Creation and Co-Existence, with Special Guest David Broza
Creation and Co-Existence, with Special Guest David Broza
What’s your creative process? How do you begin? This week, Rabbi Rick Jacobs discusses Parashat B'reishit, which is all about Creation and the very beginning of everything. In his conversation with special guest, musician, artist and activist David Broza, David shares how to navigate chaos and focus on what is good and what can ultimately become good, if we are willing to step up and create it. Our episode ends with David serenading us with just that message.
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[URJ Intro] Welcome back to "On the Other Hand, Ten Minutes of Torah," a podcast presented by ReformJudaism.org. Each week, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, shares a little bit about the weekly Torah portion in just about 10 minutes or less. Some weeks, Rabbi Jacobs has a guest. This week he was joined by singer, songwriter, and social activist David Broza. They talk about Parashat B'reishit and what it really means to create. And while I rarely include my subjective editorial opinion, this week I will. It is well worth listening all the way through to the end. You will receive a gift that will keep you going all the way through till next week.
[Rabbi Rick Jacobs] This week, we focus our attention on a brand new cycle of reading, and studying, and learning, and growing. We open the reading of the five books of Moses, the Torah, with B'reishit in the beginning. And what a way to begin this new year. We have in the studio David Broza, who is one of the most extraordinary artists, activists, leaders, voices of conscience and passion and purpose that we have in our world and in our Jewish world. And David, it is a great honor to welcome you to the podcast.
[David Broza] And I don't know how many superlatives I could say about you and about being here. But I feel it's mutual. And I'm thrilled and actually thrilled to open the year with this. So it is a real B'reishit.
[Rabbi Rick Jacobs] It really is a B'reishit. And you know, can we just dive in? I mean, the opening of creation is a creation story. It's a narrative. It's-- if we count the words-- 469 words that shape a whole new way of being. They change the narrative of what-- You know, there's chaos, there's stuff happening in the world. And this poem of creation helps to define what creation is about. It's orderly. It's purposeful. And most of all, it is tov. It's good. It is good. So can I just ask you-- you know, God is the ultimate artist/creator. God creates a universe. You're an artist. What about B'reishit as a creation-- so what goes into you as a artist as a creator? Do you sit-- you know, does a beautiful new melody just pop into your head? Do the words start? What's the creation narrative of David Broza?
[David Broza] Well, first of all, your opening touch is something very personal, which I like a lot in relation to B'reishit, and that is it all it all ends with tov. And people over the years have been questioning my positivity in all the chaos that we live in. And everything is chaos. Doesn't matter good or bad. You can be in a terrible situation and it's chaotic, and you say at the end of the day, it is good. You say you're in love. You're totally out of control of your own heart. It just speaks what it wants. Your mind goes with it. Your soul is-- it's chaotic in a good sense. So that's tov. So I do see always the half-filled glass, which is the goodness. And we do know that this world is really hard to fathom and to interpret in your heart. And if you wake up in the morning to all the blitz of news-- the media blitzing you with every corner of the world something disastrous is happening, at the end of that, you want to say tov? It's hard. And I understand why people ask me, how is it that in the most acute situations, complex situations, fearful situations, that I come and I sing a song. Because I think to pronounce the word "good" at the end is a good deed that you do, something that you feel that it releases your tension and allows you to take the next step forward. You lead yourself. Others look at you, maybe let's see what's his next step, and we can follow. I don't feel I'm that kind of a person. But I certainly-- I know I have the qualities to enable myself to walk in the most severe situations. And thanks to the guitar, the music, and my perseverance and performance, commitment to perform, I can take that B'reishit and end every good sentence, or every good situation, with tov, at least for the moment.
Now, that doesn't answer my songwriting.
[Rabbi Rick Jacobs] No, but it answers sort of the thrust of your being that is yihye tov. I know for me there's so many days I wake up and I am assaulted by news and things that just disappoint. And the echo of yihye tov, it will be good-- we're not just going to survive, it will be good-- is such an affirmation in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. To see that is not to miss all the chaos and all the things that bring us down. But it's to assert that we can, through will, and through commitment, and through activism as well, we can make it good. It's not going to be just good on its own. We have that choice.
