In Case of Emergency, Tallis Bag May Be Used as Flotation Device; Ramblin’ Jew Medley (Song)

Rabbi Josh Snyder
February 16, 2014
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A double post this month, moving from the personal to the communal:

Our family recently took the uncomfortable step of leaving the congregation we joined 5 years ago when we moved to town. There had been a gradual realization that while it served many roles for us, it simply was not a good enough fit, ideologically or practically, as an egalitarian-minded family with three young daughters. It was time to find a new community that represented our family’s changing needs. But there was no clear replacement. We did not leave it for another congregation, and that leaves us in the uncomfortable state of being unmoored. So we are floaters.  very week we try somewhere new to attend on Saturday morning, hopeful, seeking, open-minded. Each of these choices offers something we’re looking for: a songful service, engaging for our kids, a friendly social scene, a location near our home, insightful words of Torah, but never all of them. We have ideas of starting a new minyan but are still gathering intel, interest, and motivation. The same factors that are making it difficult for us to simply choose a community are both motivation toward and a reality check on investing money and time in creating a new communal structure.

It is really hard for most people under 50 to commit to a community for the long term, let alone picky Jewish professionals like myself who have too many specifics in mind. I think it probable that, just as most of us will have many jobs over the course of our careers, we will live simultaneously in many more communities, often without one Jewish home base. As soon as we do settle, we grow and change, feeling a need for being unsettled, finding something else the particular community we are in does not offer.

As we continue in a hopefully brief period of intentional floaterdom, I hope that we do find something we are looking for and share gratitude with the communities and places we do alight, however briefly.  I wish blessings on fellow Jewish floaters everywhere.

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What does it mean to be a wandering Jew in today’s day and age?

Shaul Magid’s excellent article surveys the trope of the Wandering Jew, and concludes that wandering is in our very nature. What he skips over is that history has forced the Jewish people to move from place to place, often in traumatic and painful ways. But he is right that in being uprooted and forced to set down roots in new soil, we have found new ways of being. That motion has not always been our choice, but it has been the engine of our creativity.

While Magid focuses on Israel, I want to think for a moment about the Jewish communities in the US. No one is going to kick us out any time soon. In fact, the first question in the recent Pew Survey questionnaire reveals that Jews are more likely to rate the community they live in as excellent than the average American (50 to 41%), and Jews are slightly more likely to own homes (59% to 57%). We are more rooted than the average American. If wandering is what engenders creativity, not much is forcing our evolution as a people.

But there are more ways of wandering than geographic nomadism. We change our career paths, our intimate relationships, our diets, our affiliations. The truth is that Jews wander, yes, but so does everyone else. The difference is that the struggle over identity is our way of being, while for many others it perturbs. We are called Israel, the people who struggle with God. A strange name for a religion whose defining characteristic is a stark monotheism, no? But we revel in our being en route, in process, unfinished.

So here is this month’s offering, an unsettled song, a mashup mess of a cover of three of my favorite Classic Rock songs about rambling, with some lyrics appropriate to the Jewish people.  Apologies to Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers and Led Zeppelin.  I do tend to ramble on…

The Ramblin’ Jew Medley

Well they call us the Jews

Keep on blowin’ down the road

Israelites or Hebrews

We keep blowin’ down the road

Gonna set down some new roots

Got the Torah as our load

 

My father was a wandering Aramean

Wound up as a slave

On Egypt’s Nile

Had a Temple in Canaan

For about a Millenium

Hung out in Europe for a while

 

Now that I’m in the Goldene Medina, it’s time I was on my way.

Is my Birthright here or over there, either way such a pleasant stay.

Wherever I may roam or go, there’s a Chabad for me to pray,

for when I smell the chrain, I get like Cain, and I head on my way.

Ah, sometimes I grow so tired,

but I know I’ve got one thing I got to do.

 

Ramble on, and now’s the time, the time is now,

to sing my song, spiritual shpilkes don’t want no cure

On my way, I’ve been this way 4000 years to the day,

ramble on, need google maps to find my dreams.

 

Well they call us the Jews

Keep on blowin’ down the road

Israelites or Hebrews

We keep blowin’ down the road

Gonna set us down some roots

Got the Torah as our load

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Rabbi Josh Snyder is the Executive Director of Goucher College Hillel in Baltimore, MD. He attended List College's Joint Program between Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he earned degrees in Talmud and Biology. After a brief adventure as a veterinary student, Josh was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2008. In addition to immersing himself in Hillel, Josh finds balance through his wife Neely and three daughters, distance running, rock music, the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Orioles.

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