Sunday, December 31, 2017

Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Fanfare for the Common Man (1977)

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

Emily Dickinson, 1862

Fanfare for the Common Man, written by Aaron Copland [1900–1990] in 1942 and premiered in 1943 by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is here performed by Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP).

This adaptation of it is here rehearsed by Keith Emerson (keyboards), Greg Lake (singer and bassist) & Carl Palmer (drummer and percussionist) of British progressive rock band, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP) at the cold confines of the Olympic Stadium in Montreal during the winter of 1977; you can hear the rock group’s concert performance of this piece, which took place on August 26, 1977, at the same Olympic Stadium in Montreal [here]. This rock adaptation is wonderful and inspiring; you can feel the righteous anger and the disappointment as well as the spirit of hope and imagination to overcome it, eventually rising to the top. Many other fine performances exist: the fusing of philharmonic orchestra and rock [here]; and Aaron Copland conducting the New York Philharmonic in 1958 [here.] Two of the three original members of ELP died in 2016: Greg Lake (aged 69) of cancer; and Keith Emerson (aged 71) by his own hand.

I wish one and all a happy new year with the hope that 2018 is filled with an overflowing of peace, prosperity and joy. And also a fulfillment of some small measure of hope.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Dave Brubeck Quartet: Take Five (1964)

Take Five by the Dave Brubeck Quartet in London, England, on November 28, 1964, for the BBC program “Jazz 625.” The Quartet consists of Dave Brubeck (piano); Paul Desmond (saxophone); Eugene Wright (bass); and Joe Morello (drums).

This piece, a jazz standard, was composed by Paul Desmond and originally recorded at Columbia Records’ 30th Street Studio in New York City on July 1, 1959, by the Dave Brubeck Quartet for its 1959 album Time Out. It was first released as a single on September 21, 1959; while the album, Time Out, was released on December 14, 1959. Fast Forward 50 years later and let’s return to the Montreal Jazz Festival performance of this standard piece on July 4, 2009, viewed [here]. By then, Dave Brubeck was the only original member of the Quartet; there is some mighty fine drumming by Randy Jones, who joined the Quartet in 1980 and remained until Brubeck’s death in 2012. I find that jazz like this is great to listen to in the evening, helping you to unwind after a long day, your favorite drink beside you. Mine is currently Pellegrino mineral water.

Dave Brubeck Quartet: My Favorite Things (1964)

My Favorite Things by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, comprising Dave Brubeck (piano); Paul Desmond (alto saxophone); Norman Bates (double bass); and Joe Morello (drums).
Via: Youtube

Cool jazz on a cold day here in Canada can heat things up. I remember this song from long ago, sitting in my Grade 1 classroom in the late spring of 1965; the teacher carefully places the LP on the portable record player and I listening raptly to The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews singing the words to such a memorable tune, and so many others like it. Time stood still for me. If it wasn’t sunny outside, it appeared that it was. Sun streaming in through the large school windows. We can thank Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein who penned this for the musical, before there was a movie, in 1959.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: Seymour Mayne’s Poetic Homage to Forgotten Dreams


Seymour Mayne’s In Your Words (2017) and Shirim: a Jewish Poetry Journal Vol. XXXIV, No. II (2016) and Vol. XXXV, No. I (2017). Shirim is published out of Long Beach, California.
Photo Credit: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

I purchased In Your Words a couple of months ago and Shirim was kindly sent to me by the poet himself, Seymour Mayne, shortly after I started an email correspondence with him. One is a book of translated works of famous Yiddish writers (such as J.I. SegalMelech Ravitch, Rachel Korn, and Abraham Sutzkever); the other includes these Yiddish poets but also a good number of Mayne’s published works in Shirim, in what the book cover says is “a Homage to Yiddish.”

My focus here and now is on what the front cover says, “Dream the Living into Speech.” If you have been following my efforts, you will notice that “dreams” play an important part in many of my posts. We dream to know what is possible; we dream to know what is sanity; we dream to keep awake. We also dream about the past so we can make sense of the here and now.

Dipping into both published works, I found out with gladness that Mayne, like myself, grew up in Montreal’s old Jewish neighborhood of Mile End. He near the corner of St. Urbain and St. Viateur, in close proxmity to good bagels and good deli; myself near the corner of Park Ave and Mont-Royal, a few minutes from the old Jewish Public Library (Yidishe Folks biblyotek) and from my urban playground, “the mountain.”

