Neil Diamond on the Way to the Beach

Listening to Neil Diamond on the way to the beach. His soothing deep voice, his original lyrics, reading about his life on Wikipedia. He wanted to be a doctor to cure cancer because his grandmother died of cancer but in his senior year at NYU a music publishing company offered him $50 to write songs and he took another path.

It’s 9:55, make a wish, Shaya says in his sweet voice. We don’t understand it, but we smile nonetheless.

Neil Diamond is a Jew. Born in the shadow of the Second World War to immigrant parents with all the trappings of a Jewish family. And he became one of the most popular musicians in the world.

I listen to him and I think about what it takes to break out of routine and into stardom. What it means to be in the limelight, the spotlight, for others to watch your trajectory and your success and admire you and want to be you. And he is one of my people.

With all that is going on in Israel these days, I am reminded of earlier feelings I’ve had all my life about how we are never really safe. Although we have the illusion of safety in America, the illusion of freedom, the brief respite from persecution, I am not sure we are ever really safe.

And I can’t figure out why we are so persecuted. We are just a people like any other people. To be fair, we have a disproportionate percentage of successes – nobel peace prizes, film industry leaders, banking industry leaders, great leaders in entrepreneurship. So we’ve succeeded. We’ve transcended our history of victimization. Good for us.

Isn’t it? Isn’t that enough? Can’t we just be who we are?

I mean, let’s look at this. We are born Jews. Born to Jewish parents, you’re Jewish. Judaism is an ancestral lineage, and a religion. It’s a belief system. It’s a relationship with God.

That’s all. To be born to a certain tradition — how can that make us worthy of hate? I don’t understand how other peoples throughout history and today in Gaza can have as a criteria of their own peoplehood the annihilation of mine.

How can we define ourselves by the desire to wipe out others? I have never felt that way about anyone. I cannot even imagine wishing one person dead, let alone a whole community of people.

It breaks my heart to see the juxtaposition of successful, inspiring, talented Jews and the venomous hatred of all Jews. Side by side in a fucked up world. It can’t make any sense.

Recently, I watched Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer one sleepy weekend morning. I had never seen the whole movie, and so I snuggled into my little guy on the family room couch and let the familiar songs wash over me.

The story of a Jewish son of a cantor with a beautiful voice, rising to lead in his father’s synagogue to inspire the congregation with his gorgeous singing. But he was restless. He wanted more. And so the movie tells the story of him leaving his traditional life cloaked in community and building a career of stardom.

Even still, he stops recording for Yom Kippur. He honors the traditions. He stays connected even as he branches out. And in the end everybody wins.

When you are steeped in meaningful traditions, you can’t veer off-track. There has to be a chord of meaning tying us to something. Without that, we move blindly along, making it up as we go.

You can’t define your very existence by the annihilation of others. Hatred cannot be the undercurrent for your life’s purpose. As horrible as some life situations are, there has to be a glimmer of light, of divine hope, grounded in Truth. Otherwise everybody loses.

Last night, Asher performed Havdalah on the beach. The thunder of waves crashing against the sand was our backdrop, and we huddled around the flickering multi-wicked candle braid as he sang the ancient prayers.

Separation between holy and mundane. Inviting the holy into the week. Connecting with family over time and place and meaning.

These are universal truths, celebrated in every culture. The biggest fallacy is that we are somehow different from others, and that someone, somewhere is superior.

That’s never been true. We each carry a piece of God inside us. We alone have the power and the responsibility to make peace on earth. And we alone can destroy it.

“It’s a wonderful noise, like a symphony played by a passing parade, it’s the music of life. It’s the sound that I love, and it makes me feel good, just like a hand in a glove.” Neil Diamond, “Beautiful Noise”

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