January 23, 2013
Many musicians have written about the idea of walking alone. For example, Green Day’s song Boulevard of Broken Dreams begins, “I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known. Don't know where it goes, but it's home to me and I walk alone.” I can identify with these lyrics as a 21st century rabbi, living in a nice size Jewish community because each and every Shabbat I walk to synagogue alone. That is not to say my wife and child do not come to synagogue, but rarely do they accompany me before 9AM. Normally, my morning Shabbat stroll is pretty lonely just as Green Day implied in their lyrics. And like in the Green Day song, it truly is the only one I have ever known.
I have always walked to synagogue, not growin up Shomer Shabbos rather living across the street from one. When looking back at my life, I do not think I have ever lived more than five blocks away from a synagogue. Ironically, the furthest I have ever lived from a synagogue was in Israel. And I have always done this walk alone. As a child my thoughts veered towards how upset my parents were that I was late or if anyone would notice if I went directly to kiddish. As an adult I often wondered if I would find the person whose house I was sharing a meal with or if I looked like I had just woken up. But now as a Jewish professional, now that Shabbat services are not just a part of my life but are very much my livelihood, this walk to synagogue is lonely.
Moving from New York to the Midwest, there are fewer – if any at all – Shabbat Shaloms from people on the street. And not seeing anyone walking passed me on a Saturday at 8:30AM, has a bit of emptiness to it. So, what does a rabbi think about on his way to synagogue, in the dead of winter in St. Paul Minnesota? I cannot speak for all rabbis, but I do a few different things. Sometimes I go over my sermon in my head. Other times I reflect on my week, something I do not get to do while on the bimah. Other times I just sing in the streets. The Zmirot (songs) of Shabbat make me feel less alone.
I have a memory from my last full summer at Camp Ramah leaving the dining hall and singing with some campers. I remember looking into the night and humming Shabbat melodies and often try to recreate that moment on my walk. Or I think about the 100 students that pack the Kraft Center (Columbia University Hillel) every Saturday night to just sing together. In Jerusalem it was not weird running into someone singing Jewish music in the streets. But here in Minnesota the ability to create Shabbat music has become somewhat of a hobby and pivotal time in my week. It is the voices through my memories that turn my Shabbat walk from lonely to full.
There are moments in the pulpit life that are like this lonely walk, where the rabbi is alone. Maybe it has to do with moving from city to city and maybe it has do to with a rabbi’s continuous search for God amongst the sermons, hospital visits, and funerals. But we often walk alone.
Johnny Cash wrote, “Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown. Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart, and you'll never walk alone, you'll never walk alone.” I guess, to use Cash’s words, my hope is that one day that I do not walk these few blocks by myself. That my community joins me on my walk through the rain and dreams and no Shabbat walk is done alone. I am lucky to be in a place that can understand that it is never too late to bring that music that we sing (whether literally or metaphorically) with us in an attempt to be together. A community that really loves you and understands the music that each rabbi brings is something very special. And without that acceptance it might be a constant walk alone, always trying to fill that void with another sermon or song.