Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Adi Ran: Ata Kadosh (2005)

Adi Ran: Ata Kadosh (2005), a song, in the form of a prayer, from the wonderful Israeli film Ushpizin. Ata Kadosh (אתה קדוש; “You are Holy”) acknowledges our (Man’s) place in the world in which we live, Olam HaZeh (עוֹלָם הַזֶּ֗ה; “This World”). The word kadosh (קדוש; “holy”) implies separation, notably from the mundane, the profane, the vulgar—in the same way that Shabbat is separated from the other six days of the week. The Jewish People are repeatedly told in the Torah (e.g., Exodus 19:6; Lev. 19:2; Lev. 20:26; Deut. 7:6; Deut 30:11-14; I Kings 8:53; Ezra 10:11; Neh 9:2, etc.) to acknowledge this and emulate this in their lives—in other words, to put this into practice. To make it an everyday reality. It is true, at least to me, that to what degree we understand and devote ourselves to this idea of kadosh and its understood meaning of separation and sacredness is how much we will find meaning and direction on how to live our lives as Jews. This thought, although simple and yet difficult—at least in the beginning—is itself the beginning of understanding.
Via: Youtube

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Happy Sukkot 5779


“For a seven day period you shall live in booths. Every resident among the Israelites shall live in booths, in order that your [ensuing] generations should know that I had the children of Israel live in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.”

Vayikra (Leviticus) 23: 42-43

Garden of Eden Sukkah by Yoram Raanan, captures the essence of the the Jewish festival of Sukkot. Raanan writes on the Chabad site: “The experience of dwelling in a sukkah is about moving out of the material comforts of our homes, to be exposed to nature and to live in the ‘shadow of faith’. In this intriguing Garden of Eden Sukkah, a flowing light radiates under a starry sky in an enchanting primeval forest. The ushpizin, the festival’s mystical guests who visit the sukkah each night, are depicted in the shadow of blue, reflecting how they empower us to connect to seven different dimensions of our soul each night.” Sukkot (סֻכּוֹת‬; “Booths”) is a weeklong festival that begins after sundown tonight (15 Tishrei) and lasts till September 30th (21 Tishrei) or October 1st (22 Tishrei) outside Eretz Israel). Outside Israel, the eighth day of Sukkot coincides with Shemini Atzeret. It is a joyous holiday that leads to Simchat Torah. For more on Sukkot, go [here].
Courtesy: Chabad-Lubavitch and Yoram Raanan

Ushpizin: ‘We Need a Miracle’ (2004)

Ushpizin (2004): “We Need a Miracle” from a scene in the Israeli film, Ushpizin directed by Gidi Dar and written by and starring Shuli Rand and his wife Michal Bat Sheva Rand, which looks at the meaning of Sukkot, particularly as to the power of faith when material circumstances make it more difficult to believe. Yet, one still wants to believe. In Judaism this requires both emunah (אמונה; faith) and bitachon (בטחון; trust ), essentially not only having knowledge of but also retaining trust in Hashem. In His goodness, mercy and justice, or as one article, by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller and Sara Yoheved Rigler, in Aish.com, puts it (“Trusting God;” November 18, 2000), “believing that there is an end to the story, and that if we could know the end we would have no doubts now.” Bitachon means not surrendering to such doubts, but to see a plan, a grand plan if you will, and to move forward to fulfill it. As for the film’s title, Ushpizin ( אושפיזין; “guests“) is an Aramaic word for guests, but just not any guests. They refer to the seven supernal guests, holy guests, “the founding fathers” of the Jewish people, who come to visit us in the sukkah: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. See this film if you already haven’t done so already. Or see it again. You will surely find it an inspiring delight. Chag Sukkot Sameach.
Via: Youtube

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Rebbe: The Jewish People Are Unlike The Nations (1977)

The Jewish People & The Torah

ו  אֲנִי יְהוָה קְרָאתִיךָ בְצֶדֶק, וְאַחְזֵק בְּיָדֶךָ; וְאֶצָּרְךָ, וְאֶתֶּנְךָ לִבְרִית עָם--לְאוֹר גּוֹיִם.6 I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and have taken hold of thy hand, and kept thee, and set thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nations;
ז  לִפְקֹחַ, עֵינַיִם עִוְרוֹת; לְהוֹצִיא מִמַּסְגֵּר אַסִּיר, מִבֵּית כֶּלֶא יֹשְׁבֵי חֹשֶׁךְ.7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house.
ח  אֲנִי יְהוָה, הוּא שְׁמִי; וּכְבוֹדִי לְאַחֵר לֹא-אֶתֵּן, וּתְהִלָּתִי לַפְּסִילִים.8 I am the LORD, that is My name; and My glory will I not give to another, neither My praise to graven images.

The Rebbe’s Approach to Outreach  is an excerpt from a talk that Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, gave on 12 Tammuz 5737 (June 28, 1977). The Chabad-Lubavitch site notes one of the reasons for this talk: a spirited defense of Orthodox Judaism and its rabbinical traditions that come out of the Torah: “There is a school of thought that in order to bring close ‘alienated’ Jews we must go to them with an abridged and reformed version of Torah. But others have tried this approach before them. Although we’ve already seen where the compromises lead–that they not only do not bring close those who are far from their heritage, but they actually drive away those who are close–the evil inclination is again raising a tumult that this is the way to save Jewish youth. So they try new experiments, on living Jewish souls and living Jewish bodies! The problem stems from the philosophy that the Jewish people are like all other nations—they must emulate gentile values and lifestyles, instead of themselves being a light unto these nations.”
Via: Youtube & Jewish Media

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Power of Teshuvah: Rabbi Alon Anava


Rabbi Alon Anava: The Power of Teshuvah, which applies to every Jew and even more so during these Ten Days of Teshuvah before Yom Kippur. Rabbi Alon Anava has his  own personal story on teshuvah, or return, specifically on return to  life after death. Such was the case for a Jewish atheist named Alon, growing up in a secular Israeli home and who was very anti-religious. The 28-year-old Alon Anava became religious through what is called a Near Death Experience (NDE) while riding in the back seat of a New York City taxi on the evening before Pesakh 2001: after sunset on Friday April 6, 2001 (or 14 Nisan 5761). For more details, go [here].
Via: Youtube

Gemar Chatima Tovah ("a good and final sealing": גמר חתימה טובה) and an easy fast to all.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Thinking About Teshuvah


“There is no sin that cannot be mended and remedied by teshuvah. Teshuvah removes a burdensome past and opens the door to a new future. It means renewal, rebirth. The ba'al teshuvah becomes a different, new, person. It is much more than correction, more than rectification. Teshuvah elevates to a status even higher than the one prior to all sin. Even the perfectly righteous are surpassed by the ba'al teshuvah.”

