You can tell a lot about a person based on his or her favorite Beatle. You were a fan of Ringo? You tended to support the underdog. Paul? You were superficially addicted to good looks and insufferable cuteness. Only the would-be intellectuals favored John. And then there’s George. The fans of George were unclassifiable. Perhaps they were wishy-washy and noncommittal. Perhaps they thought he needed mothering. Or maybe they really appreciated good guitar playing. Who knows? You can test these theories on Feb. 10 when Temple Sinai hosts “All We Need is Love,” an evening of Beatles love songs made even sweeter with a buffet of festive desserts.
If you relate the quote to the one about loving thy neighbor, the Beatles verse becomes the band’s most Jewish statement ever. In fact, it is positively biblical. This got us thinking about the band members’ Jewish connections. The obvious ones were their supporting cast. Among many, two stand out. Brian Epstein, who discovered the Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, managed the band until his death in 1967. And Richard Lester, the director of the Beatles films, “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help,” played a crucial role in their careers. But what about the Fab Four themselves? While George doesn’t seem to have any Jewish connections, the others do.
After I successfully guessed our temple administrator Dottie Swajian’s favorite Beatle, we engaged in a fierce discussion with Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser about whether or not Ringo Starr is Jewish. The rabbi won – he is not. By the way, Ringo’s last name is Starkey, not the more Jewish-sounding Starsky. Nonetheless, a group of radical French-Canadian separatists assumed that Ringo’s prominent nose indicated a Jewish heritage and made a series of death threats when the Fab Four arrived to perform in Montreal in 1964. Ringo responded with, “The one major fault is, I’m not Jewish.” John added a characteristic quip, “He’s having a Bar Mitzvah tomorrow.” The only Jewish connection Ringo has going for him is his 37-year marriage to Barbara Bach – born Barbara Goldbach.
If I had to designate a Beatle as the most Jewish one, I’d have to choose Paul. In a 2013 HaAretz article, Paul is described as having “a love affair with all things Jewish for the past half-century – including collaborators, business associates, girlfriends and wives.”
McCartney’s first wife, Linda Eastman, was Jewish. So was his third wife, Nancy Shevell. All but one of McCartney’s children are Jewish.
In 2008, McCartney was one of the few media giants to accept an invitation from the Israeli government to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary, despite calls for an official boycott. One of the many militant protesters, Omar Bakri Muhammad, an Islamist activist, said, “If he values his life, Mr. McCartney must not come to Israel. He will not be safe there. The sacrifice operatives will be waiting for him.”
Nonetheless, McCartney responded, “I got explicit death threats … but I’m coming anyway … I have no intention of surrendering. … I do what I think, and I have many friends who support Israel.” The Tel Aviv concert went on without incident.
And what about enigmatic John? John and Yoko’s famous “Peace Bed-In” at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel in 1969 showed much consideration of Israel. John greeted the nation of Israel directly over radio broadcast and sang “Hava Nagila.” He went on to wish “peace to the people of Israel” and to sing with Yoko – also in Hebrew – a verse from “Oath for Jerusalem” by Israeli singer/songwriter, Akiva Nof: “Jerusalem, we all swear, that we will never abandon you, from now until forever.”
DEBORAH JOHNSON is the cantor at Temple Sinai in Cranston.