We now live elsewhere, across the border, both figuratively and literally; Mayne in Ottawa and myself in Toronto, where good smoked meat and bagels are still hard to find, as is good conversation and good dreams. One can’t discount good dreams, even if it is about bagels and smoked meat, or about adventures on the mountain or sitting at the wooden reading tables of the JPL on Esplanade Avenue, which, for a small child, seemed exceptionally large.

Mayne is an accomplished poet, writer, editor and translator in addition to being a professor of Canadian Literature at University of Ottawa. The poems stand out, I would say, not only for their simplicity, but for their truthfulness. There is found within the poetic words a sense of a lost morality combined with a heightened mortality, leading to the forsaking and forgetting of dreams. Such is the kind of major loss that affects everyone, even if only a few keenly feel it.

Consider first the poems found in Shirim, starting with the short poem, “Fiddler”:
And then there is “Perfume.”
Let’s lobby God.
Keep the angels out of it
and their union leaders.
Don’t let the devils out
of the basement.
Just find out God’s working hours
and confront the Divine
on His/Her way home.
Enough with destruction,
war, and suffering.
Let the world continue
to flower all year long
and let death be only
the perfume
that dispels vanity
and diseased power
. (p.56)
It is hard to find “God's working hours.” To confront the Divine is to say, Why should the good and innocent die young or why should they die at all? Are there no innocents/innocence? What about children and others who die before their time? I can’t say that I understand. Death might have the final say, including the death of innocence, as is seen in the first stanza of the four-line poem, “Candle,” by J.I. Segal, found in translation in In Your Words:
Your innocence snuffed out,
your frail thinness curtsied to Death—
Today at the corner store I bought
a bit of wick for just a penny.
(p. 27)
Innocence is lost is when dreams are lost, put away in a dark closet or a cold utility shelf to die a slow and agonizing death. Art often speaks about dreams and dreaming, which is the rite of poets to say in so few words what others drone on about. A poet is an interpreter of dreams, not only what the past can mean but also what the future can be. The current present, built on a (recent) past just like it, has an excess of everything except hope and happiness and. most of all, peace. This makes it hard to have dreams of a better tomorrow.

To be sure, there is much to dislike in today’s present, especially when one compares it to a (long ago) past that seems more civilized and cultured. Yet, now we have knowledge and sadness and we continue to play, like a fiddler on a roof, but not on an icy one in Montreal. That, my dear friends, is long gone and mostly forgotten. Seymour Mayne reminds us of this reality, and when we read this fine collection, we pay homage to it and dream of what might have been.

Gut Shabbes
Peretz ben Ephraim,
Toronto, Ontario
December 29, 2017
11 Tevet 5778

This is Reb Peretz’s last post. I hope that you enjoyed his musings. While I do not necessarily agree with him on most matters (he has veered to religious polemics), I consider him a friend, albeit an estranged one.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Verdi’s Hymn of the Nations


Hymn of the Nations (1944)
Via: Youtube & U.S. National Archives

An American documentary, Hymn of the Nations, using archival footage from 1943 and 1944, includes a stirring performance by the NBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Arturo Toscanini, and accompanied by Jan Peerce and the Westminster Choir in New York City, which was broadcast nationally on the radio at 5 p.m. on Sunday January 31, 1943. This documentary film, directed by Alexander Hammid, presents the performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s overture to the Italian opera “Forza del Destino” (The Power of Fate) and also his Inno delle nazioni (Hymn of Nations). The latter, a cantata in a single movement, was first performed at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, England, on May 24, 1862; and the former, an overture, at the Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, Saint Petersburg, Russia, on November 10, 1862. It is interesting to note that the original title of the documentary is Toscanini conducting the Music of Giuseppe Verdi, which is undoubtedly true but terribly understated. There is so much more to the music, as many of us can appreciate.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Bob Hope: Christmas With The Troops

American Comedy

Bob Hope [1903–2003] entertains the troops. I remember seeing many of these Christmas specials during the 1960s and ’70s, where Hope, through the use humor, brought these men and women stationed overseas a sense of normalcy, a little bit of home, and a warm feeling of all that is good in America. This was his gift, and a fine gift it was. The ending of these special shows with “Silent Night” is indeed, well, special, a song that continually has the power to stir and uplift the soul. Sleep in heavenly peace. Peace, wherever and whenever it can be found, is always welcome and necessary. Merry Christmas to all.
Via: Youtube

