When I was growing up, “Jewish music” was like “Jewish cars.” It didn’t mean a thing.
On second thought, “Jewish cars” did mean something. It meant, for example, the Boat — an Olds 98 owned by the father of my my friend Mark. The Boat had electric windows and was oceanic. (Mark was richer than the rest of us. He lived in the fancy part of town. His doorbell lit up.)
Years later, a Cleveland gentile told me all humongous Detroit rides were “Jew boats.” So maybe there were Jewish cars.
Re: Jewish music . . .
I learned about that at the house of another high school friend, Shelly Gordon. His parents knew Israeli and Yiddish music. I was an adult when I got interested in Jewish music, and Shelly had already moved to Israel. (His parents were such Zionists most of the family wound up in Israel.)
Shelly’s parents were Labor Zionists (Poale Zion). They seemed to know every classic Israeli tune and how to dance and/or sing it. And the Gordon family attended a Yiddish camp in Michigan. (Farband/Jewish National Workers Alliance.)
The parents didn’t know from sports, which was odd because Shelly turned into a star athlete. He played tennis for Ohio State and became a tennis instructor in Israel. Shelly has done that for more than 30 years. (Still at it, at the Israel Tennis Center in Jerusalem, ) He never took a private tennis lesson.
Shelly didn’t care about Jewish music; he cared about the Browns, Buckeyes and Indians. In Israel he logs on — to this day — at about 3 a.m. to catch Cleveland sports scores on the Internet. He has a yarmulke that reads “Cleveland Cavaliers.”
When I visited Shelly, I played The Wall: Shelly. He rarely missed a ball. At the tennis center, Shelly was like Moshiach (Messiah); he had the highest seniority and everybody deferred to him. He had even beaten Andy Ram, a Wimbledon doubles champion. “Andy was 12 at the time,” Shelly pointed out.
Shelly’s dad, Sanford (the man who knew all the Hebrew tunes), never played tennis. In fact Mr. Gordon was so oblivious to sports he didn’t even enroll Shelly in Little League. Mr. Gordon was not an immigrant or DP (Displaced Person); he was a NASA scientist and full-time Zionist. Baseball meant nothing to Israelis, thus, it meant nothing to Mr. Gordon.
Shelly went to a Zionist camp in Michigan. (Habonim camp.)
On the flipside: My parents played tennis; didn’t collect Jewish song books; didn’t send me to any kind of camp; and my dad managed a Little League team.
So I wound up playing klezmer music.