[David Broza] Right. But the tests can be very big. So taking that to the songwriting that you asked me, it's ironic that the first song I ever wrote was "Yihye Tov."
[Rabbi Rick Jacobs] That was your first song?
[David Broza] First song. I was 22. I'm not like those artists, which I admire, who, since the age of 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, have envisioned themselves being artists on stage performing, writing music. I never did. I never wrote music. I was a painter. I was a visual artist from the age of 6. That captivated my entire heart, mind, and soul. I spent every minute I could with a paintbrush or with a pencil. I did play with friends. I had a fantastic life. But I did love my solitude in painting.
And my guitar was something I picked up when I was 12 because I needed-- I just-- I don't know. I think I felt I wanted to play. My mother was Israel's first folk singer. Her name was Sharona Aron. There was always a guitar in the house. She accompanied herself on the guitar. So I picked up her guitar and started playing. And I'm self-taught. And then I put a band together, a garage band, in the school. But it was just like playing ball in the schoolyard. And so the guitar was a secondary thing. At 22, it became a primary thing, when I wrote "Yihye Tov." You know, it was to serve a purpose.
I was performing with Yehonatan Geffen, Israeli poet and very controversial artist. And we had this great show going. And he insisted that I write a song for it and not just sing covers that were written by another artist. So he gave me that-- you know, he actually commanded that I write that song. He gave me 48 hours. And I've never looked back. And I stopped painting.
[Rabbi Rick Jacobs] So can I just follow up? There's sometimes an echo in some of your lyrics right actually out of Torah. So "Mitachat Lashamayim," which, of course, is right out of the B'reishits.
[David Broza] Really?
[Rabbi Rick Jacobs] Right out of B'reishit. [HEBREW], you know. And shamayim and aretz, the heavens and earth. Shamayim is in lots and lots. Is the Tanakh-- somehow the text of the tradition just accidentally sneaks into your lyrics, or is actually a conscious drawing from-- you know your way around the Jewish tradition. You know your way around the sources. Like, is there something--
[David Broza] Well, I will confess I am a Jew, but I'm not a learned Jew. So I have not invested my life or a lot of my time in studying the Torah and the Tanakh. I did what goes. But also, remember, I also went to non-Jewish schools as a teenager. So I was as far away as could be from Judaism. And at some points, I was even thrown into all kinds of things in real Catholic and Jesuit environments-- completely off the charts. However, the artists that I do work with, the poets-- whether it's Yehonatan Geffen, Meir Ariel, may he rest in peace-- and even when I worked on others, on a [HEBREW]-- they all have references. Because the Hebrew is so much a derivative, or a continuation, of the classic Torah writing that there's got to be-- and actually, that's what excited me. When I came back to Israel at 18, from having lived six years in Spain as a teenager, I went to do the army. And the one thing I needed was a connectivity through the language, back to the land, to my neighborhood, to the place where I was born. And when I met Yehonatan Geffen, that actually connected me, connected me to the land, connected me through the language, through the imagery, you know? And it's the things that I missed in class that I got through verse.
And so I might subconsciously be magnetized towards "Mitachat Lashamayim." Mind you, Meir Ariel, who wrote the words to "Mitachat Lashamayim," was very, very studious and invested a lot of his time in studying the Gemara and the Rashi and everything. And everything-- all the Elochai and the Kabbalah-- everything. He was such a studious Jew. And he reinvented the language in a sense by incorporating more and more biblical terms next to mechanical slangs in Hebrew, you know? Which made him a magician in the language. And we wrote to that quite a few songs together.