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Luciano Pavarotti: Cantique de Noël (1978)

O Holy Night: Luciano Pavarotti [1935–2007; Modena, Italy] sings “Cantique de Noël” at Notre-Dame Basilica, a majestic building which resides in Montreal’s historic district of Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal), as part of “A Christmas Special with Luciano Pavarotti ” in 1978. This was actually recorded on September 22, 1978. I am Jewish and I love this song, especially when it is performed by one of opera’s greats in my hometown, in the city of my birth. Bravo.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The First Day of Winter (2017)

The Seasons

First Days: Yesterday at 11:28 a.m. was the winter solstice in North America, but today is the first full day of winter. It also marks the beginning of longer days, as strange as this thought sounds coming right after the shortest day of the year (8:55:47), that is, in terms of daylight hours. This photo was taken this morning a little after sunrise, which was at 7:48 a.m. You can see some of the snow on the trees, which is especially pretty on the evergreens. 
Photo Credit: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Last Night of Hanukkah (5778)

Festival of Lights

The Eighth Day and last day of Hanukkah was brought in last night with the lighting of all eight candles on each hanukkiah  It is true that the days are short and the nights are long, but soon it will be the reverse when the days after December 21st become longer. As I write this, I reflect on what all good and decent people around the world have in their hearts as a long-standing desire and a hope: peace, prosperity and good will for all. May the cynics be silenced; may the heartless find heart. May this come into fruition; may this come true.
Photo Credit: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Carol Burnett Show: As the Stomach Turns (The Funeral)

American Humor

The Carol Burnett Show: As the Stomach Turns, a satire on the merits of TV soap operas, is masterfully done by one of comedy’s best ensembles: Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Tim Conway and Vicki Lawrence, who were together for 11 seasons (1967–78). This video clip, from Season 10, Episode 20 (February 26, 1977; CBS TV), gives expression to “Mother Marcus,” whose excesses are true to life, making them all the more comical. If truth is stranger than fiction, humour is the means to release it from its shackles. The expression of reality through comedy becomes a needed escape from a world that has lost its funny bone. The best comedy is an anodyne to what ails you, because it makes you laugh; and everyone knows that laughter is good medicine. The Carol Burnett Show delivered many, and it was a show our family watched on Saturday nights at 10 p.m. in an evening line-up devoted to comedy, the shows preceding it were: “All in the Family,” “M*A*S*H,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “The Bob Newhart Show.” Yes, I can say without qualification or need for further explanation that TV comedy was better then. Very much so. We needed to laugh then, which I think is the case today.
Via: Youtube

Sunday, December 17, 2017

NBC Symphony Orchestra: Beethoven’s Ninth (1948)

Beethoven’s “Choral”: The NBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Arturo Toscanini [1867–1957], and members of the Collegiate Chorale together perform Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, opus 125, “Choral,” which Beethoven [1770–1827] completed in 1824 without the ability to hear his work. That he was able to compose such a beautiful and moving work with a loss of hearing is a testament to the man’s genius. Accompanying the orchestra are Anne McKnight (soprano); Jane Hobson (contralto); Erwin Dillon (tenor); and Norman Scott  (bass). This was telecast on April 3, 1948 from NBC Studio 8-H, in New York City.  The fourth movement contains the famous “Ode to Joy,” taken from  Friedrich Schiller’s poem of 1785. There is a lucid discussion on this wonderful symphony by Leonard Bernstein on the meaning of love, joy and peace, on King David’s Psalm 133: Hine ma tov u’ma-nayim. Deep thoughts, to be sure, but  ones that are easily accessible by all humans. And for all humans. This symphony binds us together.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: Dreaming of Food

“Gezen di velt vi es zol zeyn”

“Bread, soup—these were my whole life. I was a body. Perhaps less than that even: a starved stomach. The stomach alone was aware of the passage of time.” 
Elie Wiesel [1928–2016], Night* (1960)

When you are severely deprived of something for a prolonged period, you dream about it. That is what starvation does. Prisoners of the Nazi war regime, most of them Jewish, were deprived of everything: their freedom, their families, their clothes, their hair, their personal possessions, their dignity and food for living.

