Jerry Garci-nan: Skeletons from My Closet

July 5, 2015 by

Afterthoughts of a ba'al teshuva.


As the smoke clears from Chicago’s Soldier Field there could not be a more appropriate time to address a particular phenomenon that I think every ba’al teshuva is familiar with. Namely, finding things in the Torah world that hint towards people, places, and things that we know only from our secular upbringing. For example, I used the word garcinan in the title of this email. It’s a word frequently found in Talmudic studies. It means “we accept the quoted version of text...”. And if you’ve ever heard of the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia, you’ve got to be a literal deadhead not to reference to Jerry after seeing the first half of the word - “garci-...”. This occurrence is part of the ba’al teshuva experiene; take it or leave it, or shall I say “believe it if you need it, or leave it if you dare.”

I once heard the following story from Rabbi Aba Wagensberg שליט"א about a prominent Rosh Kollel who had a secular upbringing. He was once standing on a street corner when a car pulled up playing a song he used to love and it wasn’t long before he found himself tapping his foot to the music. Puzzled and troubled by his behaviour he went to Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg זצ"ל to ask what he should do about it. The Rav related to him that there was once a time in his life when if he ever entered into a house where there were newspapers lying around, he couldn’t help peeking at the sports section to see if the Yankees won. He grew up as an American boy in New York and for a long time was attracted to sports, as they are a normal part of American life. And this phenomenon can be used for the good, Rav Scheinberg explained. By keeping these facets of our personality intact and not undergoing a self-imposed memory lapse, common grounds between secular and Torah observant Jews are enabled. Even though these “grounds” are completely void of Torah, “once in a while you can get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

Call this a tribute if you will. I admit, their music still gets played occasionally through the speakers of my imagination. I often wonder if it “sounds” better in there than it would if I actually played it. Whatever it may be, I’m sure many of you relate to this sort of thing. Thanks for reading and giving me the chance to rummage through some of what’s been stored “in the attics of my life.”

Got your own stories to share? I’d love to hear them.

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