Dear Family and Friends:
I’m a lucky guy, in any number of ways. One of those is that my kids give me gifts for no reason (and those are the best). Two weeks ago Jer gave me a book that I’ll tell you about in a minute. At about the same time Julian “Cannonball” Adderley CD’s started mysteriously arriving here. Cannonball Adderley is a favorite sax player of mine. My son Mike was the culprit (it didn't take long for me to figure that out).
I’m also lucky to have close friends who are wonderful, dear, and incredibly talented. Late last Thursday night, long after an outstanding Simchat Torah experience with Dan Nichols, followed by a magical 90 minutes where forty of so IU Hillel students crammed into a small program room, jammed, sang, and listened to Danny do, do that voodoo that he does so well (any of you remember Sinatra’s “Old Black Magic?”), we found ourselves sitting out on the porch, schmoozing (not unusual for us). We talked about any number of things, recognizing that our lives have been G.U.C.I.-intertwined forever. To the world it’s “Dan” Nichols, but to the Goldman Union Camp world he is, and I believe will always be, “Danny.”
So there we sat out in the dark, trading some memories, discussing what we each thought might be the essential elements of song leading and much of the music we have shared over the years. Danny reminded me that, long ago, I had given him a beloved Dukes of Dixieland CD and I commented that, as strange as it may sound, there is one note in that performance that always brings me to the brink of tears. Silly, eh? A Dixieland band, a great Dixieland band, led by the Assunto brothers, Frank on coronet and Fred on trombone that can elicit such a strong response on my part. But it’s true. The album is “The Best of the Dukes of Dixieland,” and the number is “The Original Dixieland One-step.” Late in that number Fred Assunto’s trombone soars above the band and always hits me right between the eyes. A while ago I told you of a similar response I always have to a particular note on an Ella Fitzgerald CD. It is a note that I anticipate and wait for…and hope for. When it comes it is rapture.
Last night at another Simchat Torah celebration, this time at the installation of a newly hired rabbi and cantor at a fledgling synagogue in Indianapolis, I spoke about the book I am reading, the one from Jeremy. It’s about one of my favorite movies, “The Great Lebowski.” In the book the star of that movie, Jeff Bridges, has conversations with a Jewish-Zen master friend about the philosophies presented in the movie. Jeff talks about the central character, “The Dude,” and remarks that no matter what trials or tribulations confront the Dude, “The Dude abides.” His Zen master friend responds by telling him that Chassidic rabbis believed that there are always 36 righteous souls in the world, and because of them God allows the world, with all of its imperfections and injustices and evil, to abide, to continue. Perhaps, he suggests, the Dude is one of the 36. I used this idea to suggest that we treat each other as if he or she might be one of the 36, understanding that the world abides because of that person’s righteousness.
Then, this morning I put the Dukes of D. on and listened once again to that soaring trombone. The thought came to me that perhaps my world abides because of that note and Ella’s, at least in the instance of hearing them. You may have such a note or two as well. Maybe it is in a Springsteen song, or Van Halen, or Mozart, or maybe in the “Amen” at the very end of the Shehechianu at the end of a Shabbat song session in a steamy, summer Chadar Ochel at camp. Mine’s in the midst of a Dixieland number and a jazz ballad; strange as that may seem.
To celebrate the joy of our Jewish cycle, to dance with the Torah, to install two new clergy as leaders in a newly born synagogue, and to sit late at night on the porch talking to a dear friend about nothing and everything, music; well, it just doesn't get much better that that. I’m kind of understanding how the Dude abides, how the world abides and how lucky I am to be a part of it all.
And gifts from my sons…that goes at the top of the list.