In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review June 16, 2008 / 13 Sivan 5768

Bob Dylan, won't you please come home?

By Varda Branfman

Printer Friendly Version

Email this article

What could have been — and yet be

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | It was something I learned from Bob Dylan songs that helped to get me here. It's not that I owe Dylan a special debt of gratitude. As he would probably be the first to admit, he was just doing what he had to do. He was part of the great orchestration of the world by The Master Composer, and if it hadn't been him, there would have been someone or something else to do the job.

I was transitioning from childhood to adulthood in the late Sixties, and Dylan songs were a lifeline. So much of my time was spent living in the box. I ate, breathed, and slept S.A.T. scores and college applications. I lived in a highly competitive world where I was expected to accomplish great things. And there were those Bob Dylan lyrics talking about the coming times when "the last would be first," about white doves that sleep in the sand, about a Tambourine Man and other things that resonated with a place in me I was beginning to locate—called my "inner world."

There were not too many people who seemed to care about the existence of an inner world, but I didn't give up trying to find them. In my sophomore year of college, I noticed a lot about the inner world in the poems of the French Symbolists, especially in Rimbaud who also happened to be one of Dylan's favorites.

My French professor probed every reference and nuance in those poems, but he never seemed to take any of it personally. The poems were for analyzing and paper writing and ultimately those competitive marks again. And it was just as well because, if I had been encouraged to take those poems to heart, I might have ended up with an unwieldy suitcase of dissolution and despair. There are better ways than Rimbaud to warm up to one's inner world.

After graduating from college, I worked at a good job in television for two years. Then suddenly, I dropped out and moved to Maine. A number of factors contributed to my unorthodox decision: my father's death, a love of nature, attraction to solitude, and burning questions about life that were not getting answered. I had always been afraid of really "blowin' in the wind," but now I felt the need to untether myself.

Like his Sixties' songs, the Dylan songs of the early Seventies were good company next to my wood burning stove on a Maine winter's night. They spoke about keeping to your true North and what happens when you don't, aligning with your vision and your dreams, and about being real with yourself and your feelings. I wasn't always enthralled with those songs, especially when he sang about women. Certain songs bothered me, and even made me angry. I wasn't a card carrying Dylan fan.

So how did he help to get me here — which is the last place I would have ever imagined myself being?

Dylan seemed to operate from the inside going out, instead of from the outside going in. He had a certain artistic integrity that made him follow his inspiration wherever it took him. It didn't mean that he never admitted to getting confused, which he actually did quite often in his lyrics. But rather he saw the confusion and the clarity and the hope and the despair as all part of some very big picture, and he accepted it all and tried to squeeze all of it into his songs.

Dylan knew how to go "knockin' on Heaven's door," and in general, there was a certain G-d consciousness in the underpinnings of his songs that were full of Biblical imagery. By that time in the early Eighties, I didn't even notice because I had already made the decision to go for broke in search of my Jewish soul.

It didn't take long for him to drop that Christian phase. There's even a 1983 photo of him at the Wall with tefillin (prayer gear) on. My friend remembers how he drove over to Far Rockaway with his limousine and body guards to speak with Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld, zatzal, and was interested enough to request another meeting.

Even if I had known about his interest in Judaism, it wouldn't have made much difference to me at that point since Dylan and all the other icons of popular culture were completely irrelevant to where I had landed. The only music I wanted to hear or sing was authentic Jewish music. I had more than enough to feed my inner world by singing Shlomo Carlebach songs and traditional zemiros (liturgical songs) around a Shabbos table in the Old City of Jerusalem.

My first few years of marriage I spent in Denver where we moved to be close to my husband's Rebbe (spiritual mentor), Rabbi Shloime Twerski, zatzal. During one of our long, uninterrupted conversations in which we were catching up on each other's lives and all our past lives, Bob Dylan's name came up, and my husband confirmed that he had also been influenced by those Dylan songs in a big way.

My husband had been certain that Rabbi Twerski might be one of the few Jewish figures who could speak Dylan's language and bring him into Yiddishkeit. He was so certain of that scenario that, when he was in California, he went over to Malibu where Dylan lived and tried to find him.

He parked his car down the block and walked over to what he thought was the approximate location of Dylan's house according to the information he had. The house was high up on a bluff, and there was an older woman standing in a flower bed half-way down the hill. He figured it must be Bob Dylan's mother.

