Ah, Rosh Hashanah. The apples are getting dipped in honey, forgiveness is in the air, and Jewish pride as at its yearly peak. But let’s face it, as awesome as we are, we Jews aren’t exactly known for being big-name pop stars. Comedians with a fine-tuned sense of self-depreciation, yes. Nobel laureates, check. Progressive thinkers, you betcha. Record label owners, duh.
As it turns out however, more marquee artists belong to the tribe than you might realize. In honor of the High Holy Days, MTV Iggy presents to you a list of artists that you probably didn’t know were of the Hebrew persuasion.
Shanah Tova, ya’ll!
1. Sean Paul
First up: Dancehall king Sean Paul (real name Sean Paul Ryan Francis Henriques) weighs in as a quarter Jewish. His grandfather on his father’s side is what they call “Portuguese” in Jamaica – one of the descendents of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who fled to the British Caribbean during the Spanish Inquisition. He also just happens to share a last name with a famous Jewish-Jamaican 17th century pirate, Moses Cohen Henriques. Not that I’m suggesting that Sean Paul is possibly related to history’s most notable Jewish pirate or anything.
Sean Paul was actually raised Catholic, but photographic evidence suggests he got in touch with his Hebraic side at the Wailing Wall while on a trip to Israel in 2007. Other Sean Paul biographical fun fact: he played on Jamaica’s national water polo team for eight years. Hardcore.
Pink is half-Jewish, but on her mother’s side, so unlike Sean Paul, she’s the real deal. But despite her genealogical credentials, she’s never really repped for the Israelites, so until she goes through her inevitable mid-40s pop star Kabbala phase, we’re categorizing her under “wayward Jew.”
Pink lost a few points in the Jewish blogosphere when she finally did invoke her Jewish identity… only to defend Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rants, saying “I’m a fan of his [Gibson's} work. I think anybody with opinions like that needs well-wishing. And I'm Jewish. Alcohol makes you do crazy things."
However, she partially made up for it by shtupping a Orthodox dude in her video for “Raise Your Glass” (circa 2:00 minutes in).
3. Mark Ronson
High-flying producer/DJ Mark Ronson (who produced fellow tribe member Amy Winehouse) grew up in a Conservative Jewish family in London and New York, and according to Ronson, they were fairly religious. Ronson went to Hebrew school, read the Torah (no transliteration) at his Bar Mitzvah, and he still goes to synagogue on the holidays.
In an interview with Jewish web magazine Guilt & Pleasure, he even credits the faith with teaching him the humility and work ethic that has made him a successful producer. To that we say, Mark Ronson, we salute you, but you are making the rest of us look bad in front of our Jewish grandmothers.
It’s hardly a secret, but Drizzy Drake has achieved the improbable by becoming a world-famous rapper and being a Jewish Canadian at the same time. He grew up in Forest Hill, an affluent Jewish suburb in Toronto with his Jewish mother (his father is an African-American from Memphis), went to a Jewish day school, and had not one Bar Mitzvahs, but two.
The first one was a low-key party in the basement of Italian restaurant. The second was the backdrop for a liquor-soaked music video for the song “HYFR,” filmed in a Miami synagogue. If you haven’t seen the video already, there’s a bonus: footage from a very young and adorable Drake breaking it down at his cousin’s rite of passage.
When your parents hoped you’d settle down with a nice Jewish girl, they may not have had Peaches in mind. The singer behind electro-sex-rap gems “Fuck The Pain Away” and “Diddle My Skiddle” joins Drake in representing for Toronto Jews. Before she came out publicly waving her freak flag, Peaches was Merrill Beth Nisker, a music and drama teacher at a Toronto Yeshiva.
6. Jay Kay (Jamiroquai)
Jamiroquai lead singer Jay Kay, known for his giant silly hat and irrepressible white boy funkiness, is as Jewish as the day is long. Jay’s father, who left his family early on, was Portuguese, but he was raised in London by his Jewish mother, a cabaret performer named Karen Kay. He went to an Orthodox school in London that is so Jewish, it was sued in 2008 for denying admission to an 11-year-old kid who was “not Jewish enough” because his parents converted to the faith.
Jay Kay, however, hasn’t spoken much about his Judaism over the years. In 2010, he told the Daily Star that his album Rock Dust Light Star is anti-religion. The 42-year-old singer, who is well known in the British press for his longstanding cocaine addiction and for getting in brawls with journalists, also says that he believes the world is going to be destroyed by a comet, which has goy, or maybe just crazy, written all over it.
7. Craig David
The British R&B star is not only half-Jewish on his mother’s side, he wears a Star of David around one wrist and owns a home in Northwest London neighborhood of Hampstead, the Jewiest of all London hoods. Aw yeah.
8. Bob Dylan
So what if he changed his name from Robert Zimmerman to Bob Dylan? So what if he had a very public conversion to born-again Christianity in the late 1970s? Bob Dylan is probably the most famous Jewish-American musician in history, and we’re not giving him up. Also, this.
9. Alex Clare
Don’t be fooled by his blonde locks: British singer-songwriter (and former chef) Alex Clare is not only a full-fledged Jew, but a practicing Orthodox Jew who refuses to play gigs on Shabbat and keeps kosher even while on tour. Clare, who dated Amy Winehouse back in the day and is best known for his dubstep-pop hit “Too Close,” didn’t grow up Orthodox. But after bopping around the North London music scene for years, he became turned off by the hedonism and became more and more serious about religion. This summer, he told Paper Mag that “Being an observant Jew and keeping Kosher gives me the strength to keep on going, I feel.” He says his favorite Kosher restaurant in the world is Basil, in New York City’s Hasidic Crown Heights neighborhood.
Beck is the least Jewish on this list – he’s one-eighth Jewish on his mother’s side, but by religious rules, he counts. His mother, Bibbe Hansen, was a New York City bohemian and one of Andy Warhol’s “Superstars,” was Jewish via her own mother. Beck has said in interviews that he was raised Jewish, but his parents became Scientologists in the 60s, and he’s admitted to be a practicing member of the Church, so we have no choice but to classify him as a total meshuggah.