Like that bottle of Bordeaux in your basement, Shlock Rock keeps getting better with age. The Jewish rock band and its now middle-aged members performed Feb. 24 at Shaare Torah Congregation in Squirrel Hill. With a set list reflecting 30 years of songs, the group offered old tunes, new tracks and even a couple tricks to delight the 200 attendees.
But the performance was more than just entertainment. In the words of lead singer Lenny Solomon, who lives in the Israeli city of Bet Shemesh, it was meant to inspire.
“My goal tonight is to make people happy, spread Jewish identity and awareness of Israel and to let people know that Israel should be a part of their lives,” he said.
The call was echoed by Etan Goldman, the group’s self-described “Jewish rapper.”
“I expect that everybody is going to have a good time because the music does that to you,” he said. “People will be up. People will be dancing.”
Goldman, or “Etan G” as he calls himself, said that Wednesday’s show — though lacking a guitarist and drummer — offered the audience a “more intimate” experience with Shlock Rock. “This one is just me and Lenny. We’ll still play it, it just won’t be as full bodied.
“When it’s me and Lenny, it’s much more organic,” he added.
Since its inception in 1986, Shlock Rock’s essence has been lyrics. While often parodying popular songs, Shlock Rock has taught listeners about Jewish history, holidays, the Bible and Israel. For example, on one particularly catchy track, Shlock Rock transformed Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” (1985) into a similarly upbeat Purim saga titled “Achashverosh.”
Another example of Shlock Rock’s lyrical gold is demonstrated in “We’ve Got a Strong Desire,” an alteration of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (1989).
The recallable chorus, which promotes Torah learning and unity, is dwarfed by the song’s potent but aging final stanza:
“Hitler, Auschwitz, Holocaust, Kristallnacht, 6 million lost,
Herzl, Balfour, Promised Land, U.N. vote, partition plan.
Nuremberg, Ben Gurion, Six Day War, Moshe Dayan,
Golda Meir, Wall reclaimed, Yom Kippur, Entebbe raid.
Olympics, Munich, athletes shot, Carter, Begin and Sadat.
Iron Curtain, Lebanon, Sharansky free, Rav Moshe gone,
Jews from Ethiopia, Glasnost, Russian yeshiva,
Intifada, we won’t bow, we want Moshiach now!”
The charm and challenge of Shlock Rock, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary with stops in Pittsburgh and eight other North American cities, is that although crisp in 1991, many of the aforementioned references are lost on younger fans. Yet, depending on perspective, such rub is rubbish.
“There’s so much solid education he has in his words, it could be a whole curriculum for a Jewish day school,” Nina Butler said as she listened to Solomon sing.
“They introduce kids to a lot of concepts and topics they might not get,” agreed Rabbi Sam Weinberg, principal of Hillel Academy.
Shlock Rock’s educational content attracted Carly Cooper to the band decades ago and brought her back to Shaare Torah last Wednesday night.
“I have been a huge fan since first grade,” said Cooper. “I went to a frum Jewish day school in St. Louis. I was learning a lot that didn’t make sense.”
Cooper claimed that because she did not grow up in a religious household, she was unfamiliar with many concepts covered in her day school classes.
But then she started listening to Shlock Rock.
“The songs made it very accessible to me and made it fun,” she said.
For the Pittsburgh show, Cooper attended with children in tow.
“I want them to have it too,” she explained.
Whether the connection is cerebral, nostalgic or something not yet known, there is an emotional bond between the fans and band. During Shlock Rock’s performance of “Ani Yehudi,” Eric Greenfield pumped his fist and proclaimed, “We’re Jews man.”
“There’s so much ruach, freilach, everybody is happy and smiling,” said Sharon Davison, a vocalist and guitarist who taught guitar at the University of Pittsburgh. “Music just washes away the dust of everyday life.”
Susan Jablow of Shaare Torah worked with Solomon to organize the details of the show. Nefesh B’Nefesh, a nonprofit organization that assists those seeking to make aliyah, served as a sponsor and covered one-third of the cost.
Lisa Young oversaw the pre-concert spaghetti dinner, which was prepared in part by sous chef Tamar Wasserman.
“We cooked 16 pounds of pasta, 12 loaves of garlic bread and more than 30 pounds of sauce,” said Young.
“The food of love is music,” said Davison. “And we like the spaghetti and the salad; and that piece of bread was wonderful.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.