Rabbi Dr. J. Immanuel Schochet [1935–2013],
The Dynamics of Teshuvah;”
 To Touch the Divine (1999);
as posted on Chabad.org

In a few days will be Yom Kippur (יוֹם כִּיפּוּר‬; Day of Atonement) and also called “Sabbath of absolute rest” (Leviticus 16:31), the culmination of the Ten Days of Repentance. It is a holy day. During this period of rest, Jews throughout the world are free to think about the merits of teshuvah (תשובה; return). The article, by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet, which I quote above,  is worth reading in its entirety. 

I also like what Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene, writes (“Yom Kippur: Of Angels & Men;” October 7, 2005) on the subject of return for Torah.org:
The literal translation of the word teshuvah, repentance is “returning to oneself”. Where a person has deviated from the pathway of life by not observing the Torah laws, to achieve forgiveness, it is imperative that he “returns back on track”. This means identifying himself with his soul and not associated himself with his body.
In other words, the return is to Torah Judaism, not always an easy task, and often not an appealing one for many Jews in the world, who know not where the soul is or where it can be found. The body we all can both see and feel; the soul, on the other hand, is not tangible, and yet it is very much a part of us. Thus, I sense that it is important that each Jew ought to move in such a direction, step by step, if he is to find some meaning and a sense of peace in life. If he is to rediscover his true self.

The same rabbi ends this brief article with the following piece of good advice: 
The way to national and personal forgiveness is to confess and repent by declaring complete detachment from one’s past failures, when the external kernel and layers of sin are discarded. This is Yom Kippur’s atonement, when the true nature of every Jew, his pristine spiritual soul, is of paramount importance.
This is an encouraging thought, one that helps to better one’s mental heath and move us away from discouragement and despair. Past failures do not and should not weigh us down, and equally important should not define who we are. Each Jew can return to himself or herself, the way he or she is meant to be. Each mitzvah is an accomplishment for the soul, helping us to ascend higher. This is very freeing, and a thought that can lead to peace of mind; and more so if one could put this into daily practice and live like this.

The rabbis say not only that we should but also that we can.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Making Smart Choices Regarding Vaccines (2018)

Parents & Children

I am reposting this article/book review, which I first wrote & published in March 2011 (“Informed Parents: Making Good Choices”), more than seven years ago. Nothing has changed in how I view the efficacy of vaccines and how they are beneficial to humanity. Should scientific evidence prove the contrary I will be pleased to post it. Yet, in many ways anti-vaxxers are already winning, by spreading fear and disinformation through the use of pseudoscience. Any win of theirs, however, is humanity’s loss. 

Title: Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All
Author: Paul Offit, MD
Date: 2011
Publisher: Basic Books: New York City, NY


“The modern American anti-vaccine movement was born on April 19, 1982, when WRC-TV, a local NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., aired a one-hour documentary titled DPT: Vaccine Roulette.”
Paul Offit, Deadly Choices, p. 2

“To the contrary, I was pro-vaccine. But I was pro-vaccine safety. I was knowledgeable enough to know the history that many more people's children and adults have been saved by vaccines than have ever died from them.
John Salamone, who effectively changed polio-vaccine policy
in the United States after his son, David,
suffering a crippling side-effect from the Sabin vaccine.”
—Deadly Choices, p.81

“Parents need to understand that when they choose not to vaccinate, they are making a decision for other people’s children as well.”
Brendalee Flint, whose daughter suffered bacterial meningitis in Jan 2008. They resided  in Minnesota, which had seen a sixfold increase in parents refusing to give their children the Hib vaccine.
—Deadly Choices, p. 214

IDeadly Choices, Paul Offit pushes back against the threats, allegations and fear-mongering of the anti-vaccine movement. His weapons of choice are historical evidence, reams of scientific studies and court cases, which individually and collectively prove, with acute clarity, that vaccines in general are not only considered safe, but are necessary for the sound health of our children and society in general

Offit's well-balanced book offers us a detailed example how ignorance and distrust of science and medicine, ignited by grass-roots politics, has led to a step backwards in health-care policy and prevention, notably in the United States. Throw in a few medical doctors and health officials raising the alarm bells, and fear-mongering from a willing media, and an entertainment industry built on sensationalism, and you have a witch's brew that has had and will continue to have deadly consequences for children.

Much of the credit for the modern anti-vaccine movement dates to 1982, when an NBC station in Washington, the nation's capital, aired a program, called DPT: Vaccine Roulette. Its focus was on the dangers of the pertussis vaccine, used to immunize children from whooping cough. The  program showed many images of children, both mentally and physically handicapped, easily provoking viewers to draw the conclusion that the pertussis vaccine for whooping cough caused this. Case closed.

Except for one thing. The show's images of children were as compelling as the science behind it was false. Scientifically False. It would take fifteen years of epidemiological studies in England, Sweden, Denmark and the U.S. to show no causal link between the vaccine and any long-term consequences.  But it would also take a 1988 court case, (Loveday v. Renton and Wellcome Foundation Ltd.), a class-action lawsuit that included two hundred other children in England to put the matter to rest.

The ruling by Lord Justice Murray Stuart-Smith concluded: "On all the evidence, a plaintiff has failed to establish, on a balance of probability, that pertussis vaccine used in the United Kingdom and administered intramuscularly in normal doses could cause permanent brain damage in young children." Another landmark case in Canada came to a similar verdict.

As for the likely cause of the seizures and mental retardation noted in Vaccine Roulette, Samuel Berkovic, a neurologist at the University of Melbourne and director of the Epilepsy Research Center, determined that a genetic defect in a gene (SCN1A) that regulates the transport of sodium in brain cells was primarily responsible. It was an important discovery, and such results ought to be good news for all parents, especially those who second-guessed themselves for vaccinating their children.
Berkovic wrote, "The identification of a genetic cause of encephalopathy in a particular child should finally put to rest the case for vaccination being the primary cause."
But, of course, there's money to be made. In this case, billions of dollars to doctors, lawyers and other special-interest groups, when accusations can be made and legal proceedings instituted against Big Pharma. Another example cited in the book is the MMR-autism controversy. One of the persons responsible for stoking the fears is Andrew Wakefield, an academic gastroenterologist and a medical doctorwho had published a controversial paper in the respected British medical journal The Lancet in February 1998, linking the MMR vaccine with autism.

It would take solid investigative journalism in England and a court case in the U.S. to again prove no causal link between the MMR vaccine and autism, which has no known cause. After a thorough investigation, first by the media (Brian Deer for the Sunday Times) and then by the General Medical Council (GMC), which licenses doctors in Britain, 12 years after initial publication, the paper was retracted by The Lancet on February 2, 2010.

Equally important, Wakefield has been struck off the Medical Registrar and may no longer practice medicine in the U.K. (For more information see On Vaccines: a Matter of Life.)

In 1988, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, or VICP, was set up by the U.S. federal government to protect vaccine makers from expensive civil lawsuits. Under VICP, cases are heard in what has been called Vaccine Court, a no-fault forum for legal proceeding in front of special masters.

