May You Stay Forever Young
Guest Post by Rabbi Jonathan Blake
Senior Rabbi, Westchester Reform Temple
A version of this piece appeared on Rabbi Blake's blog, 11/14/21. It is published here with his permission.
Every year, when the days grow short and the temperatures drop low, I find myself meditating on the theme of aging. These thoughts make me sigh – especially when, as happened yet again at a recent wedding, three separate individuals came up to me and mentioned that, in their opinion, I did not look old enough to be a rabbi.
Looking "too young" is, of course, the textbook definition of a "good problem to have," and it’s one to which I am so long accustomed that it hardly registers anymore. After conducting my first Bar Mitzvah 21 years ago when I actually was a baby rabbi, I stopped by the reception in the social hall. I was still wearing my somber black clerical robe, ordered a glass of wine, and was promptly carded by the bartender.
I can't be sure whether the source of this seemingly perennial issue in my life should be attributed to good luck, good genes, good habits, or some combination thereof, but I have come to regard it as a blessing and not a curse. And whenever I hear Bob Dylan sing these words:
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
And may you stay
I think to myself, "Bob, my good friend, I’ve got you covered."
"Forever Young" contains a Biblical image, a ladder to the stars, which comes from the story of Jacob who dreamed of such a ladder.
Back in 1973 – the year I was born – Dylan recorded “Forever Young” for another Jakob, his 4-year-old son. Like the ladder it references, the song’s journey is long and storied. My favorite anecdote is that Howard Cosell recited its lyrics, on-air, when Muhammad Ali won the heavyweight crown for the third time in September 1978, declaiming, as only Howard Cosell could:
"May your hands always be busy, may your feet always be swift, may you have a strong foundation, when the winds of changes shift," and so on.