Friday, April 29, 2011

Fiddler On The Roof: L'Chaim

This is a scene from L'Chaim (To Life) from the 1971 film, Fiddler on the Roof, set in Anatevka, a fictional village in The Pale of czarist Russia of 1905. The dancing is part of a celebration of an intended betrothal of one of Tevye's three daughters, Tzeitel to Lazar Wolf, a butcher. (In contravention to tradition, Tzeitel protests and ends up marrying someone else, whom she declares she loves, Motel, a poor tailor.)

The scene becomes more tense when Russian peasants suddenly enter the party, and at first the Jews are nervous about the unannounced and uninvited guests, not sure what their intentions are. But they enter with songs on their lips, always a good sign, rather than guns on their hips. They sing a song of good health to all.

There is still some unease, the history is long and complicated and as precarious as "a fiddler on the roof." But once the Jewish residents see the intentions are honorable, they accept their guests. Both dance, each according to his traditions, to the good news of the impending marriage—a universal theme of joy, happiness and life. It reminds of what my mother, ז״ל, used to say many years ago: "I wish all people could get along."

The Jewish Prodigal

Reflections & Religion

This essay is a continuation of a previous post, The Jewish Way.

"For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."
—Matthew 5:20, Christian Bible

These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans;  but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
—Matthew 10: 5-6, Christian Bible

But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
Matthew 15:24, Christian Bible

Return of the Prodigal Son: "The Holy One, blessed be God, said to Israel: 'My children, present to me a single opening of repentance, small like the eye of a needle, and I will open for you entrances through which wagons and carriages can pass.'" –Shir Hashirim Rabbah 5:3
Painter: Pompeo Batoni [1708-87]: Painted in 1773
Source: Wikipedia

As is common with many educated, well-read and intellectually honest and curious persons, I have read both the Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible, including the New Testament. I have also read much of the surrounding literary works of both acclaimed Jewish and Christian writers and have enjoyed, for the most part, what they have written, although not always in agreement with their ideas or aims.

One of the most common themes in literature is teshuvah, or return and repentance. I am not a follower of the Christian tradition by any means, but one of the most famous stories that focuses on this theme in the Christian faith is The Prodigal Son.

It is a touching parable attributed to Jesus of Nazareth about a wayward son who asks for his inheritance when his father is still alive—a real slap in the face of tradition—squanders it living the high life, and ends up destitute and feeding the pigs, an unkosher animal that symbolizes non-Jewish ways and traditions. He eventually makes it home, expecting to be treated with contempt, but is instead received in kindness and joy as a king.

In the Christian tradition, the story is significant in that it speaks about God's patient and enduring love for humanity in general and his love for his own, in this case, followers of the Christian church in particular. There is no getting way from that reality when one reads the Christian interpretation of the story, even from the most liberal and Judaic-knowledgeable and -aware sources.

Even so, the conventional Christian interpretation, as full of humanity and humility it contains, surely misses the mark. Unfortunately, this view, even shared by Christian scholars and theologians of first-rank minds, fails to take into account a few essential points. In short, the whole social and cultural history of the parable and frame it within the proper context.

That being said, I would like to add another interpretation of this famous and well-liked parable. A midrash so to speak, in a sort of inquiry to the narrative's meaning. I am not a biblical scholar or a Judaic studies scholar, but I am fairly familiar with the biblical narratives contained in the main books of both Judaism and Christianity and the traditions that inform them. So I say this not without knowledge or thought. The story of the Prodigal Son is actually about Jewish teshuvah or return to Jewish ways and values.

That is, the story is directed only at Jesus' co-religionists at the time, his fellow Jews. His message is directly aimed at the idea of  maintaining their Jewish ways and traditions, even in the face of opposition and the temptation to assimilate into the larger surrounding culture of Hellenistic Greece, which still had resonance in Roman-conquered Judea.  There is no getting away from that fact, and I am not sure how Christians today can read anything but that essential truth into the story.

Return of the Prodigal Son:  "To bring another to repentance, I go down all the steps until I reach his level. Then I bind the roots of my soul to the roots of his soul, and together our souls repent." –Rabbi Zusya of Anipol
Painter: James Tissot [1836-1902]. Painted between 1886 and 1894.
Source: Brooklyn Museum in New York

The Jewish Context

In the end we have to see what the text says. So, at the risk of offending some Christian sensibilities, and I expect I will against my best intentions, there is some important context that is missing from the conventional Christian reading. Such happens often when a reader interprets a particular narrative with preconceived conclusions about the text's meaning. In a sense, reading into the text ideas and traditions that matured later, when the text was emended to conform to the later Christian tradition and practices. Thus explains the conventional Christian reading of the text, found in the Christian New Testament, about a people (Christians) that yet did not exist.

Yet, the centre does not hold. After Jesus of Nazareth was executed by the Romans for sedition for seemingly calling for an insurrection against the established order, a conclusion that fearfully and naturally came to those leaders when he publicly declared himself King-Messiah of the Jewish People, he became another Jew brutally executed by the Romans. The long-hoped and -awaited outcome of the Messiah's power to bring about peace and justice never materialized for the Jewish People. Or for any people for that matter. Nothing really changed for centuries.

Thus, given such context, here are some points to note:
  • Jesus of Nazareth was a practicing Pharisee; as were his disciples.
  • As a Pharisee, Jesus was never against Pharisees; nor was he in the main against the traditions of normative Judaism. He spoke harshly only against certain ceremonial laws and traditions that burdened people.
  • Jesus' mission, for want of a better word, was only to Jews, to the "House of Israel," as he put it. Jesus of Nazareth displayed a marked chauvinism toward his people, which would be expected from a Pharisee from Galilee under Roman oppression.
  • All his parables were directed at his fellow co-coreligionists, the Jewish People. 
  • Jesus of Nazareth had no desire to start another religion. He operated within the bounds of Judaism and the Laws of Moses, which he kept. I sense that he would have been horrified to see the handiwork of Paul of Tarsus.
Such is a good starting point to discuss the parable and derive a meaning from it. To a great degree, Jesus of Nazareth, viewed himself as the long-awaited Jewish messiah, and would have been surprised, if not shocked, to see a new religion, apart from Judaism, founded in his name. Such is well-argued by Hyam Maccoby, a Jewish scholar, in The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity (1986):
Jesus and his immediate followers were Pharisees. Jesus had no intention of founding a new religion. He regarded himself as the Messiah in the normal Jewish sense of the term, i.e. a human leader who would restore the Jewish monarchy, drive out the Roman invaders, set up an independent Jewish state, and inaugurate an era of peace, justice and prosperity (known as "the kingdom of God.") for the whole world. Jesus believed himself to be the figure prophesised in the Hebrew Bible who would do all these things. He was not a militarist and did not build up an army to fight the Romans, since he believed that God would perform a great miracle to break the power of Rome (p. 15).
So, if Jesus of Nazareth didn't have a new religion or way in mind, who did? That distinction goes to Paul (or Saul) of Tarsus. If you read the the text critically, you will come to the same conclusion. Many scholars, including Maccoby, have argued, and I think rather successfully, that Paul invented Christianity "as a new religion, which developed away from both normal Judaism and the Nazarene variety of Judaism. In the new religion, the Torah was abrogated as having had only temporary validity" (16).

Another Jewish scholar who wrote a ground-breaking work almost one hundred years ago was Joseph Klausner, a professor of Hebrew history and literature at Hebrew University. In Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teaching (1922), Klausner placed Jesus within the framework of First Century Judaism as a great teacher of morality, who was pure in his teaching while expounding undiluted Hebraic thought, free from any prevailing ideas of the surrounding culture:
Jesus of Nazareth, however, was a product of Palestine alone, a product of Judaism unaffected by any foreign admixture. There were many Gentiles in Galilee, but Jesus was in no way influenced by them. In his days Galilee was the stronghold of the most enthusiastic Jewish patriotism. Jesus spoke Aramaic and there is no hint that he knew Greek—none of his sayings show any clear mark of Greek literary influence. Without any exception he is wholly explained by the scriptural and Pharisaic Judaism of his time. (p. 363).
Jesus is not many, if not most, of the things that the Christian tradition has ascribed to him, including him being divine, an affront to the teachings of the Torah and the Shema. Despite what even well-meaning Christian writers have said, the Jewish People could never accept such a teachings two thousand years ago, nor could they accept it today, so great is the distance from traditional Judaism.