The result? None of the allegations have been proven in this court in what was essentially a class-action lawsuit involving 5,000 cases and tens of thousands of pages of documentary evidence. In its first ruling, on February 12, 2009, all the masters unanimously "rejected the notion that MMR plus thimerosal-containing vaccines caused autism, finding not a shred of evidence to support the theory," Offit writes.

In the second ruling, on whether thimerosal alone was responsible for autism, the Vaccine Court, on March 12, 2010, called the plaintiff's arguments "scientifically unsupportable." Yet much damage has been done, clouding if not outright confusing the issue for parents.

In his book, Offit boils down the problem to one of trust: :
Unfortunately, nothing will change if the push to vaccinate comes only from doctors, vaccine advocates, public health officials, and hospital; administrators. Some parents will always view these groups as biased; and it hasn't been hard for anti-vaccine groups to appeal to the sentiment that they can't be trusted.
Undoubtedly, this has been the case thus far. Yet, it can change if parents make informed choices on the importance and necessity of vaccines. Offit's book in its purest form is a plea to parents to make a fully informed choice, based on scientific evidence, and to weigh this evidence against the fears and hysteria offered by anti-vaccine advocates. (Anti-vaccine movements have appeared periodically throughout modern history, first in England in the 1860s, and then in the U.S. in the 1890s.)

Herd Immunity

The necessity centres on reams of statistical data from credible sources, which posits that a certain percentage of the population are required to be vaccinated to take advantage of the protection afforded by herd immunity. If we want to avoid any epidemics of diseases like measles, mumps and diphtheria, the only proven method are vaccinations. And the scientific data supports this contention. Yet, too many parents remain unconvinced.

Conspiring against herd immunity are a number of important factors, including 1) The prevalence of international travel, in which travelers returning from nations with low immunization rates, increasingly are returning to North America with cases of such diseases; 2) Lack of scientific literacy;  and 3) The success of the anti-vaccine movement in lowering vaccine rates, thus depriving the population, which includes you and I, the protection offered by herd immunity.It's also important to remember that no vaccine is 100% effective.

In herd immunity, a proven scientific concept, if more people are immune to a certain virus, either through vaccination or having already had the disease, then more people in the population, even if they themselves aren't immune, are protected from the disease.The greater the percentage of people vaccinated, the smaller chance of having an epidemic. Diseases are typically transmitted from a person who's been infected to another person. If that person has been vaccinated, he does not become a transmission point.

That percentage of the population that requires vaccination varies, from 85% for mumps, rubella and diphtheria to 95% for measles and pertussis or whooping cough. Because of emphasis on vaccines in the 1960s and 1970s, many of these diseases, once considered a rite of passage for childhood, were considered almost eliminated in North America.

But then came the assiduous efforts of the anti-vaccine movement, and their success in convincing parents of the validity of their message has translated to lowering vaccination rates, Offit says:  "Some aren't giving any vaccines at all; since 1991 the percentage of unvaccinated children has more than doubled."

On a personal note, I experienced first-hand on the effects of Offit's subtitle: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All. When  children remain unvaccinated, others remain unprotected as herd immunity breaks down. I contacted  chickenpox (varicella) at a conference for families in Schroon Lake, New York, in June 2002, at age 45. My oldest daughter (then 12) and wife had already had chickenpox as young children, before the varicella vaccine became licensed for use in the U.S. in 1995. My four-month-old son had garnered immunity from my wife's antibodies while being breastfed.

My reaction was far more serious. It left me debilitated for almost four weeks, where I suffered hundreds of vesicular lesions, or blisters, over my entire body, a fever hovering above 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) and general discomfort. After I recovered, I found out that the consequences of adult chickenpox are more severe than in young children, sometimes leading to pneumonia, transient hepatitis, and encephalitis.

That experience marked me for life. I have always been convinced of the need for vaccinations, but after that I was an advocate. Equally compelling, I had thought that everyone, especially parents, favored vaccines. But I was wrong and ill-informed. Unknown to me at the time was that the effects of the anti-vaccine movement was being felt across the United States.

Paul Offit: “The fear of vaccines, the choice to act on that fear, the consequences of that choice, and the voices rising in protest are the subject of this book.”

Recent Outbreaks

Here's only a few examples that Offit has mentioned in his book:
  • Washington: An outbreak of pertussis (whopping cough) on Vachon Island, a small commuter island in Kings County, home to ten thousand people, most wealthy and and well educated. About one in seven children are unvaccinated. In 1994, 48 cases of whopping cough were reported. It increased to 263 in 1995, and 458 in 1999.
  • Indiana: In May 2005, a seventeen-year-old unvaccinated girl from Indiana traveled to Romania on a church mission. She visited an orphanage and hospital in  Romania, which was then undergoing a measles epidemic.On the way home, she felt ill, but unaware that she had contacted measles and  excited to share her overseas experience, she went to a church picnic attended by 500 people. Of the 35 unvaccinated people at the picnic, 31 contacted measles. "The girl who had contacted measles in Romania—after spending only a few hours in a crowd of 500 people—had managed to infect almost every person susceptible to the disease," Offit says.
  • New York & New Jersey: In June 2009, there was an outbreak of mumps among Hasidic Jews in New York and New Jersey. An eleven-year-old boy traveled to England and contacted mumps. Then, thousands of British children had not received the vaccine for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), afraid that it caused autism. The boy flew back to New York, attended a summer camp for Hasidic Jews, and, unfortunately, started a massive epidemic. By January 2010, fifteen hundred people had been infected with mumps, the book's author says: "When it was over, mumps was found to have caused pancreatitis, meningitis, deafness, facial paralysis, or inflammation of the ovaries in sixty-five people; nineteen were hospitalized."
And the cases continue.

The Changing '80s

How things have changed. Vaccinations, once considered the gold standard of a health-care prevention policy, are now often looked at suspiciously by parents, who want the best for children. When most of the developed world were once looking at the United States with awe and envy at how they improved the lifespans of children, they must now wonder what is going on.

When the U.S. was once at the forefront in the battle to eradicate many of the diseases that debilitated children, including measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis and polio, many parents have decided to not vaccinate their children.

Pharmaceutical companies, so-called Big Pharma, have made mistakes in manufacturing vaccines, particularly in the early history of production. In his book, Offit cites cases where huge mistakes were made, resulting in severe outbreaks and death.
Yellow fever vaccine: American soldiers receiving this vaccine in the 1940s were inadvertently given a vaccine that contained hepatitis B. Offit writes: "In March 1942, the US Surgeon General's Office noted a striking number of recruits were infected by hepatitis; more than three hundred thousand soldiers were infected with what we now know as hepatitis B virus; sixty-two died from the disease."

