The Jewish Education of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder
Rabbi Jason Miller
Twenty summers ago I was a Jewish 16 year old on a teen trip with u s y on wheels. We were halfway into the trip when we arrived in Palo Alto, California. When we pulled into the parking lot of the 5 star hotel, we all realized that we weren’t the only tour bus in the parking lot. There were rows up on rose of the fancy luxury home tour buses in the parking lot. It was only when we entered the hotel to check into our room stuff that we learned that all of the performers of Lollapalooza were guests of the same hotel as us.
My first encounter was with Anthony Kiedis of the red hot chili peppers. I talked to him for a few minutes in front of the hope hotel elevator, until he told me that he was losing his voice from that nights show and needed to get some hot tea and go to bed. I remember laughing at the fact that this hard rocker was going to call it a night around 11:30 pm.
One of the other members of the Chili Peppers turned to our group and told us not to do anything stupid at the hotel. Not 30 seconds later did have a large number of us teens stuff ourselves into the hotel elevator only to find ourselves stuck. Fortunately for us, are bus drivers husband was a firefighter and managed to save us from being stuck in the elevator between floors.
That Saturday morning following are Shabbat services, a number of teens from our group met Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder. Pearl Jam would soon become my favorite rock band which it is to this very day, but back in the summer of 1992 I hadn’t even heard of them yet.
The teens in our group from New York had already become devoted fans of Pearl Jam and immediately recognize to Eddie Vedder. Eddie and his girlfriend at the time, who had purple hair, were on the way to the tennis courts to hit some balls. Wow it was a u s y policy not to use cameras on Shabbat, some of the teens took pictures with Eddie Vedder. Some even had him autograph their paperback prayer books.
When one of our counselors saw what was transpiring, things got interesting. The counselors explained to Eddie Vedder that we were a Jewish teenage group that was not supposed to be taking photographs on the Jewish Sabbath. Vedder told the group that his girlfriend was partially Jewish and that he respected our religious observance.
One of the counselors told him that he and his girlfriend were invited to join us for our afternoon study session. It is a tradition in the summer time to study Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Sages, on Shabbat afternoon. The teens who had their prayer books autographed were chastised and then Eddie Vedder went on his way.
Tell the story ended there, it would have made for a great anecdote of our summer together. But twenty minutes into our study session in walked Eddie Vedder with his girlfriend. The teenagers began whispering and pointing to the back of the room at the unusual surprise. The boring study session just got interesting.
Vedder and his girlfriend sat in the back of the room listening as we discussed Jewish values and theology. After half an hour they decided they wanted to leave and Eddie Vedder raised his hand and said something very bizarre about the existence of cows. We all sat there the bewildered.
We left the hotel on Sunday and said our goodbyes to our new friends, which included rock stars and groupies and roadies from Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, and several other bands from Lollapalooza. As our tour bus pulled away from the hotel parking lot we snapped our final photos of the tour buses.
We were on our way. At the first highway rest stop I got off the bus walked inside to the store and purchased a Pearl Jam’s Ten on CD. I would listen to that album thousands of times over the next decade. And come back to it many times in the decade that followed. Eddie Vedder’s music spoke to me during the rest of my teen years and into college.
Earlier this year to mark the 20th anniversary of the release of Ten, Pearl Jam 20 the movie documentary came out. Watching the DVD at home late one night, I thought back to the memorable and life changing summer I spent on a tour bus out west 20 years earlier. Well I didn’t even know who Eddie Vedder was as he sat in the back of the room at our shop bot afternoon study session, just knowing that I had learned Cora with Eddie Vedder the same year that Ten was released brought chills to my spine. I don’t know if he ever studied Torah again after that afternoon, but I sure feel blessed and honored to have witnessed the Jewish education of Eddie Vedder.