(B)logarhythm

On Freedom...

 

Ready?

Full Stop.

Take a breath.

 

Now, ask yourself this:

“Am I free?”

 

[Insert pause for self-reflection here.]

 

I think I’ve asked myself that question thousands of times in the past year. Obviously, I enjoy a level of freedom unheard of in other parts of the world; I exercise free will, I make (hopefully good) choices, and I decide what kind of relationship I want to maintain with both those I love and those who I hope to grow to love. Nonetheless, I still ask myself the question all the time.

 

I don’t ask because my rights have been restricted, or my personal freedoms have been constrained. I simply ask because I’m so, so scared.

Hard truth: We’re all scared.

 

[To be clear: if you’re not scared, you’re not paying attention.]

 

Globally, we’re scared of losing sight of who we hope to be. We’re scared of passive acquiescence replacing the fire of necessary resistance, scared of the very foundation of our global community enduring tremendous damage, and scared of our society regressing to a time when we undoubtedly experienced an inferior form of freedom. Big picture: our collective sense of self is bending under the weight of fear, and our anxiety has reached a peak level we have not known in years.

 

Like you, I’m also scared on a personal level. I’m scared that the personal growth and extraordinary happiness I’ve discovered in the past year will somehow leave me. Scared that the person I want to become will never be free of the fears and doubts I’ve tried to leave behind. Scared that I’ll continue to live in subtle fear of the ones who’ve hurt me deeply in the past, those lingering antagonists who still occasionally call my name aloud if only to see me shiver as I look back over my shoulder…

 

I need this Pesach so badly. I need it because I need to be reminded.

 

Passover speaks to the ongoing relationship between individual acts of courage and faith and communal acts of love and positive intentionality. It sheds light on the triangular relationship that exists between faith, freedom, and action. A community cannot be redeemed without the strength of its individuals. And, an individual will struggle to find redemption without the embrace of a community.

Pesach reminds us that things will only begin to get better when we each take an active role in making it better. We must stand up and speak out, and not retreat quietly down the path of shrugged-shoulders and averted eyes.

 

I've thought deeply in the past few weeks about what it means to stand up and to speak out in the context of my own work. Last week, I drew deeply from my circle of friends and brought together a band of twelve extraordinary musicians to spend the day talking, learning, and making music together in New York City. In this safe space of community and creativity, we laughed, jammed, and connected deeply to the music and to each other. Arranged in a circle, we recorded a medley of Avadim Hayinu (a traditional Pesach melody) and Wade in the Water (a widely-known African-American spiritual), material that illustrated the core narrative of our discussion that day: The story of freedom belongs to everyone, and the only way forward is together.

 

I'm so grateful that our experience was captured on film, and that I can share it with you now. Click here to check it out.

 

On Monday evening, millions of souls will gather around the Seder table to read these words aloud:

 

Avadim hayinu, ata b’nei chorin.

Once, we were slaves. Now, we are free.

 

Ken y’hi ratzon. May it be God’s will.

 

 

 

Thoughts on 2016, Life, Death, God, and Everything…

 

 

Tough year.

And, apparently it's even going to be just a bit longer than usual.

Today, just a few days before New Year’s Eve, I’m struck by the tone of the messages I’m seeing on social media.

“Go to HELL, 2016!” seems to be a consistent sentiment this afternoon. We certainly lost lots of folks this past year. Like so many, I adored Prince, George Michael, Leonard Cohen, Glen Frey, George Martin, David Bowie…

We use these annual trips around the sun to mark our journeys, like pencil lines on an old wall that measure our children’s growth in inches (or centimeters, if you’ve an affinity for the Europeans). Such small, little units of demarcation…

As our secular year winds down, we become readily aware of our upcoming transition. We make our resolutions and plan for the future, determined to lose weight, to read more, to give more charity, to refocus our attention on what really matters... and we pause to remember those who no longer join us on the journey.