These poor unfortunates were worse off than slaves (which itself is no picnic), since slaves were fed to be useful workers. The Nazi regime on the other hand kept prisoners hungry, put them to work and when they became too weak to work—as was the case for many—they discarded them as non-humans.

In a state of deprivations and human misery, their dreams at night were of food.

Many times the dreams were elaborate and fantastical; many times they shared with each other their dreams before bedding down for the evening in the barracks. The Nazis could take almost everything away, but not their dreams or their thoughts or their fantasies or their hopes. I found an article (“Auschwitz survivor: ‘Every night I dreamed of food’;” January 26, 2015), by Naomi Conrad, in DW Akademie, a German publication, which sufficiently captures this idea:
As he walks past a group of Italian students laughing and jostling at the ticket counter, Natan Grossmann, his shoulders hunched against the icy-cold wind, recalls the endless nights in Birkenau, a satellite camp of Auschwitz. "Every night, I used to dream that my mother was making food for me, huge plates of delicious food." His smile is twisted: His mother, father and brother were all murdered by the Nazis. At 15, Grossmann was all by himself, first in the concentration camp, and then on the long, forced death march as the Red Army advanced and the Nazis forcefully relocated their prisoners to camps inside Germany. He shrugs: Some nights, he would wake up and realize that he hadn't dreamed of food. "That would make me incredibly sad."
As great as the disappointment was, it was the dreams that kept many sane; this is what kept many alive in a situation that was far from sane or normal. It was also in the sharing of dreams that the prisoners developed a community of like-minded individuals, despite coming from different backgrounds. For many the differences melted away.

Such is what I learned in a documentary that I recently watched on the educational channel TV Ontario entitled Imaginary Feasts (2014), directed by Anne Georget. In this documentary, you will discover through the telling of personal stories how the will to resist evil, in the most horrific conditions imaginable, is (and perhaps can only be) drawn from a storehouse of good.

Gut Shabbes
A freilechen khanike
Peretz ben Ephraim,
December 15, 2017
27 Kislev 5778

*Mark Turkov’s Tzentral Varband fun Polishe Yidn in Argentina (Central Union of Polish Jews in Argentina) originally published this work in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in Yiddish, in 1956, as the 245-page Un di velt hot geshvign (“And the World Remained Silent”). A French translation was whittled down to 178 pages and published by Les Éditions de Minuit as La Nuit in 1958. An English edition by  Hill & Wang in New York City was further reduced to 116 pages when it was published as Night in 1960. Wiesel’s original manuscript was 862 pages; Wiesel had a difficult time finding a publisher in French and in English.

This week’s parsha is Mikeitz (מִקֵּץ‎; Hebrew for “at the end”), which can be found in Genesis 41:1–44:17. It tells of Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams and his quick rise to power in ancient Egypt. He interpreted the dreams correctly as being about seven years of plenty followed by seven years of hunger. Tonight is also the fourth night of Khanike (or Hanukkah).

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

First Night of Hanukkah (5778)

Festival of Lights

The First Night: Last night, ushering in the eight-day festival of Hanukkah on the 25th of Kislev, we lit two Hanukkiahs, a store-bought one and the one made by our youngest many years ago. After saying the traditional blessings, we sang Maoz Tzur (מעוז צור‎; Hebrew for “Stronghold of Rock,” a reference to God);  a beautiful rendition can be found here. [It is called Rock of Ages in English.] Afterward, we are instructed to reflect on the light, which is supposed to serve no practical purpose but allow us to think about non-material matters. There is, however, an interesting reflective effect (a physical one) evident in this photo, which shows a double light and the trees of the park across the way.
Photo Credit: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Maccabeats: Latke Recipe (for Hanukkah)

Latke Recipe by The Maccabeats,  a vocal group founded at Yeshiva University in New York City in 2007.

