This time round, it was triggered by my kids’ choice of music. I don’t have radio in the house, we don’t watch videos on Youtube (generally…) or movies, yet somehow secular Anglo culture is still permeating the walls of my home.
My kids both have a lot of music stored on their phones, and a lot of the music they’ve downloaded wholesale from their friends includes Anglo songs by secular singers.
When I first heard Celine Dion blasting out the theme from Titanic on a kid’s phone a few weeks’ back, I couldn’t believe it. That song used to be one of my favorites back in London, and for three years after I saw the movie, it could instantly trigger off a sobbing fit - because Leonardo di Caprio died!!!
My kids didn’t know this, of course, because I chucked out all my secular music around eight years' ago, but it turns out that one kid in particular likes this song, and she started playing it obsessively all over my house.
I didn’t start crying this time, (at least, not for that reason) - which was good, but what was less good is that it instantly took me back to my London life, and many London memories, from 16 years’ ago. And once that happened, I had that weird feeling again of not really belonging anywhere. I didn’t belong in turn of the millennia London anymore; I didn’t fit into my old neighbourhood any more, I wasn’t interested in the career I’d had, or the shops I’d frequented back then.
But…It was nice to hear music in English.
The next time Celine Dion popped up was even more head-wrecking: I was sitting at a mega-frum chareidi ladies event to celebrate the month of Adar, when one of the performers started singing…the theme from Titanic.
Sure, she’d changed the words to Hebrew, and was singing about getting closer to God, etc, but for me, just hearing the intro was enough to immediately whisk me back to London’s West End, and movies, and restaurants, and Leonardo di Caprio and that whole lifestyle that I left behind again.
And this time, the contrast between London then and Jerusalem now was so big, I felt really, really out of place.
Over the last few weeks, Celine Dion and Titanic have been popping up all over the place, including shops I walk past, and on other people’s loud car radios. And each time, I have to deal with that secular-orientated London bit of me again.
A few days’ back, I was talking to God about it all, and I told Him:
God, I need some music that really speaks for me now. Music in English, by Jews, who are really connecting to God, and to the struggle and the beauty of being a believing Jew in this world. Yes, I know there’s a ton of music like that in Hebrew, but I need some English songs to help me finally dislodge ‘Titanic’, and to help me feel like I belong in the world a bit more.
I asked, but I didn’t think I’d find anything like that.
Then I went to Hevron over chol hamoed, and there on the music stand I picked up the latest CD by one of my favourite Israeli singers, Gad Elbaz.
It’s only when I started playing it at home that I realised: the whole CD is in English!
Gad Elbaz sings a lot about God, and faith, and the deeper side of Jewish spiritual life, but he dresses very spiffily, and also seems to be between worlds in so many ways. When I saw this video (at the top of the post) I nearly cried: frum Jews in New York breakdancing and talking about serving God sincerely?!
You have to be kidding me!
Finally, someone is making music for the people in the middle, who sincerely believe in God and are doing their best to keep mitzvot in a real way, but still gel their hair…
(I know it's counting the Omer, and we don't listen to music for the next month, so bookmark this post, and come back after L'ag B'omer.)
Being in the middle is hard. That's why most people gravitate to an extreme over time. But my soul isn't letting me 'sink back' into secular culture, even though it still has such a pull on me, and Celine Dion isn't letting me pretend I'm a 100% frummer...
So in the meantime, what else can I do except shout out: 'Ha-Shem You're the King!', and play Gad Elbaz songs really, really loudly.