Judaism has a much longer history and tradition, rich in writing, argument and literature. So where does Jesus fit in? Klausner places him in the proper place: "But Jesus is, for the Jewish nation, a great teacher of morality and an artist in parable." (414)

So, that being clear, we can now we return to the parable of the prodigal son, and its place within the literature of Judaism and Christianity. So, where does that leave the Gentiles in the story? one may ask. At the same place Gentiles have always been. Within a set of beliefs and traditions within a structured narrative. I would be foolish to think the arguments I put forward in my simple midrash will change someone's views, let alone two thousand years of Christian tradition. That would be impossible, and it's not my intent.

The intent here is to bring about a Jewish perspective from someone outside the Christian tradition. And to make people consider other points of view. To Think. To Review. To Discuss. In the Jewish tradition, Jesus of Nazareth is looked upon with suspicion, hesitation, fear and hostility. Such are natural, normal and expected responses to almost two thousand years of persecution in the name of Jesus. The result has been that Jews have been reluctant to discuss such things, and it's understandable why many don't.

That the Pauline writings, anti-Jewish sentiments and Christian tradition the last two thousand years have conspired to divorce Jesus  from his Jewish soul, or neshamah, and turn him into something foreign is assuredly outside his doing or control. But recent scholarship in the last century—some of which I have cited— has changed such views, albeit gradually, perhaps grudgingly. Jesus of Nazareth comes into sharper view.

Jesus of Nazareth was a man who considered himself a zealous messiah for his people. This is in addition to him being a Pharisee and a follower of the Laws of Moses. He fits in squarely among the great moral teachers of his time. This is clear if you read his sayings and the historical accounts with a clear and honest eye and mind.

Teshuvah, the Return to the Jewish Way

The parable of the prodigal or lost son might have universal resonance as a message of love, hope, redemption and forgiveness. But that might not be the parable's original intent, when one considers that it was delivered by Jesus of Nazareth, the Galilean Pharisee, to a Jewish audience in a form of a parable to hide its meaning from non-Jewish ears.

If that is understood and accepted, then the story becomes clearer. much like a negative put in developing solution. It's about maintaining the traditions of Judaism and the ways of the Jewish People in the face of opposition, both physical and spiritual.

Moreover, the parable becomes a reminder to the Jewish audience that the dangers of assimilation and integration are real and great, but one can either resist or not and always return to the Jewish fold, as the prodigal son did, and reap the rewards of the Jewish Way. The reward, for the Jews, is to live in conformance to the thousands of years of hard-fought and deeply thought traditions, from Moses downward.

Equally important, the text shows that Jesus of Nazareth was sincere about himself being the instrument to bring freedom, justice and peace to his people and usher in the messianic age. That he failed is also undeniable. So did many others, who claimed the mantle of Jewish Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth was one of the first of many. But he failed as a Jewish Messiah. That is an important and fair distinction to make.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Joseph Lister: Father of Antiseptic Surgery

Great Advances in Science

The frequency of disastrous consequences in compound fracture, contrasted with the complete immunity from danger to life or limb in simple fracture, is one of the most striking as well as melancholy facts in surgical practice.
Lord Joseph Lister,
On a New Method of Treating Compound Fracture, Abscesses, etc:
With Observations on the Conditions of Supperation, Part I.
The Lancet
(1867): 326

Lister saw the vast importance of the discoveries of Pasteur. He saw it because he was watching on the heights, and he was watching there alone.
Sir Thomas Clifford Allbutt,
Baron Joseph Lister, The Encyclopædia Britannica (1911), 778.

Before Joseph Lister's discoveries and observations helped advance surgical practices one hundred fifty years ago, many persons would die from post-surgical complications, typically infections. Lister's recommendations to use the antiseptic carbolic acid, now known as phenol, in the surgical theatre in mid-Victorian England greatly increasing the survival of persons having what today would be considered routine surgeries, such as repairing a compound fracture.

In a compound fracture, for example, the bone breaks through the skin, exposing the wound. In such cases, although patients might have survived the surgery, they often died from gangrene. After his own research, and reading about the work of Louis Pasteur and Ignaz Semmelweis, he began to place dressings soaked with carbolic acid (phenol) to cover the wound and the rate of infection was vastly reduced.

Lister then experimented with hand-washing, sterilizing instruments and spraying carbolic in the theatre while operating in order to limit infection. The machine sprayed a fine mist of carbolic acid over the wound, thus keeping it free from infection. Although better methods were soon invented, this initial discovery greatly decreased the mortality rate after operations.

This was only the beginning in making the connection between a sterile operating theater and higher survival rates. We now take these things for granted, but it took years to convince the medical establishment of its validity, as is common with revolutionary ideas. Many were still mired in the theories of miasma, or poor air quality.

Operations were performed by doctors who didn't wash hands and worked under less-than-sterile conditions. While ward cleanliness was an important step, and we can thank Florence Nightingale for such improvements,  it was not as important as controlling and preventing infections caused by bacteria invading an open wound. Many physicians didn't understand or accept the ideas of microbes, or bacteria, that they couldn't see. Once again, a lot had to do with Lister's early years, what he viewed and what was deemed important.

Born to A Quaker Family

Joseph Lister was born to Isabelle Harris and Joseph Jackson Lister in Upton, Essex, England (now a suburb of London), on April 5, 1827. His father was a Fellow of the Royal Society and inventor of the achromatic lens for microscopes, leading to Lister's interest in microbiology. Joseph was born into a family of Quakers, and attended their schools in Hertfordshire and London.

He attended the University of London, and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in 1847. He continued his studies, after surviving a case of smallpox, and entered the University of London's medical school. Lister graduated with degrees in medicine and surgery in 1850. He was an excellent student, winning two gold medals for his academic achievements. He continued on and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) in 1852.

While a surgeon on staff at the University of London's Hospital, he was in charge of some cases during an outbreak of gangrene at the hospital. Using the tools of his father's invention, the achromatic microscope, he was led to believe that the conventional wisdom, germs in the air, was wrong:
He was thus early led to suspect the parasitic nature of the disorder, and searched with the microscope the material of the spreading sore, in the hope of discovering in it some invading fungus; he soon convinced himself of the cardinal truth that its causes were purely local. He also minutely investigated cases of pyaemia, another terrible scourge of hospitals at that time, and made camera lucida sketches of the appearances revealed by the microscope.
The real culprit were germs on the clothes and hands of the surgeons and medical staff. But Lister did not yet have a scientific explanation. That would come years later. He then served as assistant to the leading Scottish surgeon James Syme at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, Scotland, from 1854 until 1860. In 1856, Lister married Syme’s daughter Agnes, and joined her as a member of the Anglican Church, of which he remained a member until his death. The couple had no children.

It was said that Agnes was a great help her husband, "helping with experiments and writing up his notes," Ann Lamont writes in Joseph Lister: Father of Modern Surgery.

In 1860, Lister became a professor of surgery at University of Glasgow and its Royal Infirmary. Then and there a number of things came together. For one, he observed that between 45 and 50 percent of amputation patients died from sepsis (infection). After he had read about Louis Pasteur's ground-breaking work on the theory of germs in 1865, it gave him a scientific basis for his clinical studies that he started in earnest a year earlier, in 1864.

Surgeons Using Lister's Antiseptic Method: Joseph Lister, centre, guiding the use of the carbolic spray apparatus on the right.
Photo Credit & Source: Chemistry Explained.
In a now-famous paper, "On a New Method of Treating Compound Fracture, Abscesses, etc: With Observations on the Conditions of Supperation, Part 1,"  that Lister wrote when he was professor of surgery at the University of Glasgow, and published in the British medical journal, The Lancet (July 27, 1867), we can see the scientific lessons learned:
Bearing in mind that it is from the vitality of the atmospheric particles that all the mischief arises, it appears that all that is requisite is to dress the wound with some material capable of killing these septic germs, provided that any substance can be found reliable for this purpose, yet not too potent as a caustic.

In the course of the year 1864 I was much struck with an account of the remarkable effects produced by carbolic acid upon the sewage of the town of Carlisle, the admixture of a very small proportion not only preventing all odour from the lands irrigated with the refuse material, but, as it was stated, destroying the entozoa which usually infest cattle fed upon such pastures.
In 1869 Lister left Glasgow for the University Edinburgh where he was named professor of surgery. As time progressed, the new theory of germs gained greater acceptance. But it was not until Lister was appointed chair and professor of  clinical surgery at King’s College Hospital in London, in 1877, that he began to win over the English doctors.

