Michael Aronovitch/Photo courtesy Michael Aronovitch

Behind the music: The story of “Rabbi Sid – The Rappin’ Rabbi”

Share this story!
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

By Neal Schindler

Back in June of 2016, I wrote about the strange and wonderful phenomenon of rapping clergy. I spent most of that article exploring the rhyming proselytizing of a character named Rabbi Sid, who in a bizarre, four-minute YouTube video appears to invade a black neighborhood and urge its residents to follow halakha. I was particularly intrigued by one of the comments below the video: “This is totally awesome! I was 10 years old when my Grandfather made this video. I must have watched this video 100’s of times before seeing it here on YouTube. Thank you for doing this. This means a lot to our family.” I Googled the commenter’s username, deduced his identity (Montreal actor Michael Aronovitch), and invited him to contact me should he happen to discover my article.

Then, on Nov. 17, the incredible happened: Michael Aronovitch emailed me. He said he would be happy to talk about his “zaida” (Yiddish for grandfather) for a follow-up article. After Thanksgiving, with great excitement, I gave Michael a call and heard his side of the Rabbi Sid story.

Neal: First of all …  I would love to find out a little bit more about the circumstances surrounding the song and the video. My first question, honestly, is: I got the impression from the person who posted the video to YouTube that Rabbi Sid was not your grandfather’s actual name, and that he may or may not have been a rabbi.

Michael: You know, he was considered one in a lot of ways. You found out that he’s connected to a Jewish cemetery, the Baron de Hirsch, and so he managed that cemetery for close to 20 years. But everybody went to him like he was the rabbi. He was a very, very special man. He did so many things for the community, for people and their families, and those who passed away. And even prior to that he was in the toy business, he was a salesman. Very, very friendly man.

N: So, very involved in the Jewish community?

M: Oh, yeah.

N: So what was his actual name?

M: His name [was] Jerry J. Glantz. And this is going to sound a little bit weird, but there’s also a little number 2 at the end of his last name, like on the right-hand corner of the zed, you would put a little 2, number 2.

N: Like squared?

M: Like squared, exactly. Not too small but enough that you see it. He had a thing behind that, and I can’t tell you what it is, I’d have to kill you. … It’s something where you’d have to figure [it] out, which is how I learned about it. … And he actually had that on his nameplate at his office in the cemetery, which is funny.

N: So basically, you know why he did that but it’s a secret?

M: It’s a family secret. And the only way he ever told it was that you had to figure it out.

N: OK. Well, that may or may not ever happen for me, but I appreciate knowing. Is it okay to include that in the article?

M: Yeah, absolutely! Oh, he would love it if that was there, for sure!

N: Already from what you’ve told me, he sounds like quite a character.

M: He was.

N: OK, so one of the things I was wondering when I found the video: Somebody commented on it that the song used to play on the radio every day in Montreal.

M: You know what, I don’t know about that. Honestly, I remember when I saw the video itself, we had it on VHS, so it was easy for us — that’s the only way we got to see it. I don’t recall it being on the radio. I lived in Montreal until probably the late ’90s. I didn’t listen to… the station that guy listened to? In Montreal it does happen where local acts do get on the air for fun, around the holidays or whatever, but like I said … I couldn’t vouch for it.

N:  Fair enough. So, I would love to hear how your grandfather ended up being involved with the video and the song.

M: Well, you know, from what I understand … the guy [who made the video] was looking for somebody who could fit the rabbi role, and I think it just happened through conversation. And he asked my zaida, “Would you be interested in doing this?” And he said, “Yeah, why not?” And that’s basically how it happened. I was reading [your] article about that, and it seems as though there’s a lot of insight on the whole thing, and I have to tell you, it was a lot simpler than that, I felt. He had an opportunity. My grandfather was very well-respected in the Jewish community, and I think in the community as a whole, and a lot of people would ask him things, funny things. And he wouldn’t be a man who said no to it; he always was up for a challenge. And when he got to do it he was very happy about it. What you saw on that video was him, it was totally him. Now, the peyos wasn’t real, I mean, I can tell you a few things behind that video that [weren’t] real. Except for the people who played the black community, they were real. But everybody else was pretty much an act. And that’s all it was, was just for fun.

N: It seems like what you’re saying is, the personality or the intonation or the way he communicated, that was him.

M: Yeah!

N: OK. And I’m guessing he’s not the one who wrote the song, right?

M: No. And you know what, he was very opposite of that. He didn’t rate Jewish people based on how they practiced their faith. It was who they are as a person. And he used to tell me that story when I was a kid… I always take that with me about what a Jewish person really is…. I mean, sure, you go to shul, I mean, every Saturday… my grandfather didn’t push that, nor did he always do that, you know? He was his own man, and like I said, the words that were spoken were just words. There was no meaning behind it. I mean I’m sure there was for some, I mean, obviously the chasidic community for sure…. You mentioned the audience surrounding him. That’s not ideal, obviously, to [try to] sell somebody from another faith or culture [on yours], but that wasn’t him. He was very open about stuff. I mean, not overly open, don’t get me wrong. He was Orthodox. Brought up Orthodox, as I was. But he didn’t push on anybody, and like I said, he always felt that being a Jewish person was how you acted, not so much how you prayed, you know?

N: So basically, he was Orthodox, but he was a relatively easygoing Orthodox Jew.

M: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, for sure.

N: And was Orthodox Judaism the branch or the practice of the rest of your family?