It was exciting listening to my husband's story. I was proud of him for following through on his decision to find Dylan. And of course, I wanted to know what happened next.

The woman was wearing a bandanna and pedal pushers. She had noticed him at around the same time that he had noticed her, and as he approached, she was registering the fact that he was wearing tzitzis (ritual fringes) and a yarmulke. She seemed friendly enough, but my husband figured it was best to dispense with the formalities and go straight to the point about why he had appeared, unannounced and uninvited.

"I'm looking for Bob Dylan. Is this his house?"

"No, Bob lives up the road. I'm not at liberty to show you where, but why are you looking for him?"

My husband realized he had gone on a wild goose chase. He felt a stab of disappointment and wasn't interested in making conversation, but the lady seemed so nice that he felt she deserved an explanation.

"It's because of my Rabbi, Rabbi Shloime Twerski. I just wanted Bob Dylan to meet him. I think it could change his life."

The lady's eyes opened wide when she heard the name "Twerski." The wife of a famous movie producer, she was Jewish, had grown up in Milwaukee, and had known the Rabbi's father.

"Oh my G-d, the Milwaukee Twerskis!!!" My husband was surprised by her emotional reaction.

Then she went on to explain: "My father used to take me to the Rebbe! Everyone in Milwaukee knew him. Everyone respected him. No judge, Jewish or not, would decide on a case until they talked to the Rebbe. And no lawyer would take a case until they talked to him. The Milwaukee Twerskis…" she shook her head as if the words couldn't do justice to her memories.

"Young man," she said, "I really want to help. You know what --- here take this piece of paper and this pen and write down a message for Bob, and I'll see to it that he gets it."

That was as close as my husband ever got to Dylan. And then The Rabbi passed away nine months after we were married. It would have to take someone or something else to wake Dylan up to his Jewish soul.

But we haven't given up hope. There's a Midrash that says how G-d calls out to every Jew every single day to return to Him. So we can be sure that He's calling and won't stop until the line gets free. By the way, I had another holy mission about waking up Woody Allen, but that's a whole other story.

Dylan's songs are a kaleidoscope monologue of observations and impressions about life. They pointed me the way to seeing that the world around me was speaking, and that I should pay attention and maybe even trust what I thought I heard it saying. I found that the longer I was awake and listening, the more it spoke.

This morning, for instance. When I walked to the makolet to buy my bread, milk, and other sundries, I saw a Burial Society van pull up to the sidewalk and pick up a group of little girls with their schoolbags. At first, I thought that it was highly incongruous, even bizarre, knowing that the same van would be used to transport the dead.

I didn't fight the thought, and just let it sit until "Chevra Kadisha," whose literal translation is "Holy Brotherhood," emblazoned in white letters on that dark blue van, started to unhinge from their usual association with the Burial Society. I realized that the band of little girls climbing in were another brand of chevra kadisha, a cute holy sisterhood of pure, innocent souls on their way to school.

Instead of making me nervous the way they usually do, those words "Chevra Kadisha" started to vibrate in rainbow colors. Okay, it wasn't any earthshaking epiphany, but it was a sign that my heart was awake. I hold that it was precious. Bob Dylan held the machinations of his inner world as precious. They were the stuff of his songs which, in some circles, are considered the best songs of the twentieth century.

And we got something else from knowing Dylan. Maybe it's called "conviction" or "imagination," and it wasn't only from Dylan. G-d has His messengers in all shapes and forms. It gives my husband the clarity to see and the guts to say when he elaborates on something he feels in his bones about the dazzling truth of Judaism: "It's time that people realized that it's true, it's really true and not just words. It's not just a life style. It's really true."

JewishWorldReview.com regularly publishes uplifting articles. Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Comment by clicking here.

Varda Branfman is a former Director of Maine’s Poets-in-the-Schools Program. She was a pioneer in the innovative use of creative writing in mental hospitals, prisons, and old age homes. She earned an M.A. in the Writing Program at the University of New Hampshire and is the author of I REMEMBERED IN THE NIGHT YOUR NAME and THE HIDDEN WORLD. Her articles, stories, and poems appear in numerous magazines and anthologies.

© 2008, Varda Branfman