The Shoulder - NOtes from the side of the road

The Real Story of the Garden  

When I was young, I was taught that we were separated from Gd and doomed to die because of Adam and Eve. It even went beyond death and focused on the idea that because of what Adam and Eve did, we are now born with a tendency towards sin and therefore, a terrible fate awaits us for eternity unless we do one thing. This is where the concept of original sin comes from and it was the hammer that could beat anything. 

I struggled hard with this and eventually just distanced myself from the whole thing. It didn't make sense that a loving Gd would do this. When we started looking into Judaism, we discovered that the whole idea of original sin is just unbiblical. During the process of conversion to Judaism, I learned a lot more. 

Before I tell you my own personal thoughts, I want to quote a friend of mine and the Rabbi who led my conversion to Judaism. Rabbi Stuart Federow runs a website called "What Jews Believe" and this is what he has to say on the matter: 

"The text does not tell us that Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden of Eden because they sinned. (Please note that the first time the Bible uses the term, ‘sin,’ it is NOT in reference to Adam and Eve, it is in reference to the jealousy of Cain against Abel in Genesis 4:7.) Rather, Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden of Eden because there was another tree in the Garden from which Gd did not want them to eat. That tree was the Tree of Life. 

But think about this logically. If Adam and Eve had to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life to become immortal, then Gd made them mortal to begin with. Adam and Eve were created in such a way that Death was a natural part of their existence, from the moment of their Creation. 

The text of Genesis 3:22-24 tells us that Adam and Eve were almost like Gd and the Angels because they knew the difference between Good and Evil. Both Gd and the Angels know the difference between Good and Evil, but both Gd and the Angels are immortal as well. Because Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit of The Tree of the Knowledge of Good And Evil, they instantly knew the difference between Good and Evil. However, Adam and Eve were not yet immortal because they had not yet eaten from the Tree of Life. Therefore Gd separated Adam and Eve from the Tree of Life by casting them out of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve did not bring Death into the world. 

And the Etrnl Gd said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the Tree Of Life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Etrnl Gd sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the Garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the Tree of Life. [Genesis 3:22-24] 

The verses above make it abundantly clear. Why were Adam and Eve driven out of the Garden of Eden? ‘Lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the Tree Of Life, and eat and live for ever, THEREFORE THE ETERNAL SENT HIM FORTH…’ Gd evicted Adam and Eve so that they could not become immortal by eating from the Tree of Life. Just as Adam and Eve (and their descendants) became responsible for their choices between Good and Evil because they ate that first time from that tree, so would they and their descendants become immortal the first time Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Life as well. Additionally, to ensure that Adam and Eve and their descendants would remain separated from the Tree of Life, Gd placed the Cherubim and the flaming sword ‘to keep the way of the Tree Of Life.’ 

We human beings do not die because of their sin, we die because Gd made Death a part of life from the moment of Creation. There may be such a thing as The Original Mistake, but there is no such thing as Original Sin." - From 

So that got April and I thinking about the whole story and Eve from a different perspective. Instead of a cautionary tale, it looked more like a coming of age story. Think about it. Eve eats from the Tree and suddenly has an understanding of right and wrong. She has an awareness of responsibility and a sense of ownership. I can choose to do right or wrong and take responsibility for my life. She grows up. She then offers the same to Adam. 

That's when we hear about the struggles of life, the pain of childbirth, and what they go through in making their way in the world. Joys, tragedy, heartbreak, and love. A beautiful Midrash says that later on, Adam and Eve were invited back to the Garden by Gd. "You've lived a full life. Come back to the Garden and there will be no pain, no worry, and no sadness." They look around at the life they've built and all that came with it. They look at each other and then at Gd, "Thank you", they say. "This is our home. We'll stay here." They built a life together and building our lives is something that Gd wants from us. The Torah is LOADED with how to do this! 

So instead of seeing Eve as some kind of villain, we see her as a hero. We learn to become better partners with Gd by our actions and the ownership of our lives. Would we even have that opportunity without Eve? Maybe not. You and I are living the gift of life and it's on us to build a good one. We all leave the Garden at some point in our lives and it isn't easy. It's a struggle but that is where we find out who we are and just how high we can grow. 

