I began to get serious about playing music in middle school when I got an electric guitar and a small amp. Later I got a classical guitar and learned to fingerpick. Then I got a banjo and learned to fingerpick-pick. At different points along the way I would get together with friends to play music. However, it wasn’t until I was in college that I played in a serious band that actually got gigs.
There were four guys in our band: Billy, Mike, Roger, and me. Sometimes Billy would ask me to play a simple duo gig where he sang and played guitar and I would accompany him on my banjo. The most memorable duo performance was at the local Jewish Community Center. There was a fairly large community of Jewish people in Louisville, KY. In addition to the community center there was a Jewish Hospital, several synagogues, and a temple.
We were to play at a party after a basketball game on just a regular ole day. December 24. Yes, it was Christmas Eve, but of course that was just a regular ole day for Jewish people. My parents and I always exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve, but playing that evening was okay by me. I knew I’d be home in plenty of time for gifts. When we arrived, the game was still in progress. This gave us time to set up and be ready when the party started. And soon enough it did. A bunch of young people started streaming into the meeting area where food was ready for them to consume as they listened to the musical machinations of Billy and Randy. We played some bluegrass, John Denver, and other music appropriate for a banjo. Everyone seemed to have a good time and was very friendly.
After about an hour the party ended, we were thanked, and we packed up and left. I saw no money trade hands, so I assumed we had played gratis, which was fine. However, on the way home, Billy informed me that he had been given $50 for our efforts and gave me $25. Wow! That was quite a bit of money in the day.
So, that was my first encounter with Jews at an official Jewish institution. It wasn’t until more recent times that I actually attended a Jewish service at a synagogue. While in high school, my son, Andrew, had a semester of Hebrew. He also became interested in the religious practices of different groups. He began attending the local Jewish synagogue occasionally and I went with him a few times. He was actually a participant at one of the services. I found the services interesting and the congregants very welcoming and friendly.
One of the members of the synagogue is a blind man named Stanley. As it turns out, he is very good friends with a now-retired Christian minister named Carl. The church Carl was a minister at was just a few blocks away from the synagogue. Carl is also an adjunct professor of religion at our local university. Andrew had many classes with him, and they became friends. Occasionally, Andrew would meet Carl and Stanley for lunch.
Isn’t it nice when people of varied beliefs can come together in fellowship and not let their differences hinder a friendship? Hopefully, heaven won’t be as exclusive as some people believe it will be.