Thursday, November 27, 2008

Garbage in, garbage out

See here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008 A good start

I'm not sure that the new Conservative/Masorti Movement website is exactly the answer to my prayers (so to speak), but it's a darned good beginning. Finally, I don't have to go to the good old Orthodox Union website just to find out when to light Sabbath candles.

Maybe someone's listening, after all.

Bi-coastal, of sorts :)

See here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Shemspeed's first anniversary concert

What a time I had last night at Le Poisson Rouge! Shemspeed threw quite a party to celebrate its first anniversary. Olde dame that I am, and an outer-borough resident, as well, not to mention (fortunately) employed, I had to leave at 10:30 PM, but I still managed to hear—and dance to—several bands.

The first group onstage was Blue Fringe. They wowed the crowd with, among other songs, Shir HaShirim, Etz Chaim, and Anayni. I find Etz Chaim a fascinating song because, although the melody is almost exactly the same as that of one (I know two) of the traditional tunes for Etz Chaim, sung at the end of the Torah service, the instrumental arrangement makes it sound completely different. As for Anayni, it’s my favorite from their latest CD, a heartbreaking and beautiful song about the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.

Next up, if memory serves me correctly, was Avi Fox-Rosen and his band, which sounded considerably more lively than some of the tracks on his MySpace page. I walked out of the room when his band played “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”—I didn’t go to a Jewish rock concert to hear Christmas music. (Grumble.) On the other hand, his crew played a rather amusing song called, I think, “Mount, Dismount,” which, in the classic Mae West manner, didn’t have a single dirty word in it but was full of sexual innuendos from start to finish.

I think the next to appear was Smadar. She put on quite a fine performance, as always, but I really do wish she hadn’t asked the sound technician to put her microphone on the “reverb” setting. She has such a lovely voice, why reduce it to a recording-studio tech trick?

King Django’s Roots and Culture was next up. It never would have occurred to me that one could mix klezmer (with Yiddish vocals) and reggae. Hot sauce, this was fun stuff!

The final performance that I was able to see before I thought it wise to head home was Y-Love, a fellow blogger in addition to being a hip hop artist. He appeared onstage with Shemspeed founder Erez Safar, a.k.a. Diwon (formerly known as DJ Handler), and, for one song, with DeScribe, as well. I didn’t understand a word—I bought Y-Love’s “This Is Babylon” CD so that I could try to catch the lyrics on my own time—but the music really rocked, and half the audience (including yours truly) was dancing its collective feet off.

Side note: This time, I compared my own outfit to that of the other women in the audience (see second-to-last paragraph here). Am I the only woman left in New York City who wears striped blouses and/or non-neutral colors to rock concerts? Well, never mind. I like my burgundy-striped shirt.

Get this: A young woman actually asked me how I came to be there, since I was—as probably the oldest person in the room other than Yossi Piamenta, whose band I couldn’t stay long enough to hear (sniff)—an anomaly, as she so delicately put it. I told her that, as long as it’s not purely a “shidduch scene/”meet” market/matchmaking scene and people are actually listening to the music and dancing, I don’t care about being the oldest dancer at a concert. Have earplugs, will travel. :)

Thanks to Diwon and his Shemspeed crew for a wonderful time. My feet will recover, eventually. :)

Thursday, November 20, 2008 update: You can find the lyrics to Y-Love's raps here. Make sure you're wearing your glasses, though—some of the lyrics are posted in handwritten form.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

ROC House: Rocking out at Cong. Ramath Orah

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I spotted the following in the NY Jewish Week (Manhattan edition only--it's a good thing we often have access to the Manhattan editiion, in addition to our local one--page 20):

"New Upper West Side Music Venue

Congregation Ramath Orah announces the grand opening of their new Jewish music venue, the ROC House. This coming Saturday night . . . "

Aside from the major detail that the announcement omitted some major details, such as the concert's start time and admission fee . . .

So, after Shabbat, I hopped onto the Ramath Orah website and was out the door in a flash to see Sefarad, Yaakov Chesed, and Blue Fringe at 8 PM for a bank-breaking $16. (How either the synagogue or the bands can make any money with an admission fee that low is beyond my comprehension. I sincerely hope that the ROC House has a sponsor subsidizing the concerts.) Unfortunately, I didn't zip out in quite enough of a flash to catch Sefarad--I caught just the last two songs, which were very nice, indeed--but I did get quite an earful of Yaakov Chesed. And an earful it was, too. Fortunately, I came to the conclusion some time back that the only way to be truly fair to a truly loud band is to buy their CD and listen to their music at the volume that I prefer. (Often, but not always, this method also offers the listener the distinct advantage of actually being able to hear the lyrics.) I haven't heard enough of the album to give a full review, but I must say that their V'Ahavta is quite a fine song.

