Flashback to the eighth grade: you blasted Kiss My Sass and thought you were literally the height of cool. You fantasized about meeting Gabe Saporta, who would abandon Vicky T in a heartbeat for you. Bwog sent Julia Goodman to live out your middle school fantasies.
Do you remember Cobra Starship? Don’t lie. I know you still have “Good Girls Go Bad” hidden somewhere on iTunes. Those of you
obsessed familiar with the group are probably already aware that the lead singer, Gabe Saporta, is Uruguayan. (Remember the Spanish version of “Guilty Pleasure”?) But did you know that he is also Jewish? Yesterday, Saporta graced the Columbia Hillel House with his presence in order to talk to about his Jewish Journey. The talk was part of what will be an ongoing series called “Jewish Journey,” on prominent Jewish figures in the arts, business, and technological fields.
Taking a seat at the front of the room, Saporta glanced at the intent faces before him and declared, “This is so serious.” Jason Eisner (CC ’17), a “Jewish Journey” committee member, got right into the interview. He had first heard Saporta speak about his Judaism a year ago, while Saporta was visiting Israel in preparation for his marriage (his current wife converted to Judaism, as Saporta made clear, without him asking her to). Saporta’s parents, a European Jewish couple, had left Europe before Saporta was born, fleeing the Holocaust. They ended up in Uruguay, where Saporta was born.
Saporta’s story is not as unusual as you might think, but it’s one that is not often talked about in the U.S. Part of the reason his parents went to Uruguay was that the United States only let a very limited number of people into the country during WWII. Saporta’s parents did eventually end up in New York, though, where his father attended medical school at Columbia, and he himself got a full scholarship to a Jewish high school. He was somewhat conflicted about the strict rules of Judaism, especially because, with his Uruguayan heritage, he “grew up eating a lot of ham.”
He has managed to reconcile these two cultures a bit since high school, though. When he went to Israel for the first time with a Jewish girl he was dating, he said, he instantly felt at home. Saporta mentioned that the culture in Israel is very much about a “commitment to making sure there will never be a Holocaust again.” This self-protective, community instinct is what drew Saporta to Israel, but he realizes this is also a problem with modern Jewish culture. “The greatest challenge for Jewish people is to not be like this,” he noted, making a closed-off gesture with his arms.
Eisner and Saporta also touched on his music, which despite Eisner’s valiant efforts, Saporta refused to connect to his Judaism in any way. He explained that a few years ago, when he was first reconnecting with his Jewish roots, he wanted to share his spiritual philosophy with the world, but then decided this method was too preachy, and “when you’re 23, no one’s really taking you that seriously.” Saporta clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously, either—that “fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke” attitude is not just a persona, guys. Most people in the room clearly had a pretty big thing for Cobra Starship at some point in the past (tooootally in the past) that was revitalized by Saporta’s laid-back charm. Or whatever you call it when someone states openly, “To be honest, I was a terrible musician at first, and I’m not that great now either.”
Finally, Eisner asked whether other musicians know Saporta is Jewish, which he answered simply with, “Do people know Drake is Jewish?” Asked about anti-Semitism in the music industry, Saporta said that he had never felt people acted differently towards him once he became more actively religious. “Jews are cool now, man,” he shrugged. As Saporta put it, “Judaism has really lasted for 4,000 years and it’s a really rich history, a rich wisdom.” His desire to share his religion with his wife, and eventually their children, reflects that desire for a deeper knowledge of the world. Not too shabby for someone who once wrote a song called “The Church Of Hot Addiction.”