M: Yes. My whole family. We all followed a certain way. We’re Ashkenazi, you know. So for the traditional, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, all the holidays. … Passover, the family get-togethers were always there, all the Jewish holidays were respected. We’d go to shul, we’d all follow the path as we were supposed to, but we didn’t push on each other, or other people. We didn’t feel more special than anybody else.

N: Not judgmental.

M: Not at all. Oh my G-d, my grandfather had so many people from the non-Jewish community working with him, especially at the cemetery. I couldn’t tell you anything bad about him. We’re in the province of Quebec, and [Judaism] doesn’t always mix, but [for] some of us it’s easier than others. I try to follow his way of thinking, and people respect that.

N: Was the rest of your family supportive of his being involved with [the video]?

M: Yeah! Yeah, for sure. It’s nostalgic for me. Because I mean I saw it before there was a YouTube. We used to play it all the time in his home, or my uncle would have a copy of it in his home. You know, just for fun we’d watch it once in a while. … I was very close to my grandfather, so to see it once in a while just reminds me. … That’s why it was nice to see it [on YouTube]. I was surprised, you know?

N: How long ago would you say you noticed it was on YouTube?

M: Just a few years ago. Five years ago, six years ago, maybe?

N: OK. Do you know who it was that made it?

M: No. No, I don’t remember the gentleman’s name. I remember having that conversation, but I don’t remember who that was. Maybe my grandmother would, I don’t know.

N: I wasn’t sure if it was somebody in the Chasidic community who thought this would be a way to get a playful take on Judaism out there.

M: Yeah, I don’t know who it was, to be honest with you. But I know for a fact it was meant to be completely playful. I mean it was 1984 or ’85, you’re not insulting anybody then. I can tell you the dancers, they weren’t Jewish. It was just a fun thing to do.

N: You mean the young men in the peyos and such were not Jewish, in fact?

M: No, they’re not Jewish.

N: That’s funny. Do you know if there was a particular part of the city in which it was shot?

M: Oh, I’d have to look at the video again. I couldn’t tell you exactly where it was.

N: Based on my research, I made the assumption that you are, in fact, a voice actor, and that you live in Montreal.

M: I’m also an actor as well, and I narrate corporate videos.

N: From your perspective, what is Jewish life like in Montreal?

M: You know what, the younger community is getting more involved again, in the Jewish community. Before, a lot of people were moving to Toronto. We had a scare a few years ago with the last election. Thankfully that party did not win, and I feel like the younger community wants to revive the Jewish community in Montreal. … I’ve always been involved but not involved, too. I was living in Toronto for many years. I’ve only been back in Montreal for the last couple years, but from the friends I do have here who I talk to who are Jewish, they tell me that there’s definitely a rekindling, and I do see through my kids’ schools — my kids go to UTT, United Talmud Torah. It seems like people are wanting to repeat their parents’ traditions. And [there are] also more Israelis here. We’re growing again.

N: That’s really good to hear. What did you think of the original article I wrote when you saw it?

M: You know, I really liked it, and I felt it was very insightful, and I could see … that you’re like, well, we really think this way? And is it good for people thinking the Jewish community pushes that on other cultures? “You should be doing this, you should be doing that.” And I felt like, that’s really insightful but that’s not what the video was about. So I felt like, my grandfather is [in] no way like that. …  I was going to respond to you with that alone. … I mean, it’s 1984, and anything goes in 1984, in my opinion. And in Montreal … we’re very open with culture, with its variety. … I mean, we all have our feelings about other cultures, but we get along, you know what I mean? … No one’s judged based on where they’re from, it’s all about who they are and how they act.

N: Well, first of all, I’d say probably Canadians on the whole are getting along better these days than Americans are. I’m sure you’re acutely aware of the divisions and polarizations here. I don’t want to get into that. I’ll just say Canadians are a bit more harmonious than we are right now.

M: You know, we say “Sorry.”

N: Exactly. I appreciate getting the chance to clarify what you were talking about. … In terms of certain aspects of how he was performing, [the video] reflected how your grandfather was, but in a way it really didn’t. And that it also was not made in the spirit of trying to proselytize. I didn’t really think it was a serious attempt to do that kind of outreach, but it just brought up a lot of things about that. … But the video is clearly not meant to be taken all that seriously. … The idea of a rappin’ rabbi is funny in and of itself, but then it was executed very cleverly. So i appreciated that. But I’m happy to get a chance to tell the story a little more.

M: It was really nice talking to you about it. I only have great memories of my grandfather. So it’s nice to talk about him. And I know he would appreciate you doing what you’re doing. He was very open like that.

N: Is there anything else you’d like FāVS readers to know about the video, the song, or about your grandfather?

M: He was a very special man in the Jewish community, and truly believed that everybody was equal. And I always try to teach his children and grandchildren that.

N: That’s lovely.

About Neal Schindler

A native of Detroit, Neal Schindler has lived in the Pacific Northwest since 2002. He has held staff positions at Seattle Weekly and The Seattle Times and was a freelance writer for Jew-ish.com from 2007 to 2011. Schindler was raised in a Reconstructionist Jewish congregation and is now a member of Spokane's Reform congregation, Emanu-El. He is the director of Spokane Area Jewish Family Services. His interests include movies, Scrabble, and indie rock. He lives with his wife, son, and two cats in West Central Spokane.

View All Posts

Check Also

Ask An Atheist: Does it Take Faith to be an Atheist?

Not only does it not require "faith" to be an atheist, that aspect should play no role whatsoever in being an atheist

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *