Friday, November 24, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: Being Chosen, Part 1

Di Toyre Sprakh
“Gezen di velt vi es zol zeyn”


This is Part 1 of a two-part series; Part 2 is next week.


.בָּנִים אַתֶּם, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם: לֹא תִתְגֹּדְדוּ, וְלֹא-תָשִׂימוּ קָרְחָה בֵּין עֵינֵיכֶם--לָמֵת

“For thou art a holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be
His own treasure out of all peoples that are upon the face of the earth.”


During Rosh Hashanah, a rabbi gave a vort, saying the following: “Do others influence you or do you influence others?” So much is said in one line; so much history is contained in a few words. For a long time, I was the recipient of outside influences, as I have written about in a previous post in this column. When you wander, you discover many new things, including that old things are valuable.

Even though this was more than a decade ago, I continue to write about the lure and power of new ideas to influences and shape your views and thought life, which is why I write about such matters—as a warning of sorts to my fellow Yidn. Our ways do not require such change as to greatly alter what hundreds of generations of rabbis have passed down to us, what generations of  Jewish teachers and thinkers have written about and codified.

There is beauty in tradition; there is stability in the realm and reality of traditions that have been handed down to us from generation to generation. This is common to all religions and to all peoples. In Judaism this is known on mesorah, which is denoted as “enduring and traditional practices that are based on solid halachic and/or hashkafic (ideological and attitudinal) considerations, when such considerations are not formally codified or patently evident.”

People often avoid tradition because it places demands upon them. Take, for example, when the Torah ( תּוֹרָה‎,; Hebrew for “instruction, teaching”) commands the Jews to be Ohr LaGoyim (“a light unto the nations;” Isaiah 42: 6). This is a prophetic command that reveals an essential mission of the Jews to the greater world. This is a command as old as Judaism itself, an idea so much part of Jewish thought, an idea that remains a central tenet of Judaism,

Yet, it has all but been ignored and hardly acknowledged by world Jewry as important, apart from a notable example: Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidim, under the leadership of the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson [1902–1994], of righteous memory, started a campaign in 1983 to make known to the world the Seven Noahide Laws, a universal morality that applies to all humanity. The Rebbe’s speech is both powerful and inspiring; it was given on 19 Kislev 5744, or November 25, 1983. The date’s significance is not lost on the audience, it being less than a week before Khanike (or Hanukkah).

This speaks about responsibility to teach the world, to teach “the nations,” if you will, of the source of the love of doing good. That source, Judaism tells us, is God. The Jews have to believe this, as well, for this to be effective on a grand scale. It is hard to believe, no doubt, because it sets one people apart from all others. It sets one people as teachers or instructors to the world. There are historical reasons why Jews are called “People of the Book.”

“The Book” or Hebrew Bible says that related to the idea of “being a light” or bringing light is that of being the “Chosen People” (as noted in Deuteronomy 14:2), which is misunderstood by many who don’t apprehend the deeper meanings of the original Hebrew text, including some Jews who are uncomfortable with this idea as to the purpose of the Jews among the world’s peoples. Simply put, what makes the Jews stand apart from the rest of the world is the Torah and the 613 mitzvot; without these there really is no Judaism, there really is no Jewish People. Such is the importance of mesorah.

The central event in Judaism is matan Torah—the Giving of the Torah—in the wilderness at Sinai. This historic biblical event was done in front of all of the people, the full nation of Israel, and not hidden like some secret initiation ritual. Judaism is based solely on national revelation and not on any one man performing miracles. The Jews were chosen for a purpose, which includes revealing monotheism to humanity, to reveal the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is clearly written in the Torah. Jews stubbornly stick to the Torah, or at least some do.

Teaching your children Torah (chinuch), the Torah says, is a parental responsibility: “And you shall teach them to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deut. 6:7). People tend to do what they view as important or what they see as easy. To be sure, Jews have a great responsibility, which in the long run is better to accept for very good reasons. Those that don’t accept often find succeeding generations no longer self-identifying as Jews. Such is understandable as it is regrettable.

When Jews live in the West, and this is where most Jews reside, they live within its long-standing culture and traditions (read: Christianity). Yet, as much as it has shown more tolerance in recent times, it has nevertheless replaced the Torah with its own revelations and understandings, which are, historically, in word and deed anti-Torah and anti-Judaic. Some, perhaps much, is good and moral and beneficial to humanity, but it is based neither on Judaism and thousands of years of enduring Jewish traditions nor on Torah learning. In short, it is not mesorah.

No doubt, it is easy to get swallowed up in the larger culture and be influenced by it, instead of Jews influencing it for good.

Yet, this is precisely what the Torah says Jews are required to do. That, out of necessity, the Jews have turned inward and found other modes of ritual and expression of Torah—outside the Beit HaMikdash (Hebrew: בֵּית־הַמִּקְדָּשׁ‎,or Holy Temple)—is a direct result of the history of anti-Judaism. That the Jews failed historically, until recently, to reveal to the world the important ideas contained within Judaism is a sure sign that the world did not want to hear what the Torah had to say. Such is a sign of how much animosity was directed at the Jews during most of the history of the last, 2,000 years or so.

Yet, throughout it all, Jews have clung tenaciously to the Torah, a quality that even, I would argue or suggest, the most assimilated Jew finds admirable, if not noble. Such are the ideas that the world is now ready to hear, initiated in modern times by Chabad-Lubavitch, but an idea that other Torah-educated Jews can also carry out. Such is what that eminent scientist, Waldemar M. Haffkine [1860–1930] wrote in A Plea for Orthodoxy (Menorah Journal; April 1916):
By dint of endless trials and failures, the Nations are coming to recognize in the Commandments handed down to them by the Jews the only possible foundation of a prosperous and orderly life. (p. 13)
Words to heed. Many educated and intelligent Jews are also finding this to be not only a laudable endeavor, but also a good one worthy of their efforts.


Gut Shabbes
Peretz J. Greenbaum,
November 24, 2017
6 Kislev 5778

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This week’s parsha is Vayeitzei (וַיֵּצֵא; Hebrew for “and he left”), found in Genesis 28:10–32:3. It contains the well-known passage of Jacob’s ladder of angels ascending and descending in a prophetic dream that Yaakov had on Mount Moriah; the stones that he had used for a pillow while dreaming were turned into a monument, which he named Beth-el, or a house of God.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Cantor Moshe Koussevitzky: Aneinu (1959)

Aneinu by Cantor Moshe Koussevitzky [1899–1966]; Aneinu (עֲנֵנוּ; “Answer Us”) is a prayer of supplication added to the Shemoneh Esreh on a fast-day or ta’anit. There is no fast day coming up this month, so this is not the reason that I post this video. The next fast day is Asarah B'Tevet (10 Tevet), which is considered a minor fast day since it begins just before dawn and ends after nightfall. It falls this year on the secular or civil calendar on December 27th. This recording is taken from the hazzan’s visit to a conservative shul, Congregation Beth El in Waterbury, CT, on Sunday May 3rd 1959. As for Aneinu, I like the prayer itself and how it is sung with such emotion and sincerity by Cantor Koussevitzky. It would seem a simple enough request to Ribbono Shel Olam: Aneinu. (Maybe we don’t want to really hear the answer; maybe we are not ready for it.) You can also hear Aneinu in a studio recorded version, High Holiday Prayers: Volume 2 (first song on side 1), here.
Via: Youtube



Beth El Synagogue in Waterbury, Connecticut (at 359–375 Cooke Street), dates to 1929. It is built in the Byzantine style and has a prominent hemispheric dome. It was designed by Nathan Myers and built by Shapiro & Sons. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1955. The building, however, is no longer owned by Beth El; when the Conservative congregation faced a declining membership, it sold it in 2000 to Yeshiva Gedolah of Waterbury. The Orthodox Jewish school, on the other hand, is doing well.
Photo CreditConnecticut Jewish History 2:1 (Fall 1991), 139

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Teiman: Music of the Yemenite Jews (1992)

Teiman: Music of the Yemenite Jews
ViaYoutube

This documentary is part of The Spielberg Jewish Film Archive’s “A People and Its Music” and of the Israel Music Heritage Project. The Spielberg Archive contains archival material from 1911 to the present, more than 18,000 titles, making the largest archive of its kind in the world. It is part of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which writes
The Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive was founded in the late 1960s by Professor Moshe Davis and other historians of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The first Director was the late Dr. Geoffrey Wigoder and the Archive originally bore the name of its first donor, Iranian-Jewish businessman Abraham F. Rad, who Provided his support for a number of years. In 1987 a generous donation was received from the American filmmaker Steven Spielberg, after which the Archive was renamed after after him.
This documentary gives some insight into the Yemenite Jewish culture, including the centrality and importance of traditional music and how it fits in to greater Israeli society. One of the most famous Israeli singers, Ofra Haza [1957–2000], was born into a Yemenite Jewish family; her voice propelled her to international recognition, bringing much joy to the world.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Nellie Casman: Yosl Yosl (1923)

