This week I had the privilege to play some great music. Playing is always a gift, but I say privilege here because this type of performance wasn't always permitted, and its timing coincided with a historic milestone.
Wednesday was the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp. Basya Schechter and band played John Zorn's downtown venue, The Stone. Basya's 'Songs of Wonder' is a powerful setting of the poetry of prophet Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who was also a freedom fighter with MLK. The poetry too, is a celebration of freedom: in this case his own youthful exploration of life outside the Hasidic community.
It's funny for me, because I really don't play too much Jewish music these days. Since my efforts with Sacred Time, I've been laying low as a Jew and working hard on my rock songs. So I felt there was something special about this confluence of events, something of particular import for me.
It turns out the timing was everything.
For most of my life I've avoided the Holocaust. Never wanted to study it, read about it, talk about it. I'm a sensitive dude; paying attention to something that dark had consequences for me. Meanwhile, my relationship to Judaism suffered from it. 'Why can't we just live in the present?', I'd mentally plead while listening to another sermon, shunning services and holidays except when hired to play. And the Holocaust as a returning topic of discussion kept me from getting close to some family, some of whom are now sadly beyond reach.
But this week was an opportunity for me. Instead of looking back at the horrors of 70 years ago, I could reflect on the fact that it's over. I meditated on the courage of the troops who brought the war to an end. Who liberated the camps. Without their tremendous sacrifice, there probably wouldn't be much of a Jewish people, let alone a thriving downtown Jewish music scene :)
'When I get to NYC lets go somewhere openly Jewish'. These were the words of an Arab-American friend a week after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket. He wanted us to celebrate freedom of expression and freedom of religion; to celebrate the ability of Jews to be Jews. I was deeply grateful.
It's been a terrifying time to be Jewish, as anti Semitism is spiking all over Europe. In Sweden, the relatively peaceful place I once lived, hate of the Jewish community I came to know is on the rise. Thousands of French Jews are leaving for Israel, the number growing exponentially each year. All of the facts and figures scare me.
They scare me so much that I was afraid to write this piece. Afraid to take a public stance as a Jew. Afraid to tweet and FB about my Jewish performances. Afraid to share the locations of our shows. As our band enters a temple compound in Florida for another performance, a thickly armored and heavily armed guard greets us and questions us. It's necessary but It ain't fun.
But despite the fear, my buddy had unearthed an imperative: Now is the time to celebrate jewish expression, to shout our beauty from the rooftops. Never has it been more important to share our sublime vision with the World and for the World to do the same. When oppression dawns, resistance is imperative. As the world proclaims 'Je suis Charlie', I agree and I add:
'Je suis un Yid' 'I am a Jew'
please join the call.