I recall fondly my time as the rabbinic intern at the Hillel Jewish Student Center at the University of Cincinnati, during my studies at HUC-JIR. We had the great fortune to engage in leadership development along with the staff of the African-American Cultural Center on campus. One exercise we conducted was called "cultural sharing" - for which each participant had been asked to bring an item of significant personal or family identity from home, and be willing to explain why the object was meaningful. Someone had a piece of art...someone had a special book....another a family photo...with me, I had the mezzuzah given to us by Debra's congregation in honor of our wedding.
One colleague from the African-American center showed up with Miles' album "Kind of Blue" (a classic, groundbreaking work that still enriches the musical imagination). I quietly asked if he'd borrowed it from my collection. It immediately fostered a genuine bond between us, where none had been before. This experience culminated in our agencies co-sponsoring an art exhibit showing the great migration of Jews from Ethiopia to Israel during the 80's and 90's. Staring at one of the magnificent oversized photographs of a wise looking older tribesman, the same colleague said to me "you know what's great about this picture? I can't tell if it's your cousin or mine." Both of us then realizing how interconnected we were as human beings.
To me, this remains the message of art, and especially music - that the richness of life unites us as a human family, even while offering us the sacred, dignified opportunity to embrace what makes us unique, and even different. Perhaps this is what Jewish tradition teaches us with the term b'tzelem elohim - that each of us is created, modeled after the Divine.
And so, as I choose to celebrate this Miles Davis anniversary - I hope we will all continue to find enrichment, encouragement and blessing in the many various pieces of life that we enjoy - from music and art to food and fine wine, and especially in the loving embrace of family and friends who share with us along life's path.
Happy birthday Miles...