A Grateful Tribute to Gogi Grant

https://youtu.be/lVcPdD3QIAw

In 1956 when the first wave of Elvis popularity—with Hound Dog, Don’t Be Cruel, “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” and “Love Me Tender” were number one on the Hit Parade, a Jewish girl from Philadelphia pushed Elvis down the list

Myrtle Audrey Arinsberg, the eldest of six children born to Russian-Jewish parents, took the number one spot from the King. Between Elvis first chart topper, “Heart Break Hotel,” and the above-mentioned classics, Ms Ginsberg, better known as Gogi Grant, reigned for five weeks at number one with “The Wayward Wind.”

Sixty years later the songs timeless beauty endures. It is one of the best, most tightly told and evocative “story-songs” of all time. Ms Grant’ dead on performance of her classic at age 80 (above) is a remarkable achievement.

In recent years I have seriously considered the contrast between ‘the wayward wind’ of the song and the “’wind’ (spirit)’ of God” that hovered over the waters   (Genesis 1:2) at the beginning of the Torah’s creation story.

The wayward wind is a random breeze that sweeps up those who follow it and symbolizes a life of aimless selfishness. And of course the bottom line in the song is because of it, as Ms Grant so plaintively sings, “I’m now alone with a broken heart.”

By contrast the wind of God that hovered over the primordial waters presages the story’s vital lesson that God does not want the wind or spirit within us to be random.

The whole point of the creation story is that life is not an accident and that we should live with purpose and meaning. Everything in the story is created in an orderly fashion and with great purpose. The message is our lives should have purpose and direction. Only we human beings (Genesis 1:26) are created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. That means of all creatures on earth we have the most power. As intelligent as our pets or the chimpanzees or the dolphins are, they are not going to perform life-saving brain surgery. They are also not going to build bombs or bullets whose only purpose is to kill or to maim.

Indeed the overarching message of the creation story is that God wants us to use the awesome power we each possess to positive purpose and for each of us to contribute in some small way to the creation of a more just, caring and compassionate society.

But God doesn’t make us do that. We have a choice.

We can allow the wayward wind to swirl us around aimlessly through life or we can find the “wind of God” deep within our souls and make our lives a blessing to those with whom we interact.

Gogi Grant sang of the wayward wind but seems to have heeded the “wind” of the Eternal one. She honed her vocal gifts so that critics hailed her as “one of the premier vocalists of the 1950s and 1960s, is known for her crystal clear voice, perfect pitch, and a strong vocal range.”
After Riding the top of the charts and starring as the voice of Helen Morgan in the 1957 movie biography of the 1920”s singer, she made 15 LP albums.

She also weathered the stormy winds of two failed marriages.

In 1967, when her son Joshua (actor Joshua Beckett) was an infant, Ms Grant stepped away from the performing world for 20 years to focus on raising her children. When she launched her comeback, the critical verdict was that she had not lost a beat.

Gogi grant died last month at age 91. She harnessed the wayward wind that beckons to all of us and lived a life of purpose and meaning, a life that enriched her loved ones and enriched her many fans.. May her memory endure as a blessing!

Clicking “LIKE” Matters!

Because I am so deeply moved by the outpouring of prayers and good wishes on my recent cataract surgery, I want to repost an essay that I originally published in The Jerusalem Post on March 3, 2013.

 

 

Rabbi Fuchs to Have Open Heart Surgery,” read a late-June 1996 headline on the first page of the local news section of The Nashville Banner.

While I had neither hoped for nor wanted such publicity surrounding my surgery, the headline symbolizes the difference between the surgery I underwent at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville back then and the more complex open-heart surgery I underwent at the Cleveland Clinic on November 29, 2012.

In Nashville, because I was known in the community, my surgery to replace a congenitally defective aortic valve attracted more attention, advice, visits and support than I could ever imagine.

By contrast my surgery in 2012 was in Cleveland where I knew almost no one.

My Connecticut cardiologist encouraged me to have my much more complex 2012 procedure done in a major heart center where they do lots of these unusual procedures.” With his encouragement, we settled on the Cleveland Clinic.

It was a great choice.

The surgeon, Dr. Lars Svensson, is world-renowned, and the medical, nursing and technical care were all superb! The problem was that except for one incredibly wonderful and supportive family with whom we are very close and a couple of very gracious and concerned rabbis, we knew no one in Cleveland.

The love and care I continue to receive from my wife Vickie is priceless, and my three adult children all interrupted their very busy lives to fly in for the surgery from both coasts. But after a few precious days, my children – as they should have – flew back to their spouse, children and professional responsibilities.

Into the breach in a surprisingly meaningful way entered FACEBOOK.

When I travelled the world for an 18-month period as President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism – making 65 visits on five continents and living both in Israel and in New York City – I checked in on FACEBOOK only occasionally and posted even less frequently. Since my surgery, I have been a frequent contributor.

Why?