By 1879, Lister’s principle of antiseptic surgery had gained almost universal acceptance. While his method, based on the use of antiseptics, is no longer used today in modern hospitals (asepsis), his principle—that bacteria must be prevented from entering a wound—remains the basis of surgery to this day.

After his wife died on a rare holiday, in Italy, in 1892, Lister retired from medicine in 1893. The loss of his wife sunk him into some despair, his routine disrupted. Writing and research became less important to him. 

Lister received many honours. In 1883, Queen Victoria knighted him as Sir Joseph Lister. In 1897, he was given the title Lord Lister of Lyme Regis. He was first to be made a British peer for services to medicine. In 1902, he was given the Order of Merit, and made a Privy Councillor. Also named in his honour is the bacterial genus Listeria. On the commercial level, in 1879, Listerine mouthwash was named after him for his work in antisepsis.

Joseph Lister died at Walmer, Kent, his country home on February 10, 1912. He was eighty-four. After a funeral service at Westminster Abbey, Lister was buried at Hampstead Cemetery, Fortune Green, London

The Sad Story of Ignaz Semmelweis

It's important to remember that achievement, discovery and advancement is rarely if ever done in isolation. It is usually built upon the findings of others who preceded you. In the case of Lister, his work was based on the work of Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865), a Hungarian physician who was unsuccessful in convincing the medical establishment of the need for hand washing to reduce the cases of puerperal fever among pregnant women. His temperament differed from Lister's no doubt.

After more than fifteen years trying to establish this antiseptic technique, he suffered a nervous breakdown and was forcefully committed to an insane asylum, where he was severely beaten. Semmelweis died of pyemia (blood poisoning) from a gangrenous wound two weeks later, possibly from the beatings, on August 13, 1865. In an article on Semmelweis, John H. Lienhard writes:
That same year Joseph Lister begins spraying a carbolic acid solution during surgery to kill germs. In the end, it's Lister who gives our unhappy hero his due. He says, "Without Semmelweis, my achievements would be nothing."
That says a lot about both Drs Lister and Semmelweis. Their work, done at different times and different nations, is a victory for humane medicine.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Yehudi Menuhin: Schubert's Ave Maria

Yehudi Menuhin plays Schubert's Ave Maria, in a 1947 performance with  Adolph Baller as pianist. For several years Baller accompanied Menuhin in performances throughout the world and performed in chamber concerts. Under Menuhin's patronage, Baller, along with  Gabor Rejto and Roman Totenberg formed the Alma Trio in 1942.

Franz Peter Schubert [1797-1828] wrote the Ave Maria in 1825 when he was twenty-eight years old. It is part of a cycle of several songs Schubert wrote for Sir Walter Scott's "Lady of the Lake." In his brief but productive career, Schubert penned almost one thousand works, most of them songs. But he also wrote nine complete symphonies, and two movements of an unfinished symphony. Franz Schubert died of typhoid fever at thirty-one.


There is a story as to how Yehudi Menuhin [1916-1999] got his first name. It has everything to do with the zeitgeist of some parts, and some people, who resided in New York City during the early part of the twentieth century.

Before Yehudi was born in 1916, his parents, Marutha and Moshe Menuhin, were looking for an apartment to rent near a park. After they passed inspection from the landlady, she remarked that they were a nice couple. She added, not knowing their origins, "And you'll be glad to know I don't take Jews," which was supposed to be a reassuring remark in certain quarters.

Needless to say, Menuhin's parents didn't rent from this anti-Semitic landlady, since they were decidedly Jewish and aghast that such sentiments could prevail, even in America. His mother, Marutha, then vowed that she would name her unborn child so as to ensure that no one would forget who he was. Thus the name Yehudi, or "The Jew."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hank Greenberg: More Than A Baseball Player

Great Legends of Sport

The Pied Piper enjoyed people enjoying themselves. He was colorblind and race-blind and religion-blind.
Hank Greenberg

When you're playing, awards don't seem like much. Then you get older and all of it becomes more precious. It is nice to be remembered.

Hank Greenberg

When I was playing, I used to resent being singled out as a Jewish ballplayer. I wanted to be known as a great ballplayer, period. I’m not sure why or when I changed, because I’m still not a particularly religious person. Lately, though, I find myself wanting to be remembered not only as a great ballplayer, but even more as a great Jewish ballplayer.
Hank Greenberg

Hank Greenbeg, number 5 with the Detroit Tigers, at the 1937 All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. on July 7th. It was the first of five All-Star games he would play in his career. His number 5 was retired by the Tigers in 1983.
Photo Credit: Harris & Ewing, 1937.
Source: Wikipedia

Hank Greenberg was a Jewish athlete who played professional baseball for the Detroit Tigers in the nineteen thirties and forties, when the world, including the United States, was undergoing another spasm of anti-Semitism feelings. He played in a city that was home to the automotive industry and Henry Ford, who used his newspaper to fuel anti-Jewish sentiment and cause discord and dissension in America.

No doubt, such racial miasma made life as a baseball player more difficult for Greenberg, who handled himself for the most part with equanimity and let his athletic achievements, especially his bat, do the talking on the sports field. For secular Jews, he was considered "the baseball Moses."

Such thoughts are driven home in The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, a 1998 documentary by Aviva Kempner, which includes archival footage of Greenberg himself. His importance to American Jews as a figure who stood for freedom and human dignity stands out.
"Baseball was our way of showing that we were as American as anyone else," said Alan Dershowitz, noted civil-liberties lawyer and Harvard professor of law. You can view a short clip here.

In thirteen seasons, chiefly with the Tigers, Greenberg, who stood six-foot-four and weighed two hundred and ten pounds, belted 331 homers, had 1,276 RBIs and achieved a respectable lifetime batting average of .313. The first baseman (and later leftfielder) played on five All-Star games: in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940 and 1945. He was on two World Series-winning teams: in 1935 and 1945; and was named American League MVP in 1935 and 1940.
In 1938, he threatened to best Babe Ruth's home run record, ending with 58 home runs to Ruth's 60. (His full stats can be found here.)

His playing
career lasted between 1930 and 1947, it curtailed during his prime when Greenberg lost almost four years, between 1941 and 1945, to serve in the U.S. Army Air Force in southeast Asia during the Second World War. He served forty-five months, the longest of any professional baseball player. He left the military with the rank of captain.

But even that distinction would never amount to much for certain ugly elements in society, who know only how to hate and thrive on it, using nationalism and religious affiliation in its most basest form:

Greenberg’s athletic rise was in lockstep (certainly not in goosestep) with that of Hitler. Anti-Semitism was surging during one of the United States’ periodic fits of nativism, and Detroit was its hot centre, with Henry Ford’s newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, existing mainly to attack Jews, and Rev. Charles Coughlin spewing his venom over the radio.

Thus, Greenberg, a huge and powerful man who withstood with dignity (mostly; early on he got into a few scraps) the constant taunting of fans (“Christ-killer!”) and opposing teams, came to be seen as a symbol of Jewish power and resistance – and his famous decision not to play on Yom Kippur [in 1934] during the heat of a pennant race as a powerful symbol of tribal loyalty.

It's true that Greenberg was not overtly religious, not by any means. But he very much a cultural Jew, a product of his times. His reasons centred on family loyalty and loyalty to his people. The opposition he received, as always a waste of energy, in many ways emboldened Greenberg. "I found that it was a spur to make me do better," Greenberg said in a 1983 interview.

He was not one to back away from any fight, and was deeply loyal, if not to a tradition that he didn't follow, then to a people with which he closely and intimately identified.
For those who look at loyalty as a quaint relic from the past, it's clear that such individuals have none. His upbringing in New York City gives us clues and insights to Hank Greenberg the man.

The 1937 All-Star Game in Washington, D.C.: "A million dollar base-ball flesh is represented in these sluggers of the two All- Star Teams which met in the 1937 game at Griffith Stadium today. (Left to right): Lou Gehrig, Joe Cronin, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Charley Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg."
Photo Credit: Harris & Ewing, 1937 July 7
Source: U.S. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Div.

His Upbringing in New York City

Hank Greenberg was born Hyman Greenberg to David and Sarah Greenberg (nee Schwartz) in Greenwich Village, New York City, on January 1, 1911, the second-youngest of four children. His parents, Jewish immigrants originally from Romania, owned a successful cloth-shrinking plant in New York. 
Initially, the family lived in tenements on Barrow Street and then Perry Street in the Lower East Side.  Hank had two brothers, Benjamin, four years older, and Joesph, five years younger, who also played baseball, and a sister, Lillian, two years older.

His family moved to the Bronx, to Crotona Park, a Jewish neighborhood, when he was six. The family kept a kosher home and Hank was sent to Hebrew school. Afterward, he attended James Monroe High School, and even though he had flat feet, Greenberg excelled at basketball and baseball. Flat feet prevented Greenberg from running fast, but he worked hard to overcome such deficiency. His preference was baseball and first base. His decision to become a baseball player was perplexing and initially a disappointing one to his immigrant parents, who would have preferred him to go to university and become a professional, such a doctor, lawyer or teacher.

Although he was recruited by the New York Yankees
in 1929, Greenberg turned them down, The Yankees had a formidable first baseman in Lou Gehrig, a future Hall of Famer. Greenberg attended New York University for a year, and then signed with the Detroit Tigers for $9,000 in 1930. He made his major league debut with the Tigers on September 14, 1930. Greenberg had one plate appearance.

He then was sent to the minor leagues for the next three years to gain some experience. He rejoined the Tigers for the 1933 season after proving himself in the Texas League, where he hit  39 homers with 131 RBIs and was the league MVP.

In 1933, his first full major league season, he hit .301 with 87 RBIs. In 1934, his second major-league season, he hit .339 and helped the Tigers reach their first World Series in 25 years, where they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.

He compiled impressive stats. By 1940, he had hit his stride,
voted to the All-Star team for the fourth year in a row. He led the league in a number of areas, including home runs (41), RBIs (150), total bases (384), and slugging percentage (.670). He was a dominant player. He led the Tigers to a pennant and won the league's MVP award for the second time. Then came the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941,and the U.S. entry into the War.

Greenberg was the first major-league player to enlist in the army. During the Second World War, Greenberg  served overseas with the
U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF)  for forty-five months. He commanded a B-29 bomber squadron in the China-Burma-India theater. Greenberg remained in uniform until the summer of 1945, where he left with the rank of captain.

In Greenberg's first game back after being discharged, on July 1, he homered. Without the benefit of spring training, he returned to the Tigers, was again voted to the All-Star Team, and helped lead them to a come-from-behind American League pennant, clinching it with a grand slam home run in the dark—no lights in Sportsman's Park in St. Louis-ninth inning of the final game of the season.
The Tigers went on to win the World Series in seven games agianst the Chicago Cubs.

In 1947, Greenberg and the Tigers were embroiled in lengthy salary dispute. When Greenberg decided to retire rather than play for less, Detroit sold his contract to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pittsburgh made Greenberg the first baseball player to earn over $80,000. In his last year with the Pirates, in 1947, Greenberg helped another trail-blazer, Jackie Robinson, adjust to breaking baseball's colour barrier:

Jackie Robinson gave credit to Hank Greenberg for an incident that happened during the early part of his career as the first black player in Major League Baseball. In his retirement article that appeared in "Look" magazine, Robinson recalled his meeting with Greenberg. Robinson was standing on first base while Greenberg was in the field for the Pirates.

Robinson wrote, "He (Greenberg) suddenly turned to me and said, 'A lot of people are pulling for you to make good. Don't ever forget it.' I never did."

Post-Player Years

Such is the mark of the man. Greenberg played his last game on
September 18, 1947. Following his career as a player, Greenberg stayed in baseball. In 1948, Bill Veeck hired Greenberg to serve as the director of the Cleveland Indians' farm system. In 1950, he became the Indians' general manager where under his leadership the team that ended the Yankees' streak of pennants in 1954. In 1959, he became part owner and vice-president of the Chicago White Sox. He retired from baseball completely in 1963 and became a successful investment banker.

He was elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame in 1956, the first Jewish player to gain such distinction, garnering 85 percent of the vote. The Sporting News also ranked Greenberg, in 1999,
number 37 on its list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players of all time.

Greenberg married twice. He married Caral Lasker Gimbel, heiress to the New York department store family on February 18, 1946, in a civil ceremony in Brunswick, Georgia, away from the glare of publicity. It was his first marriage, her second. He was thirty-five; she was thirty. They had three children—Glenn, Stephen and Alva—before divorcing in 1959. In 1966, Greenberg married Mary Jo Tarola, a minor Hollywood actress who appeared on-screen as Linda Douglas, and remained with her until his death. They had no children.

His influence among the Jewish community when he was playing was immense. So much so that Alan Dershowitz, the well-known legal mind, once said: "I thought he'd become the first Jewish president."

Hyman Hank Greenberg died of cancer in Beverly Hills, California, on September 4, 1986. Greenberg was seventy-five.  His remains were entombed at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, in Culver City, California.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Barbra Streisand: Memory

Memory is a show tune from Cats, a 1981 Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on T.S. Eliot's Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. The song itself is based on Eliot's poem, "Rhapsody on a Windy Night."

The musical ran for twenty-one years in London's West End and eighteen in New York's Broadway. It was the longest running musical on Broadway until another Andrew Lloyd Webber production, The Phantom of the Opera, overtook it in 2006.

The song, Memory, is performed by Grizabella, who has fallen on hard times and remembers her once glorious self in more glamorous times. Even so, she decides not to give up, press forward, and start again a new life. It is a touching reminder that we can often start again, no matter how bleak the circumstances might at first seem.

The song is sung briefly in the first act and in full near the end of the show. Memory marks the climax of the musical, and by far its most popular and well-known song.

Memories: 1981 album cover.
Source: Wikipedia

Barbara Streisand is one of the many fine artists who have covered this, well, memorable song about perseverance in the face of adversity. While memories can keep us frozen in the past, immovable and unable to change, in the best cases they can act as markers or guideposts. In that regard, the memories of the past can serve as a catalyst of change.

By Trevor Nunn

Not a sound from the pavement
Has the moon lost her memory
She is smiling alone
In the lamplight
The withered leaves collect at my feet
And the wind begins to moan

All alone in the moonlight
I can dream of the old days
Life was beautiful then
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again

Every street lamp seems to beat
A fatalistic warning
Someone mutters and the street lamp sputters
And soon it will be morning

I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn't give in
When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin

Burnt out ends of smoky days
The stale cold smell of morning
A street lamp dies, another night is over
Another day is dawning

Touch me,
It's so easy to leave me
All alone with the memory
Of my days in the sun
If you touch me,
You'll understand what happiness is
Look, a new day has begun...

Shlomo Mintz: Mendelssohn Violin Concerto

Shlomo Mintz, a protégé of Issac Stern, and a phenomenal violinist in his own right, plays a part of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor, first movement. Zubin Mehta conducts the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in this vintage performance.

Shlomo Mintz has been playing for more than four decades, although he's only fifty-three (born on October 30, 1957). His standard biography says:
Born in Moscow in 1957, Shlomo Mintz emigrated with his family two years later to Israel, where he studied with the renowned Ilona Feher. At age eleven, he made his concerto debut with the Israel Philharmonic. He made his Carnegie Hall debut at age sixteen in a concert with the Pittsburgh Symphony, and subsequently began his studies with Dorothy DeLay at the Juilliard School of Music.

Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, was his last large orchestral work. Mendelssohn first thought of it in 1838 and it premiered six years later, in 1845, when he was thirty-six. The concerto, considered an important work and one of the first concertos of the Romantic period, is a popular piece of music.

The piece was innovative in the mid-nineteenth century:
Although the concerto consists of three movements in a standard fast–slow–fast structure and each movement follows a traditional form, the concerto was innovative and included many novel features for its time. Distinctive aspects of the concerto include the immediate entrance of the violin at the beginning of the work and the linking of the three movements with each movement immediately following the previous one.

The concerto was initially well received and soon became regarded as one of the greatest violin concertos of all time. The concerto remains popular and has developed a reputation as an essential concerto for all aspiring concert violinists to master, and usually one of the first Romantic era concertos they learn. Many professional violinists have recorded the concerto and the work is regularly performed in concerts and classical music competitions.

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy [1809-1847]: An oil painting done shortly before his death at age thirty-eight. Mendelssohn once said: "Though everything else may appear shallow and repulsive, even the smallest task in music is so absorbing, and carries us so far away from town, country, earth, and all worldly things, that it is truly a blessed gift of God."
Painter: Eduard Magnus [1799-1872]. Done in 1846.
Source: Wikipedia
Mendelssohn was the grandson of Moses Mendelssohn, a leading modern Jewish philosopher and rabbi, and one of the founders of Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment, whose ideas of cultural assimilation contributed to the foundation of Reform Judaism and all its practices.

