Paul Shaffer to perform in White Plains for his Mount Kisco synagogue

Back in 2005, I covered a shofar blowing contest in Manhattan’s Herald Square Park.

As I remember it, it was a nice fall day in the city. And it was a truly interesting and fun event — listening to a bunch of people blow the heck out of their shofars (that ram’s horn used in synagogue during the High Holy Days).

One of the judges that day was one Paul Shaffer, David Letterman’s pal and band director. It turned out that Shaffer was Jewish and a member of the Mount Kisco Hebrew Congregation, the only Orthodox shul in northern Westchester.

tjndc5-5b5llz523hssk9ztezi_layoutI chatted with him a bit and he was very nice. “I can’t resist the sound of the shofar, haven’t been able to since I was a kid,” he told me. “It wakes you up and stirs your soul, if done properly, and it always has.”

The picture shows Shaffer with Rabbi Yitzchak Rosenbaum of Manhattan.

In his new book, “We’ll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives: A Swingin’ Show-Biz Saga,” Shaffer writes about Bob Dylan needing to leave a rehearsal for Letterman’s 10th anniversary show in 2003 because he would not perform during the Jewish Sabbath.

“His long and winding spiritual road had led him back to Orthodox Judaism,” Shaffer wrote. “He refused to play on the Sabbath.”

He went on: “Over time, I’ve lost track of Dylan’s movements in the spiritual continuum. I myself have remained consistent. I’m Jewish, I’m happy. I love the tradition. Like my favorite ballplayer, Sandy Koufax, I don’t play on Yom Kippur, the holiest time of the Jewish year, the sacred Day of Atonement.”

I mention Paul Shaffer not to drop names, but because he’s doing a fundraiser for the Mount Kisco Hebrew Congregation this Saturday night (Feb. 6) at the White Plains Performing Arts Center. And he’s bringing along his (non-Jewish) buddy, Martin Short.

The show is to benefit the synagogue’s educational programs and community outreach.

In 2008, I wrote about the Orthodox Union choosing three synagogues, including Mount Kisco, to work on “outreach” to unaffiliated Jews.

It must help to have Paul Shaffer on your team (conducting, no less!).

Little Drummer Bob

It’s official:

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Bob Dylan will release a brand new album of holiday songs, Christmas In The Heart, on Tuesday, October 13, it was announced today by Columbia Records. All of the artist’s U.S. royalties from sales of these recordings will be donated to Feeding America, guaranteeing that more than four million meals will be provided to more than 1.4 million people in need in this country during this year’s holiday season. Bob Dylan is also donating all of his future U.S. royalties from this album to Feeding America in perpetuity.

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Songs include “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Little Drummer Boy” and “Must Be Santa.”

Dylan does Christmas

Who says Bob Dylan’s “Christian years” are in the past?

The pop bard is recording a Christmas album.

Can you imagine Dylan croaking “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” It’s on the album!

According to Bullypulpit.com, which broke the story, Dylan has also put down “Must Be Santa,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

It…must…be…Sannnnn….tttaaaaa….

Scott Marshall, author of a forthcoming book, “God and Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life,” says: “A Christmas album by Bob Dylan in the pipeline doesn’t really shock me. At first glance it may sound bizarre, but I don’t think Dylan cares much about what his detractors might make of it. Dylan still sings songs from ‘Slow Train Coming’ to this day and he’s both never renounced being Jewish or renounced his experience with Jesus some three decades ago. He remains enigmatic and this will probably be talked about for years to come.”

Billboard notes: “Dylan, who was born Robert Zimmerman, will join a music business tradition of Jewish artists who release Christmas-themed albums, including Neil Diamond and Phil Spector. Irving Berlin, who wrote the yuletide classic “White Christmas,” was also Jewish.”

But is Dylan still Jewish? Still Christian? I’ve heard some interesting hints, but…no one knows for sure but the man.

Bob Dylan was no Presbyterian

I love Bob Dylan. Always have.

I’m not one of those guys who tries to analyze the meaning in his songs (although I probably did in college). But I have all his albums and have seen him perform many times.

I started listening him in the mid-1970s, when I was about 14. I was probably aware that he was Jewish, although his Jewishness did not play an overt role on his classic albums that I was devouring at the time.

Then, bang, he became a Christian. It was Big News.

In 1979, he released Slow Train Coming, a hit-you-between-the-eyes Christian album on which Dylan thanked Jesus for taking away his sins, rejoiced at the prospect of a second coming, and warned of what was in store for those who did not believe.

dylanmuseum3.jpgWhat was so striking was the directness of the message. Dylan, after all, was known for lyrics that were anything but direct.

Funny thing was, the album yielded Dylan’s first hit single in some time, “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair,
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

In 1980, Dylan released Saved, an all-out Gospel record. The title says it all.

On one song, he sang: “You have laid down Your life for me/What can I do for You?”

In 1981, came Shot of Love, which included only one unmistakable Christian song: “Property of Jesus.”

And then it was over.

Reports had Dylan returning to Judaism. There was extensive media coverage of a visit to the Western Wall.

But as best I can tell, no one really knows what religion Bob Dylan identifies with today (if any) — even though one of the dominant themes on his recent records is mortality.

So I am very intrigued by “Inside Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years,” a new documentary that includes interviews with musicians and others who were around Dylan during the Jesus Years.

A trailer for the film shows fans walking out of his early Jesus-oriented concerts. “He don’t sing nothing like he used to,” one guy complains.

One fellow in the trailer notes that Dylan was rather evangelical at the time: “It’s not like he turned into a Presbyterian or something.”

The movie is being screened on Saturday (Nov. 1) at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th St. in New York City, at 7:30 p.m. Admission is Free.

Regina McCrary, who sang on Slow Train Coming and toured with Dylan during the Jesus Years, will perform.

And there will be a panel discussion featuring McCrary, bass player Rob Stoner (who played with Dylan then), and Mitch Glaser, a founding member of…Jews for Jesus and president of Chosen People Ministries, a group that evangelizes Jews.

In the trailer, Jerry Wexler, the famed Atlantic Records producer who died this past August, says this about working with Dylan on the Slow Train Coming record: “I had no idea it was going to be wall-to-wall Jesus.”