Avraham Rosenblum grew up during the Woodstock generation; he even attended the legendary music festival in 1969.
But when he left behind his hippie rags for spiritual riches, he helped found a band that would pioneer Jewish rock music.
The Diaspora Yeshiva Band formed on Mount Zion in Jerusalem in 1975, creating a unique sound with lyrics based on the Torah.
“We ended up creating a very eclectic blend of country, rock, blues, jazz and klezmer,” said Rosenblum, 63, an ordained rabbi who is the band’s lead singer and lead guitarist.
For those attending the yeshiva alongside the band’s founding members, the music provided a much-needed outlet for students who gave up secular music.
“It’s a throwback for me to 35 years ago when I lived in the Old City,” Aryeh Goetz, a friend of drummer Gedalia Goldstein, said after a reunion concert this past weekend. “Their music filled a void for someone exploring Torah Judaism.”
All told, about 560 members of the Jewish community turned out for the first of three reunion concerts at Congregation Shomrei Emunah the night of Jan. 11. The sold-out concert, the first Diaspora Yeshiva Band performance since 1996, featured two sets of the band’s spiritual, yet eclectic blend of music. The six-piece band brought together almost all original members, who traveled from Israel, Chicago and New Jersey to play.
“We’ve been shooting emails back and forth for the last three years wondering when we were going do this again,” said Rosenblum.
With a concert booked last Sunday for New York’s Lincoln Center, the stars aligned for a series of reunion shows.
Shomrei Emunah was an obvious choice for a Baltimore concert, since the “Rockin’ Rabbi,” as Rosenblum is known, is a member of the congregation.
“I grew up with this music. For me, it’s reliving my childhood,” said Kenny Friedman, one of the concert’s co-chairs.
For Friedman and other members of the community, the Diaspora Yeshiva Band is their “classic rock.”
“I’ve been a fan of them for years. They were playing before I was born,” said Binyomin Ansbacher, a concert attendee. “To hear them all together is fantastic.”
Although the recent run only included three shows, in the 1970s and 1980s the band toured all over the United States, Canada, Europe and South Africa.
“We got to play in Jewish communities across two-thirds of the world,” and even the secular music world connected with the band, stated Rosenblum.
A couple songs into the Shomrei Emunah concert, it was easy to discern why Diaspora Yeshiva reached such a wide audience. From klezmer beats to rock songs fit for arenas to upbeat bluegrass tunes, the band’s genre-defying music was coupled with guitar harmonies, saxophone interplay and virtuosic violin playing from Ruby Harris, who switched to mandolin for several songs.
“It’s nice to be able to see Baltimore from this angle again,” a nostalgic Rosenblum told the crowd.
Having spent the previous days rehearsing for the show, the band sounded tight and polished with no indication that it had been 17 years since its last concert.
“The point of our music was always that we wanted to be able to communicate something we believe very strongly in, and that is our commitment to Torah-based Judaism and Jewish spirituality,” said Rosenblum. “Our music allowed us to really bring that message across in a very unpretentious way.”