Felix Mendelssohn, along with his three siblings, were all  baptized in 1816 into the Lutheran Church, when he was six. Six years later, in 1822, his parents, Abraham and Leah followed suit, and all took on the additional name of Bartholdy.

As is common in such situations, both the Jews and Christians claim him as their own. Although it is unclear what Felix Mendelssohn thought himself of his religious sentiments. While trying not to belabor the point, one must make a distinction between practical social conventions and true faith. Perhaps a clue can be found in his music.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Glenn Gould: Bach's Goldberg Variations

The Goldberg Variations, first published in 1741 as a work for harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach, consist of an aria and a set of 30 variations. The Variations are named after Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who may have been the first performer.


The majority of the photos were taken during the recording sessions for Glenn Gould's 1955 debut recording of The Goldberg Variations (BMV 988) when he was twenty-two. The photos are drawn from Life magazine. 

The recordings were made at Columbia Records 30th Street studio in Manhattan, New York, during a period of four days between June 10 and June 16, 1955, a few weeks after Gould signed his contract. "Columbia Masterworks Records, the company's classical music division, released the album in January 1956. Bach: The Goldberg Variations became Columbia's bestselling classical album and earned Gould an international reputation. The record is now in the catalog of Sony Classical Records," Wikipedia says.

Bach: The Goldberg Variations: Album cover of Glenn Gould's 1956 Bach: The Goldberg Variations. Columbia Masterworks ML 5060. The original Columbia Masterworks album cover shows 30 photos of Gould in the studio, analogous to the 30 Goldberg variations.
Source: Wikipedia

Glenn Gould [1932-1982] was Canada's greatest pianist. His playing was not only technically brilliant but also marked by a courageous and free interpretation of famous musical scores. Instead of striking the keys from above, as is commonly done, Gould pulled down on the keys while sitting low to the keyboard on a chair his father built for him. It likely gave him more control. His father built the adjustable chair after Gould injured his back at age ten when he fell from a boat ramp on Lake Simcoe.

Gould, a native of Toronto, was a child prodigy. At age three, Gould showed that he had perfect pitch. He learned to read sheet music before he learned to read words, showing his musical aptitude. By age five, Gould was already working on his own compositions.

His first teacher, until the age of ten, was his mother, whose ancestry included the famous composer, Edvard Grieg. (Gould's great grandfather was Grieg's first cousin.) Gould stopped performing at live concerts at age 31 to focus on recordings and other projects. Gould performed fewer than 200 concerts, and no more than 40 overseas, in his short lifetime.

Much, perhaps too much, has been written about Gould's outward peculiarities, such as humming when he played, the need to sit fourteen inches above the floor and only perform in a chair built by his father. (You can see Gould performing here.) 

Then there was the matter of Gould's awkward social behavior, which was discussed too much. Gould was considered an eccentric for wearing gloves, a beret and an overcoat, even in warm weather. He also was adverse to being touched and later in life avoided most personal intercourse, communicating chiefly by phone and letters.

Yet, he was a man of deep habits, says a CBC documentary on Gould:  "Sometime between two and three every morning Gould would go to Fran's, a 24-hour diner a block away from his Toronto apartment, sit in the same booth and order the same meal of scrambled eggs."

Gould With His Dog, an English setter, Nick, in 1940. "By the time I was six," he confessed in a 1979 documentary Cities: Glenn Gould's Toronto, "I made an important discovery that I get along much better with animals than humans."
Photo Credit: Gordon W. Powley

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Andrés Segovia: Fandanguillo

Andrés Segovia plays Fandanguillo, the first movement from the Suite castellana, a three-movement suite composed by Federico Moreno Torroba.  He composed the third movement (Danza) in 1919, and the other two afterward.

Fandanguillo, a courtship dance, was written with the traditional Spanish flamenco dance fandango in mind. "The fandango is an ancient Spanish dance, probably of Moorish origin, that came into Europe in the 17th cent. It is in triple time and is danced by a single couple to the accompaniment of castanets, guitar, and songs sung by the dancers," says the Columbia Encyclopedia.

Segovia is considered a legend among Spanish guitarists, the "Father of Classical Guitar," and one of the finest classical guitarists of the twentieth century. In many ways Segovia legitimized classical guitar as a serious musical form. This is among the most popular guitar compositions.

I discovered Segovia [1893-1987] in the mid-1970s, and listened to him late at night, typically when I was trying to complete an essay for college on my manual typewriter. His playing of the classical guitar had a calming effect — much like a wave gently rolling in and out. 

Federico Moreno Torroba [1891-1982]: His composition style is Romantic and includes Spanish folk music. Moreno-Torroba is mainly known for composing zarazuelas, or Spanish operettas.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Boy's Story: Old Traditions, New Traditions

Fiction Sunday

This excerpt is part of a novel, Jack Miller's Story, which I started writing more than fifteen years ago. It has undergone many changes since then, but now is in a form that I find suitable for publication. It contains biographical elements, no doubt, but it is not biographical by any means. Memory, unlike mathematical operations, does not always produce the same result.

In Part 3, Jack's young mind tried to reconcile the world of his parents marked by Jewish traditions and community and those of his peers at school and surrounding neighborhood. One thing, however, he already knew. He loved learning and acquiring knowledge, which opened up a large world to him.

Where could Jack fit in? Not with the Orthodox Jews on Fairmont or Hutchinson with their peyes, and black caftans, even worn in July, who always seemed to walk with great urgency, as if on a special mission. They seemed to have a vibrant purpose and a community. But it was not Jack’s mission. His parents rarely spoke about religion.

Mom said her family was Orthodox while growing up, first in Romania, and later in Montreal; and said Dad’s family came from a line of rabbis. Mom said she believed in G-d; Dad was silent on the subject. He never spoke against religion, but never spoke for it either. It was Yiddishkeit and Jewish culture that defined him. His purpose was to make the world better through hard work and social justice.

Jack had often seen the Orthodox Jews when he went with his father to get bagels on Saint-Viateur. He was fascinated by their Old World appearance, out of a painting or a photograph from a book of ancients. Their world was bound by time and old traditions, living by the same rules that were given at Mont Sinai by G-d to Moses to the inchoate nation formed in the desert. At Har Sinai, as the Jewish people called it, Moses handed the people a set of laws and obligations to bring the Jewish people to a higher order directed by G-d, so as to give the new nation light, to give the nation comfort and to give the Jewish People dignity.

Besides the ten commandments, there were many other laws that governed their lives. These laws were initially handed down in oral form, and passed from ear to ear, from generation to generation, then codified and interpreted and re-interpreted by the sages and rabbis in light of new knowledge and changing conditions and circumstances. These mitzvahs, which now numbered six hundred and thirteen in total, guided their steps and gave order and a sense of meaning to their lives.

On Shabbat, for example, the weekly Sabbath that the Jewish people had been celebrating for thousands of years on Saturday, certain restrictions were in place, called the 39 melachot. Creative activities were prohibited on the Jewish sabbath, linked by tradition to the building of the Temple.

For Jack, such restrictions would have meant no watching Saturday morning cartoons on TV, no putting on the lights and no going to buy comic books at the corner wooden kiosk or taking in a matinee at the Rialto down the street on Park Ave. Jack’s family were not outwardly religious, but did keep the laws of kashrut, buying kosher meat, and observing the yearly festivals. As was common with many Jews who survived the War, and all its horrors, Jack’s father directed his energies to making the world a better place through social action and social justice. Such described the new traditions of tikkun olam, repairing the world through actions, by doing good.

One time his mother was reading a book, This is My God: The Jewish Way of Life by Herman Wouk. “Jackaleh, you asked a very good questions about the chosen people. Now, I am not sure what that all means, but here’s something I’ve been reading by a famous Jewish writer."

She read aloud to Jack, who was the closest to his mother, or at least that is what Jack's heart felt:
But this idea of salvation limited to one group never had place in the Jewish faith and has no place in it today. In Judaism right conduct is the path to God. This path lies open to Jews and non-Jews.
While Judaism was often defined by slicing a space from time, with its weekly Shabbat rest and a cycle of yearly festivals, Jack’s world was bounded by geography, by places he went, and those that he did not dare go to. There was a defined boundary just as rigorous as the laws of the Torah.

