Four Questions in original forms.
Reed also gave a nod to
his heritage by making a short film in 2010 called Red Shirley about his
99-year-old aunt Shirley Novick, and her experiences fleeing Poland during World
War II, settling in New York as a seamstress and Jewish socialist, and
eventually marching in Washington in support of the civil rights
“I realized if I didn’t do this, a connection to a lot of
things would be lost forever,” Reed told The Wall Street Journal in
According to Weiman-Kelman, it was a heartfelt work.
an amazing movie and shows he obviously felt some connection to his family and
his Jewish roots.”
Another irrefutable connection to his Jewish identity
can be found in Reed’s song “Good Evening Mr. Waldheim,” which was released on
his 1989 career-height album New York. The raucous song skewers the likes of
Rev. Jesse Jackson and former UN secretarygeneral (and Nazi SS officer) Kurt
Waldheim for anti-Semitic overtones and cozying up to Nation of Islam leader
Lewis Farrakhan and PLO leader Yasser Arafat back when he was still calling for
“The song was reflective of all his work in that he
did everything on his own terms – quirky, interesting and challenging,” opined
Weiman-Kelman, who first met Reed through Anderson, who performed in Israel for
the first time in 1992 in a benefit show for the New Israel Fund.
came to Kol Haneshama, and we became best buddies. I would visit her when I went
to New York,” said Weiman-Kelman. “After the service, she came up to me and
said, ‘Wow, you’re a real performance artist!’ – I thought that was pretty cool
coming from her.”
Anderson, who began a relationship with Reed in the
1990s that culminated in their 2008 marriage, accompanied the rocker back to
Israel in the late 1990s when he performed with Peter Gabriel at Hayarkon Park
in Tel Aviv. The couple came to Jerusalem for dinner at Weiman-Kelman’s
“It was the first time I hung out with Lou, and I was having normal
conversation, but in my mind was going: ‘This is Lou Reed!’ said
“I remember we had quite a long, complicated discussion
about the origins of circumcision.
“But through all my interaction with
him over the years, Lou was like you think he would be – brilliant and a little
menacing. A real New Yorker.”
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