Tonight in the Jewish calendar is the 25th of Kislev, beginning the eight-day festival of Hanukkah, (חנוכה; Hebrew “to dedicate”), celebrating the re-dedication of the Holy Temple (during the Second Temple period) in Jerusalem after the successful Maccabean revolt [167–164 BCE] against the Selucid Empire led by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. It would take another 22 years, however, until 142 BCE for the Jews of Judea to diminish the influences of Hellenism. The holiday is also called “The Festival of Lights,” since Jews light candles on a Hanukkiah for eight days, thus bringing more light into the world. Latkes (potato pancakes) along with sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) are the traditional foods eaten during this holiday, but I am sure that modernity has added others to the list; the only requirement is that they must be made with oil, symbolically representing the oil used for the re-dedication of the Temple. The story of Judah Maccabee and his brothers is told in the First and Second Books of Maccabees, which although not part of the Tanakh or Jewish Bible (but part of the Catholic Bible) is viewed nevertheless as an important historical document. For an informative discussion on the Maccabees, see here.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Myron Cohen: Situational Stand-Up Comedy (1951)

American Humor

Myron Cohen [1902–1986] in a stand-up routine from “The Kate Smith Evening Hour” (November 21, 1951; NBC-TV).
Via: Youtube

There was a time when comedians were using intelligence and wit to be funny, describing everyday situations in their routines and seeing the comedy in such slice-of-life situations. Such describes Myron Cohen, who once said: “Audiences are the same everywhere, whether you’re in Vegas, South Africa, or Rockland. They all want to hear about something that happens to human beings.”

Cohen throws in a few Yiddish words, which his audience invariably understands. Of course it is also about timing and mannerisms, which were the necessary skills that the best-known mavens of comedy developed through years of being on stage in big-city nightclubs and in vacation spots of the Catskills (“the Borscht Belt.”) In the end, one had to be funny in a way that audiences found funny and without vulgarity or profanity, whose use today is excessive.

I will end with another Cohen joke: Two women in the Bronx are hanging their clothes out to dry (“trikenen”). One woman asks the other (“anderer”), “Have you seen what’s going on in Poland?” The other replies, “I live in the back—I don't see anything.”

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Vladimir Horowitz: Träumerei (1986)

Robert Schumann’s Träumerei, from Kinderszenen No. 7 (German for “Scenes from Childhood”), opus 15/7;  Schumann [1810–1856] completed this set of 13 childhood pieces in 1838. This is played magnificently by Vladimir Horowitz [1903–1989] during his triumphant return to Moscow on Sunday, April 20, 1986. I posted this piece a number of years ago, in October 2010, and it came to my mind again, feeling in a Romantic mood. Speaking of that Horowitz concert in Moscow, I enjoyed every bit of it, when I tuned in, entranced like in a dream, that Sunday to “CBS Sunday Morning” with Charles Kuralt, now so many decades ago, but unforgettable. It was a masterpiece. I am sure that you would agree. What stands out is Horowitz’s playing of Schumann's Traumerei (German for “Dreaming”), the best I have ever heard; yes, tears were streaming down my cheeks. It was perfection and I could only wonder what these Muscovites were feeling when they heard it—the sound of freedom, I imagine.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: Returning Home

Di Yidisher Heym
“Gezen di velt vi es zol zeyn”

כִּֽי־קָר֥וֹב אֵלֶ֛יךָ הַדָּבָ֖ר מְאֹ֑ד בְּפִ֥יךָ וּבִלְבָֽבְךָ֖ לַֽעֲשׂתֽוֹ
Devarim 30:14
“Rather,[this] thing is very close to you;
it is in your mouth and in your heart,
so that you can fulfill it.”

All beginnings are hard, and become harder as one gets older. Yet, it is never too late to do good, to become what you must, to fulfill your destiny. Truly, being a Jew is not easy; it never has been, and it can be hard even when times are or appear favourable. Even if life is better today in a few places of the world, the demands of being and living as a Jew continue to be great.

They are certainly greater than not being a Jew, than living like everyone else by “hiding one’s light under a bushel.” Truly, it is always easy to assimilate, to become swallowed up in the majority culture (read: Christian in some places, secular in others) dominant around us. It is really that easy, especially when one is ignorant of Judaism and carries ideas of it that have been formed by others. As for the majority Christian culture in the West, it’s not that such a culture is necessarily “bad” or “evil,” although many times throughout history it has acted with malice toward the Jews, since it suffers from supersessionism. In balance, however, Christianity has in fact produced much beauty in the way of art, literature and music, all of which I enjoy and appreciate.

