Sunday, February 5, 2012

The story of me and my guitar

Ever since i was a kid the guitar looked magical. My uncle plays the guitar, that memory may have stuck in my mind. Then came the yeshiva, and a lot of sadness, and new ideas that drowned out childhood wishes, new worries that destroyed innosense and introduced me to an adulthood that demolished all that was once part of the true me. There was once a child in there, who loved to wonder and think and question, and then came a moment when that couldn't be.

My mother played the guitar too once in a while. When all my moments of sadness became too much to bear, and the mask that I had glued to my face was torn off with part of my skin and soul that bound it so tight, my new, old feelings of who I truly am began to surface, one at a time and then in a flurry, a drizzle, a torrential wave that swept through me demanding, all at the same time that every old dream bear fruit, and that I carry out with my hands what my heart was born to do. The same old voices, would try again, to suffocate the child, just out of habit, not so much out of need, but he had learned a painful lesson and had promised the dreams, that he would now listen, and that there would never be a dream left unfulfilled, that now the heart would be allowed to rule and that the mind would be laid to rest, if that is ever possible.

When I arrived at the beach, I found an urgent calling to play the guitar. something in me told me that it would sooth my confused spirit. That was not entirely correct for it would take many years, of crying, and forgiving and reconfiguring my mind and purpose to finally find some semblance of peace, but never the less, the heart was correct that I needed to play the guitar and that there were certain sounds and expressions, a form of aliveness and fullness that could only be expressed, experienced once I lifted up the guitar and made it my own.

I hated the thought, firstly because I hated touching things. All touch would give me such tortured sensation, such intense sensation that I refrained from anything that had to do with touch. I barely ever played ball, I didn't shower well. I had spent so long in the world of the mind for that reason. Little did I know that my body yearned for touch, for a tactile connection to matter of this world. My relentless demand of the spirit and mind to give me all answers was the key to my torture, and what I needed most was to touch and to hold, to twist, to break, to bend, and form the things of this world.

That first day when I arrived at the beach, I met a man,a hippy man, with a long straggly beard, making the most beautiful sound coming out of his guitar. I knew that if I could make those sounds, I'd be happy. I told him that I'll pay him 20.00 dollars for his guitar. He said sure. Turns out that the guitar was not worth anything to me, because I couldn't make any nice sounds come out of it. It was a sad, and cheap guitar that could only be tickled by a professional that knew it's funny points.

I must admit that those early days of practicing were quite sorrowful and joyful all at the same time. I hated, the time, that I knew it would take for me to make any decent sound out of the guitar. I was a slow learner. My hands were really lazy. They had no idea, or didn't want to know that I was having a relationship with a guitar. It took them a long time to know that I was actually, holding, fingering, the hairs of a beautiful guitar. It took even longer for theme to actually know where and when to put my fingers at the right place. Am Dm, over and over again, sometimes a thousand or two thousand chord switches in one sitting, until, slowly, very slowly, my hands got into the rhythm of what was happening.

One day, while at the local college, I heard that there was a shabbaton, being held at University of Santa Barbara. Girls were going,so I was excited and I went. It was really great. I must admit, that those were quite painful days because I was still so uncomfortable with my peers, both guys and girls that I really didn't feel like their friend. I still had so much to learn about my skills, my wants, my body, and how to learn what I don't know. I remember the car ride there. I remember many moments of feeling not part of anything, but there was one moment that shines out as a turning point in my feelings towards my Judaism.

I hated everything about Judaism and cursed my confusion about it, which made me not fit into anything Jewish and non Jewish because i was so full of hate for what I was that there was no energy left for who I would like to be. Still, everyone was going to shul. there was Orthodox, Reform and conservative. I took a great leap of faith. I went to the conservative kabbalat shabbat. I had a moment there that changed many feelings I had about Judaism, supplied more questions than answered but also instilled in my heart a love for Jewish music.

Until that point, I was so full of hate and disgust and confusion that there was no way in hell that my mind could even conceive having any relationship with Judaism. All it was, for me was a pile of laws that I had to do, that there was no way to get away from, and that were impossible to keep. All it was was a pile of expectations which assure the doom, of any form of, joy originality, creativity or individualism. I surely didn't see my place in it, and frankly, I really thought that I would die, a hateful person, who never resolved these issue, and I would go to my death hating, having not fulfilled my true purpose which was the constant study of Torah. I knew there was no redemption for me, and there was no chance that I would ever have any kind of relationship with Judaism since I hated it so much.

Looking back, it wasn't Judaism I hated, it was me, the part of me that had chosen not to sing, not to express, touch reach out, and shout all the song and dream and want that I had in me. As Josh got up and played his niggun for Lcha Dodi, something changed. Of course, I had never seen lcha dodi played with a guitar, and the niggun was so beautiful and refreshing. It was different. It danced, it rang. It didn't sound like one of those niggunim that you would sing when you were watched your grandfather being dragged by his beard through the shtetle square. It had a whole new bounce to it. I was touched and told myself that, that was my new mission. I wanted to be a prayer leader. I wanted to sing Jewish songs in synagogues.

This vision, filled my heart with Joy. It was the beginning of molding a new relationship with Judaism. I had a new channel for all those ideas and identities that I had been taught. I had always seen myself as a teacher, and I had always been one, and ever since, I fell out of the sky , I had zero relationship with all those years of study, and no way to understand their purpose, and if they had any. Now, I would begin to see my Judaism as an opportunity to teach the spirit of my past through the music of my present.

I must admit that there were some very painful times with regard to my music. I had tens of niggunim that poured through my mind, that I loved because they were me but I hated because they came to words that I no longer felt close to and despised. I didn't know what to make of it. At times, I hated playing my own niggunim, and at times, i would try to compose a niggun that was more in line with the more modern tunes that I was now listening to. That never worked. A niggun seemed to have a mind of it's own and came, on it's schedule and how it wanted to come. Often, it was a loved and hated niggun, until one day in about seven years ago. A Thursday morning when I thought of a niggun to pitchu li, and I really have the most awesome wholesome feeling about it. Then, that shabbos morning, I thought of a niggun to mizmor lidavid. I must say, that niggun was a changing moment. It was a pure niggun, similar to the kinds I grew up with, yes, a little mournful, but I didn't hate it. I felt united with it. I felt like it was part of me and I was part of it. It was my niggun. I knew with that niggun that I had reached a new and fresh level of forgiveness of my past. I didn't need to hate it as much as I usually did. Somehow despite my lack of practice, I still felt Jewish enough, and happy enough, to compose this niggun and make it my own. I was delighted. I must admit this was one of the best moments of my life, because it connected me with a very dear and rich past that I loved so much. I never wanted to be free of Judaism. i wanted to be free of the constant hate, and fear, and guilt. Home. For this moment, i was home. A little taste of what was with a truck load of who I really was and the me that I was coming to love more and more each day.


  1. Wow. So poignant so refreshing so deep and most of all so true. You might not like me saying this but it's your yiddishe neshama screaming out of this piece. I believe in you. You have the courage to face yourself. Many Don't. It's easier to just blame your religious past for all your problems. Way to go!