Maureen Ash, 61, arrived in Tampa from her Chicago home in time for last Wednesday night’s Bruce Springsteen show. The longtime fan—called a Spring-Nut, as a nearly 50,000-strong Facebook, Twitter and Instagram fan community puts it—who saw her first show in 1980, did not have to worry about accommodations for Shabbat nor holidays this time, given the middle-of-the-week show.
She stayed in Boynton Beach, a three-and-a-half hour drive away, for Shabbat, and plans to catch the Boss again in concert on Tuesday, at the Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood, Fla.
Ash was one of many Jewish Spring-Nuts who descended on Tampa for the E Street Band’s tour, which opened Feb. 1. There are no official numbers on how many Jewish fans of the Boss are out there, but there are obviously a lot of them.
For previous Springsteen tours, Ash hosted Shabbat dinners for Jewish and non-Jewish fans, whom she introduced to her home-baked challah. Her one house rule must have surprised many of these guests.
“I tell them to please leave the bathroom light on,” Ash told JNS.
At one Shabbat meal, she asked an observant Jewish male friend to recite the kiddush and hamotzei blessing on the wine and challah respectively. He brought the lyrics to “Thunder Road,” which the group sang in unison. (The lines “Make crosses from your lovers” and “Waste your summer praying in vain/ For a savior to rise from these streets” must have presented quite the contrast to the Hebrew prayers.)
There has been plenty of normal superfan engagement too. Ash’s daughter–then 11–was the lucky one invited on stage to sing “Waiting’ on a Sunny Day” with the Boss, and Ash twice got his autograph, on a copy of his biography and on her denim jacket. She told him her first show of his was Oct. 9, 1980 at Cobo Hall (now Huntington Place) in Detroit. He wrote “80” alongside his name.
“I know he was really listening,” she said.
Without knowing it, Springsteen has introduced many Jews to one another. A congregant approached Ash at the kiddush after services at a N.J. synagogue. “I hear you are a Bruce fan,” he told her. “I should know you.”
At a show, she struck up a conversation with a woman wearing a skirt. The two realized they were both skipping the Friday show because they are Sabbath-observant. (Ash also will not attend Springsteen shows during the Omer period between Passover and Shavuot, which is a time of mourning.)
To other fans, hearing the Boss live is a religious experience. There is a lot of talk in the Jewish Springsteen fan community about the Passover seder of 2012.
Warren Rosen, from Massapequa Park on Long Island, worried he would never make it to a show at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan if he left after his seder at home. So Rosen, who has been to more than 200 Springsteen shows, booked a private room at Ainsworth Prime, a restaurant in the arena, and invited friends (of all faiths) via Facebook. He also invited the band.
The saxophonist Jake Clemons, nephew of the late Clarence Clemons—the E Street Band’s original sax player—read from the Haggadah, which featured Springsteen’s face on the cover. There was also a rendition of the new composition “Matzah Ball,” sung to the tune of “Wrecking Ball.”
Some Orthodox Spring-Nuts bolt out of the house the moment Shabbat or a holiday ends, bound for a show. And some, if they are Howie Chazanoff—who runs the Spring-Nuts Facebook group, where he is known as Howie Chaz, with his wife, Julie—can almost pull off the music fan equivalent of Joshua holding up the sun and moon during the bombardment of Jericho.
In September 2017, Chazanoff, 54, contacted E Street Band guitarist and “Sopranos” actor Stevie Van Zandt on Twitter, asking when exactly the show would start.
“I ask, because I have tickets for the 23rd and have to wait for [the) Jewish Holiday to end,” he wrote. The exchange has since been deleted, but according to a screenshot that Chazanoff provided, Van Zandt wrote back, “Oy vey! When does it end? Thanks for the heads up. We’ll wait for you.”
Evidently, the band did wait for Chazanoff to arrive after Rosh Hashanah ended, because the latter tweeted on Sept. 24, 2017, “I can’t thank you enough for waiting! Thanks for acknowledging me and my sign and being a ‘mench!’ Happy New Year brother!” The sign Chazanoff held in the picture thanks the band for waiting for the “Tribe.”