Jack’s world was defined by his parents and the territory they resided in, which was no greater than what they could transverse by foot, an area no greater than one square kilometre: Pine Avenue to the east, Bernard Avenue to the west, Saint-Laurent Blvd to north and Hutchinson St to the south. Within its confines was Fletcher’s Field, with its baseball diamond, the swings further down near Rachel Avenue, and playing all day on what was known as the mountain. All was within walking distance. They sometimes took the bus, no. 80 or 129 on Park Avenue, no 11 or 97 on Mont-Royal and no 55 on Saint-Laurent, affectionately known as the Main. But that was only when they were schlepping bags.

Their lives, to a great degree, revolved around the Main, shopping for fresh chicken at Tucker’s, for groceries at Warshaw Supermarket, for rare treat of a smoked meat on rye with fries and Cott’s black cherry soda at Schwartz’s. Then, there were bagels hot from the wood-fired oven from St-Viateur Bagel, for a Wilensky’s Special from Wilensky’s on Fairmont Avenue. Sometimes, they would go to Lester’s on Bernard Avenue for a smoked meat, “for a change,” as Mama would say.

Jack and his brothers would also go to the Rialto Theater on Park Avenue for a Saturday matinee, and buy comics at the wooden kiosk at the corner of Park Avenue and Mont-Royal. They would sometimes go to Dusty’s on the opposite corner for breakfast, but not often. And it was a treat to go to the Dairy Queen directly across the street from their house. Usually it was for a plain cornet, sometimes for a cornet dipped in chocolate, and a rare treat was a sundae. Even a greater rare occurrence, almost as rare as a blue moon, was a banana split with loads of whipped cream. That was one of the ultimate treats on a hot summer day in July.

As was playing in and around the back alleys of Park Avenue. Or playing at Fletcher's Field on the nearby mountain. There was rarely a loss for things to do. One time Jack and James collected Popsicle sticks from the sidewalks of Park Avenue, walking from Mont-Royal all to the way to Bernard, about ten blocks. After people, mostly kids, finished their Popsicles, they threw the wooden sticks on the ground. It was a sweltering hot day in July, about 90 degrees, hot enough to fry an egg on the asphalt. So be it.

This bettered the chances they would collect a sufficient number of sticks for their building projects. Both were not disappointed. Each collected hundreds of sticks, which they carried home in brown paper bags. When Jack got home with his load, he washed them and placed them out to dry on their backyard balcony. After which, he used them to build a house, held together with his dad’s white carpenter glue. It was a wonderful project.

When his father came home from the Arbeiter Ring, The Workman's Circle, meeting at 10:30 that evening. Jack was waiting up for him, as he always did during the summer when he went to bed later than during school nights. He knew that his father would follow a routine and a ritual as fixed as any observant Jew. He would put the kettle on the stove to make a glass of piping hot tea with a slice of lemon.

While he was waiting for it to boil hot, very hot, he would carefully peel an apple. He would eat the apple with great enjoyment and drink the tea, both slowly. After, he would go into the living-room and watch the 11 o’clock national news on CTV.

Jack came out of his room and proudly showed his handiwork to his Dad, who looked at it, and noticing the white glue drips on the sides, said, “Why did you use my glue on this?”

Jack, although disappointed, said: “Dad, because I wanted to build something, like you said you did back in Europe when Mom said you used to build nice furniture for people.”

His father waved his hand dismissively in a downward motion and said, “Jackaleh, it’s not the same here. The most important thing is to do well at school. Get a good education, and then you can be something. A professional. A doctor. An accountant. A professor. That’s very important." He moved toward Jack and gave him a pat on his head, and said. “Next time, ask me if you can use my glue, Farshteist?”

“OK, dad, I will.”

His father gave him a kiss on his cheek and said “A gute nakht, Jackaleh.”

Jack did the same. His father walked away, went into the living-room, and turned on the television to watch the national news at 11 pm, as he did every evening. It was late and Jack got ready to go to bed. He would grow up to be someone. And his father would be proud of him.

To be continued.
Copyright ©2011. Perry J. Greenbaum. All Rights Reserved.

Publisher's Note: This is a work of fiction. While the author might have been inspired by some true-life events, names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Halevai: Moishe Oysher & The Barry Sisters


Written By: Oysher, Moyshe:  אױשער, משה

Album: The Barry Sisters A Time To Remember
Vocals: Barry Sisters (Claire & Myrna) שװעסטער באַרי
First line: Halevai, volt ikh geven a floymen boym,
First line: :הלװאי, װאָלט איך געװען אַ פֿלאָמען בױם

Halevai: If only... 

Ida Haendel: De Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy

Ida Haendel plays the Carmen Fantasy. Haendel, among the first-rank violinists of the 20th century, is known to play with great emotion and intensity, bringing a soulful passion to her music.

Ida Haendel was born to Nathan and Fela Haendel in  Chelm, Poland, on December 15, 1928. The father was a painter and a violinist. A child prodigy, the story goes that Haendel picked up her older sister Alice's violin at age three-and-a-half and perfectly played the song her mother had been singing in another room. Sensing her talent and the need to nurture it, the family moved to Warsaw, where she studied at the Warsaw Conservatory. She has been performing since she won first place at the Henryk Wieniawski Competition in Warsaw at age seven, playing the Beethoven concerto.

She moved to Paris and then London in 1937, staying there during the Second World War, where she played for Allied soldiers. She eventually obtaining British citizenship in 1940. When her sister Alice and her husband moved to Canada, Haendel and her parents followed. She lived in Montreal from 1952 to 1989. When her father died in 1987, Haendel's ties to Canada left also, and she moved to the United States. Haendel, 82, now lives in Miami, Florida. She never married.

The Carmen Fantasy, Op. 25, for violin and orchestra, was written by Pablo de Sarasate in 1883. This piece uses famous melodies from Georges Bizet's opera Carmen. The Carmen Fantasy is one of Sarasate's most notable works, and is often performed for violin contests. It is considered a show-piece.

Pablo de Sarasate [1844-1908]: Spanish composer and violinist of the Romantic period, Sarasate wrote the Carmen Fantasy in 1883. As he once said: "For 37 years I've practiced 14 hours a day, and now they call me a genius."
Source: Wikipedia

Here are some background notes on De Sarasate:
Pablo Sarasate was born in Pamplona, Spain, the son of an artillery bandmaster. He began studying the violin with his father at the age of five and later took lessons from a local teacher but his musical talent became evident early on and he appeared in his first public concert in La Coruña at the age of eight. His performance was well-received, and caught the attention of a wealthy patron who provided the funding for Sarasate to study under Manuel Rodríguez Saez in Madrid where he gained the favor of Queen Isabel II.

Later, as his abilities developed, he was sent to study under Jean-Delphin Alard at the Paris Conservatoire at the age of twelve. There, at seventeen, Sarasate entered a competition for the Premier Prix and won his first prize, the Conservatoire's highest honour.

Sarasate, who had been playing in public since childhood, made his Paris debut as a concert violinist in 1860, and played in London the following year. Over the course of his career, he toured many parts of the world, performing in Europe, North America, and South America. His artistic pre-eminence was due principally to the purity of his tone, which was free from any tendency towards the sentimental or rhapsodic, and to that impressive facility of execution that made him a virtuoso.

In his early career, Sarasate performed mainly opera fantasies, most notably the Carmen Fantasy, and various other pieces that he had composed. The popularity of Sarasate's Spanish flavor in his compositions is reflected in the work of his contemporaries. For example, the influences of Spanish music can be heard in such notable works as Édouard Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole which was dedicated to Sarasate, Georges Bizet's Carmen, and Camille Saint-Saëns' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, written expressly for Sarasate and dedicated to him.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Good Parent

Children & Society

Hobn kinder iz shver ober hodeven zey iz nokh shverer
(Bearing children is difficult, raising them even more so.)
Yiddish proverb

Home is the place where boys and girls first learn how to limit their wishes, abide by rules, and consider rights and needs of others.
Sidonie Gruenberg, U.S. educator

When you teach your son, you teach your son's son.
The Talmud

A Parent and Her Child: A Nepalese woman and her infant child. "Your children need your presence more than your presents," Jesse Jackson said.
Photo Credit
: Nancy Collins, 2011

I am going to say something that every parent already knows. Parenting is the most difficult, often thankless, job in the world. Yet, most parents take it on with a mixture of love, fear, duty, frustration, pride, joy and enthusiasm. As a parent of three children, such emotions are not alien to me. I live them daily.

It is said that parenting is not for the faint-hearted. That might reflect the reason that thousands of articles and millions of words are dedicated to giving advice to parents, often with conflicting results. Some articles contend that having children comes with a great economic investment, and discuss the economic hardships of raising children.

