Stephen Horenstein
Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

An average guy is transformed by inexplicable adventures

1980's, Forest Gump style Fro
Forest Gump Style and Fro, photo by Ronnie Neheman

My life’s been like Forrest Gump’s. At every turn of the way something strange and unexpected has happened to me.  Like the time I managed to weave my thousand dollar ’59  Mercedes through a major Vermont highway while suddenly discovering that my brakes were shot. I lived to tell the tale, but not my car whose name was Myrtle, not because she looked like a Myrtle but rather I liked the sound of the name.  Anyways I survived but the car didn’t. As she miraculously slid through a small hole in traffic both she and I were plunged into a local river, head first.  I managed to escape through the driver’s seat door which had been held closed by fish wire.  Yes, somewhere inside this story there has to be a joke, something like “Hey, you certainly went to a lot of trouble to catch a fish”.  I swam to shore watching Myrtle take what was her last mud bath.  That was 1973.

Vermont summers, however, were spectacular.  One day I remember taking a bus to Burlington just for the heck of it. I had heard great things about the city and wanted to see it with my own eyes. Rumor had it that the city was open both socially and politically.  I got off the bus and started walking around.  I suddenly got an urge for an ice cream cone and asked a friendly local where I could get one.  He motioned with his hand and said, “Over there in that green garage.  It’s great stuff.”  So I turned the corner and to my amazement saw a dozen and a half people lined up for ice cream.  “It must be good!”, I said to myself, so I lined up too.  As I finally approached the counter I saw a strange sight: two guys, one with bushy hair, the other, smiling profusely.  The one that smiled was dishing out the ice cream and handing it to the guy with bushy hair.  I asked for “pistachio”. It was amazing.  I asked them their names: one said Ben, the other, Jerry….and the rest, legend.  At that time Bernie Sanders, according to Wikipedia, began to weave his political career “as a member of the Liberty Union Party, which originated in the anti-war movement and the People’s Party.” Later in the 80’s Bernie became the first socialist mayor of Burlington. No doubt that throughout Bernie, Ben and Jerry were “cut buddies” a term coined in the 70’s to mean that they hung out and drank more than milkshakes on a regular basis.

(Now, regarding the Ben and Jerry in the news, they clearly have made a mistake, for good ice cream should not be mixed with volatile politics, as “chocolate petrol” probably has “pizazz” but less taste than “chunky monkey”. My opinion is that they should have stuck with the basics, but that is only one man’s opinion.)

The author, around the time of Ben and Jerry, photo by Sarah Horenstein

Vermont winters, in contrast to the luscious summers, were a drag.  The only adventure was the local pub which was risky on Friday and Saturday nights due to the saturation of the locals, all of whom loved to tease us visitors.  It was more sober when there was a Red Sox game, whose outcome was generally inevitable, i.e. total loss.  On those nights I would trudge back to my North Bennington (Vermont) apartment, its rickety wood floors and my creepy neighbor.  His name was Bird, which in and of itself was funny.  His first name escapes me, so for sake of time we can call him Bird.  His claim to fame was that he LOVED guns in all shapes and sizes.  Legend has it that he would hug them at night and sing sweet nothings in their ears, but legends can lie and though I imagine Bird was capable of this strange act, I doubt that it ever happened.  My greatest concern on those winter nights was  Bird’s heaviest artillery, i.e. a World War I machine gun, an Uzi and assorted Nazi pistols all of which were mounted on the other side of my bedroom wall.  I generally could forget this (I was convinced that Bird was harmless), but unfortunately my occasional girlfriends could not.  They were understandably nervous.  I became less popular.

Summer and WinterTrees, photo by the author

Guns later became another Achilles heal for me.  My Israel army service miluim (reserves) was generally at the Western Wall, which in the early 1980’s did not have the flare that it does today.  It was more modest and standing guard there was considered a puffy job, one for losers, one for us older Olim who got the dregs that others didn’t want.  So one day while standing guard to the passage to the “Wall”, I was told to examine everyone’s ID card.  All was well until one burly guy would not hear of being stopped.  I did notice that he was carrying a loaded Uzi, and hence took note.  He refused to show me his ID, and then, with no warning, pointed the Uzi to my head.  In a knee-jerk reaction, I flung my M-16 into his face to answer his challenge to my authority, until I quickly noticed that I was pointing the butt of my gun into his face.  Well, this gesture saved my life because instead of a violent struggle what ensued was hysterical laughing all of which paralyzed him into non-action.  By that time the Police and the Military Guards came to my rescue but unfortunately the man’s laughter was contagious, all of which led to a surrealistic scene of a six or seven grown men all hysterically laughing as they dragged the culprit to the police station.  Needless to say, I never was allowed to forget this and, at the same time, I became a legend amongst warriors all for the wrong reason.

Those early days in Israel (1980’s) were ripe with adventure.  Something seemed to happen nearly every day when you least expected it; there was a constant air of frivolity mixed with brash creativity through which artists collectively tried new things and adventures where they least expected it.  I remember many of these luscious occasions, but one stands out in my mind, though it is not the sexiest or the most controversial.  At that time I knew no one and had little money, so I stayed in Hotel Eretz Yisroel for $15 a night.  The inconspicuous little hotel near city center was set adjacent to what was then the Sheraton, so as hotels go Eretz Yisroel was a non-sequitur.  It was run by an old wise Jewish scholar who taught Talmud in the evenings and tended to his guests in the day.  It was in that bare-bones metal bed that I discovered that I could buy a simple pair of earphones and insert them into my cassette tape recorder.  Now today that sounds ridiculous and obvious but back then nobody was doing it.  So in retrospect, I deem myself the inventor of the earphone musical experience which as we all know transformed music consumption though it has been shown to have negative effects on people’s ears and brain.  Well, it certainly did that to me because my habit as an earphone junkie let to constant tinnitus which to this day plagues me.

When I wasn’t listening to music I was watching the Rabbi teach.  I understood very little of what he was saying and to me it was all one running stream of sounds which if I closed my eyes reminded me of the fast-breaking brooks of Northern New Hampshire near where my father had his shoe store.  Anyways, when the Rabbi saw the book under my left arm (Martin Buber’s I and Thou) he said, come join me and I will teach you wisdom 1000 times more powerful.  It was only twenty years later that I began to understand the depth of Gemara and what he was talking about.

Many of my adventures took place at the Dead Sea.  Once I almost fell into a sink hole.  Another time I lost my way.  And another I grudgingly drove with my wife Ruth to an isolated desert peak to watch a friend’s daughter get married while the sun rose in the distance.  I said to myself, now that’s saving money.  Later I had to admit it was the best wedding I had ever attended.

So as you can see, even in the Holy Land, and especially in the Holy Land, my Forrest Gump-like adventures still seem to appear out of nowhere.  So much for now.  I promise to share more.

The Author expressing his memories through music:



About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA). His teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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