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Aitkin's own rabbi cowboy

To say Rabbi Frank Dell is one of a kind might be a bit of an understatement. After all, how many Jewish rabbis can count country legend Willie Nelson as one of their friends?

Dell, founder of Beth Shalom ministries made it his mission to help draw Christians and Jews alike to an understanding of their Hebrew heritage and how it fits in with the story of Christ.

“There’s this idea in churches that God is all done with the Jews,” Dell said. “The early church was all Jewish until (the apostle) Paul. That’s not taught in churches — they kind of glaze over that.”

Anyone who knows Dell, knows he is passionate about his faith, but chances are few know that before becoming “Rabbi Frank,” Dell’s life was rooted in his growing success in country music.

Dell, a native of Duluth, said his career in country music dates back more than a half a century to 1956 when Dell first picked up a steel guitar.

Dell joined the military a year later and shifted his musical focus from electric guitar to acoustic, started writing music and later formed a band.

“It was the original country music scene,” Dell said.

Dell’s career in country music took off in the early 1960s. He hosted a radio show, moved to Nashville to record and rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names in music. “I’ve been involved in almost every phase of the industry — recording artist, songwriter, music publishing, producing, radio/television host,” Dell said. “I could write a book about all this.”

Among those Dell had the chance to work with were Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Conway Twitty. “I know so many of the great legends,” said Dell who interviewed more than 170 country music stars on his radio show “Entertainment Lonestar USA.” “We’ve lost about 30 that I have interviewed or worked with.”

Dell said among favorites to collaborate with was Conway Twitty. “We got together in Oklahoma City where (Twitty) lived,” Dell said. With Twitty, Dell had the opportunity to record a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” which charted out at No. 17 on the country music charts.

Even with his growing success, Dell said his career in music left him feeling that something was lacking.

In 1970, Dell found himself searching for something more and eventually converted to Christianity.

After finding the fundamental Christian church he was involved in wasn’t quite the fit he was looking for, Dell said he began attending a Jewish temple in Duluth. “I didn’t really fit into a church,” he said. “I got totally involved with the Messianic (Jewish movement).”

Dell later discovered he was an ethnic Jew, which made his Jewish faith all the more powerful to him. “I always felt like a Jew, I just never knew I was a Jew,” he said.

These days, Rabbi Frank spends a great deal of his time passing on his faith to others and working to bring together Jews in the Brainerd lakes area. “I didn’t know there were Hebrews around here,” he said “God would put them in my path.”

Even with his career in country music long behind him, Dell said he still loves music and is currently working on a Hebrew worship album. “Music has a huge importance when it comes from God,” he said.