I repeat the words I posted from Cleveland two days before my operation with even more feeling than when I originally wrote them:

“FB friends, if ever you wonder whether the short messages of encouragement and support you are thinking about writing to people facing difficult challenges in the lives (illness, surgery, loss of a loved one or a job a few examples) do any good, trust me they do. My FB contacts have made the surgery I face Thursday and the events leading up to it much easier to deal with, and I am very grateful to each one of you who has reached out …”

One of the first things I did when I returned from intensive care after the operation was to post the following:

“Dear FB friends, it is still difficult for me to type, but I have read with deep gratitude (and will surely read again and again) each and every one of your messages to me. I cannot express how much they mean. Although I feel as weak as a kitten, your prayers, thoughts and good wishes have given me strength…”

It was strength I needed. People I knew in elementary and high school, college and grad school, in the three communities I served as rabbi and in my travels for the WUPJ have lifted me up. Some I knew intimately; some I had never met in real life. I have tried to pay it forward because lifting the spirits of another is a huge return on an investment as small as typing a few short words or even simply clicking “LIKE.”

 

As I anticipated my recent cataract procedures many people told me, “Oh, cataract surgery is nothing.” For me the thought of somebody cutting on my eyeballs was far from, “nothing.” Although it did not reach the level of my two open-heart procedures, my anxiety level was high. Once again, the support I received from people at every station and locale of my life was so comforting. Today, I repeat with more fervor than ever:

Clicking LIKE matters and encouraging comments matter even more!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Kinder Gentler Chad Gadya

 

Since I was a child, Chad Gadya has been one of my favorite parts of the Passover Seder. Its catchy melody and its underlying message always resonated with me.

Singing the song was such fun as we outdid each other to remember the words and sing them as quickly as possible until we came to the refrain, Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya, My father bought for two zuzim, Chad Gadya, Chad, Gadya.

The people of Israel were the Chad Gadya, Aramaic for the innocent little goat, devoured successively by one power after another. The ultimate hope of course is that one day the Eternal one would destroy “the Angel of Death” and the human propensity for conquest and violence. Israel would live in peace and harmony with her neighbors, and all would be right with the world.

For those unfamiliar with it the lyrics are:

Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya, (An Only Kid, An Only Kid)

Refrain: (At the beginning of the song and after every stanza):

 My father bought for two zuzim (a small amount of money) Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya!

Then came the cat and ate the Kid …

Then came the dog and bit the cat that ate the kid …

Then came the stick and beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid …

Then came the fire and burnt the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid …

Then came the water and quenched the fire that burnt the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid …

Then came the ox and drank the water that quenched the fire that burnt the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid …

Then came the butcher and slaughtered the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that burnt the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid …

Then came the Angel of Death and slew the butcher that slaughtered the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that burnt the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid …

Then came the Holy One blessed be God and destroyed the Angel of Death that slew the butcher that slaughtered the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that burnt the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid

My father bought for two zuzim Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya!

A few years ago Vickie and I hosted a Seder in San Francisco for our son and daughter and their families that consisted of four children five and under. Everything was going smoothly until I got a call from my son Leo, who said, “Dad we have a problem. Liz (our daughter-in-law) doesn’t like Chad Gadya.

“What’s not to like about Chad Gadya,” I asked?

“She says it’s too violent,” he answered.

“But it’s a wonderful metaphor” I replied, “for the history of our people. Let me talk to her.”

Surely, I thought I could make Liz see the light. “That song and that melody,” I told her,” have been cornerstones of our Seders for all of our children’s lives.”

“I have no problem with the melody,” she said, “but those lyrics are so violent. I am just not comfortable exposing my children to them.”

So, I sat down to write kinder, gentler lyrics to Chad Gadya. And that Passover we sang:

 

Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya

 Refrain: (at the beginning of the song and after every verse)

My father bought for two zuzim

Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya

 Then came the cat and nuzzled the kid …

 

Then came the dog and licked the cat that nuzzled the kid …

Then came the stick that was fetched by the dog that licked the cat that nuzzled the kid …

Then came the fire and warmed the stick that was fetched by the dog that licked the cat that nuzzled the kid …

Then came the water and quenched the fire that warmed the stick that was fetched by the dog that licked the cat that nuzzled the kid …

Then came the ox and drank the water that quenched the fire that warmed the stick that was fetched by the dog that licked the cat that nuzzled the kid …

Then came the butcher and fed the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that warmed the stick that was fetched by the dog that licked the cat that nuzzled the kid …

Then came the Angel of Light and smiled at the butcher that fed the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that warmed the stick that was fetched by the dog that licked the cat that nuzzled the kid …

Then came the Holy and Eternal One and blessed the Angel of Light that smiled at the butcher that fed the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that warmed the stick that was fetched by the dog that licked the cat that nuzzled the kid

My father bought for two zuzim

Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya

 If I had only written these lyrics to make Liz happy, Dayenu, “It would have been enough” to make me glad I wrote them. But it turned out that the rest of my family liked them too.

And so now we have the option to replace the metaphor for the violent struggles of our people and the hope that one day God will make everything right with a kinder gentler hope: that one day all of humanity will realize the banality of war and bloodshed, that nations and individuals will learn to live together in mutual harmony, respect and affirmation. It is a good note on which to end the Seder.