The same cannot be said for the fruits of atheism, which poses the greatest evil to humanity, since it cares not much for truth and beauty and relies chiefly on a limited understanding of history matched to relativistic morals with nothing to keep man’s hubris in check. There is also within its thinking, especially when applied politically, a desire for vengeance and murder, and, moreover, for doctrinal purity. Marxism, Fascism, Nazism and Maoism are all horrible manifestation of this, as is the political system of North Korea. An attack on God and the Torah (replaced by a complete faith in one man) always produces horrible conditions for its citizens. As much as all these political ideologies are irreligious, they are also all inhumane. It is not the appearance of evil, it is pure evil. Ask anyone who has lived under such a regime.

For obvious reasons, Jews ought to stand clear of such noxious inhumane ideas, and most do, but even seemingly benign beliefs (e.g., Eastern Religions) should be avoided and not be embraced, even if they appear personally beneficial. The reasons are evident enough for anyone to apprehend. The chief argument is that such outside wanderings and meanderings and the taking in of foreign ideas are not the right path for a Jew; such is not di rekht veg. This only leads to more confusion and sadness, not only individually but also collectively. Jews have a clear responsibility to bring a moral message of goodness and understanding to the world. To do so, he must live as a Jew, which suggests thinking like a Jew.

Far vos? Because this is a great part of the message, which can only be done within the confines of long-standing and enduring Jewish tradition and understanding found in Judaism (mesorah). The Torah that the Jews received at Har Sinai remains the bulwark against misunderstanding and ignorance, and it belongs to all Jews. It is written: “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov” (Deut.33:4).

It is really that simple an explanation. Jews have to walk a different path than most of the world, directed by the dictates of the Torah and by our enduring and illustrious Jewish history; most Jews know and apprehend this idea living deep in their Yidisher neshomah and some happily and eagerly return to the right path, even decades later. B’emes, it is never too late.

I am, after all, one of those Jews called ba’al teshuvah (בעל תשובה; Hebrew for “master of repentance”) or as it is called in Israel, chozer b’shuva (חוזר בתשובה; Hebrew for “returnee to the faith”), who about a decade ago consciously made the choice to return. It was the right decision and an important one in a life with many such decisions. Now, years later, I understand more, and am not as ignorant as I was in my early adult years, where I had the need to wander.

Perhaps it is like the story of the Jewish Prodigal, a morality tale in the form of a parable (a moshl) of a Jew, who wanders far away to the foreign land of Hellenistic Greece and after suffering miserably for years, returns to di Yidisher velt and to the Jewish home of his birth. This might not always be easy, yet in doing so, he does teshuvah. He returns home, and his Yidisher neshomah is rewarded.

Gut Shabbes
Peretz ben Ephraim,
December 8, 2017
20 Kislev 5778

This week’s parshah is Vayeshev (וַיֵּשֶׁב‎; Hebrew for “and he lived”), found in Genesis 37:1–40:23 It contains the story of Yosef (Joseph), who receives a many-coloured coat from his father, Yaakov (Jacob); and of Yosef's dreams, foretelling of his rise in leadership, which engender jealously from his brothers. Yaakov favours Yosef, which is clear in this story.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Handel’s Messiah: Hallelujah Chorus (1956)

Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.
Via; Youtube

This piece is here performed by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein; and the Leonard Westminster Choir, directed by John Finley Williamson. This was recorded at the 30th Street Studio, New York City, 1956. This piece of music is not only beautiful but also enduring. “Hallelujah” is an English transliteration of the Hebrew word, Halleluya (הַלְּלוּיָהּ; “to praise God”). This joyful expression of thanks and praise, הַלְּלוּיָהּ,is found many times in the Book of Psalms (תְּהִלִּים; Hebrew for “Tehillim”); and it connotes a sense of joyous praise in song. Such is what this “Chorus” does, making it one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed by George Frideric Handel [1685–1759], who composed this English-language oratorio in 1741.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus: Kalifornyer Kholem

Yiddish Performance of the Week

Kalifornyer Kholem by Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus (2014)
Via: Youtube

Filmed as a live performance at Symphony Space, NYC, the Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus, with Binyumen Schaechter, conductor; Shinae Kim, pianist; and Andrew Roth, soloist, perform a Yiddish rendition (“Kalifornyer Kholem”) of  “California Dreamin’, ” a song made famous by the Mamas and Pappas, an American folk group, in 1965. The song was written in NYC in 1963, possibly on such as day.