Yiddish Performance of the Week


Yosl Yosl, also known as “Oh, Yossel, Yossel,”  was written by Nellie Casman [born in 1896 in Proskurov, Russia–died in 1984 in New York City] and Samuel Steinberg, her husband. The song was made famous in English as “Joseph, Joseph” by the Andrew Sisters in 1938. The English lyrics were written by Sammy Kahn.
Via: Youtube

Yosl Yosl
by Samuel Steinberg
& Nellie Casman

mayn khayes geyt mir oys,
ikh fil ikh halt nit oys,
mayn harts tut mir vey gor on a shir
es iz mir heys un kalt,
un ikh ver groy un alt
un veyst ir mentshn vos es kveylt mir
di libe brent a shrek
ikh fil ikh shtarb avek
nokh mayn yoslen, mayn darling, mayn dear
a bokher a sheyner
mir zol zayn far zayne beyner,
yosl, ikh krapir nokh dir!

oy, oy, oy, yosl, yosl, yosl, yosl,
oy, oy mayn khayes geyt mir oys on dir.
oy, oy, oy, yosl, yosl, yosl, yosl,
dayn malke zitst nokh alts un vart oyf dir.
oy, oy, oy, yosl, yosl, yosl, yosl,
ikh kholem yeder nakht nor fun dir,
un git der yeytser hore
mikh a mol a tore,
yosl, ikh krapir nokh dir!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Bundists of Israel (2012)


Bunda’im (2012): An excellent documentary film on the Bund in Israel, on how they brought their ideas from Poland to Israel, living on a small island of Yiddishkayt as best as they could in the larger sea of Zionism. The Bundists were effectively social democrats, with the organization founded in 1897, the same year as Zionism, with which they differed politically. My father was a member of the Bund in Poland—officially named the General Jewish Labour Bund in Poland (Yiddish: אַלגעמײַנער ײדישער אַרבעטער בּונד אין פוילין‎; Algemeyner yidisher arbeter bund in poyln)—and spoke often about it with great fondness to me. The Bund was dissolved, along with other non-communist parties in Poland, in 1948, when single-party rule became effective. When my father came to Canada, in 1951, he joined Der Arbeter Ring (Yiddish: דער אַרבעטער־רינג; The Workmen’s Circle), an organization that held similar values. Such Jewish values of the Bund were passed down to me, most notably a concern for human welfare and for a just society; such are good, humane and righteous, as are the people who discuss them—they greatly remind me of my father.
Via: Youtube

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: ‘Dad, Why Are You Here’?

Yahrzeit
“Gezen di velt vi es zol zeyn”
“A sach mentshen zeyen, nor vainik fun zai farshtai’en”
Yiddish saying

“and Pharaoh said to his courtiers, ‘Could we find another man like this, 
who clearly has the spirit of God within him?’”

My dad died the day after my 23rd birthday, almost four decades ago. A few days after the funeral, which was on a cold Sunday in early November, I had a dream. I was looking out the second-story window of our family duplex and saw my father walking on the street in front of the house. I was both confused and excited. I ran down the stairs as fast as I could.

My dad was walking slowly and deliberately, so I easily caught up with him a few doors from where we lived. I said, “Dad, why are you here?”  But, I said this in Yiddish: Tate, far vos zenen ir do? He turned around slowly; his face was blank, white and pale, without life. His eyes were stitched tight with black thread. Three ragged rows of black thread; nothing neat about it.

In my dream, I was shocked and horrified by what I saw as unnatural. He was alive, yet his eyes and his face were without life. My father walked away without speaking, without turning around and without any explanation. I never saw him again in a dream. This brief episode left me shaken and with many unanswered questions. I believe that such dreams have important, even essential, meanings.

I do not completely understand this dream: I am in no way like the biblical Joseph of the Torah (Yosef ben Yaakov ben Yitzchak ben Avraham), an interpreter of dreams. His spiritural gift of interpreting dreams got him initially in trouble with his brothers, but his correct interpretation (see Genesis 41) so impressed the Pharaoh that Joseph was immediately raised into a position of authority in ancient Egypt. Such is a rare case and stands out for a reason.