Polio vaccine: When the Salk vaccine was licensed for sale, one of the three manufacturers, Cutter Laboratories in Berkeley, California, had done a horrible job, in 1955, of producing the Salk vaccine, failing to inactivate the live polio vaccine. "As a consequence, Offit writes, "one hundred and twenty thousand children were inadvertently infected with a vaccine that contained a live, potentially deadly poliovirus: seventy thousand suffered mild polio, two hundred were severely and permanently paralyzed, and ten died. It was one of the worst biological disasters in American history."
Two things resulted from this disaster: Cutter Laboratories ceased making polio vaccines (It was bought by Bayer in the 1970s), and the creation of a vaccine regulatory system. As well, not cited in the book since it's not about a vaccine, but about an antibiotic, penicillin, is the recent discovery of research experiments conducted on prisoners, mental patients and soldiers in Guatemala during the 1940s and 1950s to test the efficacy of penicillin.

This was done without informed consent, despite stringent regulations in effect after the drafting of the Nuremberg Code in 1947 (see Unwilling Participants).  Such are the issues that tarnish the otherwise exemplary work going on in today's medical- research establishments.

The Evidence is Solid

Despite such mistakes, they are rare, and many controls are in place to reduce such incidents. For persons who hold particular ideologies, facts don't generally persuade them. Yet, their solution of zero vaccines falls short of a sound and proven health-care policy, and is be a menu for epidemics that would result in many more family tragedies and deaths.

Consider the following: If you speak to an older generation of adults, those born before the 1940s, before the widespread availability of vaccines, you will get a different picture. This generation is thankful for the benefits that vaccines offer to humanity.

Dr. Offit does an excellent job of explaining the history of vaccines and why they are necessary, effective and safe. For this, he ought to be commended. His book is well-researched and well-documented tour-de-force on his area of expertise.

He is a scientist with not only a fine mind, but a well-operating heart. He would prefer that people were united, and refers to the tragedy of September 11, 2001, as a time when people were more united toward a common good. "And if we can recapture it—recapture the feeling that we are all in this together, all part of a large immunological cooperative—the growing tragedy of children dying from preventable infections can be avoided."

As a writer and journalist, I recommend this book for anyone who wants to be well informed on vaccines and the history of the anti-vaccine movement. As a parent. I recommend this book to other parents who want to be well-informed on making the best choices for your children's health and well-being.


Paul Offit, MD, is the chief of the division of infection diseases and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He is the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and a professor of pediatrics at University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine. Dr. Offit is a founding advisory board member of the Autism Science Foundation, to which he is donating the royalties to this book. He resides outside Philadelphia.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Cantor Mordechai Hershman: Eilu Devurim

Cantor Mordechai Hershman [1888–1940]: “Eilu Devurim” (אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים; “These are the Things”), is often referred to as the Rabbinic Ten Commandments. The prayer dates to the writing of the Mishnah. For more on Chazan Hershman, go [here].
Via: Youtube

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Shulem Lemmer & the Shira Choir: Avinu Malkeinu (2015)

Shulem Lemmer & the Shira Choir: “Avinu Malkeinu” (אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ‎; “Our Father, Our King”) which was composed by Moshe (Max) Janowski [1912–1991] and is part of the liturgy for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur as well as during Aseret Yemei Teshuva (עשרת ימי תשובה‎; “Ten Days of Repentance”). It is an acknowledgement of Judaism and its history of powerful and heartfelt prayer. Lemmer [born in 1989 in  Brooklyn, New York], a Belz Hasid from Boro Park, was recently signed by a major record label. This young man has talent. Kol hakavod
Via: Youtube

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Maccabeats: Book of Good Life (2011)

The Maccabeats: Book of Good Life. A wonderful song to start off the New Year of 5779. Shana Tova to all. The song was originally released in 2011, in time for the Jewish New Year of 5772.
Via: Youtube

Shana Tova 5779

Jewish New Year

Rosh Hashanah: Apples and honey and pomegranates (often as the second night as “a new fruit”) are traditionally eaten during this holiday; the kabbalah says that there are 613 seeds in a pomegranate, equal to the number of mitzvot in the Torah. Also traditional is a circular challah (often with raisins), symbolizing both continuity and sweetness for the new year. The challah is dipped in honey and eaten.
Photo Credit: My Jewish Learning

Tonight at sundown marks the beginning of the period in the Jewish calendar of Yamim Noraim (Hebrew: ימים נוראים‎), or the “Days of Awe.” This is traditionally called the High Holy Days or High Holidays, a ten-day period of introspection, self-examination, and repentance, with the chief aim of making positive changes in our lives, and righting any wrongs one might have committed during the previous year. For this reason, this period is also called Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (עשרת ימי תשובה), or “Ten Days of Repentance.” 

The period starts with Rosh Hashanah (tonight, 1 Tishrei), the Jewish New Year (5779), and culminates with Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. To those observing the holiday, let me wish you a healthy, happy and sweet year. The traditional greeting is Shana tova u’metukah, (Hebrew: שנה טובה ומתוקה) or “A good and sweet year.” In Yiddish, we say A gut gebentsht yohr, or “A good and blessed year. ” 

No matter how you say it, the thought remains the same. Moreover, we Jews don’t only say “have a sweet year,” we also want to experience it through our senses. So, enjoy your apples and honey, your challah dipped in honey, the seeds of the pomegranate and the holiday meal that follows it.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Offspring of Greatness: Henry Rosenblatt (1995)

Offspring of Greatness: Henry Rosenblatt (1995). A documentary interviewing the son, Henry Rosenblatt [1907–1998], of the great chazzan (cantor), Yossele Rosenblatt [1882–1933]; it was produced and directed by Ed Konecnik. There are very interesting insights and explanation of his father’s singing style. For those of you who have an interest in this subject, of chazzanut and of the past, of a time long ago, you can listen to a record of Henry Rosenblatt singing “Yaale” with his father [here].
Via: Youtube

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Cantors Yossele Rosenblatt & Samuel Malavsky: Seudas Moshiach

Cantors Yossele Rosenblatt [1882–1933] & Samuel Malavsky [1894–1985] sing Seudas Moshiach” in a wonderful duet; the Yiddish folk song is also called “A Sudenyu.” I could not find out when this particular recording was made, but it had to be before 1933. If anyone has such details, please contact me. You can also hear a version by the great operatic tenor, Jan Peerce [1904–1984],  [here].
Via: Youtube

Seudas Moshiach

Zog zhe rebenyu vos vet zayn ven meshiakh vet kumen? Ven meshiakh vet kumen? veln mir makhn a sudenyu. Vos veln mir esn oyf dem sudenyu? Dem shoyr ha-bor, leviyasan veln mir esn oyf dem sudenyu. Vos veln mir trinken oyf dem sudenyu? Dem yayin ha-meshumor veln mir trinkn oyf dem sudenyu. Un ver vet uns toyre zogn oyf dem sudenyu? Moyshe rabenyu vet uns toyre zogn. oyf dem sudenyu. Un ver vet uns shpiln oyf dem sudenyu? Dovid ha-melekh vet uns shpiln. oyf dem sudenyu. Un ver vet uns khokhme zogn oyf dem sudenyu? Shloymoy ha-melekh vet uns khokhme zogn. oyf dem sudenyu. Un ver vet tantsn oyf dem sudeynu? Miryam ha-naviya vet uns tantsn. oyf dem sudenyu.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: What We Worship (2017)


Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: “We have seen a growth of extremism in politics and religion—all of it fueled by anxiety, uncertainty and fear. Of a world that’s changing almost faster than we can bear. And the sure knowledge that it’s going to change faster still. […] Is there something we can do, each of us, to be able to face the future without fear?” asks Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. “I think there is.” And the question each of us must ask, he suggests, is what we worship, both as individuals and as a collective that make up communities. If it is only the worship of the self—the individual, the ego, the yetzer hara (יֵצֶר הַרַע)—then one is left vulnerable, fearful and alone. Rather, Rabbi Sacks says, it is important to view our identity in “us.” Moreover, a nation and a People are strong when it cares for the weak, the poor and the vulnerable. The act of tzedakah (צדקה‎; justice) is central to the Torah and the Talmud. So important is tzedakah that it says in Proverbs 21:3 (מִשְׁלֵי; Míshlê ): “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” In other words, although ritual is important, tzedakah is more so. This tells us something important.
Via: Youtube

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Noam Sheriff’s Revival of the Dead (1998)

Noam Sheriff’s Revival of the Dead (מחיה המתים; Mechaye hametim), performed by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta conducting, at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem, on May 4, 1998 (8 Iyar 5758 in the Hebrew calendar), in commemoration of Eretz Israel's 50th anniversary of its founding (5 Iyar 5708). This performance includes the Ramat Gan Chamber Choir and the Ankor Children Choir; Cantor Joseph Malovany (tenor) and Vladimir Braun ( baritone). Noam Sheriff, an Israeli composer, conductor and educator, was born in 1935 in Tel Aviv; he died last week on Saturday August 25th. He was 83.

Revival of the Dead: Zubin Mehta and Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Yigdal Prayer


Below are some versions of  the Hebrew prayer, Yigdal (יִגְדָּל‬; “Magnify”), based on Maimonides’ (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, or Rambam’s) 13 Fundamental Principles or Articles of Faith (Shloshah Asar Ikkarim). In this powerful prayer God is magnified and acknowledged as the sole God of the His People, that the Torah is everlasting and unalterable, and that Redemption of the His People will take place. Depending on the tradition or shul, it is sung at either at the beginning of the morning or the close of the evening services. The authorship is uncertain, but it dates to at least the 14th century.

Avraham Perrera: Yigdal
Via: Youtube

Avraham David: Yigdal
Via: Youtube

Hazan İsak Maçoro, Yigdal, from a 1960 recording.
Via: Youtube

The following is cited courtesy of the Zemirot Database, an excellent resource:


יִגְדַּל אֱלֹהִים חַי וְיִשְׁתַּבַּח, נִמְצָא, וְאֵין עֵת אֶל מְצִיאוּתוֹ: 

אֶחָד וְאֵין יָחִיד כְּיִחוּדוֹ, נֶעְלָם, וְגַם אֵין סוֹף לְאַחְדּוּתוֹ: 

אֵין לוֹ דְמוּת הַגּוּף וְאֵינוֹ גּוּף, לֹא נַעֲרוֹךְ אֵלָיו קְדֻשָּׁתוֹ: 

קַדְמוֹן לְכָל דָּבָר אֲשֶׁר נִבְרָא, רִאשׁוֹן וְאֵין רֵאשִׁית לְרֵאשִׁיתוֹ: 

הִנּוֹ אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם, לְכָל נוֹצָר. יוֹרֶה גְדֻלָּתוֹ וּמַלְכוּתוֹ: 

שֶׁפַע נְבוּאָתוֹ נְתָנוֹ, אֶל אַנְשֵׁי סְגוּלָּתוֹ וְתִפְאַרְתּוֹ: 

לֹא קָם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל כְּמֹשֶה עוֹד נָבִיא, וּמַבִּיט אֶת תְּמוּנָתוֹ: 

תּוֹרַת אֱמֶת נָתַן לְעַמּוֹ, אֵל, עַל יַד נְבִיאוֹ נֶאֱמַן בֵּיתוֹ: 

לֹא יַחֲלִיף הָאֵל וְלֹא יָמִיר דָּתוֹ. לְעוֹלָמִים, לְזוּלָתוֹ: 

צוֹפֶה וְיוֹדֵֽעַ סְתָרֵינוּ, מַבִּיט לְסוֹף דָּבָר בְּקַדְמָתוֹ: 

גּוֹמֵל לְאִישׁ חֶֽסֶד כְּמִפְעָלוֹ, נוֹתֵן לְרָשָׁע רָע כְּרִשְׁעָתוֹ:

יִשְׁלַח לְקֵץ יָמִין מְשִׁיחֵֽנוּ, לִפְדּוֹת מְחַכֵּי קֵץ יְשׁוּעָתוֹ:

מֵתִים יְחֲיֶּה אֵל בְּרוֹב חַסְדּוֹ, בָּרוּךְ עֲדֵי עַד שֵׁם תְּהִלָּתוֹ: 

[אלה שלוש עשרה לעקרים הן הם יסוד דת אל ואמונתו. תורת משה אמת ונבואתו, ברוך עדי עד שם תהלתו.]


1. Magnified​ and praised be the living God: he is, and there is no limit in time unto his being. 

2. He is One, and there is no unity like unto his unity; inconceiv​able is he, and unending is his unity. 

3. He hath neither bodily form nor substance​: we can compare nought unto him in his holiness.​ 

4. He was before anything that hath been created--​even the first: but his existence​ had no beginning​. 

5. Behold he is the Lord of the universe:​ to every creature he teacheth his greatness​ and his sovereign​ty. 

6. The rich gift of his prophecy he gave unto the men of his choice, in whom he gloried. 

7. There hath never yet arisen in Israel a prophet like unto Moses, one who hath beheld his similitud​e, 

8. The Law of truth God gave unto his people by the hand of his prophet who was faithful in his house. 

9. God will not alter nor change his Law to everlasti​ng for any other. 

10. He watcheth and knoweth our secret thoughts:​ he beholdeth​ the end of a thing before it existeth.​ 

11. He bestoweth​ lovingkin​​dness upon a man according​​ to his work; he giveth to the wicked evil according​​ to his wickednes​s. 

12. He will send our anointed at the end of days, to redeem them that wait for the end—his​ salvation​. 

13. In the abundance​ of his lovingkin​​dness God will quicken the dead. Blessed for evermore be his glorious name. 

Trans​lation from The Standard Prayer book by Simeon Singer (1915) (public domain) 

[These are the thirteen fundamentals (of Jewish faith), they are the foundation of the religion of God and His faithful.​ The Torah of Moses and his prophesy is true, blessed for eternity be His name.] 


Although it is found in the beginning of the shacharit service in the siddur, Yigdal is often sung at the conclusion of the Ma“ariv service on Shabbat and Chagim. The lines in brackets are added in Sefardi communities. 

