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Rabbi's Week in Review - 6/6/2023

06/06/2023 10:01:09 AM


For someone who can make no claim of musicianship, I have made music a pretty constant companion my entire life. I cannot recall a time when I was without music, and I can track certain times in my life to specific songs or groups that were prominent during that time.  

This has much to do with my being enamored of the radio as a form of communication. As a kid, I would get up early in our home and sit by the radio in the kitchen, listening to the popular rock stations of the day — WHB or KUDL. In later years, it was the underground stations — KBEY locally or the radio show “Beaker Street” from a station out of Little Rock, Arkansas. Back then, DJs lent their own aesthetic and taste to how they programmed their music.  It was a means to a shared cultural experience. (Besides, it was my way to try and act cool, if not rebellious, however fruitless that effort happened to be.) I actually worked as a DJ for my college radio station and loved putting together three-hour shows that ranged from country-music legend Hank Williams Sr. to avant-garde jazz artist Ornette Coleman — and everything in between, from reggae to blues to rock.

I had added jazz to my own playlist by the time I got to high school. It was a shared experience with friends, a piece of Kansas City’s cultural heritage and a way to connect more closely with my parents’ musical taste — and, in a way, to still be in touch with my rebellious adolescence.   (There is an interesting book entitled Jews and Jazz by Charles Hersch. In understanding why Jews have had an outsized involvement in jazz, Hersch observed that Jews could be included in American society and still be the rebellious outsider.)

What made me think of all this were a couple of experiences last week. First, there have been a number of articles and a couple of new books on the group Steely Dan. I have always been a fan of their music, their outside-the-box perspective on life as reflected in their lyrics, their incredible musicianship and songcraft, and their cynical outlook on life. What particularly caught my eye were articles that found the Jewish in their music. Previously unbeknownst to me, the two principals of the group had a connection. Donald Fagen is Jewish (his parents apparently started a shul in New Jersey) and Fagen referred to the late Walter Becker as an honorary Jew. Without getting into the weeds, it was their sense of seeing the world from the view of the outsider that was arguably a piece of what connected them Judaically.

The other experience last week was much closer to home. Congregation Kol Ami was treated to the wonderful musicianship of flutist Amber Underwood. Bringing her interpretation of our Jewish liturgical music gave it enhanced meaning, and our wonderful musicians responded in kind to make for a very special Shabbat celebration. Thanks goes to our music director, Lara Steinel, for connecting us to great musicians in the community, and creating the space for such beautiful and meaningful music.

All of which is to say that music seems like such a wonderful metaphor for how we can meld together a meaningful community. We all come into music with our own taste and our own life experience that informs that taste. Yet, regardless of the many diverse ways we engage in music, it has such great potential to connect us as a community.

Let us always appreciate how music informs and lifts up our Jewish lives to new places, and brings us together to celebrate and honor our life experience.

Fri, September 22 2023 7 Tishrei 5784