Eve didn't doom anyone. She made a choice to do more than just exist. That sense of ownership, responsibility, and opportunity is such a reflection of Gd's love and I'm so glad that I had a great teacher. It's time we take back the story of the Garden for what it is, a love story for the ages with an amazing central figure who has been done wrong for too long.

Download "A Song for Eve" from our Bandcamp Store at the link below and help out a good cause! Until the end of October, all of our profits at this link will go to Futures Without Violence, a wonderful charity that works tirelessly to end violence against women and children. Get the song and do some good right here: 

Get A Song for Eve and donate to Futures Without Violence!

Jewish Prayer - L'Chu N'ran'na - Sing a Song 

"Dad, do you believe that everything is divinely planned?" That was the question my son asked me that kicked this song into being. I looked at him and told him that I didn't. When he asked why, I told him that if that was the case, our choices wouldn't matter. After all, if EVERYTHING was pre-determined, how could we be held accountable for our sins? How could we be held to task for anything we did? A choice means we choose. It doesn't mean that it was chosen for us. He agreed with me. "You're right," he said. I didn't know I was being tested but I was glad I was passing. 

He started again. "So do you believe that everything is just chaos?" Again, I told him I didn't. There was never a time when I could look out at the world and see anything other than a pattern. Everything just flowed so perfectly. There was an apparent design to the way the world worked so well together. Again, he agreed. "You're right". He then said, "I think the answer is somewhere in between and I think that's where G!d is." My Rabbi. 

I thought a lot about that conversation and sat down to write what would become the beginning of most prayer services I lead on the road. I wanted to focus on the idea that it's an absolute miracle that we are in this lifetime together. This time, full of our free-willed choices, given to us by the One above. We share this opportunity to discover and build and do more good. It's a beautiful thing and I want to meet as many of my fellow travelers as possible before I go.

If there is a divine plan for our time together, I believe it is us. We are the plan. Everything was laid out for us and now we have to decide what we're going to do next. I'm thankful to be sharing this life with so many good people.  

So let's take the time to sing songs of praise for all that God has done for us and for the world around us. It was given to us and we to it.

Here is a little video of the tune: 


You can find the studio version on our new album, Back From Babylon! It's available here in the shop or to stream everywhere online. If you use Spotify, here is a quick and easy link for you:


Thank you so much for all the support of the years! We're getting back into the full swing of things soon and I can't wait to see you on the road. 


- Joe

Teshuvah, Truth, and Goodness 

Each year, we dig deep to look in the mirror and closely examine the wrongs we may have done to our fellows and against our Creator. We confess what we’ve done, we have real regret, and we make a promise to not do it again. We go through this every year at this time and while we don’t need to wait until the High Holy Days to reset our course, this is a community-wide time to focus on it. The danger, I believe, is in losing sight of the good. 

When I was young, I believed that I was a burden on everyone around me. I was another mouth to feed and a true mistake. I thought that my only value was at a distance but if people got close, they would only see what had been confirmed again and again – I was useless. I didn’t talk a lot about it but all the signs were there. This was usually masked by trying to be funny or entertaining. It was not a wonderful way to grow up and I convinced myself of a lot of lies. Thankfully, I met someone who loved me hard enough to change my mind and I eventually learned to love myself. 

I mention the above because I believe it can be the danger in doing Teshuvah the wrong way. We should closely examine the wrongs we have done but the key is in acknowledging the mistake without thinking that we are the mistake. It’s one of the things we focused on when raising our son. You may have done something wrong but it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you. It was a choice and you can make another one. Acknowledging our sins can be painful but there is a difference between owning our action and beating ourselves up. If we do that, we start lying to ourselves and in a sense, committing Lashon Hara against ourselves. 

It’s no secret that you will find all kinds of validation if you go looking for it. If you go looking for villains, you will find them. If you start trying to convince yourself of negative things about yourself, you will eventually do it. Our minds are beautifully designed to help us and if we start turning pain on ourselves, our brain will assist. We have to teach it what the truth is so that it knows how to help us the right way. 

So here is a truth for you. You are not damaged goods and you are not broken. You are whole and complete and loved by the One exactly as you are. You may have done something wrong but there is nothing wrong with you. It was a choice and you can make another one. You are not a mistake and you are not a burden. You are part of the wonder and beauty of creation. This world is a tremendous gift and you are part of that gift. 