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish (1965)

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish (1965). Shraga Friedman [born in 1924 in Warsaw, Poland–died in 1970 in Tel Aviv, Israel], who, because of the Nazi invasion of Poland, had to flee his hometown with his family through a number of countries before arriving in Haifa in 1941 in what was then pre-Israel British-controlled Mandatory Palestine. Friedman translated the words of the 1964 American Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof (Joseph Stein’s book and Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics, with music by Jerry Bock—all based on the stories of Yiddish writer, Sholem Aleichem, born Sholem Naumovich Rabinovich) into Yiddish, calling it Fidler Afn Dakh. This was first performed in Israel in 1965. It is good to hear this well-known American musical in Yiddish. As a note of interest, it was only this year, in 2018, that the play was performed in Yiddish, in America, at New York City’s National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene. There is, however, a 1939 Yiddish film called Tevye, directed and written by Maurice Schwartz [1889–1960], who also plays the lead role. Schwartz founded the Yiddish Art Theatre and its theatre school in 1918 in New York City; I must say that Schwartz's Yiddish is impeccable. A film clip can be seen [here], courtesy of the National Center for Jewish Film.

The Album
00:01 די תורה (Tradition) 07:25 שדכנטע שדכנטע (Matchmaker, Matchmaker) 11:26 ווען איך בין א ראטשילד (If I Were a Rich man) 16:30 קבלת-שבת ליד (Sabbath Prayer) 18:58 לחיים (To Life) 23:16 נסים ונפלאות (Miracle of Miracles) 25:24 דער חלום (Tevye's Dream) 32:31 טאג איין טאג אויס (Sunrise, Sunset) 36:05 חתונה-טאנץ (Wedding Dance) 39:08 ליבסט מיך, סארצע (Do You Love Me?) 42:21 ווייט פון מיין ליבער היים (Far From the Home I Love) 44:47 אנאטעווקע (Anatevka)

Friday, August 31, 2018

Cantor Joseph Malovany: Jewish Music in Jerusalem (2005)

Jewish Music in Jerusalem: A Cantorial Concert with Joseph Malovany (2005) with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Shtainer. Malovany, who was born and raised in Tel Aviv, left Israel in 1963, first going to South Africa and then to England, before coming to America. He has been the hazzan (cantor) of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue, a modern Orthodox shul, in New York City since 1973 and the distinguished professor of liturgical music at the Philip and Sarah Belz School of Jewish Music of Yeshiva University since 1985. Chazan Malovany is a strong believer in Nusach (נוסח‬), a foundational idea in Judaism in how to sing or chant the words properly, by keeping in mind the liturgical tradition, which some say goes all the way back to Sinai. On this note and more, there is a good recent interview with Chazan Malovany on the Chabad-Lubavitch site on how to prepare for the High Holy Days or High Holidays, starting with Rosh HaShanah on 1 Tishrei 5779, in less than 10 days; see [here].
Via: Youtube

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Isaac Newton & His Interest in Judaism


Portrait of Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727), by James Thornhill; circa 1712.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

ir Isaac Newton [1643–1727], one of the world’s greatest scientists, responsible for Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, or simply Principia Mathematica, published in July 1687, which was at a time of high rationalism, might have been influenced by Jewish religious writings.

This interest in Judaism was revealed in Newton’s private papers, which were unread for more than 200 years after his death, collecting dust in the family home. They were eventually sold in 1936 in a public auction and now have a home in three universities: King’s College at Cambridge; MIT; and the National Library of Israel of Hebrew University in Jerusalem (1969), which exhibited the papers for the first time in 2007. As an example, see [here].

Although his private papers were made available to scholars in the last 25 years, the public is only recently finding out more; in an article (“Sir Isaac Newton and Judaism;” August 25, 2018) for Aish, B. Gordon writes:
It’s no wonder that both Christian and secular-minded scientists who had originally revered Newton had little incentive to publicize their findings. Newton’s manuscripts revealed that he took a keen interest in “archaic” Jewish wisdom. Newton’s knowledge of Jewish thought was not superficial; he referred to rabbinic works such as the Aramaic Version of Esther, Vayikra Rabba, the commentaries of Sa'adia HaGaon, Ibn Ezra, Rashi, Sifra, R. Aharon ibn Hayyim; Seder Ma'amadot (about the daily sacrifices) the Bartinurah and Talmudic passages from the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud in Latin. One of Newton’s manuscripts was entitled “On Maimonides,” where he quoted the Latin translation of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah. 
There is more to Newton than what the public knew. In a Chabad-Lubavitch article (“The Newton You Never Knew”), Dr. Arnie Gotfryd, a Hasidic Jew and environmental scientist from Toronto, writes:
To quote Jose Faur, a Jewish scholar who has studied Newton's papers: "The papers reveal that Newton was a strict monotheist. He saw no need for a new revelation and rebuffed the Christian notion of atonement and salvation. Siding with Rabbinic tradition and contra Christian doctrine, he maintained that the Noahide precepts alone suffice for salvation, and thus there is no need for J----' expiatory death. ...Newton was resolute in his belief that the Law of Moses was not abrogated with the advent of Christianity... Therefore, the Christian Scripture must be understood in light of the Hebrew Scripture, and not the other way around."
Newton was neither a typical Christian nor a strict secular rationalist—that much can be said with certainty—and moreover he might have been the first Christian Zionist;  he also saw no barrier between science and religion. Newton was, it could be inferred, a man who wanted to both understand and know, using all the knowledge that was then available, which was considerable.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Manis Friedman: God is Infinitely Vulnerable (2018)

Rabbi Manis Friedman: God is Infinitely Vulnerable, which helps to view God as loveable, the argument goes. (Judaism says that God does not need us; He wants us and He wants a relationship with us.) God’s “infinite vulnerability” is an idea that I have never heard before, an interesting one, I must admit—since vulnerability is viewed as a weakness by some, and yet it is unquestionably necessary for intimate human relations and relationships. This view gives another understanding of Judaism and the relationship of the Jews to God. As an example Jews say, “God, I love.” This, Rabbi Friedman says, is not the same as “I love God.” Perhaps so. I need to give more thought to this before I comment further, but I thought I ought to share this video clip with you. Rabbi Friedman is a Chabad-Lubavitch Hasid, author and public speaker. And an engaging one, too.
Via: Youtube

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Daniel Ahaviel at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall (2014)

Daniel Ahaviel, an Israeli Hasidic violinist, playing at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall (renamed David Geffen Hall in September 2016) in New York City. Ahaviel did not grow up Hasidic or even moderately observant while growing up as Daniel Wistrich in northwest London more than 50 years ago. Ahaviel moved to Israel in 1988 and married soon after; in the years since then he and his wife became more observant. Now he identifies as a Breslov Hasid. This is apparent in his musical approach and style and the energy with which he plays and performs. His life story is an extraordinary as his playing. For more on his early growing up years, there is an article (“String Theory;” May 9, 2012), by Rachel Ginsberg, in Mishpacha.
Via: Youtube

Monday, August 27, 2018

My Blog: 8 Years Later


I have been writing this blog for eight years. This is not a terribly long time in the life of an individual, and especially in these troubling times marked by a lack of a moral vision. Each year at this time I take stock of what I have accomplished and whether I ought to continue. Mayle, each year, like an old horse, I put one foot in front of another and move along the path. As long as I have my health and koach, I will continue to do so.

