When I applied to rabbinic school, I had to undergo a rigorous process. Besides submitting academic records and letters of recommendations, probably the most trying part of the experience was being interviewed by a panel of faculty, administrators, and rabbinic students. Even to this day, I recall some of the questions I was asked including “Do you think you are a prophet?” But no one inquired, “Do you play guitar?”
Many years later, when I applied to become the rabbi of Temple Beth Torah, the search committee did a thorough job of vetting my candidacy. Besides submitting my resume, I engaged in a phone interview, which led to a visit to Fremont to meet in person with the committee. Even to this day, I recall some of the questions I was asked including “Do you play golf?” But no one inquired, “Do you play guitar?”
Thankfully, playing guitar is not a requirement to become a Reform rabbi. However, as my grandfather might say, “It vouldn’t hoit.”
I grew-up in a family that valued music. My brothers and I were all expected to play an instrument. In my case, I learned to play cello, which I did throughout elementary school and junior high. However, the cello didn’t really lend itself to the music that I embraced as a teenager, so I stopped playing. But oh how I loved to jam with friends – singing harmony while others artfully strummed their guitars.
I came late to the realization that playing guitar could enhance my skills as a rabbi. About ten years ago I made an earnest effort to learn guitar, purchasing an instrument as well as a DVD about basic chord progressions. When that methodology didn’t take, I began taking weekly lessons at the local music shop. I got as far as learning the introduction to Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” but the darn thing was that no matter how much I practiced, I lacked the muscle memory to recall where my fingers were suppose to be on the frets. I never was able to play with any degree of competency.
I tried my best, but then I just gave up. Eventually, I sold my guitar at a vastly reduced price to a friend, who gave it to his young son. As time has gone on, I’ve seen Facebook photos of this lad rocking out on my former guitar, so at least it came into the right hands.
Would it be wonderful if I played guitar? No doubt. Am I envious of those rabbis who do? Not at all. I appreciate their skill and talent - which leads me to this coming Shabbat evening service. This weekend, Temple Beth Torah is hosting our annual retreat for Confirmation students from Pleasanton, Fresno, and Fullerton. These students’ rabbis will be with us this Friday night and I am delighted to welcome my friends and colleagues: Larry Milder, Rick Winer, and Ken Milhander.
All three of them are accomplished guitarists. They will lead the musical portions of our Shabbat service. I know that their musicianship will wonderfully enhance the ruach (spirit) of our worship. As for the rest of us who are not guitarists, we are welcome to join them in song. And it vouldn’t hoit for us to lay on a little harmony now and then.