Why Do I Feel So Weird About Dave Grohl, Who Isn’t Jewish, Doing Annual “Hanukkah Sessions”?
His heart's in the right place, but is the Foo Fighters frontman appropriating the Jewish holiday?
For the second year in a row, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl has teamed up with producer Greg Kurstin for “The Hanukkah Sessions,” in which the pair cover a different Jewish artist on each of the eight nights of the Festival of Lights. And for the second year in a row, I feel a little weird about the way that Grohl, who isn’t Jewish, is going about the whole thing.
Kurstin, it must be noted, is Jewish, and he and Grohl obviously have the best intentions. I’m all for highlighting the rich musical history of the Jewish people by shining a light on their many contributions to pop culture, but thanks to the fact that he’s the more well-known member of this interfaith duo, Grohl is undeniably the face of the whole thing, and there’s something that feels a little off about the way he’s been promoting it on social media.
Take, for example, the tweet from the Foo Fighters’ account announcing the series last year. “With all the mishegas of 2020, @GregKurstin & I were kibbitzing about how we could make Hannukah [sic] extra-special this year,” it reads. “Festival of Lights?! How about a festival of tasty LICKS! So hold on to your tuchuses…we’ve got something special coming for your shayna punims. L’chaim!!”
Grohl and Kurstin clearly have a sense of humor about the whole thing — the accompanying video opens with them saying “I’m Greg Kurstin, and I’m Jewish” and “I’m Dave Grohl, and I’m not Jewish” — but still, a tweet written in Grohl’s voice that has him attempting to squeeze in as many Yiddish words and phrases that he could possibly Google feels … kind of bad?
For the fourth night of Hanukkah this year, Grohl and Kurstin covered Van Halen’s “Jump,” writing, “Quite possibly the loudest and proudest of hard rocking Jews, David Lee Roth has gone on record crediting his Bar Mitzvah preparation as his earliest vocal training. He became a rockstar the day he became a man: Diamond Dreidel DLR and Van Halen…with ‘Jump.’”
Again, no one’s accusing anyone of anti-Semitism here, and Kurstin’s participation in all of this makes it feel more okay, but there’s something about a gentile calling Diamond Dave “Diamond Dreidel” that’s always going to feel a little iffy; and Grohl tweeting, “Twitterverse, challah at your boy,” while unveiling last year’s cover of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” feels problematic on multiple levels.
Is Grohl appropriating Hanukkah? I don’t know that I’d go as far as calling it that. But does it make me feel a little uncomfortable to see his face Photoshopped onto a dreidel while he posts captions like “Barry Pincus — not only one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th (or any) century, but a mega-mensch to boot!” and “As the only Rock and Roll Hall Of Famers with a lyric about kugel, we thought it would be a shanda to not kick off this party with New York’s (and Abraham’s) finest”? Yes. It’s difficult to see how this kind of thing would fly if he was, say, wearing a dashiki to do “Kwanzaa Sessions,” and while that’s admittedly not a totally fair comparison to draw here, I still can’t help feeling a little conflicted about the whole thing.
On the other hand, Grohl’s heart is in the right place, and it sounds like he just wants to bring a little light into our lives by championing some of his favorite Jewish artists. As he wrote on the eighth night of Hanukkah last year, “As 2020 comes to a close and another Hanukkah ends (my first!) I am reminded of the two things that have gotten me through this year: music and hope. This project, which initially began as a silly idea, grew to represent something much more important to me. It showed me that the simple gesture of spreading joy and happiness goes a long way, and as we look forward, we should all make an effort to do so, no matter how many candles are left to light on the menorah.”
If he had just said that from the get-go rather than going full Jon Hamm in Curb Your Enthusiasm there’d be no issue at all.
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