On November 11, 2016 the world lost one of the most loved and prolific musical artists of our times—Leonard Cohen. Cohen spent more than 50 years in the music industry, penning classics, such as: “So Long Marianne”, “Bird on the Wire”, “Everybody Knows”, “Suzanne”, and of course the international anthem—“Hallelujah.” He attended McGill University in 1956 and began writing poetry. In fact, it was poetry that captured Cohen. The music came a little later—Songs of Leonard Cohen was released in 1968. In 2008, Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots
Born in 1934 in Montreal, Canada, Leonard Cohen grew up in the neighborhood of Westmount, home to Montreal’s wealthier Jews. His father was a tailor who died when he was nine years old. Cohen was raised in a conservative, observant Jewish family. His maternal grandfather was from Lithuania and a student of the Talmud. His paternal grandfather was the founder of the Canadian Jewish Congress, helping countless Jewish refugees make it to Canada from the pogroms and Russian oppression. His family were scions of the Montreal Jewish community. They built the synagogue where Cohen spent his early years.
A Seeker of the Source
When asked about his songwriting, Cohen responded that he was constantly in a state of writing, chiding himself for being “slow.” “When something good comes, you have to be prepared to polish it, carve it and chisel it, that’s the work. But the actual intention, what you are really going to be writing about, that’s going to come up from a really authentic place that is deep and over which you exercise no conscious control.”
It seems that Cohen’s spiritual journeys were a quest to find this “authentic place” within. In 1994 he began to think of himself as a Bud-Jew—both Jewish and Buddhist, becoming at one point a Buddhist monk. However, the Torah values he learned as a child continued to shape his life. Cohen said they were essential to his survival. And even though he traveled the globe, trying out many spiritual paths, Cohen never abandoned his Jewish roots. He became a scholar of Kaballah, Chumash and Psalms.