Here is some background on how the Yiddish rendition came into being, the  Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus writes:
As a student at the University of Pennsylvania in 1984, Stephen M. (Shloyme-Khayim) Cohen thought it would be fun to arrange the Mamas and the Papas' popular song, "California Dreamin'" for chorus. Many years later, in 2001, he decided that what would make it more special still was to have it be in Yiddish, and not as a direct translation, but rather with a Jewish touch. Some years after that, our conductor, Binyumen, who knew Cohen mainly from Yugntruf's annual Yidish-Vokh retreat, heard the arrangement himself. He loved it and wanted the JPPC to sing it. However, Cohen's arrangement called for a lengthy flute solo in the middle, and the JPPC didn't have a flutist.
Furthermore, the JPPC at that time lacked a strong bass section that could handle the low key. So, with Cohen's permission, Binyumen set about making the piece user-friendly for our chorus. He raised the overall key so that the bass section (at that time consisting of only 3-4 baritones) could sing the low notes. He cut out the flute section and replaced it with an exciting, upward modulation to a repeat of the refrain. And he made a few other tweaks here and there. Ironically, when we gave the NYC premiere of this arrangement in June 2012, the key was now too high for the tenors, and so the tenor solo had to be sung by an alto! But all's well that ends well: now, our chorus has a much stronger bass section, so we've returned to the original lower key for the 2014 performance at Symphony Space (NYC) heard in this YouTube video, making it easier for the basses and the tenors, and allowing for the soloist once again to be, as intended, a tenor.
This is a fun song and nothing more. The lyrics made me laugh, as would be the case for anyone who spends a winter in a place that has snow, freezing rain, bare trees and grey overcast days—the opposite of California. 

Original English words and Music: John and Michelle Phillips Yiddish words and Choral arrangement: Stephen M. (Shloyme-Khayim) Cohen Edited: Binyumen Schaechter

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Cantor Moshe Ganchoff: Aleinu

Chazzanut/Cantorial Music

Aleinu by Cantor Moshe Ganchoff
Via: Youtube

Cantor Moshe Ganchoff [born in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1904–died in Brighton Beach, New York, in 1997] sings Aleinu (Hebrew: עָלֵינוּ‎, “it is our duty”), the prayer that comes at the end of the three daily services. The prayer was alluded to in a previous post (“Being Chosen, Part 2”); continuing this discussion, I would add that it conveys the fundamental values of Judaism, most notably about the Jews being a unique (or particular) people who collectively have a unique mission for humanity. The Jews, since their inception as a people long ago, have been marked for uniqueness and distinctness; such is what the Torah says time and time again (see, e.g., Exodus/Shemot 19:5; Leviticus/Vayikra 20:26; and Isaiah/Yeshayahu 54:10). For the prayer itself, go to the “Zemirot Database” found here; and for a more detailed rabbinical discussion of the prayer, go here. For a discussion of the unalterable and enduring unique connection between God, Torah and the Jews see here.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: Being Chosen, Part 2

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

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

עָלֵינוּ לְשַׁבֵּחַ לַאֲדוֹן הַכֹּל
[Aleinu l'shabeach la'Adon hakol]
Beginning of Aleinu

The Jews view the giving of the Torah, at least those who believe in its importance, with great seriousness and view it as an inheritance to safe-keep and treasure. Accordingly, the most religiously observant Jews living in modern times have come up with ways to safeguard this treasure and the enduring mesorah surrounding it: educating their children in chinuch, studying Torah, doing mizvos, avoiding compromising situations, working on middos, enjoying simcahs, and leading a moral and good life.

Yes, it is a circumscribed life, and on the surface it appears difficult and unappealing, yet many communities exist along such lines, viewing it as a duty, a responsibility and a necessity of keeping and staying on the right path. For many reasons, such communities are growing in America, with younger generations learning from older ones and continuing the chain of tradition (mesorah) that rabbis say dates to Moshe Rabbenu. Doing so can make life more simple, and even more meaningful, knowing that you are following an enduring tradition.

Of course, many disagree. Modern progressive Jews who still view themselves as Jews might have strongly differing ideas on how to live, but few would doubt the importance of the Torah as a historical document, even if they generally ignore today the traditions of their grandparents and great-grandparents. Yet, there is great wisdom to be found here, including the purpose of the Jew as the moral agent for good and as a bearer of peace to the world. Most would agree that working toward goodness and peace is a worthy endeavor.

