Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
It was 6:45 in the morning, en route to the gym, when I heard it: gentle strains of bolero music, reggae-inflected vocalizations, and a guitar solo that lasts forever. I’d just programmed Classic Rock 107.1 as a pre-set station on my car radio, thinking that a station that played one unfortunate song might follow it up with a better one from the same era.
I got out of the car, walked into the gym, and didn’t think about it again until that evening as I was leaving work. I tuned back in to 107.1. There it was again. It wasn’t that odd, I thought, for a radio station to play the same song twice in one day. The next morning, as I drove to the gym again, I tuned in and heard “Hotel California” for the third time in 24 hours – a frequency that we can all surely agree is excessive.
I kept tuning in throughout the day, thinking I’d stumbled upon some great tragedy or elaborate prank in which a station was always playing the same song every time I tuned in. I never heard the song all the way through, as my commute is only ten minutes and the song is, conservatively, about nine thousand hours long.
Then, it happened: the final strains of the coda played, an announcer read out the name of the song, and it started again.
“They’re playing it on a LOOP!” I shouted into my empty car. The plot had thickened.
“Hotel California” was now occupying my every waking thought, consuming my life with its dark lyrics and undeniably catchy chorus. “Maybe it’s me who’s ‘Tiffany twisted…’” I thought, gripping my steering wheel tighter with every agonizing beat of the snare drum. “Maybe the real Hotel California was this radio station all along,” I moaned into my hands, now drenched with my tears of frustration and agony.
My text messages to friends, if they were strung together, would look like the script of a Hitchcock movie where an ingénue is slowly driven mad by one of the hit songs of the late 1970s. Desperate to find meaning in an unforgiving world, I turned to ISJL Education Fellow Shira Muroff, who patiently listened to my woes, and also immediately found parallels between the Eagles’ never-ending hit… and Judaism.
Here’s her take:
Just as the protagonist of “Hotel California” goes on an uncertain journey in the desert, so, too, do the Israelites after they leave Egypt. They have just been freed from Pharaoh’s wrath, and now they’re standing on the other side of the Sea of Reeds. Or “on a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair,” in the words of Don Henley. Just as the protagonist of this song has his guide at the hotel who “lit up a candle and… showed [him] the way,” the Israelites had Miriam, who helped them find water in the desert. Either way, the song reminds us that the journey can be perilous.
This song doesn’t just teach us about the adventures a journey can bring. While we may find the family-centric tales of Genesis and Exodus more engaging, the stories in Leviticus are the ones that teach us how to be Jews. We get rules about the Tabernacle and sacrifices and ethical behavior, and we hear about the people that helped put these systems into place.
Think about it this way: when the “Hotel California” protagonist gets a whole host of information upon entering the desert hotel, it’s like the Israelites receiving the Ten Commandments and the Torah in the desert.
Did all of the rules all make sense? Were they all easy to accept? No, but just as the “Hotel California” protagonist eventually takes issue with some of the rules, the Jews constantly questioned the boundaries of their own regulations. “Hotel California” may be long, but it can provide a good soundtrack to the 40-year trek the Israelites took in the desert (and you might only have to play it once through before the Israelites get to their destination).
If nothing else, I’m glad that getting caught in a loop with this song gave me a chance to get such delightful Jewish insights from my friend Shira.
Can you think of other terrible songs that relate to Judaism? Share your thoughts in the comments!