When Tom Petty hung out with an Orthodox rock band in Israel

Gabe Friedman

Tom Petty

Tom Petty performing in Los Angeles circa 1985. (Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Tom Petty, whose hits such as “American Girl,” “Free Falling” and “I Won’t Back Down” made him one of the biggest rock stars of all time, passed away on Monday at 66.

In the course of his decades of touring around the world, Petty was bound to end up playing in Israel — and he did for the first time in September 1987, at the start of his Temple in Flames tour. He had just released “Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough),” his seventh album with his band the Heartbreakers, earlier that year.

In a show called “Rock Israel,” MTV chronicled part of Petty’s trip to the Holy Land, which the rocker described as a whirlwind. In a clip available on YouTube, Petty meets with Avraham Rosenblum, leader of an Hasidic rock band called the Diaspora Yeshiva Band, which blended rock and bluegrass with religious lyrics.

“I’m not really familiar enough with the rules and regulations of the religion, I think anybody should be able to pick up an instrument and jump around,” Petty says.

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Petty visited the Western Wall and met Rosenblum there.

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“Are we in modest dress?” Petty asks as he descends into the holy site’s plaza. “This is really amazing.”

Rosenblum explains some of Jerusalem’s geography and says some rabbis believe “the whole process of music” began in Israel.

“Ten years of Sunday school and this guy told me more in five minutes than I ever grasped from that,” Petty says as he leaves the wall.

Watch more from Petty’s Israel trip here.

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