Yaakov Chesed did provide, in addition to some good music, one of the highlights of the evening when the lead singer announced that the band was going to attempt a switch. So I watched and waiting to see what they had in mind. Well, in the middle of the song, the three "string" players each unstrapped their instruments from around their necks. The lead guitarist crossed to stage left and picked up the bass; the bass player crossed to stage right and picked up the guitar; the lead singer and acoustic-rhythm guitarist walked to the back of the stage and waited patiently by the drum set until he heard the bass player rip a few chords on the lead guitar and the lead guitarist lay down the bass beat, then evicted the drummer, confiscated his drumsticks, and started drumming to beat the band, at which point the drummer moved front and center, grabbed a mike and start singing lead! Great fun was has by all. :)

By the way, if you'd like to catch that bass player ripping a few chords on the lead guitar, hear here. I strongly recommend Aryeh Kunstler's album.)

Blue Fringe has changed some since last I saw them--lead singer/rhythm guitarist Dov Rosenblatt has taken to playing an electric, as opposed to an amplified acoustic, guitar much of the time. Dov seems to particularly enjoy simply running the pick over the strings and letting the sound linger, which creates what I can only describe as a kind of shimmering sound. (I shot a video of just Dov and lead guitarist Avi Hoffman--it was too dark to shoot from the back of the room, and I couldn't really stay up front when the full band was playing, because of the volume--but, unfortunately, even that shot, right up under the lights, came out too dark.) I was glad I caught this new variation on an excellent theme. Good show, literally!

Naturally, I was dancing in the back of the room. There was a group of considerably younger folks dancing back there, too, but I was deliberately staying away from them, lest I interfere with a possible shidduch (matchmaking) scene. Imagine my surprise when the entire group walked over to my side of the room and began dancing behind me! (Eek!) Afterword, a young man complimented me on my dancing. He said I'd been hard to miss because I was wearing pink. Pink?! Okay, I have absolutely no interest in or eye for fashion--I didn't even notice what the other women were wearing. But I must admit that I was really quite taken aback. I'd deliberately chosen a blouse in a very muted shade of pink because it wasn't the least bit see-through and seemed an appropriately modest top to wear to an Orthodox synagogue. So much for my theory that I'd chosen a blouse that wouldn't attract attention.

If you enjoy Jewish rock music and live in the New York City metropolitan, you may wish to keep an eye on the Ramath Orah website--apparently, the ROC House plans to schedule a concert every Saturday night until Pesach! Sadly, the building doesn't seem to be accessible to people with mobility problems--there are several steps at the entrance, and a flight of stairs to descend to the downstairs social hall, in which the concert took place. But, if you can handle stairs, maybe I'll see you there--I'll be the olde dame dancing in the back of the room. :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

In which this lazy learner becomes a teacher (eek!)

Start here and work your way up.

I'm not much one for partner dances, not due to sh'mirat n'giah (the prohition against physical contact between men and women not married, or related by blood, to one another), but because spinning makes me dizzy, and partner dances are full of spins. (This does not endear me to my husband, who ends up having to do partner dances with every woman but his wife.) One of my buddies at Israeli folk dancing is also not fond of partner dances, so she and I usually end up sitting out the partner dances together and yakking.

I have no idea how it came about, but one fine day, she started asking me questions about matters Jewish. Next thing you know, it's become a regular "gig"--my buddy actually looks forward to discussing all manner of Jewish topics with me every time we meet at Israeli folk dancing. We've discussed the Agriprocessors kosher meat processor's scandal, and the related topic of what "glatt kosher" means and why there's no such thing as glatt kosher poultry. ("Glatt" means "smooth," and, at least in theory, refers to the lungs of a permissible mammal that does not have even halachically-permissible lesions. The lungs of birds are too small to be checked for lesions.) We talked about why Israelis observe only the first and last days of holiday as full holidays, whereas, in the Diaspora, we observe the first two and last two days as full holidays. (In the days before a set calendar, Jews who were too far from Jerusalem were not sure which day had been declared the first of the month, and, therefore, weren't sure on which day the holidays actually started, and, naturally, stiff-necked people that we are, we've maintained the two-days tradition even though we've had a fixed calendar for ,what, a thousand years now?) We've talked about free will, where G-d was during the Holocaust (giving us strength), and whether Judaism is more trouble than it's worth (depends on your attitude--my favorite biblical quote, from Psalm 100, is "Ivdu et Hashem b'simchah, Serve G-d with joy.").

This interesting situation reminds me of something that sometime-commenter The Rabbi's Husband once said (more or less--this isn't exactly a word-for-word quote): Among non-Orthodox Jews, I'm sometimes considered relatively learnèd. I have often found that to be the case among those who, like me, were not blessed with a Jewish-day-school or yeshiva education. But it's still a strange feeling for a lazy learner who's largely self-taught to find herself being considered a teacher.

Hmm, wonder what we'll talk about tonight?

Confessions of a lazy learner

If I were a serious learner, I wouldn’t have stopped taking my recent Ulpan Hebrew classes on the grounds that I no longer have the self-discipline to memorize pages of vocabulary words (as I did when I was studying French in high school and earning a BA therein in college) and could no longer justify paying the substantial tuition.

