Sunday, October 2, 2011

How Bob Dylan Brought Me Closer to Yiddishkite, by Shoshanna Silcove

“ Does Judaism believe in life after death?”
I asked the shaliach sitting at the table in the university student union building. He and his wife had been sitting there each day for the past year. They appeared totally out of place on campus but, there was something about their faces that seemed to project an inner fulfillment that was unusual and intriguing.

This was the first time I stopped to speak to them. ‘Yes, of course,’ he replied with a friendly easy smile, ‘it’s called Olam Habah or The World To Come.” I was stunned. I did not expect that answer. In all my years during my youth of attending the Reform Temple’s classes no one had ever told me that Jews have an afterlife. I suddenly found, to my astonishment, that I had many more questions. Then came the Shabbes meals and the endless discussions about religion, politics, women’s issues, and life in general at the shaliach’s house.

 “Prove to me that women are not second class in Judaism.”
“Why should I believe miracles are possible?”
 “What is the meaning of my life?”
 “Why get married and have a family?”
“How do you know G-d exists?”
“How do you know Torah was written by G-d and not man?”
What about free choice?”
 “Is it possible for me to transform myself?”

 Questions kept pouring out of me over many servings of sweet gefilte fish and chulent. After several months I was more confused about my life’s direction than that day in the student union when I asked that very first question.

 “ Who is that?” I asked again pointing at one of the numerous photos of the Rebbe. I always got the same cryptic answer. ‘Ah, who is that you ask?” the shaliach would always reply with a knowing and wise smile as if keeping a precious secret. The eyes in the photos were piercing and seemed to follow me around. My curiosity grew.

I was told there was a special Rabbi in Minnesota who answered questions for young women like me. “But it’s winter! Minnesota in the winter? Are you crazy? It’s absolutely sub zero degrees and freezing there,” I protested vehemently, but to no avail. I was planning to go to the Caribbean and hang out on the beautiful beaches with my friends during the winter break of 1984, but instead, and much to my chagrin, I found myself on a flight to a much colder climate.

As the plane landed I wondered why I had agreed to this folly of a trip. It was my curiosity, it had gotten the best of me, and I was not pleased. I promised myself I would never become one of them, and that this little visit was only to appease my curiosity, nothing more. I was determined not to allow any of these people to convince me to change my life. I arrived defiantly stubborn and ready to challenge everything these people would try to preach to me.

 After unpacking my bag at Beis Chana, the women’s retreat that was housed in a converted monastery in a leafy suburb of St Paul, Minnesota, I suddenly felt completely displaced and alienated. The religious people there, while friendly and polite, seemed alien to me. A variety of women arrived from many different places and backgrounds, all strangers, and I was in no mood for small talk.

I meandered around the huge stone building and decided I would make a quick exit back home before the program’s start. That is when I met him. I had wandered into the atrium of the main entrance where no one was around. Suddenly I looked towards the door as I saw a man walk through it into the building. It was Bob Dylan. He was wearing a black leather jacket and faded jeans. His hair was long and bedraggled and he looked surprisingly ordinary. I stood staring at him affixed with a gaping mouth in total shock. What in the world was Bob Dylan doing here? Why had this icon of the ‘60’s, this totally cool and hip individual just walked into Beis Chana? I wondered if maybe I was seeing things.

 “ Hey kiddo,” Bob Dylan said as he approached me with a smile, "everything is gonna be alright.” I realized I must have appeared shocked and felt rather foolish. He gave me a tap on the arm and a wink and was gone as suddenly as he had appeared. Immediately I ran to the pay phone and called my friend David Stein. “You will not believe who is here! Bob Dylan!” “Really? Wow! I am coming over there!” David exclaimed. “No David, you can’t, this place is for women only.”

 I soon discovered that Bob Dylan was learning Torah from Rabbi Manis Friedman. If Bob Dylan was at Beis Chana then maybe this was a cool place after all, so I decided to stay, and ask some more questions. Soon the answers were no longer blowing in the wind.

 Reprinted from the Yeshiva Centre (Melbourne, Australia) Rosh Hashana Newsletter that is in pamphlet form given out in shule


Ilana said...


Great piece of writing Shosh. I am an old fan of Bobby Zimmerman. He is one of the twentieth and twenty first centuries greatest poets and lyric artists.
Love it!

The Repenting Jewess said...

From you, a fantastic writer, that is a compliment!

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