Tuesday, March 09, 2004


Randy is a 40-year-old from Chicago. He has lived his working life as a rock musician, heading a now defunct band called Randy Herman and the Sceptre of Benevolence. He's managed to live comfortably on money from his music, augmenting band proceeds not with a normal day job but with a steady stream of bars, weddings, festivals and sessions.

Randy's maternal grandparents left Poland in the 1930s, just before it got really bad. His grandfather went first, on a boat which was turned away first from the United States then from Cuba and finally landed in Mexico. His grandmother followed a couple years later, after her husband worked for a while, saved some money and got himself established.

Randy's paternal grandparents were vaudeville performers who married at 18 and toured together. When Randy was 15 he starred in his high school musical. His grandmother, his 90-year-old 'singing nana', came backstage after the performance. "I'm so sorry," she wept, "but you've got it, I can see. I wish I didn't have to tell you this, because it's a horrible horrible life, but you're a performer." She was giving him her blessing, through streams of tears, and calling it a curse.

One morning about 2 years ago Randy woke up and thought: "I'm 38 years old. I've loved my freedom. I've loved being single. What am I doing with my life?" He rented a place in upstate New York and lived there for a year. He thought about the future. And then he ran out of money.

Randy decided he was going back to school. Lawyer? He could hardly pictured himself as the type. Academic? Too dry and intellectual. (Although Randy's father is the world authority on the Christian Democratic Party of Venezuela.) So what was it to be?

Chazanut. Randy would become a cantor. When he stumbled on the idea it just looked like a sensible career choice: musical, respectable, well-paid. But when he looked into it he found out that the world of Jewish liturgical song had a diverse and serious artistic and religious tradition.

Randy had been raised Reform and had even performed with some of the most famous Reform liturgical composers. But that style of chazanut left him cold. He interviewed at the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and they accepted him. His Jewish knowledge was pretty sketchy, so he'd have to spend the first year studying in Israel.

Sunday morning midday Randy is sitting opposite me in a place called Brasserie, in Rabin Square Tel Aviv, and is telling me all this. He talks about how he'll teach kids Torah and bar mitzvah lessons and then tell his congregants about the latest jazz gig he's playing. He says Judaism and following Jewish law are about "aligning yourself with God through structure". In between all this he and I can't help but glance up at four of the most beautiful waitresses we have ever seen. When one comes over to ask if everything is OK, Randy replies: "I don't know which I'm more impressed with - how good your English is or how beautiful you are." He is looking for a wife and I guess old habits die hard.


Anonymous dawest117@gmail.com said...

Have you heard from Randy Herman lately? I'm trying to track him down for an interview for my radio station's magazine. Send me an email if you know how I can get in touch with him.

21 March 2014 at 03:43  

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