My dream was more personal with less far-reaching economic and political implications. So, when I visited a psychologist afterward and asked him about it, he dismissed it as “only a dream.” He was no believer in Freud and dream interpretation. So I can only hazard an educated guess, based on some combination of rationalization, emotion and life experience.

In my dream, I was happy to see my father, but realized later that he was no longer physically present; his lack of sight and his lack of speech showing me this. Or, perhaps, I was projecting my feelings of uncertainty as to the future onto my father. Many would say that I am making too much of this dream, but here it is almost 40 years later, and I can still recall it as it were yesterday. Clearly, this must mean something to me.

This coincides with my belief that some dreams have a purpose. Perhaps this dream meant that my father could no longer guide me, at least not in the same sense as his physical presence could. The loss was great.


Gut Shabbes
Peretz J. Greenbaum,
November 17, 2017

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This week’s Torah portion or parshah is Toldot (תּוֹלְדֹת; Hebrew for “generations”) found in Genesis 25:19–28:9); it begins with the birth of twin boys, Esau born first and Jacob second (Esav and Yaakov in Hebrew). In a reversal of tradition, the younger receives the blessing from his father, Isaac, which, although achieved by deception with the help of his mother, Rebecca, is nevertheless viewed as God’s will, chiefly because Jacob is more suited for the role. This parshah is ultimately about many things that are important and instructive, including on how the struggle between brothers for their father’s favour and blessings plays out today.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1: ‘Jeremiah’


Lamentation: The third movement of Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1, Jeremiah, with Nan Merriman [1920–2012], mezzo-soprano and Bernstein [1918–1990] conducting the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. This was recorded in 1945, a few years after Bernstein completed it. “The work was finished on 31 December 1942, and is dedicated to my father,” a 24-year-old Bernstein writes. No doubt, horrific events in Europe and in particular the massacre of Jews—the People of the Book—inspired the completion of this work. Those familiar with the tenor of the prophetic books of the Jewish Bible will understand this music’s descent into sadness, speaking of the unconscionable loss and an appeal to the Heavens to remember the promises made. Can one understand (and accept) the incomprehensible and yet remain faithful? It does not seem humanly possible, but many do. One reviewer writes: “The symphony concludes with a Lamentation delivered in words as well as music. The musical sources here are identified by Mr. Gottlieb as ‘the Ashkenazic cantillation of Lamentations 1:1, the liturgical penitential mode used on S'lichoth (Service of Forgiveness) and from a High Holy Day mode, and finally, free cantorial improvisation. Thematic allusions to the first movement indicate that the Prophecy has been fulfilled . . . ’ The Hebrew text sung by the mezzo-soprano is from the Book of Lamentations, Chapter 1, verses 1-4; Chapter 4, verses 14-15; and Chapter 5, verses 20-21; the text given here in English is from the King James Version.” The Jews identity the Book as Eicha (אֵיכָה; Hebrew for “How”); the Hebrew text can be found here.
Via: Youtube

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Book of Lamentations

CHAPTER 1.1-3
How doth the city sit solitary,
That was full of people!
How is she become as a widow?
She that was great among the nations.
And princess among the provinces.
How is she become tributary!

She weepeth sore in the night,
And her tears are on her cheeks;
She hath none to comfort her
Among all her lovers;
All her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
They are become her enemies.

Judah is gone into exile because of affliction.
And because of great servitude;
she dwelleth among the nations,
she findeth no rest.
all her pursuers overtook her
Within the narrow passes.

CHAPTER 1.8
Jerusalem hath grievously sinned...
How doth the city sit solitary
...a widow.

CHAPTER 4.14-15
They wander as blind men in the streets,
they are polluted with blood,
so that men cannot
touch their garments.

Depart, ye unclean! they cried unto them,
Depart, depart! touch us not...

CHAPTER 5.20-21
Wherefore dost thou forget us forever,
and forsake us so long time?...
Turn thou us unto thee, o lord...

Wikipedia writes: “The work was premiered on January 28, 1944, at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh with the composer conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The soloist was Jennie Tourel. It was premiered in New York City on March 29, 1944, at Carnegie Hall, again with Tourel as soloist.”