Dovid Kerner, left, and his brother, Steve, recently finished their first CD of Jewish folk music.
Photo courtesy Dovid Kerner
March 13, 2008
Dovid Kerner was sitting in shul on Rosh Hashana a few years ago, reading about the binding of Isaac, when he was hit with a thought.
“I wondered how that felt…to be Avraham? He was on his own. He was called ‘the Hebrew’ — from the root meaning “other side” — “because he was on one side of the world and everyone else was on the other. How did it feel to be on your own, with no direction home?” Kerner asked, quoting from the Dylan classic “Like a Rolling Stone.”
Borrowing heavily from the music, Kerner wrote about Abraham’s experiences in “To the Land,” one of the songs that appears on his new CD, Bond of Love.
Kerner, 49, became a ba’al teshuva about 25 years ago and told NJ Jewish News he used “my new lifestyle, new way of living, confronting the prayer book every day, just putting my experiences, thoughts, and feelings into music” as the impetus for his project. He teamed up with his brother, Steven, 53, at the latter’s recording studio in Manalapan to produce Bond.
Dovid Kerner said he enjoys creating “message music” to encourage people to think. Some of the most admired folk musicians have been his inspiration; the influence of Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and others are quite recognizable in his music. “Woody could sit down and write a song about anything and everything,” Kerner said. “The Book of Ruth has always spoken to me very strongly, and I patterned [‘The Ballad of Ruth and Naomi”] on Woody’s ballads.”
Kerner wrote the songs on his album over the past decade or so. Some, such as “Adon Olam,” “HaMavdil,” “Mizmor L’Dovid,” and even “Hard Davenin’ Blues,” are religious in nature. “I did that a little tongue in cheek — or maybe not so much — as a nod to the davening experience,” he said. “We’re called upon every day to say the same words over and over. It can be difficult to make it fresh, with all the obstacles that come upon us. So I took a little Brownie McGee” — the late folk-blues singer and guitarist — “finger-style blues and made a shidduch.”
But like his musical mentors, Kerner, who works as assistant to the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Manhattan, also uses his songs as social commentary. “Justice Denied” champions the cause of Jonathan Pollard — the former U.S. Navy analyst convicted as an Israeli spy who has been serving a life sentence since 1986 — while “Thirteen Jews” recalls a group of Jews in Iran who were arrested on charges of espionage in 1981.
NJJN Photo 2
Kerner can still recall a front page picture in The New York Times of the prisoners being led away in handcuffs. “It’s outdated, basically, but it’s out there for the record…. Unfortunately, the Jonathan Pollard song is not outdated. I have updated it over the years, but unfortunately it’s an ongoing situation.”
His latest song, “Sderot Town,” deals with the frequent rocket attacks on that Israeli community in the Negev:
Just a stone’s throw away from the Gaza Strip
And the people living there, well hatred’s their trip.
They aim their rockets to the east and then let ’em all rip
Into Sderot town, from the Gaza Strip.
Kerner and his group, Honorable Mentchen, have performed at concerts and political rallies, in front of thousands of people and just a handful at melavei malka, the gatherings held after the end of Shabbat. Even though some of his songs are “electrified,” Kerner still relies heavily on folk influences. “It’s the folk process of taking experiences, people’s lives, and trying to express it through song.”
Kerner is working on a second album. “Songs are accumulating. It will probably be a children’s album.”
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