As we wove through the backroads of an 18th-century Italian estate in our rented Volvo, I questioned myself once more: What exactly was I doing there?
It was the summer of 2004, my first time in Europe. And in truth, the Baroque home commissioned by one of the Doges of Venice and the site of a 1934 conference between Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini was not a bad place to visit.
But we hadn’t come to see the sights. We hadn’t even come for the blockbuster concert set to be held on the grounds the villa. Rather we came for the man at the concert - one Zushe ben Avraham, better known to the world by his performing name: Bob Dylan.
This is what we as Chabad do. We reach out to everyone — celebrities, everyday people and even common criminals — to offer them a chance to express their Jewish identities. It’s the love of our fellow person, the important role every single one of us plays in the cosmic scheme of things, and the desire to share our passion and excitement with others, that drives us. It’s why we’ll wander across the Australian outback to put a mezuzah on a door post or move with our families to Siberia.
And yes, on that day a decade ago, it meant we were on a quixotic mission to meet Bob Dylan.
So, our motley crew set out from Chabad of Venice to give the rock legend a bottle of wine and two freshly baked challahs for Shabbos. How we planned to get past security, get to the backstage and actually give Dylan the wine were questions we hadn’t yet addressed. A Shabbos guest mentioned that he was in town for the concert, so being young, we left on our mission - what else mattered?
As we drove around to the back entrance of the Villa, where press and staff were being ushered through, we played around with different scenarios about what we’d do once we met Dylan. We’d put on Tefillin with him or maybe just schmooze. We’d definitely invite him for a Shabbos meal, take a few pictures together and then be on our way.
We never got to see Bob Dylan. The security guard didn’t seem to understand what exactly we wanted to do. Perhaps the idea that three rabbis and two clean-shaven French expats would want to give wine to Dylan bewildered him.