Stephen Daniel Arnoff
Author, Teacher, and Community Leader

Mother of Muses

Photo by Stephen Daniel Arnoff. Used by permission.

Three nights ago I had a dream that Bob Dylan’s manager called me.

“Stephen,” he said. “Bob is willing to meet, but you’ll need 238 likes and about 100 academics to make it happen.” I played it cool. Jeff Rosen, Bob Dylan’s legendary manager, has actually been generous to me over the years. Nothing much has come of it, including my role in offering Bob a letter about an honorary doctorate on behalf of a major Israeli university. But a polite “no” is better than nothing. Bob Dylan doesn’t talk to strangers.

And so it was in the dream. Within a moment or two after speaking with his manager, I had the necessary likes and academics aligned in dream time, and stood outside of a venue waiting for Bob as agreed. He exited alone through a double door, dressed in black, a large red item looking something like a plastic heart in his arms. That’s when I lost my cool. “Hey Bob,” I practically screamed, jumping in place. He proceeded to run away, and that was where the dream ended.

Sometimes a dream is just a dream, but usually not. I’m guessing I was still thinking about my last visit to North America in the second week of November, a few hours before the flight home, when I had a chance to see Bob Dylan for real at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn. It was an exquisite show, and it was over much too soon.

The highlight of the concert, Dylan leading his band from behind a baby grand piano, was the song “Mother of Muses,” a strange and beautiful ballad from his last album, Rough and Rowdy Ways. Dylan sings:

Mother of Muses sing for my heart
Sing for a love too soon to depart
Sing of the Heroes who stood alone
Whose names are engraved on tablets of stone
Who struggled with pain so the world could go free
Mother of Muses, sing for me

Earlier this week, as part of its hideous psychological warfare on right-thinking people everywhere and Israelis and the Jewish people specifically, Hamas proposed a list of captives for release that would have separated children from their mothers.

That they killed and raped and tortured and maimed and separated families—some forever, God forbid—on October 7. Dayenu. That these evil men would deign to separate children from their mothers even at the last stage of their painful journey home, often to houses that were desecrated beyond all recognition. Dayenu.

Negotiations froze for a few hours. Israel told Hamas in its callous disgard for humanity that if it intended to separate mothers and children, all deals were off.

Say what you will about Israel, imperfect as it may be, but time and time again we see love rising up from the ashes, a fierce insistence forbidding the miscreant monstrosity of Hamas and its supporters from stealing our souls. In this particular case, Israel succeeded in holding loved ones together. But think about it for a moment. What kind of a person would pry apart an imma from her child, a child from his or her imma? Think about the fathers still captive even as their partners and children go free. Think about the families that will never see the faces of parents, children, or grandchildren again. I can’t stop thinking about these things.

After October 7, it took me weeks to return to listening to music at all, let alone to make any music beyond tearful, messy cacophonies. Still, after a delay we at the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center, where I serve as CEO, decided to launch the third year of Zamru, a part of our Sha’arei Bracha (Gates of Blessing) initiative to power Israeli prayer creators to find their muses, to shape new melodies and harness new skills to help build communities throughout the country.

Below, Daniela Devash, a member of the third cohort of Zamru, sings her newly composed melody to the liturgical poem “Honeycomb” by the 16th-17th century poet Rabbi Yisrael Nagara.
Honeycomb pure as the moon on your lips,
Sing for me songs of your wisdom,
Open for me songs and melodies—
And sing
Mothers and muses—Bob Dylan and Daniela and R’ Nagara all part of that same melodic honeycomb—sing for us. Hold fast to sweetness. Don’t let human goodness slip away, not now and not ever. If you will it, as someone once said, it is not a dream.

About the Author
Dr. Stephen Daniel Arnoff is the CEO of the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center and author of the book About Man and God and Law: The Spiritual Wisdom of Bob Dylan.
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