I love a really good teshuva (repentance) story, telling how a Jew found his way up from secularism to Judaism. One of the most fascinating I’ve read is posted on the First Things website today, by David P. Goldman (a/k/a Spengler), who passed through a period as an acolyte of cult leader Lyndon LaRouche. Goldman gives his story with tremendous honesty. It’s beautiful and illuminating — a must-read.
Another, deeper fear kept me at a distance from Judaism. My only sense of the sacred had come from classical music, the great avocation of my adolescence. The over-representation of Jews in classical music is no accident: Jews who cannot bring themselves to acknowledge God sometimes find music a safer means by which to evoke religious feelings without the fearful demands of encountering a personal God. To approach the sacred, Jewish tradition admonishes, is both exalting and dangerous, and it is less frightening to look for the sacred in Mozart’s sonatas than on Mt. Sinai. I had studied piano intensively and composed a bit while young, and I continued my studies through college. This bound me to LaRouche more closely than many of his other dupes, for he was a great aficionado of classical music, using the ill-gotten proceeds of his fund-raising machine to sponsor public as well as private concerts by first-class musicians.
Around 1985, the ugly awareness that I had spent almost a decade in a gnostic cult coincided with a dark time in my personal life. Deeply depressed, I sat at the piano one night, playing through the score of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and came to the chorale that reads: “Commend your ways and what ails your heart to the faithful care of Him who directs the heavens, who gives course and aim to the clouds, air and wind. He will also find a path that your foot can tread.” For the first time in my life, I prayed, and in that moment, I knew that my prayer was heard. That was a first step of teshuva — of return.