There is far more good in the world than evil and there is far more right than wrong. We are surrounded by so many examples of this, but it is easy to lose sight of it when the good is everywhere. After all, fish probably don’t think about water. When the bad comes in, it’s often louder than everything else because of the contrast. The danger in that loudness is in letting it consume us and allowing it to become the dominant sound. If we do that, the world can seem bleak and less than the wonder it is. The same goes for us. 

As we go into the High Holy Days, I hope that you are kind to yourself in your honesty. I hope you remember how incredible you are and if we have not met yet, I can’t wait to shake your hand. The world needs you and I’m glad that we’re sharing a lifetime together. 

This song is called “Return” and is all about the work we do at this time. Please feel free to share with anyone you think might enjoy it. The amazing singer with me is our dear friend, Abbie Strauss. She’s a tremendous artist and if you haven’t heard her music, you should really go check it out. She’s currently in Memphis doing wonderful work with the community at Temple Israel as their Cantorial Soloist and is the founder of the Institute of Jewish Rock. 

Here’s to you for all the good you do. Make it a brave and sweet new year. 

- Joe

It Has Begun! 

It's tough to put into words what the last several days have felt like. We've wrapped up the sessions at Fantasy Studios and are now in the editing process for the album. For anyone who might not know, that's where we listen like crazy people to every second and try to make sure everything we need to record is in and all the pieces are fitting together as they should. 

The only thing left now is to spend a little time at Sugar Hill in Houston to do some vocals on a few tunes and we'll be all good to go!

Since you helped inspire this music and supported so much of it, I thought it would be fun to share a few moments from the first three days. Enjoy these and I'll be back soon with an in-depth breakdown of the experience at Fantasy Studios. 



The Long Walk Home 

So there he is, looking down at his son, a knife raised high. He's a father and a husband. He is someone who championed the innocent and ran out to greet others, thinking of them first. He opened his tent at all sides. He is Abraham, friend of G-d, and he has bound his son as a sacrifice without questioning. 

We all know what happens next. An angel appears and stops his hand from the killing stroke. A test has been issued. Would you be willing to sacrifice a life to your G-d, specifically, your own son? Many believe that Abraham passed this test and his devotion to the task shows his devotion to G-d. I believe that Abraham failed his test and the results of his failure come rolling in once the knife has been stopped. G-d, who once called Abraham "Friend", never speaks to him again. Isaac also never speaks to him again and is forever changed. This is also when we learn that Sarah dies. 

So what happened? Why would Abraham not fight for his son?

Let's go back to Sodom and Gomorrah, which is where I believe all this started at. Abraham is there, arguing with G-d for the lives of the people in two great cities. G-d is about to wipe out everyone there and Abraham is not having it. If you believe in the Creator, try your best to picture what this might be like. Not only is Abraham defending people he does not know, he is arguing with G-d! He says, "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?!" Woah. That is about as intense as it gets and from there, he negotiates down to the number 10. If only there are 10 righteous people, G-d will not wipe them out. It is also interesting that the text states that G-d finished talking with Abraham, not that Abraham finished talking with G-d. 

There are so many folks in the cities below that it only makes sense for there to be at least 10 good people. There has to be. Abraham's faith in the goodness of humanity is so strong that it doesn't make sense to him that EVERYONE there would be wicked. How could they be? His negotiation with G-d ends and he returns home. We all know what happens next. Only smoke and ruin are left in Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham knows this. There were not even 10 good people. 

Next, he travels to Gerar and says that Sarah is his sister and not his wife. When confronted about his lie, he says that he thought the people there would kill him for his wife because there is no fear of Gd in the city. There is no way for him to know that but he assumes it's true. Why? Because he just came from two huge cities where not even 10 righteous people lived. He has been shaken to his core and is already assuming the worst in people. 

Fast forward to the offering. 

G-d tells Abraham, "Take your son, whom you love, to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you." While gathering the wood, Isaac even questions what's going on. He asks his father where the sacrificial lamb is and the Patriarch explains that G-d will provide it. He lies to his son. He lies to his son that he is about to sacrifice for a G-d that has NEVER asked for this kind of thing. A man who once argued with G-d to spare life now will not even argue for his son. Why?

I believe that Abraham lost faith in the sanctity of life. So much had happened around him and when he challenged G-d on behalf of others, the outcome did not change. If Abraham did considering arguing, his second thought must have been along the lines of "Why does it matter?" He gives everything up to G-d, even his own free will. He has defeated himself and binds his son to the rock as a sacrifice. We know what happens next. 

