"A Bridge Over Troubled Waters"

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

It's 1970. I'm in my mid-twenties, married but six months. I am standing before an audience of about three hundred. An Oneg Shabbat in an up and coming Synagogue, I am speaking to the Congregation so that they may determine if I am the appropriate candidate for their pulpit. Questions abound. Finally one individual asks, "Rabbi, can you, in a few short words, define the role of a Rabbi in today's world?" I respond, "In the words of Simon & Garfunkel, a Rabbi is '...a bridge over troubled waters'." After the gathering, my brother, who was in the audience, told me that when I quoted Simon & Garfunkel I clinched the pulpit.

And so the lyrics of these two great songwriters speak not only to the frustrations and values of a time in our American history, a time which was my time, but, from a practical view, helped to launch my professional career as a Rabbi. Encapsulated in many of their songs was the pain of Viet Nam, the frustration of the civil rights movement, the desire to "empower" each and every individual - the tumult of the times. And what times they were! Principles, idealism - these were the magic words of the day. Standing up for ones beliefs, marching, protesting were daily activities. In the air one could sense the world in flux ever moving forward, Utopia but around the corner. The impetus for all this change - the younger generation and I, a young Rabbi, felt very much a part of it.

On Thursday, April 30th Chicago Jewry celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of our beloved Israel. Held at the McGaw Hall, Welsh-Ryan Arena it featured a "Salute to Israel." Headliner for the evening - Art Garfunkel.

I had arrived at the arena after attending a noon reception sponsored by the Israel Consulate in honor of Yom Ha'Atzmaut. Held at the Union League Club, the venue alone speaking volumes about the progress of American Jewry in becoming part of mainstream society, my heart was filled with pride. As I walked down Jackson I spied in the distance the Israeli flag majestically flying from one of the two flag poles on the Union League's facade. At the reception both prominent and every day individuals rubbed shoulders each wishing the other congratulations, Chag Sameach, on this special occasion. I had the pleasure of speaking with a gentleman who served in the leadership of a Christian organization which supports Israel. I listened to him recount his trips to Israel, his love of the land and its people, of the vibrancy of its democracy, its humanity in providing religious freedom for all. My Jewish heart was filled to overflowing with pride in my people and our miraculous land.

This feeling of joy, this indescribable sense of being one with my People and its land, carried over into the evening when my wife Linda and I drove to Evanston. What a scene greeted us! Thousands upon thousands of Jews arriving in cars and buses were making their way to the Arena for Israel's birthday celebration. Inside, everyone was vying for a good seat. When Cantor Mizrachi began the program with the singing of our respective national anthems, the singing of Hatikvah was unusually spirited. The program began.

First to appear was the Kiryat Gat Dance Troupe. Well costumed, they presented a series of dances reflecting the Jewish State. Colorful, the music brimming with Israeli flavour, it was a delightful performance. Next came Noa. While I admit to not being up on the music scene, it was quite obvious that there were those in the audience who knew her work quite well. Her music, with rare exception, reflected a mix of her American upbringing in the United States (she was raised in The Bronx), and her Yemenite heritage.

Finally there was Art Garfunkel - the headliner. He appeared as a vision from my past. Remarkably, at least from my vantage point, he seemed to look the same as he did years back. His opening remark, "I bet you thought I wouldn't have as much hair as I do," drew a loud and approving response from the audience. We were treated to a medley of Simon and Garfunkel standards including "Bridge over Troubled Waters" and culminating in the encore with "The Sound of Silence."

As I left the arena it suddenly dawned on me that my mood had changed. As we were leaving I heard comments such as, "he didn't even attempt to sing a song that had any relevance to the occasion" or "why didn't he at least sing one Israeli song." My mind was caught up in the 60's. Garfunkel had captured my psyche had brought me back to my younger days. Many in the audience, fellow "baby boomers" were humming S & G melodies their eyes clouded over with visions of yesteryear.

I left the celebration depressed and confused. Would not a totally Jewish, totally Israeli program, have captured the attendance that Garfunkel did with his trip down "memory lane"? Would not my fellow "baby boomers" have turned out (we constituted a good part of the audience) to be part of an Israeli song fest, including presentations on the history and struggle of the last fifty years? Does not the celebration of Israel's Independence day, Yom Ha'Atzmaut, in considering the shoresh, the root of the Hebrew word independence, etzem, essence, require a celebration that represents that which is organically part of Israel? Should we not have revelled in Israel's many accomplishments in industry, art, technology, agriculture, human needs, and the list could go on and on...? Finally, could we not have dusted off the rusty old "finjhan" for one more "kumzits"? I wonder.