By Johnny Memphis
Here’s a poem by the Persian poet Rumi called “Where Everything is Music.”
Don’t worry about saving these songs! And if one of our instruments breaks, it doesn’t matter.
We have fallen into the place where everything is music.
The strumming and the flute notes rise into the atmosphere,
and even if the whole world’s harp should burn up,
there will still be hidden instruments playing.
So the candle flickers and goes out. We have a piece of flint, and a spark.
This singing art is sea foam.
The graceful movements come from a pearl somewhere on the ocean floor.
Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge of driftwood along the beach, wanting!
They derive from a slow and powerful root that we can’t see.
Stop the words now.
Open the window in the center of your chest, and let the spirits fly in and out.
This poem was included in Saturday’s bar mitzvah service for my young friend Benjamin DeLaCour. Benjamin was born in 2002 in Northampton, Massachusetts and Rumi, the Persian poet and Sufi mystic, was born in 1207 in Vaksh, Tajikstan, 300 miles north of Kabul. The poem blew me away like spindrift (“sea spray blown from waves during a gale,” says Merriam-Webster.) Later in the bar mitzvah, Benjamin spoke about his Tikkun Olam to help Bedouin villages. As part of a bar or bat mitzvah, young Jews often choose a community service project to do “tikkun olam,” translated as “repair of the world.” Benjamin chose to raise money for Bedouin villages in Israel and the West Bank that are struggling to stay on their ancestral lands in defiance of the Israeli government. To help their cause, Benjamin and his father Ned will do a 50-mile fund-raising bike ride and Benjamin will also facilitate letters to Congress from the rest of us. We can’t count on Benjamin to do all the tikkun olam.
In the evening the bar mitzvah continued at the Look Park Garden House where we gathered on the dance floor and the lights were dimmed for the blessing of the challah bread. “Come in closer,” said Rabbi Riqi. Benjamin held a big Havdalah candle that was lit to symbolize the sacredness of the Sabbath. As we sang the blessing, the rabbi invited us to see the reflection of the candlelight in our fingernails, or better yet, look into our neighbor’s eyes for the glimmer. Looking for candlelight in someone’s eyes is a lovely assignment. Spices were passed around, challah was sampled, fruit of the vine was sipped.
As soon as the candle was doused in a big glass of wine, the klezmer quartet kicked in. The crowd was already on the dance floor, already in a loving, communal spirit, all ready to move. There was no need to tell people to start dancing. People just started to shimmy as soon as Klezamir launched into the rousing party-starter “Simen Tov U’Mazel Tov,” translated as “Good Sign and Good Luck.” (The band told me later they prefer this tune to the more obvious choice of “Hava Nagila.”) Before you knew it there was a nucleus of swing-your-partner dancers arm-in-arm, and then a giant mushrooming spiral of hand-linking, latch-on-to-the-next-person line dancing, with everyone outside the circle clapping for joy and encouragement, liable to be swept up into the dancing themselves. The music surged, caught fire and burned brighter and brisker, the clarinet scolding and rejoicing. Benjamin was lifted up in a chair and raised above the crowd. The men holding him up gave him a bumpy ride, as if to say “You are a man now, you can handle it, plus your tribe will support you and be there for you on the rocky path of life.” The song went on and on, for 10, 20, 30, 40 minutes, who knows how long, too long to count. It could still be going on. It is the endless song of endless love. Time is irrelevant. Centuries disappear. We are still clapping. Everything is music.
After the dance I talked to Joe Blumenthal the bass player for Klezamir. Speaking about playing at Jewish celebrations he said, “We used to get 15-20 of these a year but now we only get 5 or 6. Nowadays they just want deejays.”
The next morning outside our front door there was a cardboard, virtual reality viewer that was delivered along with the Sunday New York Times. If you followed all the instructions and inserted your smartphone into the viewer, you could watch a video and see any part of the scene in all 360 degrees by turning your head from side to side or up and down. The first video in the scroll to download was “The Displaced” about three kids, who are among the 60 million people currently displaced by war. One kid was from the Ukraine, one from the Sudan and one from Syria. In the Sudan video, refugees stood in a field as food was dropped from an airplane. As a viewer, when you heard the sound of the airplanes coming, you could pan up to the sky and see the plane go by and the big bags of food that were dropping like bombs.
This new virtual reality technology was amazing because the person viewing could choose which direction to look at the scene. There was more immersion with the story of displaced children, more connection to ways in which the world needs repair. Yet this virtual reality box was depressing at the same time. It was sad to see my kids, 13 and 15, trying it out. With the viewer over their eyes, they couldn’t see the real world around them. They were encased in technology. They wouldn’t be able to see the reflection of the candlelight in their neighbor’s eyes.
Here’s a song called “Lupita” by the great klezmer band Klezperanto who were playing up the road at the Arts Block in Greenfield the same night as the bar mitzvah. Klezperanto is led by the clarinetist Ilene Stahl who lives in Greenfield.