Bob Dylan is just like Judaism.
Yes, I know Bob Dylan is Jewish, but that’s not what I mean. Appreciating Bob Dylan is kind of like appreciating Judaism.
Let me explain.
Looking for something different to listen to this morning, I stumbled upon a playlist of Bob Dylan covers. Now, I’m not one who often listens to Bob Dylan, but I certainly love many of his songs. So, I clicked on the playlist figuring it would be a wonderful education in all of the music I probably know and love but have no idea were written by him. I heard Adele, Rod Stewart, Miley Cyrus, Duran Duran, Natalie Cole, Sting, Maroon 5, U2, Billy Joel, Kesha, Dionne Warwick and Wyclef Jan. Like any of of those artists? No? Well, how about Rage Against the Machine, Patti Smith, Johnny Cash or Patti LaBelle? The list of artists who have sung a Bob Dylan song goes on and on and on. We can appreciate him through the lens of hip-hop, grunge, R&B, pop, and country. The result? People with different tastes with different opinions can all have a favorite song by the one and only, Bob Dylan.
So Bob Dylan is just like Judaism. One can experience, appreciate, even adore Bob Dylan in a myriad of ways, and one can experience, appreciate, even adore Judaism in a myriad of ways too. We can enter through doors framed in Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Humanist, Post-Denominational, Ashkenazic, Sephardic, contemplative, ecstatic, traditional, even now Jewish Universalist flavors, all heading toward the same Jewish sanctuary. In a way, each movement and tradition is “covering” one artist… Judaism.
Fortunately for Bob Dylan, not too many people get into fist-fights or call each other names over who likes Bob Dylan more or who’s cover of “Forever Young” is the best. Unfortunately for the Jewish people, we can’t say the same. We do get into constant battles over who is more Jewish or who’s version of Judaism is more legitimate. Some Orthodox point at the modern, progressive movements and claim they are not even Jewish. Some progressives point at the Orthodox and claim they are backward or crazy.
Instruments on Shabbat? — Never!
Not egalitarian? — Forget it!
Altered liturgy? — Are you nuts?!
A Jewish Universalist? — No such thing!
Jews of Ethiopia or Uganda or India? — Are they really Jewish?”
This is where I think some Jews have lost their ways and why I have always struggled with the term, “Member of The Tribe.” Once there is a fence that keeps members “in” or “out” we have a problem. Who is the Head Rabbi of this Tribe? Who is it that decides if what I am and what I do is Jewish enough? Who decides with whom I can pray and with whom I cannot? Who decides if a conversion is legitimate or not? Who gets to say that a child raised Jewish without a Jewish mother isn’t Jewish? And what if I come from a community that doesn’t quite fit into the traditional Judaism of any of those movements? Is my community “in the tribe” or “out”?
The website and non-profit Bechol Lashon (In Every Tongue) is an amazing resource for understanding diversity within Judaism. According to their site, a 2002 study showed that there were approximately 435,000 Jews living in the U.S. who identified as non-white. That was 7.3% of the Jewish population. And yes, some of those people are Jewish because of conversion or adoption or an interfaith/interracial marriage, but there are also many whose families have been Jewish for as long as anyone can remember. Their communities may or may not look and feel like typical American congregations, but they live as Jewishly as anyone else, and boy do they have amazing stories to tell about what it is like to not only be a person of color, but a Jewish person of color in American society.
Please celebrate diversity in Judaism as well as Black History Month by joining Cool Shul for Shabbat this Friday, February 19, for an amazing evening with Rabbi and Professor Walter Isaac. He will be joining us via Skype to enlighten us about the history of African American Jews and the Black Israelite community. I guarantee we are going to learn a few things, consider some things we’ve never considered before, and hear some wonderful stories!
Click here for the evite. http://evite.me/f6FMDjg2Xq