Monday, January 17, 2011

Limmud NY--more courses, more fun

After all of my blogged protests against the Kol Isha rule (observed to a greater or lesser extent by many Orthodox Jews) forbidding a man to listen to a woman sing (for my newer readers, here's one of my better Kol Isha posts), I couldn't resist going to a class named "Kol Isha" that was taught by a woman and dealt with the subject of women's songs. Noted Yiddish singer Adrienne Cooper presented, and encouraged us to sing, quite an interesting assortment of Yiddish women's songs, including songs of Chalutzot (Pioneers--early residents of what would become the State of Israel). I didn't even know that there were any "Chalutzi" songs written in Yiddish. Not only did the young woman revel in coming home after a day of work in the field to eat "kasha, specially burned by Masha," she also slept in a hay-filled wagon with . . . well, not just herself. I wasn't expecting such frankness, either.
Sarah Aroeste presented a fun session on the history and culture of the Sefardi community. She led us in singing a number of Ladino songs from different eras and areas, explaining that the songs of her Greek ancestors didn’t sound the same as those of the Sefardi Jews of Turkey, for instance. We learned a few interesting things and enjoyed ourselves at the same time. Sefardim fleeing the Spanish Inquisition ended up as far north as Krakow?! Ladino-speakers in Poland?! Who knew?
Sunday night found us at the obligatory thanks and fundraiser mixed with performances by just about every musician present. Afterward, we were greeted outside of the Manhattan Theater by a young teenage boy playing guitar quite well, with his guitar case open and a sign therein saying "busking for Limmud." Yep, even the kids got in on the act.
We went from there to hear a concert by Arnie Davidson, whose contemporary Jewish music, accompanied by his own piano-playing and his old friend EJ Cohen signing some of the songs in American Sign Language of the Deaf, was very nice, indeed. I would describe his style as straight-up folk music with religious lyrics, much of it intended for liturgical use ("I stand before this congregation . . .").
In a total change of pace, Davidson’s concert was followed by that of Darshan, a much-younger Jewish hip-hip group featuring Shir Yaakov Feinstein-Feit on guitar and Ethan Perlstein, a.k.a. Ephryme, as "lead rapper." Shir Yaakov introduced the percussionist, Shoshana Jedwab, as his former day-school teacher (!), and Davidson was invited to join the group onstage, as he’d invited them to join in his own performance. (The whole gang played until the musicians were practically falling over—they said that they’d winged the last 20 minutes or so. I, myself, was given a free ride to the dance floor in a chair by one of the younger women after my bad foot gave out and I started dancing sitting down. How I managed to drag myself out of bed in time for Shacharit (Morning Service) the next (?) morning, I have no idea. :) (Actually, I reminded myself that being able to pray with a minyan without even leaving the building, much less hopping on a subway, was a privilege and opportunity that I shouldn’t throw away.)
More to follow, but posting now, while the coast is clear.
Update, later in the day:
Okay, now I've had an opportunity to edit and to add some more links.
I can't remember when some of my classes took place, so let me just mention them.
The class on alternative interpretations of Akeidah Yitzchak/the Binding of Isaac didn't quite put me as much at ease with the story as I had hoped, but Raziel Haimi-Cohen was a good teacher anyway, and the class had a good discussion. My husband may have a good point--he thinks the person really tested was Yitzchak, who had to be willing to sacrifice himself for HaShem in order to prove himself worthy of being the ancestor of the Jewish People.
Joe Rosenstein's class on the evolution of the liturgy of Rosh HaShanah (Jewish New Year) was fascinating. Apparently, the big holiday--"HaChag"--of ancient times was Sukkot (Feast of Booths), not Pesach (Passover). RH served as a sort of announcement that Simchat Beit HaShoveivah--the water-drawing ceremony and celebration during Sukkot--was soon to arrive, and, for that matter, Yom Kippur provided an opportunity to purify oneself and be forgiven of sin before the big holiday. With the change of RH from a joyous celebration to the beginning of the Penitential Season (according to my notes--and this was the only class in which I took notes --the term "Aseret Y'mei T'shuvah, Ten Days of Repentance" came even later than the lifetime of the Rambam/Maimonides!), the Hallel psalms disappeared from the RH liturgy, since we couldn't very well rejoice and pray for forgiveness at the same time. We're left with a home ritual that looks like a festival ritual--candle-lighting, kiddush, fancy dinner--and a synagogue ritual that's mostly gloom and doom.
Joe finds the U-N'Taneh Tokef prayer way too gloomy and not representative of the usual attitude that HaShem is a forgiving G-d, and wishes that it could be downplayed. I think that he underestimates the role of music, and memories thereof, in the preservation of Jewish liturgy. I've heard rumors that, in the early days of North American Reform Judaism, the Reform Movement tried to drop the Kol Nidrei prayer from the Erev Yom Kippur (Eve of the Day of Atonement) Service and found it impossible because everyone missed the music too much--what was a "Kol Nidrei Service" without the chanting of Kol Nidrei?
Okay, getting out of here so that I'm not late for the Tu BiShevat Seder at the Carlebach Shul.



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