For an example of the costs to raise a child, in the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says in its latest report, for 2009, that it costs a middle-class family $239,000 to raise a child until age eighteen. For families with incomes exceeding $98,000, the figure is $396,000. The USDA updates its report yearly.

The hard cold reality of figures offer little comfort. More so, they will not influence many parents on the lower socioeconomic scale, as their reasons for having children have little to do with money, and more to do with the natural inclinations for having children. Such figures are put out chiefly for policy reasons. My response? Are cold economic terms the only metric of benefits? Perhaps in the limited world of such economists and policy-makers. More's the pity. I think such people are over-analyzing parenthood to everyone's detriment. These articles, presented in the veneer of practical advice, tend to discourage.

Perhaps that is their desired intent. Population control a la Malthusianism (and neo-Mathusianism), a contrived scientific belief against morality, individual freedom and humanity. If their intention is to limit the number of children to only the wealthy or industrialized nations, it is an argument that is as scientifically specious as morally bankrupt. Although money makes life more comfortable and affords more opportunity, there is no correlation between wealth and well-adjusted children.

I suspect that these articles and reports are typically written by people who either don't like children or don't like the sight of the poor. Such social scientists ought to be more intellectually honest and let others know about their biases up front.

I raise such points for a reason. Such articles are telling and do little to comfort parents. That alone tell us how frightening a task many of today's parents look at bringing up children. Parents read and want to be informed, which is a good thing. With the best of intentions and motives, parents want to do it right. They want their children to turn out as good, compassionate, hard-working, responsible citizens of society. (One wonders how parents of old were able to survive without such articles, books and guides.)

I have not touched here on abusive parents, and they exist in too many numbers. One is too many. Truly, not everyone is fit to become a parent. Many lack the empathy, understanding and dedication it takes to raise a child. Accordingly, such parents in the best of cases pass on their fears and hatreds to their children; and in the worse cases harm their children, even kill them. Nothing more can be said about such people, other than they are few in number and an aberration to societal norms.

The great majority of parents, however, do a fine even exceptional job raising their children, and operate from within a mixture of confidence, doubt, self-denial, cultural expectations and personal traditions. In the old nature versus nurture debate, parents can take some comfort that scientists have found out that children are already genetically encoded with some abilities and talents.

All the coaching, nagging and lessons will not make Johnny a classical pianist, Jill a ballet dancer, Moshe a professional baseball player or Molly a doctor. Or at least a happy one. Countless biographies and memoirs attest to this.

So, the need to push your children into pursuing things that do not interest them, I suspect, will only frustrate both parents and child. Introduction and encouragement to an art or sport is one thing, parental bullying and pressure to perform is quite another. It might get you what you want, through a torrent of tears and tantrums. but your child will never forget it.

Jewish Children with their teacher in Samarkand, Uzbekistan (then part of Russia). Early color photograph from what was then Russia, created by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, as part of his work to document the Russian Empire from 1909 to 1915.
Photo Credit: Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii [1863-1944]. Taken between 1905 and 1915.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Div., Washington, D.C.
Parents Shape a Moral Outlook

That does not mean parents have no responsibility. Quite the opposite. Parents have many important roles, including teaching and guiding behavior. The parental presence and guidance, what social scientists call parental investment, does go a long way to shaping, for one, a child's moral outlook on life, notwithstanding his individual personality and genetic makeup.

While Science is good at explaining how our brains develop and work, it is Religion that does a better job of explaining why we ought to behave a certain way. The great moral codes of religion show that parents contribute greatly to a child's moral development, both by personal action and behavior and by the imparting of moral traditions and knowledge.

The major religions, for example, have worked out in great detail the role of the parent in influencing and guiding the child, often through ordered ritual, the child's development to adulthood  (see, for example, The Jewish Way)

Such can act as firm guideposts as the child becomes older. He might not act upon them at various stages in his life, but he has an ingrained if not intimate knowledge of right and wrong. Consider an article on parenting directed at Jews, The Good Parent, but it could equally apply to any tradition:
Our tradition tells us that we parents and teachers can be powerful role models. The rabbis of the Talmud long ago explained, for example, that a child speaks in the marketplace the way he heard his parents speaking at home. [1] Psychologists also remind us that the model we parents present influences even our youngest children
In the same manner that the Laws of Moses provide boundaries for our benefit, sometimes not easily apparent to us, so do parents provide safe boundaries, not always understood or appreciated by young minds, for their children. Although it's true that there is no guarantee that children taught and modeled proper moral behavior will turn out all right, as good social citizens, in a home where the child is taught nothing, the likelihood is decidedly less. Since nature abhors a vacuum, it is filled with something, and that something is often things that are both harmful to the child and the society at large.

Take a look at children who have grown up with negligent parents—and these still exist—and you will see children left to their own devices, often ill-equipped and immature, to make good moral decisions. Some have had the resiliency and determination to push themselves to succeed, albeit with regret in their voices. Such children might have achieved great things, but it was a more difficult task, and scars remain for life. And through no fault of the child who was looking for loving guidance.

Such children might still love their parents, and have developed a fine moral outlook without their guidance and help, but have done so at a disadvantage, with deep regrets and a mournful soul that the parent-child bond was not loving and giving. Others are less kind to their parents, using the voice of honesty, to break all ties. It might be the actions rooted in basic survival. Where was the love? is their cri de coeur?

Good Loving Attention

Who could blame them for a need that is basic to all life? Although I might be waxing poetic here, and forgive me if I am, that might be the simple secret to success of a good parent-child relationship: a parent that gives what the child needs and craves: loving attention within a structured, proven and permanent foundation. At times, I have been guilty of forgetting the importance of consistency in my many years as a parent. At times I have been overly indulgent, at others overly strict. I am also learning about consistency.

As parents, caught up in our daily rituals of work, play and self-interests, we can easily forget such simple details that mark a child's life passage from infant to young adulthood. Some, if not many, children realize only after they themselves become parents on the responsibility and importance of  parenting. In their late twenties or thirties, or even forties, as is today's norm for parenthood, such children look back at their lives with fondness and some sentimentality if their childhood was happy and some regret if it was not.

It's often mixed. Such was my case, and that of my wife. Now, we are both anticipating the happy event of our oldest daughter and her husband becoming parents in a few months. I am sure that this will change their lives forever in many countless positive ways, including bettering their understanding of the traditions of parenthood and the role in passing on the traditions of our fathers.

As young grandparents, we'll be there hovering in the background, offering our guidance and hard-won wisdom. I am reminded of a Yiddish proverb: "Nakhes fun kinder iz mer tayer far gelt." (Joy from children is more precious than money.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Itzhak Perlman Plays Klezmer

This is a clip from the 1995 documentary, In The Fiddler's House, which captures Itzhak Perelman, one of the greatest classical violinists, trying his hand at klezmer music. The documentary takes us on a journey, from New York City to one of the roots of the musical form to Crakow, Poland, and the Jewish Quarter.

The documentary showcases the talents of klezmer groups like Brave Old World, Kapelye, The Klezmatics, and The Klezmer Conservatory Band. And there is Itzhak Perlman, who quickly (understandably) masters the form.

You can view Part 2 here, and hear Perlman play some klezmer with Brave Old World and have lunch at a New York deli with Red Buttons (Aaron Chwatt) and Fyvush Finkel (Philip Finkel), two well-known actors and performers.

In Part 3, Perlman plays with the Klezmer Conservatory Band. When asked what he feels when he plays klezmer, Perlman said: "Natural." In Part 4, the clip shows Itzhak Perlman's daughter's wedding ceremony, and Perlman, who contacted polio at age four, walking his daughter to the chupah. It's a touching sight. As always, the music is there, playing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sid Luckman: Perfect From The T

Great Legends of Sport

“When I grew up in Flatbush, 'we played football, stickball and baseball all the time, right out there on the city streets. Football was my favorite.”
Sid Luckman, as quoted in The New York Times, July 6, 1998

“He was like a second father to me.”
Sid Luckman, said of George Halas, Bears owner and coach

“You had to be there to realize how great Sid was.”
Jimmy Cannon, sportswriter

Sid Luckman [1916-1998]: The 6-foot, 197-pound quarterback threw 137 touchdowns and completed 904 passes out of 1,744 attempts for 14,686 yards and an excellent 51.8% completion average.
Source: HowStuffWorks
Sid Luckman was not only a great T-formation quarterback with a golden passing arm, but a great team leader with three hundred and fifty plays locked up in his head. He was a quarterback with gifted intelligence, and a brain that quickly scanned the various permutations of the team's playbook, until it seemed, Luckman, true to his name, had a play for almost every situation  the opposition presented.

