Jewish& is a blog by Be’chol Lashon, which gives voice to the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of Jewish identity and experience. The original multicultural people, Jews have lived around the world for millennia. Today, with globalism and inclusion so key in making choices about engaging in Jewish life,Jewish& provides a forum for personal reflection, discussion, and debate.
If I’ve learned anything being a black, observant, Jewish hip-hop artist, it’s that it takes time and patience for something new to be accepted and to catch on. I was told years ago that rap music had no place in the Jewish world and I could never hope to really touch anybody with this kind of music. I wondered, was I being too radical? Did a genre of music that affected me so much for so long stand any chance of being incorporated into the system of Jewish values that inspires and invigorates our connection to the Creator?
At that point in my life, I was embarking on a journey of new beginnings. After a few years of walking a path towards trouble, I was adjusting to living in the Holy Land of Israel, studying at yeshiva, and a whole new outlook on making spirituality an integral part of my everyday life. I prepared myself to be told that this new way of life meant having to turn away from many of the old things. And indeed it did. But what would I do if I was told that my love of creating music, something so dear to me, had to cease? I prepared myself for whatever was to come. After all, it wasn’t all about me, but about establishing a new relationship with G-d, on His terms, not mine. Besides, look at the mess I had gotten into by doing it “my way.”
What I heard from my new teachers and guides caught me off guard. When they heard of my past, present, and my connection to rap music, I was indeed admonished. But not because much of the music I had listened to and helped create up to that point was hip hop that was not positive nor revitalizing for the soul. I was reprimanded for thinking that I should give up a talent and art that was given to me by G-d Himself! “Do you think you have permission to waste the gifts that G-d has given to you! Your talent is a clear sign of what you need to do. Take it, and instead of promoting darkness, use it to spread light!”
Unbelievable. That message helped nurture in me a love for Torah and G-d that I never imagined I could feel. Maybe my path had not always been straight, but that’s exactly the path that led me to acquire an affinity for making music that I could ultimately use to help people draw even closer to G-d and their purpose. And I could do it through a mostly untapped method. It was one of the first big proofs in my own life of something the Torah teaches us about Emuna & Bitachon (Faith & Trust in G-d): Everything in our lives is ultimately for the best, even if we don’t presently recognize it. I ran with this new beginning, and have not looked back.
Fast forward 10 years, and here I am again about to walk into another “rosh” (“head” or “beginning”), Rosh Hashanah 5776 and I’ve just moved to a new community…also an additional aspect of starting anew. And here it is, my first Shabbat in a new synagogue. Services have ended and as I’m walking towards the Kiddush room, a woman comes up to me with a warm smile and says, “Are you Reuben!?” A little surprised, I tell her, “Yes I am, how are you?” We all know the Jewish world is small. but I was surely wondering how she knew my name and who I was. She proceeded to tell me something that remains priceless to me. She explained how her daughter was going to a seminary in Israel and how there were a number of girls who were new to observance in Judaism. They had backgrounds in which they listened to a variety of secular music, including hip-hop…the kind of which you don’t exactly want your kids listening to and that I knew all too well. And just as I had done in Israel, these girls were in this school to pursue a more observant lifestyle, and understood that some of this music did not exactly go hand in hand with their new lifestyle. This woman told me that my music was instrumental in showing these young women that the light of Judaism can even illuminate the realm of hip-hop, which originally began as positive music about economic and social issues, but has since allowed many negative elements to pervade it. With my music, her daughter was able to help them make a smooth transition into their own new beginning, while holding onto something, a love of rap music that they thought would have to be totally left behind, just like I had originally thought.
Wow. Now this was something to hear. I was unbelievably thankful, and still am, to G-d for having the courage to do what was not necessarily widely accepted, but I believed had the potential to inspire others. No money can touch that. Nobody’s questioning or criticism of what I’ve done can ever take anything away from hearing these kinds of stories from people. My new beginning helped others begin anew also. Rosh Hashanah is an opportunity to draw down new energy into the coming year that will give you all the power you need to succeed in whatever new things you wish to introduce, improve, or conquer. Both those students and I were willing to put what we subjectively perceived as the right way aside for a while and try to find out if maybe the Creator who blessed us to be Jews had a better map to success than we did by going it alone. What we got was not an erasing of our past, but a self-renewal of what we already were, that only Divine Providence could provide.
I try to take the advice of some of our greatest sages, and spend an hour each day just speaking to G-d about the blessings in my life, things I want to improve as a person, and aspirations for the future. Doing this has literally changed my life even more. And as Rosh Hashanah approaches, I’m ready for more new beginnings that I may never have dreamed of or had the courage to pursue. I can testify that by letting G-d take the wheel and steer just a little bit more, that new beginning you’re looking for will be right around the bend.
Pronounced: roshe hah-SHAH-nah, also roshe ha-shah-NAH, Origin: Hebrew, the Jewish new year.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.