Bob Dylan and Me

A True Story

St. Paul Minnesota is not a popular tourist attraction in winter, but there I was in December 1984, wandering around the lobby of Bais Chana. Perched atop a hill, in a monastic looking building situated amongst large sprawling suburban homes, would be the place where I would confront myself as a Jewess for the first time.

The Lubavitcher shluchim at StonyBrook University where I had been a student hadn’t told me too much about the place except, that there was a certain Rabbi Manis Friedman there who specialized in answering questions for girls like me, whatever that meant.

Feeling lost and aimless, I tentatively stood in the empty lobby. It seemed that I had been one of the first to arrive for that winter session, and the place was not yet as packed as if would get later on. Few people were around and all was silent.

Then suddenly I saw a figure appear at the front door and I gasped. It couldn’t be real, but it was. Right in front of my eyes stood none other than Bob Dylan. At the time I didn’t know that this was during Bob Dylan’s Torah ‘stage’, and that he had been studying privately with Rabbi Friedman and was a regular visitor to Bais Chana during those years.

There Bob Dylan stood, right in front of me, in all his glory, wearing his signature faded jeans and black motorcycle jacket. “Hi,” he said to me softly, ‘How are you doin’?”

This was all a bit too much for me to take in. Here I was going to a place that I thought would be trying to teach me to go back into time, to become like my grandmother, and here was the king of all things hip and cool, a 1960’s prophet, the master of rebellion against the establishment, right there in front of me, in the flesh.

Despite feeling as if I had been just struck by lightening, I mustered up a meek,’ I’m fine.” Then Bob Dylan came over to me and gave me a gentle pat on my back and said, ’It’s cool, don’t worry, everything is cool. It’s gonna be alright.” And he walked away, through the hallway and disappeared as fast as he had come.

I immediately found a payphone and called my friend David.

‘Bob Dylan is here! And he talked to me”

‘Then that must be a cool place,’ David said, and he later followed me to Crown Heights. After all, if Bob Dylan was there, then David was right, this was a cool place, and I felt better about being there. In fact, I felt like I was in the right place at the right time, and at that moment, I decided that if one of my teen idols was studying there, then I would stick it out too.

Bob Dylan never stayed the course as far as Yiddishkeit goes, he travelled a very zig zagged road, in and out of a number or religions. In a strange way though, one could say that Bob Dylan brought me back, with just a few kind words, when I was facing a fork in the road, he showed me the correct path.

Originally Posted on March 13, 2006

7 comments on “Bob Dylan and Me

  1. bob dylan has been the background music to my life. i keep on coming back to lines in songs at different times and they have been a great source of consolation and support.I use his insights in my work with drug addicted youth especially “he not busy beeing born is busy dying” and thanks to you all!

  2. Wow! It’s a small world.

    I stayed at the Lubavitch House in “S. Paul” for the last days of Yom Tov that year. I was disappointed at the time that I had missed out on meeting Bob Dylan by the Seder. But, it must have been determined Min Hashomayim that I didn’t need (or deserve?) that experience.

    Anyway, thanks for bringing back old memories.

    A freilichen Purim.

  3. Growing up in Far Rockaway, NY, I have another little Dylan tidbit. I don’t know if it’s true (urban legend?) but… The story goes that Dylan spent a week or so learning with Rabbi Sholomo Freifeld zt”l. He would travel by cab each day for his sessions. A local cab driver realized it was Dylan who was entering Yeshivas Sh’or Yoshuv and asked him why would he be intersted in that. As the story goes he answered “Out here is darkness, in there is light.”

  4. Dylan’s piece, “Percy’s Song” has the line “turn, turn, turn again”, which might be apt for this group, except that Dylan himself has clearly taken a wrong turn. What actually happened in his case to derail his earlier progress toward teshuva?

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