By Stacey Dresner
WEST HARTFORD – You may have heard their song “Old Time Torah Scroll” set to the tune of Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Or “Under the Chupah,” changing the words from the Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk.”
If not, you will get the chance on Sunday, March 3 when the musical group Shlock Rock comes to West Hartford to play its Jewishly-flavored renditions of popular hit songs.
Shlock Rock and its founder and leader Lenny Solomon will hit the stage in a free concert held at Beth El Temple and presented by Beth El, Young Israel of West Hartford, Beth David Synagogue, The Emanuel Synagogue and Chabad House of Greater Hartford – all located in West Hartford.
While the concert is free and open to the public, it is asked that those attending consider donating to The 4 Corners Project, a non-profit Jewish education program, which is the brainchild of Lenny Solomon.
“The 4 Corners Project is informal Jewish education through music and media,” explains Solomon. “The 4 Corners Project’s goal is to reach the Jews of the four corners of the world…Basically what it does is fill a tremendous need to give Jewish families and children, parents and grandparents a love of Judaism, their heritage and their roots.”
That’s just what Shlock Rock has been doing since 1986, when, Solomon, a Jewish version of Weird Al Yankovic, began to do his Jewish song parodies professionally.
Solomon had started his musical career around 1981 as a member of a band that performed at NCSY and USY conventions – the youth groups of the Orthodox and Reform Jewish movements, respectively.
“These youth groups used music to keep kids interested in Shabbat. I said, ‘I can do this’ and I started writing. When I put out these 11 parodies in an album called “Learning is Good” in 1986, I thought it would be a one-time comedy album,” he says.
But one day he got a letter from a fan. “This woman said, ‘I have a brother who dislikes Judaism and he is listening to your cassette around the clock. Keep up the good work.’ I got other letters that were similar and it was at that point where I said, ‘Well, maybe that is what this is for. And I started working on album number two.”
Since then, Solomon has put out 39 albums and has done 2,000 performances. Shlock Rock has played in each of the 50 U.S. states.
“There are 500 Shlock Rock songs I have written since 1986. Half are parody, half are original. Some of them are children’s songs and some of them are more adult-oriented in terms of the subject matter,” Solomon says.
The upcoming concert in West Hartford came about when Solomon reached out to old friend and West Hartford resident Matthew Braunshweiger. The two first met when Solomon, a student at Queens College, was Braunshweiger’s bus counselor at Broad Channel Day Camp in New York.
“He used to play harmonica on the bus all the time and sing,” Braunshweiger recalls. “We have been friends for a long time.”
When speaking to Braunshweiger recently, Solomon told him about 4 Corners and his plans for the organization.
“He mentioned that he wanted do something for Jewish education using music and particularly, the music of Shlock Rock. He had this idea to do free concerts in order to raise donations,” says Braunshweiger, a member of both Young Israel of West Hartford and Beth David Synagogue, who decided to help bring Shlock Rock to West Hartford.
“I want to do things to bring the community together,” Braunshweiger says. “I thought this was a good idea.”
He contacted other synagogues in the area and several of them were happy to participate.
“I love Shlock Rock! I sing ‘Minyan Man’ just about every evening if we’re looking for our minyan man (or woman!) at Beth El,” says Rabbi Ilana Garber, referring to one of Shlock Rock’s most popular songs. “The songs are fun, engaging, clever, and meaningful… and so catchy. Can’t wait to share this music with our community.”
Rabbi Tuvia Brander of Young Israel of West Hartford said he has been a Shlock Rock fan since he was a kid.
“There are some of Lenny’s songs that, I am embarrassed to say, I first learned as Shlock Rock songs only to later discover that they were actually parodies of more classic hits,” he says. “I find his music reverberates themes of Jewish unity, community and Jewish values that are so in sync with what we at the Young Israel of West Hartford value. All of which makes me so excited to help share him and bring Shlock Rock now with my daughter and our Greater Hartford community.”
Shlock Rock will also be performing in concerts in Boston, Baltimore and Harrisburg, Penn. to help raise money for The 4 Corners Project.
Solomon’s plan for 4 Corners is to release a different project every month for the next three years – holiday specials, music videos, webisodes, animated videos, feature films, and stage productions. Everything will be supported by Jewish curriculum.
“The most important thing is we are hiring teachers to create lesson plans and curriculum to go with the songs I have written over the last 35 years in order to put them into the Jewish day schools and religious school programs, and to support teachers while they are teaching their subjects. For instance, if a teacher is telling the story of David and Goliath, we have a song called “David Run Up to Goliath.”
And why does Solomon think music will make such an impression on Jews in the four corners of the world?
“Music goes straight to the soul. Music goes to places where lectures can’t,” he says. “The classroom is a formal setting. There is nothing better than learning without knowing you are learning. Obviously I am not taking away from classes; the classroom is very important. But the extracurricular stuff that you do is what inevitably will bond you to everything else.”
Solomon said that the upcoming concert in West Hartford is special because several local synagogues are involved.
“The thing about Shlock Rock is we cover all the denominations,” he said. “We don’t belong to any organization. We belong to the Jewish community.”
“Shlock Rock in Concert” will be held Sunday, March 3, 3:30 p.m. at Beth El Temple, 2626 Albany Ave. Admission is free; donations to help support The 4 Corners Project are welcome. For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.