If I were a serious learner, I’d be the first one on line (or online) to register for classes at JTS (I actually considered studying liturgy there, but wasn’t sure I was ready for serious academic studies), Drisha, Yeshivat Hadar or a similarly serious institution of Jewish learning.

But I’m not. I prefer my learning in small, and interesting, bites.

So my main sources of learning, to date, have been family; friends; "regulars" at the various synagogues that I've attended regularly over the years; fellow and sister members of chavurot; rabbis, cantors, and other learnèd Jews (of whom I should say that I’ve been fortunate enough to have the friends and learnèd folks overlap, occasionally); the siddur (prayer book); the Chumash; Jewish music; and—yes, Virginia—the Jewish blogosphere.

Long-time readers will remember the fun I’ve had as a quote-hunter (see here and, especially, here (with the links to previous quote-hunter posts). I still get a kick out of finding new connections between the Chumash and the siddur—just this past Shabbat/Sabbath, I spotted a quote in Haftarat Lech L’cha, “hanoten layaef choach,” (who gives strength to the weary),” that appears in one of the b’rachot (blessings) of Birkot HaShachar (the Morning Blessings). And I get my jollies when I figure out where the lyrics to a contemporary Jewish song come from, whether I figure it out myself or persuade a kind composer to spill the beans. (I just sent an e-mail to a Jewish singer/songwriter/guitarist asking where he got the words to one of his songs.)

From the Jblogosphere, I developed further my understanding (which I’d begun to pick up at my Orthodox non-profit employer’s office) that the Orthodox world is not divided evenly between Modern Orthodox Jews and Chassidim, and picked up the “dress code,” more or less. I’ve learned all manner of concepts and quotes (“dan l’kaf z’chut,” roughly, “give someone the benefit of the doubt) and vocabulary (kefirah, kofer = heresy [atheism?], heretic [atheist?]), and have taken part in all manner of interesting discussions that showed me the breadth of opinions within the Jewish community as a whole. I’ve “met” members of that oft-maligned “group” known as “settlers,” with whom I’ve sometimes agreed, sometimes disagreed, and often been of two minds (follow the links). It’s been quite an education, in both religious and Zionist terms.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Riskin lecture: "Living in a West Bank Settlement"

Doctor Rabbi Shlomo Riskin (that's the way he was introduced) spoke Monday night, November 3, at the 92nd Street Y on the subject "Living in a West Bank Settlement: Biblical & Personal Ethical Dilemmas."

Speaking from a biblical/historic perspective, he said that the offer of one's handmaid as a surrogate mother was sanctioned by the Code of Hammurabi, as was the surrogate mother's demotion from co-wife if she behaved arrogantly toward the first wife. But he said that the rabbis condemned Sarah's treatment of Hagar as unduly harsh. He also said that the Akeidah/Binding of Isaac was Hashem's punishment of Abraham for having sent Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness with inadequate provisions and no money with which to buy more, essentially condemning them to die (in the chapter immediately preceeding the Akedah), in that Hashem forced Avraham to witness the near-death of Yitzchak (Isaac) just as Avraham had forced Hagar to witness the near-death of Yishmael (Ishmael). This, I hadn't heard before, and it certainly puts an interesting spin on the Akeidah. I regret that the text itself does not seem to support this interpretation, since nowhere in the Akeidah story does Hashem (or the angel) indicate that the near-sacrifice of Yitzchak was a punishment for the near-death of Yishmael.

Riskin also opined that, when Sarah said, based on Yishmael's mockery (m'tzachek), interpreted to be mockery of Yitzchak (Genesis 21:9), "the son of this bondwoman will not be heir with my son (Parshat Vayera, Genesis 21:10)," she was not proscribing, she was predicting. Yishmael's descendants, or, at least, their leaders, are not interested in sharing with Yitzchak's descendants--they want it all. The Arabs of the villages are interested in peace, he said, but the leadership is determined to rid "their" turf of Israel completely, one way or the other, even assassinating a local Arab who'd been working with him to help establish a medical clinic run by Palestinian doctors for Palestinians. Consequently, though he still believes that, eventually, there should be a two-state solution, he doesn't see it happening until the Muslim world is willing to see the Temple Mount shared between the mosques and a Jewish house of worship. When I asked him whether he was concerned that this struggle for control of the land might turn into a 200-year war, he answered, "We waited 2,000 years . . ." and said no more.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Shabbat's ER adventure, or hospital high-tech hijinks

First, they put the squeeze on the hubster with one of those dreadful automatic blood-pressure cuffs that I hate. Talk about being in a bind . . .

Then, they assigned him to an Emergency Room bed that was defective--the mattress couldn't be lowered to a flat position. I insisted that they move him to the empty bed next to him.

To top it off, they tried to take his temperature with one of those high-tech thermometers connected to a hand-held mini-computer (or the like), but the contraption was broken, and they had to find another one.

I would say that the only relief my husband got was comic, but the doc did kick him out in mid-afternoon for being too healthy, which is to say that his latest kidney stone decided to leave him alone after a few hours.

All told, he would have preferred Shabbat Noach to Shabbat ER.
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