Abraham should have argued for his son. G-d does not want blind obedience. We are not sheep. We are made in the image of G-d and given free will to build the world together with our Creator. Human life is sacred and sacrificing it is something that G-d detests (Deuteronomy 12:30 - 12:31). Abraham should have said "No" and I believe it is what G-d wanted him to do in order to show that he was still the same person he was before. "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"

So why test Abraham to begin with if there is a chance of him failing? I believe in the awesome power of G-d but I don't believe our actions are pre-determined. If that were the case, we wouldn't have the chance to CHOOSE right or wrong. I believe that our free will means that our choices are unknown to G-d. After all, the Torah was given to us and helps to guide those choices. 

Also, we have to be careful to not make the error that G-d is somehow a human being. G-d is not a person but I believe we have similarities. After all, if we are made in the image of G-d, then the Creator surely understands what fear, jealousy, anger, doubt, worry, and love feel like. G-d also understands lonliness. Why else would the Almighty say that it is not good to be alone? Interestingly, the only person we ever hear referred to as a "Friend" is Abraham. 

I believe that the Almighty tested Abraham to see what he is no longer willing to stand for. Sadly, human life is the answer and G-d turns away from the person who was once a friend. It's a heartbreaking moment and everyone is affected by the choices that were made. My Rabbi teaches that there is a reason it's called the Law of Moses and not the Law of Abraham. 

So, I did what songwriters do. I tried to find a way to summarize a huge idea into a handful of minutes through song. "The Unbinding" took two solid years to write and is told through Isaac's eyes as he looks up at his father, begging him to remember the man he was. At the same time, it's a call out to all parents to not bind their children to their own past or cycles. 

This song will be featured on the upcoming album and if you'd like to help us get it made, please click here and become a supporter today: SUPPORT THE NEW ALBUM!

Thanks for all the support and I'll see you on the road! 




Pass the Guitar 

See that guitar that I'm holding? It's a beautiful instrument but it isn't mine. It's been played by a whole mess of folks but it isn't theirs, either. It belongs to a fella named Rick Recht. This year at SLBC, while I sat in the morning prayer service, I kept seeing something incredible. I watched Rick Recht hand his guitar to person after person and it dawned on me that this act was a perfect metaphor for the kind of person Rick is. 

For anyone who has been to the Songleader Bootcamp National Conference, you've seen this in a variety of ways. You see it at the lunch song sessions led by multiple folks, the courses taught by various experts, to the concerts at night and especially at SLBC Late Night (open mic). This concept of shared leadership is something that is not only important to SLBC - it is something SLBC is built on. 

When we take the time to engage from the stand point of "you can do THIS" and then help to support so that folks can, we find that we empower people in incredible ways. The leadership team at Songleader Boot Camp does this by demonstrating the value of leadership and then giving everyone the tools they need to lead themselves and to empower others to lead as well. It is called "Songleader" Boot Camp but the emphasis is definitely on the leader aspect. 

A common misconception is that you have to have some kind of musical ability to get anything out of the conference. Not true at all. In fact, music is only a small part of what is happening at SLBC, even though it is the bridge that binds it all together. I fell in love with this conference not because of the music but through it. At its heart, at the very core, is an abundant love of community, Judaism, and where we can go as a people. The folks who attend SLBC are usually looking for something they can bring home or into their lives, or both. Rabbis, Songleaders, Recording Artists, Teachers, Lay Leaders, Scholors, Rabbinic Students, Cantors, Camp Staff, Camp Directors, and ANYONE looking for something great to bring back to their world. When you fill a JCC with that many seekers, you are bound to find amazing things together. 

This was my 5th straight year at Songleader Boot Camp and the goodness I get from being with the community there lasts all year long. I learn beautiful Torah from inspiring Rabbis. I learn new melodies and connect to prayers in powerful ways. I meet new friends who are seekers as well and we grow together and I spend valuable time with colleagues and mentors. It's a place that not only opens a door, it holds the door for you and anyone else who wants to bring something amazing back home. 

I can't recommend it enough and I hope that if you haven't been - no matter what you do, you go. 