I am a Jew, and I am a global citizen. Perhaps you are as well. This NYE, I‘m going to try to find connective lines between the secular and spiritual New Year holidays, to bring some of the internal clarity I experience during Rosh Hashana into my communal / secular New Year’s Eve experience, and to infuse my next celebration of Rosh Hashana with a revitalized focus on the well-being of the global community, particularly through a commitment to social action and communal engagement.

Jews have a unique situation to navigate in this case. New Year’s Eve isn't our only new year's holiday (or, in my experience, even our most important one). The differences between Rosh Hashana (the “Head of the Year”) and New Year’s Eve are plentiful. Nonetheless, the similarities and connections between the two are striking.

I spend each Rosh Hashana on the bima at the 92nd St. Y in NYC, where I provide the music and liturgical chanting for the congregation. I‘m fortunate that my clergy partner for the holidays is Rabbi Elka Abrahamson. Rabbi Abrahamson is wise, calm, and experienced, and she brings tremendous depth and thought to our community of 100k+ worshippers around the world. She guides ourcongregation through the sounds of the shofar, its hallowing and deeply resonant tones pulling us toward our collective center.

This New Year’s Eve, I’ll celebrate at Madison Square Garden, enjoying the music of a favorite band, dancing, singing, and ringing in the secular new year with a different type of joy. In Saturday’s show, the role of the shofar will be played by an electric guitar, and my clergy for the evening will consist of four improvising musicians who very well might choose to play a 5/8 version of “Avinu Malkeinu" (if I’m lucky).

While NYE and Rosh Hashana do feel dissimilar in most respects, many of us seek strikingly similar things from these two holidays. We desire a line in the sand that we can cross, a division between past and future. We search for a clean slate, a concrete opportunity to cast off what has happened before, and to approach what lies ahead with clarity, purpose, and a sense of wholeness.

Perhaps, Rosh Hashana is our internal new year. Our hearts are subject to self-examination, and our internal compasses are adjusted. We grapple with who we have become, and many of us begin preparing to fast and atone on Yom Kippur.

Alternatively, December 31 provides us the chance to transition in a broad, ultra-communal way; it offers us the opportunity to cross a line along with the combined populace of the planet. Each hour, the new year arrives for a new slice of our world; each sixty minutes
brings a new start for a segment of our global community. We are, at that time, as close to Am Echad (one people) as we ever are.

Judaism is alive. It is living and changing and growing all the time. If you cannot see that, your eyes are not open. Closing ourselves off from the joy of the larger, world-wide community is no longer a viable path to global citizenship.

When midnight arrives on January 1, and the world reaches to pull itself close, we will be gifted a moment… our moment. Allow yourself a chance to pause, to breathe, and to be grateful.

 

For one night, most of this broken, agitated world will come together in joy and song and spirit.

 

And in the midst of that global gathering, we will know that we are One.

 

Bayom hahu (and on that day)…

 

 

Beginning. Again.

Life is full of beginnings.

 

Every transition, every turn, every corner… a clean slate, a fresh start.

 

So, if that’s the case - if we are constantly experiencing beginnings - why do we make such a big deal about dividing up and celebrating measured windows of time?  

 

For example, let’s take the new year...

 

Think about it: Our annual interstellar voyage around the sun simply ends… and then begins again. (Not ironically, most of us fly that round trip on a deep, deep-discount coach ticket). Seriously: aside from fact than that we employ it as a measured way to mark the milestones of our lives - why does the new year seem like a particularly poignant chance to start again?

 

Truth – If we employ a widely-cast but nonetheless accurate definition of the phrase, each of us “starts again” at least 1000 times per year.

 

Yes. This is certainly true when referring to the beginnings of more “concrete” things (like songs, letters, dinners, road trips, books, laundry, movies, games, etc.) but it’s also true when referring to emotional values, spirituality, and opinions about local restaurants, public policy, fashion trends, and the purported demise of professional baseball since the introduction of the designated hitter… 

 

What would we call that? Beginnings per year?

 

Better: BPA. Beginnings per Annum.

 

(That sounds like a Bill James statistic).

