In the new documentary film, “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band,” Robertson – The Band’s main songwriter and guitarist – tells the story of how he finally learned of his Jewish heritage and how his Jewish relatives in Toronto embraced him and opened a whole new world of “vision” to him.
Robertson had been raised in suburban Toronto as Jaime Royal Robertson without knowing that the man he called dad, James Patrick Robertson, was not his biological father. When his mother, Dolly Robertson – who was a Mohawk raised on the Six Nations Reserve southwest of Toronto – finally had had enough of James Robertson’s physical and emotional abuse, she sat her son down, explained that she was divorcing James, and revealed to him that his natural father, Alexander Klegerman, had died in a roadside accident before Robbie was born. She also told her bar-mitzvah age son that Klegerman was Jewish.
Or, as Ronnie Hawkins, the Arkansan rockabilly bandleader who, one by one, hired the five Toronto-area musicians who would become the Hawks and later on The Band, says with a modicum of glee in the documentary, “Robbie’s real dad was a Hebrew gangster.”