Chazanoff told JNS that when he and friends held up the sign, Van Zandt said, “Happy New Year” to them. (For the record, though, and Twitter being what it is, someone responded to the tweet, “Yeah, but he is playing in Boston on Yom Kippur. So much for thinking about his Jewish fans.”)
“My impetus in starting Spring-Nuts was to create a distraction not only for Springsteen fans but for myself as well from all the trials and tribulations in this crazy world,” Chazanoff said.
What began as a 500-member Facebook group grew to become acknowledged by Springsteen and the band eight years later, in large part for its charity work. The group has supported WhyHunger, Fulfill, Kristen Ann Carr Fund, Pink Fund, Light of Day, NJ Pandemic Relief Fund and Boys and Girls Clubs of Monmouth County.
“We have helped out numerous individuals, who either lost jobs, or needed help paying for hospital costs and even, unfortunately, funeral expenses,” Chazanoff said. “What was originally created as a distraction has now become a haven for Springsteen fans around the world.” (In his professional life, Chazanoff also helps people. He is director of home- and community-based services at Yedei Chesed, which supports persons with developmental disabilities and their families.)
Springsteen too is philanthropically minded.
At the Tampa show, as at each stop of the tour, he asks fans on their way out, to donate food or money to a local food bank. Last May, Springsteen surprised the Spring-Nuts with a recorded message at the Stone Pony club in Asbury Park, N.J., site of the annual Spring-Nut Seaside Serenade. That year, it raised $50,000 for WhyHunger. The rest of the band has sent video messages of support too.
David Kalb, rabbi of the Jewish Learning Center of New York, takes religious fanhood to another level. He is proud to have experienced some of Springsteen’s longest-ever shows, more than four hours, on the last tour.
Kalb references Springsteen’s lyrics often in his sermons and writing. “It was not just the length of the New Jersey concerts that made those nights utterly magical to me,” he told JNS. “It was the fantastic music and the passion of this amazing man.”
The rabbi appreciates particularly what he calls themes of redemption, introspection and transformation in Springsteen’s music. “These themes thoroughly resonate with me, as they are reminiscent of the Prophets of the Bible, who also critiqued their world for its moral ills,” Kalb said.
In 2017, Kalb penned the Huffington Post article “Getting Ready for the High Holidays with Bruce Springsteen,” as he observed those themes in shows during the Hebrew month of Elul, which leads up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. He even called his attendance of Springsteen concerts his own preparation for the High Holidays, which is what the month of Elul is supposed to be about.
“These concerts have given me a tremendous start to my High Holiday prep,” he said. “I am now much more focused on how I can better myself and the world, and I believe that anyone who chooses to reflect on these issues could find similar messages in Bruce’s music.”
In 2016, Kalb got to spend 20 seconds with Springsteen, when the musician signed his book and a photograph at the Barnes & Noble on Manhattan’s Union Square. Other fans trekked internationally for that privilege.
Amy Kalman, who made aliyah from Toronto in 1981, has flown from Ben-Gurion Airport to Paris, Montpellier, Zurich and other European cities to hear the Boss.
“The first time you see him live, it grabs your kishkes!” she said, using the Yiddish for “guts.”
Kalman reports a “strong” group of Israeli fans, many of whom have gone to shows in Europe and will go to this tour as well. She and her husband were “on such a high” from a 2016 Paris show that, upon returning home, they planned a 36-hour trip to Zurich, so they and their children could hear Springsteen.
If the rest of the tour goes how Chazanoff figures it did in Tampa, there will be many other converts to the Gospel of Springsteen, Jewish and non-Jewish.
“After six long years, and being in their 70s, Bruce and the band showed that age means nothing when you’re the legendary E Street Band,” he said. “They absolutely rocked Tampa as if they were in their 20s, and as if they never had a hiatus.”