The Arty Semite

Author Blog: A Word on Who I Am

By Ilan Mochari

  • Print
  • Share Share

Earlier this week, Ilan Mochari wrote about the autobiographical elements in his novel, “Zinsky the Obscure” (Fomite Press). His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Kelly McDonald

A few months ago I finished Pete Townshend’s autobiography, “Who I Am.” I can’t say I was surprised to read the following:

We shared our house with the Cass family, who lived upstairs and, like many of my parents’ closest friends, were Jewish. I remember noisy, joyous Passovers with a lot of Gefilte fish, chopped liver and the aroma of slow-roasting brisket (11).

Why was I not surprised? As a lifelong fan of The Who, I’ve often felt there was something ineffably Jewish in their themes and melodies. I’m thinking in particular of the devotional litany from “Tommy”:

Listening to you, I get the music / Gazing at you, I get the heat / Following you, I climb the mountain / I get excitement at your feet / Right behind you, I see the millions / On you, I see the glory / From you, I get opinions / From you, I get the story.

In the way it builds, in the way it deifies, in the way it mounts and repeats, it has always reminded me of Ein Keloheinu and Adon Olam.

And here’s my confession: I like singing this part of “Tommy.” A lot. As in, every day. As if it’s a prayer I can’t live without. It owns me. Even though I’m a secular cat. Even though I’d hesitate to call myself spiritual.

I have often wondered why “Tommy” has such a grip on me. My best guess? I think it stems from my six summers at B’nai B’rith Perlman Camp in Starlight, Pennsylvania.

BBPC was a place where you could get in serious trouble — you’d get “docked” from canteen or a team sport, and you’d get a dozen “dead arms” from your counselor — if you didn’t sing with the proper levels of respect and passion. It didn’t matter what the song was. It might be the “Birkat Hamazon”; it might be “The Circle Game”; it might be your color war team’s anthem.

This mild form of cultural hazing left a mark. To this day, I get annoyed at Passover when not everyone is pulling his weight on “Echad Mi Yodea.” And I get annoyed at music shows when the lead vocalist isn’t “bringing it” with everything he has.

And it all has to do with the belief — cultivated at BBPC — that singing is not to be done in a half-assed manner. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Passover table or a stadium concert. Sing it like you mean it, or don’t sing at all.

That last sentence is The Who in general, and “Tommy” in particular.

And so here I am, more than 20 years past my summer camp days. I’m an adult who almost never goes to temple. For all intents and purposes, I’m an atheist. But when I sing songs from Tommy, I feel like I’m regaining a precious piece of my childhood puzzle. It might not be a piece that belongs, strictly speaking, to the Jewish tradition; but it belongs to a lesson that I first learned in a Jewish setting. It is a lesson about passion, and a lesson about effort. And it is a lesson that has stayed with me, ever since.


Ilan Mochari will be reading at Molasses Books (770 Hart St) in Brooklyn on July 11 at 8 p.m. Read more about Ilan here.


The Jewish Book Council is a not-for-profit organization devoted to the reading, writing and publishing of Jewish literature. For more Jewish literary blog posts, reviews of Jewish books and book club resources, and to learn about awards and conferences, please visit www.jewishbookcouncil.org.

MyJewishLearning.com is the leading transdenominational website of Jewish information and education. Visit My Jewish Learning for thousands of articles on Judaism, Jewish holidays, Jewish history and more.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Zinsky the Obscure, Ilan Mochari, Books, Author Blog Series

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.