Bob Zuppke, the great Illinois coach, once said of Luckman, ''He was the smartest football player I ever saw, and that goes for college or pro.'' He was also a firm believer in loyalty, but more on that later. 

In twelve seasons with the Chicago Bears (1939-50), Luckman led the team to four National Football League championships: in 1940, 1941, 1943 and 1946. He also made the All-Pro team five times, was most valuable player in 1943, and was the first quarterback to pass for 400 yards in one game.  

The 6-foot, 197-pound quarterback threw 137 touchdowns and completed 904 passes out of 1,744 attempts for 14,686 yards for an excellent 51.8% completion average. Luckman, number 42 with the Bears, had a career touchdown rate (percentage of pass attempts that result in touchdowns) of 7.9% , the best in history. His passing average of 8.4 yards per attempt is second only to Otto Graham's 8.6 yards with the Cleveland Browns. (Luckman's complete professional football stats can be found here.)

Although he had many exceptional games throughout his twelve-year career, two stand out, both in 1943:
On November 14 in New York, it was "Sid Luckman Day" at the Polo Grounds as hundreds of Sid's Brooklyn fans turned out to honor him with gifts and speeches and presentations. Sid's mother was in the stands to watch him for the only third time in her life.

Sid himself applied the finest touches, however, with a seven-touchdown barrage that assured a 56-7 Bears victory and a place in the NFL record book. The rare feat has been matched four times in later years but never broken. 
In the championship game with the Redskins that same year, Luckman put another outstanding aerial display to give the Bears their third NFL crown in four years. Sid threw five touchdown strikes as the Bears won by a 41-21 count. His touchdowns came on plays of 31, 36, 66, 29, and 16 yards. Altogether he had 15 completions in 27 attempts for 276 yards. 
Without a doubt, Sid Luckman made his parents, his fans and his community proud. In Yiddishkeit, there is a word to describe such an individual: a mensch, a person of integrity and honour. And Sid Luckman was indeed a mensch.
Sid Luckman, no, 42 for the Chicago Bears. On November 14, 1943, it was "Sid Luckman Day" at the Polo Grounds in New York, where the Chicago Bears were playing the New York Giants before 56,691 spectators, including his mother. For the game, Luckman was 23 of 30 for 453 yards, shattering the previous record of 333, and threw a record 7 touchdown passes, still a record. (Luckman and four others hold the record)
Source: Wikipedia

His Early Years 

Sid Luckman was born to Meyer Luckman, owner of a small family trucking business, and Ethel Drukman, a homemaker;  in Brooklyn, New York, on November 21, 1916. His parents were observant Jews originally from Germany. Soon after his birth, the family moved to a better house near Prospect Park, and when he was eight, his father bought him a football. The young Luckman began to throw the ball around at Prospect Park.

He played both baseball and football for Erasmus Hall High School, but Luckman preferred football. Although he attracted the attention of at least a dozen college football scouts, some with better football programs, Luckman chose Columbia University—even though he was not offered a scholarship that he badly needed. This point is brought home in an excellent book by Harold U Ribalow and Meir Z. Ribalow, Jews in American Sports:
As it happens, Sid was never offered a scholarship by Columbia. The university did offer him an opportunity to obtain jobs to pay his way through college, and he accepted that even though he had done so well in high school that plenty of other colleges and universities wanted him to join their school, and, of course, football team. At Columbia, Sid washed dishes, baby-sat and worked as a messenger around the campus. His father's trucking business had been wiped out in the Depression and Sid did not wish to be a burden to his parents; neither, it seems, did he want to go to any college but Columbia.
Two reasons come to mind: a good education and proximity to his parents. It might have also been that Luckman was a man who valued personal relationships, and despite Columbia not having an impressive football program or team, he hit it off with its coach, Lou Little. Such is a point made on the website of Columbia:
He chose Columbia after meeting legendary Lion coach Lou Little at a Columbia-Navy game at Baker Field. Little used Luckman, who also played defence, as a passing tailback and as his punter. In 1938, his senior season, Luckman defeated Yale virtually single-handedly; he also led a thrilling comeback victory over Army, a game he would later recall as his favorite.

In 24 collegiate contests, Luckman ran up impressive statistics: 180 pass completions in 376 attempts, for 2,413 yards passing and 20 touchdowns. Honored as a second-team All-American, Luckman finished third in balloting for the Heisman Trophy, despite Columbia having a losing season. After graduating from Columbia College, he was chosen second overall in the 1939 professional draft.
A Reluctant Professional

Despite the high praise by being drafted second, Luckman initially declined any further interest in pro football. ''I'd taken a lot of punishment and I knew how rough the pro game could be,'' he said then. He had just married Estelle Morgolin, his high school sweetheart, and planned to join his brother in the family trucking business.

George Halas had other plans, seeing in Luckman the engineer of his plans to change the game of American football. Before the 1939 season began, Halas gained an invitation to Luckman's tiny apartment for a dinner, which Luckman's wife Estelle prepared, Halas produced a contract for $5,500 which Luckman immediately signed.

At college, Luckman played halfback. At the pro level, Luckman became synonymous with revolutionizing the game of professional football in America, which include backfields in motion and moving the ball by passing. Previous to this innovation, the quarterback rarely touched the ball; he was another blocking back. American football was mostly a hard-fought running game with little passing.

Under Halas' tutelage and Luckman's abilities, however, the quarterback became the leader in offense, the field general so to speak, said Michael Feldberg in an article for the American Jewish Historical Society: "In the T-formation, which the pros had just developed, the quarterback, standing immediately behind the center, calls the plays, receives every snap, and has the option of running, passing or handing off the ball. In sum, he is central to the action and his team’s success depends on his resourcefulness."

Luckman was a thinking quarterback. So drastic was the change that in one of the most one-sided games in professional sports, Luckman led the Chicago Bears to a 73–0 victory against Sammy Baugh and the Washington Redskins in the 1940 championship game. In The New York Times, they wrote of his performance: "No field general ever called plays more artistically. He was letter perfect."

After that shellacking, the T-formation became the norm for professional football.

Service and Loyalty

In 1943, as soon as the season had ended, Luckman volunteered as an ensign with the U.S. Merchant Marines during the Second World War. Luckman entered the Maritime Service on January 3, 1944, curtailing his activities in professional football for the 1944 and 1945 seasons. He was stationed stateside and while he could not practice with the team, he did receive permission to play for the Bears when the tanker he was stationed on was docked. He returned to the Bears, full-time, in 1946, when he led the team to a fifth NFL championship.

In 1946, the Chicago Rockets of the All-America Football Conference offered him a $25,000 contract to serve as player-coach. It was an exceptional offer, and most players would have taken the money and run. Except Sid Luckman, who said: "How could I ever possibly have taken it?" he asked. "How could I quit a club that has done so much for me." 

After 12 seasons with the Bears, Luckman retired in 1950 but remained close to the Bears and Halas. Once again, his loyalties shown through. “Everything I have I owe to my two coaches, Lou Little at Columbia and George Halas with the Bears,” Luckman said.

Luckman had earlier launched a successful business career in Chicago. He had a long association with the packaging industry and a firm called Cellu-Craft Products, which he later headed. Luckman believed in loyalty in all aspects of his life. He was married to Estelle Morgolin, his childhood sweetheart, until her death of cancer in 1981.

When Luckman was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965, an excerpt of his September 12, 1965, speech speaks volumes:

Ladies and gentlemen. Thank you coach Little (presenter Lou Little) for the very kind and fine words you spoke about in talking about me. Words can't express my sincere and deep appreciation to your coming here and giving of your valuable time. This is certainly one of the truly great honors of my life and one that I'll never forget. I also want to take this opportunity to thank Coach George Halas and the Chicago Bears for all they have meant to me and what they have done for me and my family. Thank you very, very much and God bless each and every one of you. Thank you.
The boy from Brooklyn did good. ''He was the best all-around football player that New York City ever developed,'' said the former track star and sports broadcaster, Marty Glickman in a New York Times article.

Sid Luckman died in Aventura, Florida, on July 5, 1998. He was eighty-one. Sid Luckman was intered in Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Illinois. He is survived by a son, Bob, and two daughters, Gale and Ellen.