Peter Himmelman
Photo by Tim Boxer

Rock and Religion

ALTHOUGH rock singer Peter Himmelman attained cult status among a multitude of devoted followers, he has yet to achieve popular acclaim with a Top 100 album.

He’s worked for 18 years but is not yet a household name. That could be because he refuses to play Friday nights, the biggest night of the week for the clubs.

He observes the Sabbath, you see.

I recently received his latest album, Love Thinketh No Evil on the Six Degrees label. I was moved by his sound and lyrics, which he wrote himself. He says he was influenced by Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

I had to meet him. It wasn’t easy. He was touring the country.

So when he came to the East Village for a one-night stand at the Bottom Line, I was there.

At a late afternoon rehearsal I was a rapt audience of one. On stage he was rocking away with a band of five musicians.

Garbed in nondescript black turtleneck sweater, brown pants, and woven cap, he was a picture of your typical rock ‘n roller.

Except for the tzitzis!

As Peter swayed his guitar, strutting from one end of the stage to the other, his tzitzis were flapping in the air.

After rehearsal I went to his dressingroom.

"You gotta wait five minutes," the manager said. "He’s doing mincha."

Peter finished the afternoon prayer and ushered me into the room. It barely contained a cot, a chair and a mirrored makeup table. The only item on the table was a Lubavitch siddur (prayer book).

He told me he was born 39 years ago in Minneapolis and grew up in a secular home. Religion seemed irrelevant in his life till he met a Lubavitch Hasid in Manhattan.

"Ever since that encounter 15 years ago," he says, "I’ve been putting on tefilin, davening three times a day, keeping kosher and observing Shabbat. I’m raising an Orthodox family."

He lives with his wife Maria and four children in Santa Monica, Calif.

Himmelman, whose name means "man of heaven" in Yiddish, says his religious observance is breaking new ground in the rock world.

Bob Dylan must be proud. After all, he’s not only Peter’s idol, but his father-in-law too.


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