Music and prayer
Written by: Talia Goldberg, Community Shlicha
As a teenager, I used to listen to music like Justin Bieber and Demi Lovato and I was SURE that I was listening to the greatest, best music in the world. I remember my older brother getting angry at me during Passover cleaning because the music I chose to listen was terrible in his opinion. I got so offended that I still remember this moment to this day. I used to listen to a lot of music on YouTube when it didn’t have commercials. I had music playing in the background while I was doing other activities and I would play song after song. One day, I was doing my homework and suddenly I start to notice a slow guitar playing. I stopped what I was doing and listened. Those guitar notes cut through the silence in my room. A voice I never heard before, joining the guitar, went straight into my heart singing, “this is the end, my only friend the end.”
That was the day I discover Jim Morrison and the Doors. I felt something I had never felt before. It felt like a silent prayer coming out of my heart. I was stunned. When the song ended, I searched online for the band to see what I could learn and what more I could hear. That’s when I also discovered Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones, Queen and David Bowie. I was blown away. All those years of listening to Justin Bieber and thinking I was the rebel teenager, I found were wrong after listening to the words in Jim Morrison’s music. I didn’t even know I was missing a piece of my heart. What I found was a craving for life – the desire for a relationship with a god that I can challenge. There’s a lot of music I listen to and I feel like it’s a prayer. The easiest example is Leonard Cohen. Every time his lips sing hallelujah, I bow down as if its Yom Kippur and I’m ready to ask for forgiveness.
But prayers are not only there to make you bow in front of god. I believe I have a relationship with god. I think the questions I learned to ask as a Jewish child brought me to believe that there are interpretations with my relationship with god. I think of all the Holocaust stories I have heard, of those surviving and those dying, have made me think about my relationship with god. And at some point, when I was young, I tried to understand why bad things happen to good people and how good things happen to bad people which brought about my trying to understand god.
Maybe it was the fact that god didn’t answer my questions directly that kept me searching for answers. This search eventually led me to American 70s music. The music was written by artists living in a time of big changes, in a time of questioning our beliefs. There was a culture for our unanswered questions to be pondered. As this questioning got louder in American society and a distance with god grew, a connection to the religious institutes diminished. There was no reason to go somewhere to get answers if there were no answers to be had. I also wasn’t ready to accept any answers.
I feel like that is the place I am in life now. As a young person observing the American Jewish experience, religious institutions aren’t providing answers for people my age. The houses of worship that were established for my parents to find answers are not drawing me in. I think I am missing a fundamental need to just believe. I am not saying that I wish I could go back to having religious institutions be a central part of my life, but I know that I am missing a part of the innocence that those who believe possess.
As a teenager, I used to read lots of poetry by Allen Ginsburg. I found his writing grotesque but truthful thinking the world has its dark places. The book I got was Kaddish and other poems,
translated by David Avidan – the Israeli "Allen Ginsberg", who I read after that for years. "I’m afraid said samson to the pillars, the great light scares me.” David Avidan wrote crazy poems with Jewish stories. He wrote harsh and erotic things that I never thought before about bible stories. These new insights hit me like both a storm and a whisper. They felt like a storm in my life because I finally found a way to connect with god and with belief. I can join Jim Morrison by screaming his music and feeling a connection to the noise around me. But they also came into my life in a whisper because prayers, for me, are always a way to understand that you are not the ruler of the world, that you still have the need inside to ask for help.