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Why I Make Jewish Rock Music

By Robbi Sherwin


Four rabbis, a cantor, two Jewish educators and two Jewish attorneys and one Jewish rock star – all female –  swam up to a sandbar…

Indeed, it sounds like the beginnings of a joke.  When I am not touring with my Sababa bandmates, Steve Brodsky and Scott Leader, I am the cantor & spiritual leader of a phenomenal congregation in Crested Butte, Colorado, and an artist/cantor/scholar-in-residence, specializing in retreats and congregational songwriting. I like to say that it may be the altitude, but I feel closer to God in the mountains.  Being a Colorado cantor affords me amazing opportunities to make music in God’s country. I do services on skis on a regular basis (at 10,000 feet!), hike mountain passes, read Torah and blow shofar in the golden shimmering aspens… it’s truly living a Rocky Mountain chai – always with a guitar in hand. Last summer, along with the above-mentioned group of ladies from 5 states and 3 countries, I rafted the Rogue River in Oregon.

I was terrified. It was the 10th anniversary of my whitewater drowning accident on the Cache de la Poudre River in Colorado.  In August 2001, I was on a half-day rafting trip (insert Gilligan’s Island theme here: “a three-hour tour…”) with a group of Jewish contemporary musicians who were attending the CAJE (Conference for Alternatives in Jewish Education) in Ft. Collins, Colorado.  Many of these musicians are featured on Jewish Rock Radio: Sam Glaser, Josh Nelson, Yom Hadash & Rebbe Soul to name a few. About 15 minutes into the trip, our raft hit a “high side” and I was unceremoniously dumped backwards into the very cold river.  My left leg was stuck in the rocks and the raft, with 5 people in it, was on top of my head.  They couldn’t find me, since most people who fall out go shooting down the river.  I couldn’t get out from under the raft.  I panicked. The water was freezing my lungs. Then, calm. I remember thinking two things before my heart stopped and I lost consciousness:

  1. This is not such a bad way to die – with people I love  – in a place I love; and
  2. I am not going to be able to say goodbye to my family.

Then, the bright warm, yellow light beckoned. The sky was grey and the water was greyer. My deceased relatives weren’t beckoning to me or anything as I tried to go to the light, but I knew it was a safe place.  I felt like God Herself was reaching for me.

I saw my rescue from up above in what could only be called an “out-of-body” experience.  I was on the side of the canyon looking down as I saw the guide discovering my helmeted head poking up on the bottom of the raft.  I marveled at how he jumped on top of my head to release the boat from me and I calmly watch everyone paddling like crazy to keep the boat in that spot so they could haul me in.  I saw the guide hovering over me.  We zipped down the canyon and I was later taken to the hospital by ambulance, where I had a major concussion, collapsed lungs and a very messed-up knee – shattered by the rocks.

Sam Glaser was in the raft with me.  He was the first completely terrified face I saw when I came to.  My mom had taught not to complain, so people “shouldn’t worry.” So, as I lay on the floor of the raft, coughing up the water in my lungs, I managed to sputter: “Sam, God drew me from the water today.” Sam cocked his head, smiled slightly and said: “She threw you in there, too – you think about THAT!”

I’d spent years thinking about that…

Getting back on the horse can be hard.  I was terrified, in a full leg brace, unable to travel or even to sing. I had to stay in Colorado two more weeks until the doctors said my lungs had recovered enough to fly. When I got home to Austin, I relied on my family and my community to get me over the emotional and physical disabilities that resulted from this accident. I yelled at God a lot.  I sobbed uncontrollably and had day terrors that I was drowning. I created a lot of artwork and wrote a lot of songs.  My producers, the amazing Scott Leader and Herb Belofsky, in their infinite wisdom, would not allow me to put a single song about the accident on my 2nd album, Aish Hakodesh, which came out two years later.  But, they recognized that drowning  “grew” me as a songwriter. The rock soothed my soul and the roll taught me balance.  Mere words cannot describe how much the music helped me on my path towards healing. This is why I make Jewish rock music.

Ten years later, it was time to dance with a river again.  After that initial fear, dance I did – spending 5 days swimming in the very fast current through the rapids, kayaking and paddling the entire 45 miles of one of the last Wild and Scenic designated rivers in the U.S. And yes, I had a guitar with me the entire trip  My mantra as I rhythmically dug the paddle, hard, into those Class 4 rapids was repeating: “No fear. Never again!”  When this same group rafts Cataract Canyon in July 2012, I will no longer be the terrified one who drowned 11 years ago. She doesn’t exist anymore.

As they say in the TV commercial: “Life can come at you fast.” May 2012 be a year that we all catch the fast current, hold on and paddle forward.

Date →
Mar 27
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1 Comment

  • Josh B Says:

    Very inspiring! Keep on rocking, Robbi!

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