The Secret Jewish History of the Beatles, Part I*

beatles vinyls
Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

* This is a work in progress.

As we know, beetles are not kosher but maybe the Beatles are.

Let’s put this in context. Liverpool, where the Beatles hail from, has been a magnet for Jews since the eighteenth century. According to JCR-UK, there have been over 20 synagogues in the city and district at one time or another. It also has a Jewish High School and other facilities. At the end of the Second World War, the community numbered 7,500 Jews.

It was in this context that the band was formed, taking advantage of their many Jewish connections. John Lennon’s pre-Beatles band, The Quarrymen, got a gig at Lee Park, a Jewish golf club.

Alan Swerdlow, who was a friend of John Lennon, photographed the Beatles in their early days. He also ran the Greenbank Drive Synagogue’s youth dances and so it’s possible the Beatles may have played at one of them. They did play the annual boat ride on the River Mersey organized by the Jewish community of Liverpool.

For his part, George Harrison was excempt from religious assemblies in the morning, along with Laurence Isaacson. George used to beat him up daily.

In Liverpool and beyond, Jews in Britain played a major role in pioneering its entertainment industries. They provided the entrepreneurial energy, ambition, financial acumen, willingness to take risks and vision essential in building a modern industry that was, despite severe difficulties, sufficiently robust to survive ferocious American competition.

Jews were active in the postwar music business in Britain. John Lennon once remarked, “Show business is an extension of the Jewish religion.” Whether he was being provocative or not is unclear (the Beatles did make antisemitic comments because this was postwar Britain in which open antisemitism was still common), but he had a point. The music business in Britain after the Second World War was a Jewish affair, including such names as Larry Parnes, Lionel Bart,  Malcolm McLaren, and Marc Bolan.

It was at the Cavern Club whose manager, Alan Sytner,  was also a member ofthe Greenbank Drive Synagogue, that  Brian “Eppy” Epstein, heard them play. He was born in Liverpool on Yom Kippur into an affluent Jewish family who owned a furniture and record store. In a demonstration of his chutzpah, after hearing the band playing in a local club, in 1961, he became their self-appointed manager, despite any previous experience or management acumen. For their part, the band agreed, in part, because, as McCartney allegedly stated, “Jews are good with money.”

Becoming known as the “Fifth Beatle,” Epstein smoothed the four boys’ rough, proletarian edges into cleancut and stylish icons in neat, dark business suits so he could take them home to introduce to his mother. He took them out of the dark cellars and showed them the light. Epstein’s music management business was almost exclusively Jewish; David Jacobs negotiated the deals that made the Beatles a worldwide brand. 

Lennon often addressed Epstein to his face as a “rich fag Jew.” Epstein died in 1967, aged 32. The Beatles learned of his death while they were staying at the university in Bangor, on stage in the building in which I work (another Jewish connection).

There were other Jews who also claimed to be the “Fifth Beatle.” They included three radio hosts from New York City. Murray “The K” Kaufman carried out the Beatles’ first in-person American interview. This began a long and symbiotic relationship between radio personality and band. 

And Bruce Morrow introduced the Beatles at their landmark Shea Stadium concert in front of 55,000 fans. This gig, the first outdoor concert an an outdoor sports arena, was organized by Jewish impressario, Sid Bernstein.

The second major Jewish influence behind the Beatles was Dick James. He got them, among other things, their first nationwide television appearance on Thank Your Lucky Stars.

In addition to Brian Epstein, other Jews helped to craft their iconic “look.” Beno Dorn, the first tailor to provide them with their first suits out of his Birkenhead shop, was Jewish. From 1966, until they broke up, Leslie Cavendish was their hairdresser. Cavendish apprenticed with Vidal Sassoon. They were snapped by Jewish photographer, Dezo Hoffman, who first met them in 1962 and became their official photographer until 1967.

As recounted here, Sir Paul McCartney has had a “love affair with all things Jewish for the past half-century — including collaborators, business associates, girlfriends and wives.”

His first Jewish girlfriend was 23-year-old screenwriter Francie Schwartz (while he was engaged to Jane Asher). After McCartney and Schwartz broke up, McCartney went out with Linda Eastman. They married in 1969 and remained so until her death in 1998. Lindawas a photographer and entrepreneur, both very Jewish professions. Their daughter, Stella, became involved in the rag trade.McCartney married another Jewish woman, Nancy Shevell, in 2011.

When the Beatles’ long-term manager, Brian Epstein died, McCartney favored his father-in-law, Lee Eastman, an entertainment lawyer, to replace him. But John Lennon wasn’t in agreement: he wanted the former Rolling Stones manager, Jewish accountant Allen Klein. This dispute over management was a major factor in their break up. Eventually, Linda Eastman’s brother, John Eastman, later took over from Lee Eastman and remained McCartney’s manager for many years.

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