I have added a section on “The Holocaust,” an area of research and historiography that is important, one of the seminal events in modern history. As survivors die off and memories recede, we already see how facts become subverted, history is revised, and truth assaulted. In pursuit of justice, it is thus important to have the historical record, which includes the collection and dissemination of verifiable documents, voluminous reports and miles of film. Such is what these sites do, and quite admirably I might add.

There is also “Yiddish Poets & Writers,” who were also part of both the prewar period and the postwar period, straddling two worlds, so to speak. I have also added more to the section on “Yiddish Sites,” since Yiddish language and culture is another interest that I hold, again because I see it as an important link to the past, not only of my personal paternal family history (prewar Poland), but of the history of East European Jews.

I wish I could say that I am highly hopeful for the future, but too many signs squeeze that hope to a trickle. Even as this is true, the waterways of hope can always open more. We Yidn always have hope of a better future, having lived for a good part of our history in difficult times. Such is the way it is; such is our geshikhte (געשיכטע). Retaining hope is a forever good thing, which is the story of the Jewish People throughout our 4,000-year history, much of it in exile, or golus (גלות).

Yet, golus is not the end point, the final destination, since the deepest desire of the Jewish People throughout our history is the end of exile and the return home, to aundzer heym, not only a physical place but a spiritual one, as well. Such things are hard to understand with our minds, limited as they are by everyday concerns. Yet, we have our Torah, which tells us many things that instruct us. As one Hasidic publication, Chabad-Lubavitch, puts it:
But a fundamental principle of the Jewish faith is that exile will end and will be supplanted with a “true and complete redemption.” After thousands of years of living in a world that’s out of sync with our deepest selves, we will enter an era of eternal peace and tranquility, a world that is “wholly Shabbat and rest, for life everlasting.”
—p. 11; Exodus Magazine; September 2018
I believe this to be true, and this is evident in my many articles that I have written for this site over the years. I write this in the Jewish month of Elul, a time of introspection and personal examination, leading to the month of Tishrei, and the beginning of the High Holy Days or Holidays or Yamim Noraim (ימים נוראים; ‎ “Days of Awe” or “Days of Repentance”), starting with the Jewish New Year of 5779, Rosh HaShanah (ראש השנה) and culminating with Yom Kippur (יום כפור), the Day of Atonement.

This is followed by the joyous holidays of Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. But more on these holidays laterIn closing, I thank you, dear readers, for reading, and if you are so inclined, drop me a line. I wish you good health and some measure of peace, or shalom.

Perry (Peretz) J. Greenbaum
16 Elul 5778

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Niggun Jerusalem: Nożyk Synagogue in Warsaw (2007)

Niggun Jerusalem at a concert (September 9, 2007) at the Nożyk Synagogue in Warsaw, Poland, led by Cantors (Chazzanim) Joseph Malovany, Eric Freeman and Berel Zucker; piano: Alexander Velikovskiy. The concert is conducted by Alexander Tsaliuk. It is not only OK if you sing this aloud while watching, it is also encouraged. Enjoy. The full two-hour concert can be enjoyed [here]. This takes place as part of the 4th Singer’s Warsaw Jewish Culture Festival.
    The Nożyk Synagogue, an Orthodox shul, is the sole surviving synagogue in Warsaw; it was completed in 1902, demolished by the Nazis during the Second World War (1939–1945) and the rebuilding process completed in 1983. For more about the Jewish community in Warsaw, Poland, go [here]. 
     About 10,000 Jews reside in Poland, led by Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who was born and raised in New York City, and who emigrated to Poland in 1990, the country which his grandparents left before the Second World War.
Via: Youtube

Friday, August 24, 2018

Sid Caesar: Small Apartment (1955)

Small Apartment, part of The Commuters sketch shown on “Caesar's Hour” (NBC-TV; 1954–1957; this episode, May 9, 1955), starring Sid Caesar and Nanette Fabray (as Bob and Nan Victor) and co-starring Carl Reiner and Howard Morris. We also have been told by our invited guests that our 2–bedroom apartment of 600 sq. ft. (for the four of us) is “cute and little,” so we can relate to this comedic sketch, despite its hyperbolic nature. Although we would like to, we do not entertain much for this very reason. Perhaps it is time for us to move.
Via: Youtube

Thursday, August 23, 2018

BirdNotes: One Square Inch of Silence

Noise Pollution: It is getting harder to find places untouched by noise. BirdNote writes: “Gordon Hempton, the Sound Tracker, seeks those rare places untouched by human noise, where birds and nature create a complex, quiet music. In the Hoh Valley, in a rain forest in Olympic National Park, is a place he calls One Square Inch of Silence. It’s the least noise-polluted place in all of the Lower 48. And Gordon is working to preserve it. To experience One Square Inch of Silence, download the mp3, below. Gordon says, ‘It demonstrates what we are giving up, not just for ourselves, but for future generations if we do not set aside a quiet place now, or to hear it positively, what I believe we are going to save for all time.’”
     We need more places like this, free of noise pollution, not only for birds and other wildlife, but also for humans. I live, if you can call it that, in a high-rise building that is below a corridor for constant air traffic. Planes taking off and landing. There are also the sounds of building construction and road repair, the hum of road traffic day and night, the sound of emergency vehicles day and night, and who knows what else is done in the name of progress. It has gotten worse in the almost-four years that my family and I have been living here. These are industrial sounds, human-made sounds—not pleasant at all, in stark contrast to the harmonious sounds of nature and what it has to offer humanity.
    I just discovered this wonderful site, after buying a book on birds. The site describes itself as follows: “BirdNote strives to transport listeners out of the daily grind and into the natural world with outstanding audio programming and online content. The stories we tell are rich in sound, imagery, and information, connecting the ways and needs of birds to the lives of listeners. BirdNote shows are aired on public radio stations around the country every day and can be found online at any time. Each show is scheduled to coincide with the time of year when it’s possible to see or hear the featured bird. We inspire people to listen, look, and exclaim, ‘Oh, that’s what that is!’ 
     The sounds of silence can be heard [here].
Courtesy: BirdNote

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Sid Caesar: Health Food Restaurant

