Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Journey

I can’t wait to see I’m Your Man, the new movie about my favorite singer, Leonard Cohen. My wheels starting churning about outreach possibilities associated with this film. First there’s the obvious—films and other cultural events generally have a better chance of reaching an unaffiliated audience than those held inside Jewish institutions. But a film about Leonard Cohen also presents an angle not often explored. Here is someone who grew up in an observant home and has over the years taken a unique Jewish journey, identifying at times as a Jew-Bu (Jewish and Buddhist). I poked around a bit and found an interesting article in All About Jewish Theatre chronicling his Jewish journey. Something that we need to consider in looking at Jewish involvement is its fluidity; Jewish identity can shift and change and change again over the course of a lifetime.

This movie could also be an opportunity to learn about how Leonard Cohen’s art was influenced by Jewish themes. I’m envisioning a program that examines the Jewish motifs in his songs while introducing the original sources as well. For example, his haunting song “Who By Fire” is a rendition of a prayer recited on Rosh Hashanah called the “Unetane Tokef.” “If It Be Your Will,” too, was clearly inspired by high holiday prayers and themes. Perhaps a series of Leonard Cohen-inspired events leading up to the high holidays, or even something more broad, like Jewish themes as they appear in popular music?


  1. Speaking of musicians with a fluid Jewish journey, I suggest everyone check out “Neighborhood Bully” by Bob Dylan. This pro-Israel song was evidently written even after Dylan’s “Christian phase.” Whatever one’s musical tastes, the lyrics are sadly appropriate to recent events. Music seems like a great way to educate the unaffiliated.

    Read the lyrics here:

    Comment by Ron in Croton — August 18, 2006 @ 9:15 am

  2. Only discovered Cohen and his great music about 3 weeks ago.

    His Hallelujah, Take This Waltz, and Boogie Street are very diverse and yet the words, music, and voice draw me like a magnet.

    After hearing his songs from the 70’s on at youtube
    I find his voice better today.

    G-d bless you, Leonard!

    Comment by Joyce McConnell — August 29, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

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