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The Schmooze

That Time Bob Dylan Went To Shul Incognito

When Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature announcement hit the waves, what immediately came to mind was my mother’s oft-repeated Yiddish assurance: “az men lebt-derlebt men” (if one lives long enough…. one lives —to experience being appreciated, rewarded…)

I don’t recall the dates and/or venues in 1990-91 at which I had met him—possibly a convention/concert at which I had seen/heard him perform. My husband Joe and I were visiting friends in Baltimore and mentioned that we had recently seen Dylan which led to the following story told to them by a fellow shul member.

“Bob Dylan [ne Zimmerman] was invited by a Ba’l Teshuva’s son-in-law musician Peter Himmelman to come to his Chabad shul in California for Ne’ilah services. As is his fashion, Dylan arrived in “incognito” garb—turned up collar and backwoods cap with earflaps. Alerted to the celebrity guest in the congregation, the rabbi asked if he would come forward for Psichah —the opening of the ark.

As Mr. Dylan approached the bimah, the women in the upstairs balcony began to buzz as they recognized the pop culture hero returning to his seat in the back of the shul. It seems that the men below, however, were less clued-in and the next day a wealthy congregant approached the rabbi and said: ‘I know that Chabad gets involved with all sorts of people. But this is the is the first time I saw a homeless man get a Psichah!’ So moved was the man by the rabbi’s generosity, that he then made a large donation to the shul.”

Dylan has been a “presence” at a number of “off stage” sightings: During a 2013 interview visit to the studio of Milton Glaser —creator of the “I Love N.Y.” logo with the heart— Glaser spoke about his creation of the iconic poster of Dylan with undulating interwoven “multicultural exotic” hairdo.

In his bravura one-man 2013 “Still Jewish After All These Years—A Meshugene/Crazy Life in the Theatre”— Avi Hoffman did his over-the-top shtick in front of a huge blowup poster of Bob Dylan and sang some Dylan favorites.

At the November 6, 2014 New York Police & Fire Widows & Children’s Benefit Gala honoring hedge fund whiz William Ackman, NYPD Chief Chaplain Rabbi Alvin Kass invoked Bob Dylan. Speaking to the 900 guests about the police officers and fire fighters who “gave their lives in the line of duty by helping their families which have to handle the unbelievable burden of an irreplaceable emptiness” said: “As Bob Dylan put it: ‘A new world is being born—times are a’changin’—you better swim or you’ll sink like a stone.”


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