‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ calms the Jewish soul

Gail Appleson is a writer for Armstrong Teasdale LLP and freelancer who lives in St. Louis. “Dor to Dor,” is an intermittent Jewish Light series looking at various aspects of “grown-up” life and generational connections through the lens of Jewish writers living in the St. Louis area.      If you are interested in contributing to Dor to Dor, email [email protected]

By Gail Appleson, Special to the Jewish Light

Jay O’Brien, who had been a soloist for Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel the last two years, gave a farewell pre-Shabbat service concert earlier this month before leaving for cantorial school in Israel. There was nothing particularly “Jewish” about his choice of songs. In fact, the selections ranged from Handel’s “Messiah” to his own folk-style compositions. While everything he performed was beautiful, it was his spiritual interpretation of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water” that I can’t get out of my head.

Probably all of us – particularly baby boomers – who lived through the late ‘60s and early ‘70s have distinct memories attached to this song. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel recorded it in 1969, which was my senior year in high school and a time of great transition. I was preparing to leave my sheltered life in Memphis, where I had been a shy, bookish teenager, for Indiana University. I purposely chose a large college because I knew I needed to learn how to fend for myself among a multitude of strangers.

Not only was this the first time I would be away from my family, but it also meant leaving my first boyfriend. I was an awkward 15-year-old when I fell madly in love with Alan the day we met at the Jewish Community Center. He was everything I wasn’t – outgoing, rebellious and handsome while I was introverted, socially inept and always the victim of a bad hair day. He was a James Dean kind of cool and I was a nerd. I never quite understood why he asked me out, but his attention led me to believe that he saw something that I didn’t.

The opening notes of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” immediately bring back memories of Alan. He supported my decision to leave town for college, while he remained behind in Memphis. And when my freshman year became overwhelming, Alan urged me to remain. He was convinced I’d become a big city journalist someday. And he was right. I did end up as a news reporter in New York City. So these lines from the song particularly tug at my heart:

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Sail on Silver Girl,
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way

Although “Bridge Over Troubled Water” will probably always remind me of Alan, Jay’s gospel rendition of the song had a totally unexpected effect that Friday night. It made me think of God.

I researched the history of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and discovered Paul Simon was inspired by the line, “I’ll be a bridge over deep water if you trust in my name.” The words come from gospel singer Claude Jeter who inserted the line into a 1958 recording of “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep,” a spiritual that dates back to pre-American Civil War days. Interestingly, “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” was recorded by the Klezmatics in 2005 on an album called “Brother Moses Smote the Water.”

From now on, during those tough days when I depend on my faith in God to get me through, I will think of these words:

When you’re weary
Feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all

I’ll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

I’m on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you

Thank you, Jay, for this beautiful gift. May God bless you as you sail on by.

Dor to Dor

Gail Appleson is a writer for Armstrong Teasdale LLP and freelancer who lives in St. Louis.

“Dor to Dor,” is an intermittent Jewish Light series looking at various aspects of “grown-up” life and generational connections through the lens of Jewish writers living in the St. Louis area. If you are interested in contributing to Dor to Dor, please email [email protected]