I’ve climbed the highest mountains
I didn’t find it there
I’ve run through strange and different fields
I didn’t find it there
I scaled the mightiest towers
I didn’t find it there
I broke open gates that were sealed
But I still didn’t find it there
I have run and I have crawled
I’ve hiked the ramparts of the old city walls
But I never imagined while I did these and more
That I’d finally find what I was looking for.
From the Lives of Man in Boston
To the Association in West Caldwell
From liberal conservatives in Philadelphia
To orthoboxes throughout Yisra'el
From every little shteeble in Brooklyn
To the temple-mausoleums in the Towns
In every synagogue I’ve ever been in
What I needed just couldn’t be found
I lived in cities throughout the northeast
I rotted in suburbs where the ennui would never cease
I worked on highways and chilled down the shore
And I never thought that I’d find what I was looking for
But once I crossed the desert in a test of my skills
I found a chapel in the poorer part of Beverly Hills
Down half a flight of stairs and through a basement door
I finally found what I was looking for.
I met teachers, preachers, and rabbis
And all sorts of a similar kind
They all spoke of fire and brimstone
And they all had an agenda in mind
They gave lip service to the love
And placed the emphasis on the fear
I said, if this is the way it’s gonna be
Then man, I am so out of here
Then one of the coolest dudes that I ever met
He could quote Rebbe Nachman and the Grateful Dead
in the very same breath
Said just come to this place, it’ll be nothing like before
So I came, and I found what I was looking for
Finally someplace that was all about the love
A place of joy, and people who lived what they were singing of
All the things I needed but couldn’t find before
Well, here I finally found what I was looking for
Like a fish to the water, like a bird to the air
Like finishing a puzzle, like a circle that could never be square
Never again to feel the black hole in my chest bored
Because I finally found what I was looking for.
©2023 The Hesh Inc.
I had begun to feel dissatisfaction with the "modern Orthodox" religious upbringing I had when I was still in high school. By the time I finished my army service several years after I had graduated high school, this form of my religion felt spiritually bankrupt, manifesting itself in a visceral feeling of a big black hole gnawing through my chest whenever I'd sit in the synagogue with my father. During the time after my service, when I was going to college in Boston and dutifully playing the role of religiously observant husband, father, and member of the community, I dealt with it; but when that marriage and that phase of my life ended in divorce, I was thoroughly disgusted with it, and when I moved from Boston down to the Jersey Shore, I did away with religious observance altogether, ditching it somewhere on the Mass Pike before crossing the state line.
Thing is, though, I always remained a believer. I never became a heretic or agnostic or atheist; although I had told G-d to keep His distance, G-d was always there, watching me and keeping me out of trouble. However, beyond major holidays, I didn't include the religion in my life at all. I did not want or need the corruption or hypocrisy of the organized community. Any night of the year was game for playing gigs, with two exceptions: Yom Kippur, and the first night of Passover. I was quite happy with all this for a period of close to a decade.
But by then, I had gotten remarried, and my younger daughter was born; and I began to feel like something was missing in my life. One Friday night, as I played a gig at New York City's upscale Water Club, I spied the high rises of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, out of the corner of my eye, and thought of my Hasidic relatives there. They may not know what I'm doing here right now, I thought to myself as I rocked along with the band, but I know what they're doing over there. And I decided, I wanted "what they were doing"—the Sabbath— back in my life. Maybe not at the intense level they were keeping it, but I needed to reintroduce the day of rest, of reconnecting with family, community, and the higher power. The following Sunday, after another gig, I gave notice to the band, and as soon as I found a replacement for myself, I was gone. No more Friday-night gigs. From now on, "I don't roll on Shabbos." I didn't dive headlong into keeping Shabbos and kosher the way I was brought up, though. Through that whole decade of doing without it, I felt that if circumstances were right, I would return ... but it would have to be on my terms, because I wanted to, not because anyone was telling me I had to. Soon as anyone would begin telling me I had to do it this way or that way, I'd step right back out again. And I didn't find any congregations to my liking. It was all the same stuff I had left behind, and there was nothing that would make me like it.
And then, in 2003, I moved to Los Angeles. I wasn't expecting anything; as far as my second wife was concerned, it was going to be more of what we had been doing in New Jersey ... attending the nearby Conservative synagogue and keeping our version of Shabbat in the home. But I found the Conservative service stultifyingly boring—even more than the one we had attended back in NJ—and very few people had introduced themselves or welcomed us.
At the same time, I had connected with someone I had been in touch with on and off over the years—a music manager, of my father's acquaintance, to whom I had sent assorted demo tapes from time to time. Once I had fired up my computer a week after I arrived in LA, I broadcasted my whereabouts out into the universe, and within minutes he had responded with his phone number, telling me to call soon. When we spoke, he mentioned to me there was a show the following Saturday night at one of the nearby Orthodox synagogues. I met him there, and he told me something about "the Happy Minyan." When I looked at him quizzically, he explained what this was ... the first Shlomo Carlebach–style congregation established independently of the late Rabbi Carlebach's own shuls. You should come, my new friend told me, it won't be anything like you've been used to. So ... the next time my wife, who was doing her medical fellowship, was on call, I took our daughter and went to the Happy Minyan.
What else can I tell you? It did not take long till I took to it like a fish to water. It was exactly what I had been missing all those years of being religiously observant (be that Orthodox or Conservative) and nonobservant. My daughter took to it, too. My wife, though, it would take her a couple more months till she came around, but eventually she did ... and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Even now, years after I moved away from LA, I still consider myself a member of the Happy Minyan. It's the only service I'll attend when I'm in LA, and the yardstick by which I'll measure any other synagogue or service in the world. You might say it has spoiled me. If so ... so be it.
The lyric is obviously inspired by and is a response to the famous song by U2. For the whole time I had been "wandering in the desert," so to speak, "still haven't found what I'm looking for" was the way I summed up my attitude toward religion. When I came to the Happy Minyan, I found it. I had written any number of tunes inspired by my time there, some of which had Hebrew words from the Sabbath/holiday services added as lyrics, but none of them were about the Happy Minyan per se. But then late one night, well after I had left LA, a tune came to me as I lay in bed and did not let go of my imagination. I got up, fired up my keyboards, cranked the volume up in my headphones, figured it out, and then jammed on it for an hour. I then went to sleep, confident that I would not forget it by morning ... and when I woke up, I recorded it into my portable voice recorder. Eventually the early version of the song was named "Tribute to Shlomo," recorded and released by my longtime musical partner Izzy Kieffer as "Tribute to the Holy Songwriter" with my voice clearly audible in the mix, on his album Uncork the Bottle in 2017. But it wasn't enough for me ... I needed to add my lyrics, which I completed earlier this year. And when I record and release my LA opus, it will be a central part of the story being told.