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‘The Boss’ Is Not in ‘The Tribe’

A surprise to one Irish Jewish Springsteen fan

Hadara Graubart
October 16, 2009

What’s wrong with the intro to this op-ed?

I have always looked on Bruce Springsteen as the embodiment of lower-middle class, Jewish-American culture. He built up his career in a very Jewish way, shrewdly and carefully. He looked after himself, and never went wild on drugs or drink, just as those other New York-area Jews, Simon and Garfunkel, stayed clean. He was and is good with money…

He was, to my mind, the archetypal Jew who completed the Jewish journey, of taking a format that began with fusions of country and western and black soul music, that had been reinterpreted by Jewish writers, but was now finally being performed by a Jew.

The answer eventually becomes obvious to the writer, Kevin Myers of Northern Ireland: “Bruce Springsteen is as Jewish as hurling or the Christian Brothers.” Of course, his mistake is an honest one (we know where Jackie Mason stands on Italians from New Jersey). We all want to “own” our heroes, and the difference between “steen” and “stein” is subtle but significant. But Myers’s error also involved a leap of, if not impeccable, than at least solid deduction: “it was logical that there should be a Jewish rock star, because for over a generation, Jews had been the intermediary between black music and the larger white population in the US and abroad.”

However, in an attempt to forgive himself for “deal[ing] in stereotypes,” Myers makes another leap, this one also naïve and, in some ways, as reductive as stereotypes themselves: “There is, in reality, no true ‘Jew’, no ‘Protestant’, no ‘Traveller’, no ‘Palestinian’, no ‘Zulu’, no ‘Ibo’…And we on this small island should by now have learnt that tribal divisions are usually a toxic confection in the mind of the beholder.” Quite a jump from this insight on the top of the page: “[A]s we all know, sooner or later, Jews naturally get to the top of the tree. This is one of the simple truisms of life.”

Hadara Graubart was formerly a writer and editor for Tablet Magazine.

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