[Rabbi Rick Jacobs] So let me also ask you-- you're a person who, in the face of the seemingly eternal conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, you're someone who says, I'm not simply going to watch. I'm not simply going to wait. I'm going to build bridges through art, through music, through relationship. There's all kinds of conversation today. There's the deal of the century that the president of the United States and his team has been working on. There's a lot of despair. There's Ishmael and Yitzhak-- you know, Isaac and Ishmael in the book of Genesis. We'll come it in a few chapters. You're doing something that, frankly, many people would say is not going to move the needle. What makes you so committed to doing that bridge-building with Palestinian artist friends and others?
[David Broza] Well, it's just I will not sit complacent. And I will not watch the river flow. I'll be in the river. And I'll try to go against the tide and keep going. But I don't mind going with the tide. But I want to be a little different. I want to be on the edge. And I come from a home that basically has professed this. My grandfather-- his name was Wellesley Aron, Major Aron-- founded the Habonim Movement. Pioneered-- went into Palestine in 1925. A lot of history. His last actions in the world were to try to create educational programs for coexistence and conflict resolution. As a matter of fact, he's one of the founders of this place, Neve Shalom Wahat As-Salam-- "Oasis of Peace." Actually, the real service that Neve Shalom does to the world is to create the protocol and the educational programs through which we can then hopefully study and learn how to apply it into day to day life, whether it's in the Middle East, whether it's in Texas, whether it's in China-- wherever there is conflict. So for me, it was a natural thing.
And also, at the age of 22-- at first, when I was with "Yihye Tov" and I was recruited to the group that started the Peace Now movement, they needed a singer who had the song. It was me. I happened to be just emerging out of my anarchy teenage years, and totally believed in the need to have social interaction, and social say. So I joined that movement and one thing led to another. And I've always worked with-- I worked with, you know, homeless kids, and Israel street kids. You'd think that it doesn't exist, but it existed when I was 19, that's back 1975, '76, when I joined some social workers just in my free time. I always had an inclination-- to lend, being that I suppose I'm a little more privileged, not just by my attitude to life, but also I come from somewhat of a middle middle class, lower middle class house. So I had nothing missing in my life and it was easy for me to give attention to those who are underprivileged.
And so, today, as I look at our entire society, I think the entire Israeli society is underprivileged because they do not have a leadership that will bring them the beauty of-- forget about pieces, too much of a big world-- but how about coexistence, and tolerance, and the education that's needed. But I am privileged to live, and to recognize the fact that within the Israeli society-- it's hard to even believe-- you can't even count the amount of organizations and activities that private citizens take on themselves or get together with others to create an environment where Arabs, and Jews, Israelis, and Palestinians look at each other, go towards each other, work together, it's miraculous. And that's going to bring the change.
[Rabbi Rick Jacobs] In what place does music have in that? Because music is one of those languages, it's deeper than-- you know, there are all these analytical ways that we-- as human beings-- look at the world. Music is elemental, it gets right in. Is that one of the pieces that's actually so powerful in the work that you're able to do-- different than people who just want to talk-- nothing wrong with talking-- talking is good. But that music gets to a deeper place?
[David Broza] I think music is a pivotal thing. It's the centerpiece. But around it, there is so much that you have to take care of. First of all, I don't think it's enough just to get together with the Palestinian musician and play. Can I have a coffee? Can I breathe in deeply? Gotta have a conversation. Got to put the instruments down. Gotta hang out. Gotta play that Tango, you know, the dance? Make sure we don't trip over each other because, at first, it's about mutual respect. But how do you know what kind of respect you're giving or what kind of respect he's giving you? It's a slow game. And then, eventually, comes the music.
And when the music gets together, there's one key and one law about music. I mean, there's two elementary ones. One is it's got to be in harmony. You cannot sing or play along if you're not playing to the same tune and to the same beat. And that beat is the one thing that unifies everybody, whether it's a drum of war, or it's a drum of classical music playing Beethoven's Ninth. The beat is what puts us in the same place at the same time, recognizing the beauty of the now and the presence. And that presence has a ripple effect. You can't walk away, leaving it behind you. When you walk away from having played music together or even listening to a band playing together, the music still echoes within your temples, within your mind, your brain, your heart, the blood still keeps pumping it. And so, it has a ripple effect and it goes on, it subsides. Probably goes away within a few hours. But it has an incredible effect. And so, you get addicted and you want more. See one more, you got to create more. You've got to create more, you've got to be part of something.