 

Life, in a true (but never simple) sense, moves in the seemingly perfect shape of a circle. We begin. We learn as we go. And then, something is revealed, and everything changes…

 

We are lifted to a new place… a unfamiliar place where we have no choice, but for the circumstance of the moment, to begin again.

 

And here we are now, once again, sharing our beginning.

 

To our credit: we’ve chosen not to simply cross a threshold and suddenly begin again.

 

We’ve slowed down.

 

We are paying extra attention as we approach; looking around, taking stock, and reflecting on the lives we chose to lead during a time that is no longer.

 

Today is much less about simply marking time, much more about the fact that we engage in serious and significant self-reflection while hitting our reset buttons during these days of awe.

 

In this season we celebrate the harvest while planting new seeds within ourselves; seeds that will grow through the year to come. We do this over, and over, and over again. Every year. We return.

 

Judaism carries a universal narrative. We retell it constantly as we connect to the historical texts of our community.

 

This narrative is simple:

 

Creation -> Revelation -> Redemption.

 

Today, let this narrative, this ever-repeating plot that underlies the human condition, shape the lens through which we see ourselves and see our world.

 

Shana tovah.

 

The Return (not that you knew I left...)

So, I’m back. I mean, you may not have noticed that I took off. I didn’t vanish, just took a step away from the full-throttle lifestyle that is professional music as I watched me slowly lose myself.

It’s wild to look back. Four years on a Broadway show that wasn’t, and an off-Broadway show that was. A long (long), difficult divorce, with love, resources, and much family lost. An incredible twist of fate, and love and family found. Two (now four) amazing children. Five moves. Records. Thousands of shows, and probably twice as many flights.

Slowly, over that time, my gas tank emptied, and I eventually found myself without the strength to get out of bed. 

But then, suddenly, I bounced.

And now, ohhhh man. Watch out.

I remember what this was like from before the storm. Waking up, overwhelmed and excited with the endless possibilities held by the day ahead. And, it’s wild, but I'm experiencing that feeling again.

Love is here. Music is pouring. Words are flowing. And, ideas… oh the ideas… are streaming in an almost explosive manner.

There is bright light ahead. 

So, I’m not sure if you’ve missed me, or if you even noticed I left.

But I did, and I’m back.

And, it’s going to be amazing.

 

You ain’t seen nothing yet.

 

I love you.

j

On Redemption...

 

 

what is it to be redeemed … ?

 

 

what is it to stare at the dark skinned night

before the light comes on

 

swaying back and forth

from breaking point to breaking point

forsaking points

we’ve been making all along

 

i believe there's more

but i don't know what more looks like

i believe there is redemption

but i have no idea what it is to be redeemed

i just want to breathe deep and live out this screenplay

before the final scene plays

the one that only happens once I'm gone

 

for no one

 

no one

 

reads their last page.

 

for is this not our story … ?

our narrative

our off-broadway drama

act after act after act while curtains rise and fall on the same tattered tale

 

we bleed and laugh and cry and pray

and walk away

only to be brought back again

when something changes

something tips

something falls/se and once again

we are sure there is only One

 

no one knows if they're actually alive

but faith itself is an act of redemption

and while we can't be sure there's even One

we're often sure

there’s only One

 

what are we hoping for when we say

next year in Jerusalem … ?

next year

as if we all somehow converged on this contested plot of birthrights and walls

as if some redemption would be found

 

it's about our own Jerusalem

our own internal wall filled with crumpled paper notes and wounded dreams

it's our own redemption

it's a prayer

next year

may we know more than we know now

may we see ourselves more clearly

than we do through this dirty, foggy lens

that we try so hard to keep clean

 

perhaps we were once delivered from mitzrayim

perhaps, somehow, each of us is there still

dutifully wandering the same path for years

until something, some truth

comes clear

 

whatever that truth is, it's right here

right in front of our eyes

 

i believe this can be, if we are ready to be this

 

let this be our year

 

this year

 

closer to ourselves

 

this year

 

in Jerusalem