Health Food Restaurant: Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca in a comedy sketch that is as relevant today as it was in the early 1950s, when it was first shown on TV on “Your Show of Shows.”  A classic line is: “I don’t want to experiment. …I don’t want to feel better; I want to feel full.” Sid Caesar [born as Isaac Sidney Caesar  in 1922 in Yonkers, New York–died in 2014 in Beverly Hills, California], was, as Wikipedia states, “an American comic actor and writer, best known for two pioneering 1950s live television series: Your Show of Shows [NBC; 1950–54], which was a 90-minute weekly show watched by 60 million people, and its successor, Caesar’s Hour [NBC; 1954–1957].” 
    As to the importance of Sid Caesar in the shaping and influencing of modern American comedy, consider what one site (“Stuff Nobody Cares About”) says: “What Sid Caesar accomplished besides entertaining millions with his hilarious sketches that the common man could relate to, was to bring together a staff of talent that influences modern comedy to this day. The writing and performing staff included Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Lucille Kallen, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Danny Simon, Mel Tolkin and Larry Gelbart. It is no exaggeration to say the annals of comedy would not have been the same without Sid Caesar.” True enough.
Via: Youtube

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices (2008)

Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices is a good documentary on the man, Mel Blanc [born as Melvin Jerome Blank in 1908 in San Francisco, California–died in 1989 in Los Angeles, California], who was the voice of many of the famous cartoon characters—including Bugs Bunny, Duffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Porky Pig, and Sylvester the Cat, among many others—that we have come to know and love for their entertaining value and the humor they evoke. He made the characters come alive. It was in Portland, Oregon, where his family moved to when he was six that he developed an interest in voices and in accents: “Among the first people he befriended were the elderly Jewish couple who ran the local grocery; they spoke Yiddish, and the boy became fascinated with the strange dialect and its intonations. He learned to imitate it. It was, by his own admission, the first voice he ever performed, Katie Schneider writes in Tablet (“The Voice;” July 14, 2011).
Via: Youtube

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Yiddisher Diet

Healthy & Joyful Living

In Defense of Food (2015) by Michael Pollan, an American author and journalist and advocate of a non-western diet. “The healthiest food in the store is in the produce section,” he says. Yet, healthy foods are not necessarily what we humans crave and like. The Food Industry know this. 
Via: Youtube

tried out a diet for one week, called a whole foods plant based diet, in pursuit of healthier eating. As one prominent site, “Forks Over Knives,” explains it: “A whole-food, plant-based diet is centered on whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plants. It’s a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil. ”

During the one-week trial, I took out dairy—milk, cheese and eggs—but I still ate chicken and fish. Although I only lasted a week (more on that below), there is a reason why such diets are becoming popular in America. The western diet, where processed foods forms an appealing choice for us, is also one that is very unhealthy for us.

Such is the argument that Michael Pollan, an American author and journalist and advocate of a non-western diet, puts forth. He means well and he speaks to large audiences, probably because the statistics seem to support him. Almost 40 percent of American adults and 18.5 percent of American children are obese (BMI of 30 or higher), the Center for Disease Control reports. Americans are undoubtedly getting fatter and perhaps sicker than they were a generation or two ago. Today, the western diet is to blame.

Our diet, Pollan’s argument goes, should consist of real food that is unprocessed or minimally processed. Michael Pollan’s seven-word dictum is good and makes a lot of sense, appealing to our hearts that something ought to be done: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”  Yet, I will take it with a grain of salt (which I enjoy), because much of what is called food science is not science in the traditional sense like physics, biology and chemistry, although it tries to be. While diets like the whole foods plant based one described above might work for others, and it might have turned their lives around, it did not for me.

For one, I found it too restrictive and not pleasing to my palate; in short, boring. It left out foods that I like and have eaten my whole life. I say this as someone who is not overweight (my BMI is around 23), has never been overweight, has never suffered from diabetes and has the good fortune (or genes) of not suffering from any coronary disease. It is said that sugar has no nutritional benefit, and the more we consume, the more we crave. Yet, I will keep sugar and eat foods that contain sugar. One muffin is OK. Six might not be. I think it is important to have whole-fat dairy in my diet, since it tastes good, and it is not bad for you. As does some red meat, some chicken and some fish.

The key point that I would like to make is that eating is more than nutrition or health, it is also about enjoyment, community and the gathering together of family and friends. This is why I have decided to return to “The Yiddisher Diet,” which has been around for many generations. It is true that it is neither new nor trendy, yet it is heymishkayt. I can eat all the traditional Jewish foods I enjoy without too much guilt or zorg.  It includes lots of fruits and vegetables and eating in moderation, except perhaps during the hagim. But that’s another matter for another time. L’chaim.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Our Cities Are Getting Hotter

Climate Change

An excellent article (“Halfway to boiling: the city at 50ºC; August 13, 2018), by Jonathan Watt and Elle Hunt, in The Guardian spells out in concrete language the current effects of climate change in our cities.
Not long ago, 50C was considered an anomaly, but it is increasingly widespread. Earlier this year, the 1.1 million residents of Nawabshah, Pakistan, endured the hottest April ever recorded on Earth, as temperatures hit 50.2C. In neighbouring India two years earlier, the town of Phalodi sweltered in 51C – the country’s hottest ever day.
Dev Niyogi, professor at Purdue University, Indiana, and chair of the Urban Environment department at the American Meteorological Society, witnessed how cities were affected by extreme heat on a research trip to New Delhi and Pune during that 2015 heatwave in India, which killed more than 2,000 people.
“You could see the physical change. Road surfaces started to melt, neighbourhoods went quiet because people didn’t go out and water vapour rose off the ground like a desert mirage,” he recalls.
“We must hope that we don’t see 50C. That would be uncharted territory. Infrastructure would be crippled and ecosystem services would start to break down, with long-term consequences.”
Such temperature increases are not only taking place in Asia and the Middle East, the article says, but also in Australia, in Europe, in America and to a lesser degree in Canada, which is further north geographically. Even so, the effects are apparent and palpable, here in Toronto (latitude 43° N) and even in my hometown of Montreal (45° N).

I post this article not as some academic exercise in article writing, but as an important issue that affects me (and millions of others) profoundly. Our family has lived this summer without air conditioning in Toronto (in a sixth-floor concrete high-rise) in what has been a very hot and humid summer, yet nowhere near as hot as the cities cited above (high 30s), and yet hot enough that we suffered many sleepless nights. That is to say, night did not provide any respite; there is no air flow in our apartment. We shrvitzed a lot, and often.

So, yes, I can say the article’s position might be alarmist, but necessarily so. Alarms are supposed to do this. Here is something else to consider. It might be too late to reverse the trend of 150 years of  burning fossil fuels, but there are some things that cities can do to make things more comfortable for its inhabitants.

For one, not more concrete and condos, and certainly not more high rises. Man-made materials like concrete increase the ambient temperatures by as much as 3ºC (the reason is less convection or air flow). What cities and its inhabitants immediately require are more low rises (maximum four floors and built with natural materials like wood, brick and stone), and more parks and green spaces with the planting of many shade trees (lowering temperatures by at least 10ºC).

Truly, it’s simple to understand, and even politicians ought to understand such basic scientific premises.