[Rabbi Rick Jacobs] So just back to our text for a moment. People ask is the narrative of creation true? I mean, science says, you know, creation came to be through these scientific processes. And my answer is it's not true yet. It's an artistic vision of a world that could be, and I think every artist is always, always working on not what is alone, but what could be. And how your music and your life commitments help us reach higher. And so, as you say yihye tov, it's not just idle, it's, things are going to be OK. Now, the work that we collectively can do, like the creation story helps us imagine and touch a better world, a better creation, where there is harmony. And on the first day, light is created, and the second day. And things are in right relationship, and at the center of everything is a holiness, and a connectedness.
I can't have David Rosen sitting this close, holding his guitar, and not have you share just some of your extraordinary work. Because I'm hoping that as we're beginning a whole year study, this is B'reishit this is the beginning that will begin with possibility with artistic sense of what could be-- for each of us in our own lives-- that we can help shape the world as it might be. And you, through your extraordinary work, have helped so many of us. I know for me, when I'm in a particular down place, I say, you know what? What David Rosa would say, is yihye tov. Yihye tov. Stop. Stop whining all you people. Yihye tov. And there are times when I believe it completely, and there are times when I want to believe it.
[David Broza] Right. Well, me too. In that way, we're the same, and I have to sing it every day so just a little different.
[Rabbi Rick Jacobs] A little different, but it would be a gift for all of us for this new year.
[David Broza] So I'll do-- you know, we've been adding-- Jonathan Geffen wrote the words. I wrote the music, and we've been adding verses for the past 41 years, at least a verse a year. So it started with five or six verses. We got now almost 50, so I got to select one or two and just give you the flavor of what-- so it starts with a lot of-- a reality check.
[SPEAKING HEBREW] Spring has passed us and gone, and who knows if those good days will return because everything in memory seems to have a place of favor. We look at things in a much lighter way than really the reality that we suffered, and then I finish it with a very, very hopeful and positive-- not a proclamation, but a real call.
[SINGING IN HEBREW]
And so I'll skip to the last one that I've added, which goes that we shall learn to live together under the olive trees, and the children will grow up knowing no more wars, no terror, and no frontiers, and that fresh new grass will grow over the graveyard for love and peace. For after 100 years of war, we haven't and will not lose hope.
[SINGING IN HEBREW]
B'reishit. And I dare anyone to look at this world, look at this moment we're in, and to listen to David Broza sing about the possibilities of "Yihye Tov." It will be not OK.
No, it'll be good.
It's going to be good. It's going to be great.
[Rabbi Rick Jacobs] It's going to be tov. So thank you, David Broza for all that you do, all that you are, all the vision, all the creativity, all the positivity because that is how we're going to begin not just another year but another year of growing, deepening, and renewing our commitment to shape the world as it could be. [HEBREW] tov.
[David Broza] Thank you. Thank you, Rabbi.
[URJ Outro] Thanks for joining us on this week's episode of On the Other Hand, Ten Minutes of Torah. Want more? You can download a new episode each Monday on Apple Podcasts, or Google Play, or Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you like what you hear, write us a review, or share the podcast with a friend.
For daily ongoing conversations about Jewish holidays, pop culture, rituals, current events and more, visit ReformJudaism.org, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. You can also follow Rabbi Jacobs on Twitter and at @URJPresident. On the other hand, Ten Minutes of Torah is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. And until next week, lehitraot.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs is the president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the largest Jewish movement in North America, with almost 850 congregations and nearly 1.5 million members. An innovative thought leader, dynamic visionary, and representative of progressive Judaism, he spent 20 years as the spiritual leader of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY. Deeply dedicated to global social justice issues, he has led disaster response efforts in Haiti and Darfur. Learn more about Rabbi Rick Jacobs.