When someone once asked Lou Reed if he was Jewish, he replied, "Of course, aren't all the best people?" However, he was known to make the occasional anti-Semitic remark, and once told journalist Lester Bangs that he didn't know any Jews.
Lou Reed was born Lewis Allan Reed to a middle-class Jewish family, growing up in Freeport, Long Island.
Though he was often flippant about his Jewish roots, his performances in Israel in spite of calls from other artists for a boycott lead some to believe that his connection to Judaism ran deeper than he perhaps let on. He last visited in 2008, and more recently, a team of researchers named a spider native to Israel after him. The aptly-named arachnid is a velvet spider that lives underground, a nod to Reed's background in the iconic rock band The Velvet Underground.
“My God is rock ’n’ roll. It’s an obscure power that can change your life,” he once said. “The most important part of my religion is to play guitar.”
It appears that he reconnected with his Jewish identity more formally later in his life. He celebrated the 2004 Downtown Seder at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, asking the traditional four questions inspired by Poe's "The Raven." Michael Dorf, one of the organizers of the Downtown Seders, reflected on Reed's involvement over the years, as he took part in one of the first seders at the Knitting Factory in 1994. Dorf wrote, " Over the years, and with his significant other Laurie Anderson, he participated in our big seder at Lincoln Center, several we produced at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, and again here at City Winery. He always was the Wise Child and always read a special poem — from Edgar Allen Poe’s 'The Raven' to Bob Marley’s 'Exodus.'" He also took part in 2013, along with Rockapella founder Sean Altman and the revue Old Jews Telling Jokes.
Watch him at the 2004 Seder in the video below:
Rest in peace, Lou Reed.