Our crowdfunding campaign is rocking and rolling along! If you have not donated already and would like to, please head on over to the campaign page and find a perk that works for you! We look forward to having you on board!



I hope that your week is a good one and that you find all that you are seeking!



Joe Buchanan

The Second Album! 


The train has pulled out of the station and we are flying down the track! I am so proud to announce that we are officially crowdfunding album #2. The reception for Unbroken was more than we could have expected and in the time since its release, I've been blessed with the opportunity to travel to different communities all over the US and pray and sing with folks from every walk of life. I've seen people from multiple faiths come together around the commonality in spirituality and in simply being together. Our time together has been inspiring and I can't thank you enough for all of the tremendous support. 

During all of that travel, a ton of songs and prayer settings have been written and we are all set to finally make Album #2. I'll be back working with producer Saul Kaye and heading into the studio in May to bring to life this full-length collection of original, Jewish Americana. 

Together again in studio!

Proud to be working again with my holy brother and dear friend, Saul Kaye!

These are songs to gather by, to bring folks together, and add more chairs to the table. Since my conversion to Judaism, I found that there is more that binds us than separates us and this music reflects so much about those discoveries. They are songs for the good times, the hard times, and the times between.  Songs about struggle and celebration. I hope you join us in getting the album made and I can't wait to welcome you onto the team. 


If you want to join the "street" team, the best way to help spread the word on the album is to do exactly that - spread the word! Share it on Facebook, email folks that might be interested, and if we've spent time together - please feel free to share it with your community if you feel comfortable. I know the goal is high but I absolutely believe we can reach it and build something incredible together.  

We are also booking for 2018 still and if you'd like to get together for an Artist in Residence weekend, Shabbat service, or concert - let me know! I'd love to pray with you. 

Finally, the latest episode of the Emerging Artist Showcase is out and you can check it out on Jewish Rock Radio (! We air every Monday at 11AM Central  and every Thursday at 7PM Central. Featuring artist from a wide range of musical stylings, this show is all about the new artists who are absolutely rocking the Jeiwsh music world. The best part is - you don't have to be Jewish to dig good music. :) So check out the show and feel free to reach out and let me know what you think! 

Great music from great folks!

Thank you so much for being here, for your support, and just being exactly who you are. I'm glad that we share a lifetime and I'm looking forward to seeing you on the road in 2018.




Welcome to the New Website!  

Welcome to the new website! It's been an amazing year full of prayer with communities all across these great United States and here at the end of the 2017 tour, I could not be more excited to launch this new site. I hope that you find it useful, easy to navigate, and full of what you came here for. If, for any reason, it isn't - just let me know. I'm very open to feedback and would love to hear from you. Just check out the "Contact Us" page to reach out. 

Our last date for 2017 was in the stunning community of Temple Beth Emeth in Mt. Sinai, NY.  A concert that ended in a circle of friends, new and old, all singing our hearts out. To come into such close contact with folks and spend holy time together is wonderful. We share a lifetime with amazing people that we hopefully have the chance to cross paths with. I want to shake as many hands as I can in the time I have left, however long that may be. We're working on a tribute video showing some of the incredible communities I've had the opportunity to shake hands with and can't wait to share it with you. 

Judaism continues to be an ever expanding study and the people who lift the Torah high enough for the world to see continue to be an inspiration. I couldn't be happier being home and while we fight like family sometimes, it's a holy discussion and as long as we still toast each other, we'll be in good shape. If you're interested in the story about the journey home, there was a great article published in the Forward and you can read it here: Jewish Convert Explores Faith and Belonging Through Country Music

So much is coming up soon and 2018 is shaping up to be another amazing year. There is a new album in the works, new tour dates to announce, music videos in production, and some brand new merchandise being developed. None of this would be coming into the world if it wasn't for your incredible support and response to the music. 

So here on this Shabbat, I want to leave you with a video taken in McAllen, TX. When folks ask me about the Americana Shabbat service I lead, they often ask what album versions of prayers sound like in a service setting. In particular, my setting to "Shalom Aleichem", the prayer we say to welcome in the Angels. The album version has a ton of B3, Slide Guitar, etc. It's a pretty rocking track. However, the prayer service version is a little different from the concert version. So here is a video of Shalom Aleichem featuring Carly Abramson and James Platt. I hope it makes you smile. 

Tread gently in the lives of others and remember to sing.  


- Joe