For example, in how to change the world for good, Michael Laitman [born in 1946 in Vitebsk, Belarus], kabbalist, Jewish philosopher and student of Rav Baruch Ashlag [1907–1991], gives what I believe to be a bold answer to this question in his article, Why Do People Hate Jews?:
Over several essays, Rav Ashlag expounded on the reasons why there will not be peace in the world until there is unity and brotherly love throughout the world. He also explains that the more the world suffers from the adverse consequences of what researchers, Twenge and Campbell, call “the narcissism epidemic,”[31] the more people will turn their anger against Jews. Subconsciously, people expect the Jews to pave the way for a better society, namely to be “a light unto nations.” Until the Jews carry out this task, the animosity and accusations against them will grow.
Dr. Laitman says that unity, especially in Israel is necessary for Jews to carry out this task, this mission, if you will. This does not mean negating disagreement, but harnessing it in a good way, and not in a destructive narcissistic manner that is so common today, where “today” is a time period of the last few decades. Moreover, that other major religions have tried to take on the role does not relieve or release Jews of their moral and spiritual responsibility.

Israel was founded as a secular state, in a sense to be like all the other western democratic nations. In many ways it has achieved this goal—politically, economically and socially— but the Torah and the weight of its teachings states that this is not the true calling of Israel, it is not the true calling of the Jewish People. Consider the Aleinu (Hebrew: עָלֵינוּ‎, “it is our duty”), the prayer that comes at the end of the three daily services, alludes to this responsibility:
It is our duty to praise the Master of all
to ascribe greatness to the Author of creation,
who has not made us like the nations of the lands
nor placed us like the families of the earth;
who has not made our portion like theirs,
nor our destiny like all their multitudes
. (1-6)
That we Jews have long been reluctant to openly acknowledge our destiny can be found in the history since the destruction of the Second Temple, itself a result of infighting and disunity among various factions. Since this tragic event,  Jews have focused on survival and revival of its ancient traditions and its numbers. That Judaism and the Jews are doing well today is a testimony of our enduring history; and some would add is a testimony of God’s enduring promises.

One is reminded of the instructive story found in the Book of Jonah (Sefer Yonah), a prophetic book read on Yom Kippur. God commands Jonah to go to the capital of Assyria, Nineveh, to tell the people to repent. Jonah is reluctant to do so, since these people are the enemies of Israel. After getting swallowed up by the whale, Jonah does tshuvah. When the whale spits him out he lands on the shores of Nineveh and completes his mission. The people repent, led by the king, and the city is spared judgment, receiving instead God’s mercy.  

This is an important message that the world needs to hear; this is an important message that only the Jews can deliver to the nations: the need for repentance (tshuvah, literally “return”) before expecting God’s mercy or compassion (rachamim). Truly, the Jews have done much, but there is more that needs to be done. The Jews (and their tiny numbers, less than 0.2 percent of the world’s peoples) have stubbornly persisted and established great houses of study, or batei midrashot, often in the midst of hostile territory in Europe. That is, until the evil of the Holocaust destroyed in a few years what existed for centuries in Europe.

Even so, the Jews rebuilt outside Europe, chiefly in America, in Canada, in Argentina and in Israel. In the long history of the Jewish People, it has been Jewish faith in the Torah, starting with Avraham Avinu and continuing with the promises made at Har Sinai with Moshe Rabbenu, that have kept the Jews as Jews. While doing so, Jews, Judaism and Jewish thought and ethics have made great contributions to humanity, notably in establishing monotheism, which led to so many great benefits to humans. This is di geshikhte fun di Yidn.

The Yidn continue to write history, to do the good that the Ribono shel Olam commanded them to do in the Torah. In twelve days (25 Kislev) begins the holiday of Hanukkah (or Khanike, in accordance to YIVO standards), which is as much a story about doing good in the face of evil as it is about miracles. Kol zman dos kleyntshike likhtele brent, ken men nokh farikhten. (“As long as a small light burns, it’s not too late to set everything right.”)

Gut Shabbes
Peretz ben Ephraim,
December 1, 2017
13 Kislev 5778

This week’s parshah is Vayishlach (וַיִּשְׁלַח‎, Hebrew for “and he sent”), found in Genesis 32:4–36:43, which contains the passage where Yaakov wrestles with the angel and comes out not only victorious but also with a change in name, to Israel (“he who prevails over the divine”).