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.

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.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Yiddish Comedian S. Dzigan: At The Dentist (1977)

Shimon Dzigan [born in 1905 in Lodz, Poland–died in 1980 in Tel Aviv, Israel], in the sketch “At The Dentist” from his one hour special on IBA Israel Television, in 1977. He was part of a comedy team with lantsman Yisroel Shumacher [1908–1961].
Via: Youtube

Friday, August 17, 2018

Yidl Mitn Fidl (1936)

Yidl Mitn Fidl (1936) stars Molly Picon [1898–1992; born Małka Opiekun in New York City], Max Bozyk and Leon Liebgold. It is directed by Joseph Green and Jan Nowina-Przybylski. Wikipedia writes: “The film was shot on location in Kazimierz DolnyPoland, with local inhabitants as extras.[1][2] Based on a novella by Konrad Tom, the screenplay was written by Green. Its score was composed by Abraham Ellstein, and the lyrics to the songs were written by Itzik MangerJakob Jonilowicz was the photo director of the film.” Although it is a film with a stylized version of life in prewar Poland, it is a good film that does provide some insight into what life was like for many Jews in Poland before the Holocaust.
Via: Youtube

Thursday, August 16, 2018

S.Y. Agnon: Fable Of The Goat (1925)

Gan Eden

“The tale is told of an old man who groaned from his heart. The doctors were sent for, and they advised him to drink goat's milk. He went out and bought a she-goat and brought her into his home. Not many days passed before the goat disappeared. They went out to search for her but did not find her. She was not in the yard and not in the garden, not on the roof of the study-house and not by the spring, not in the hills and not in the fields. She tarried several days and then returned by herself; and when she returned, her udder was full of a great deal of milk whose taste was as the taste of Eden. Not just once, but many times she disappeared from the house. They would go out in search for her and would not find her until she returned by herself with her udder full of milk that was sweeter than honey and whose taste was the taste of Eden.”

S.Y. Agnon, “Fable of the Goat” (1925)

The Fable Of The Goat (1925) by S.Y. Agnon [1888–1970], who was born and raised up in Eastern Europe [born Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes in Buczacz in what was then Polish Galicia and is now Buchach, Ukraine], resided in Israel, in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot, continuously since 1924 until his death in 1970; Agnon shared the Nobel Prize in Literature with Nelly Sachs in 1966. The story is read here by a young Joseph Gordon Levitt. Agnon’s stories bring the old world into the new world and touch on the longing for home, typically in a mythical fashion. The Yiddish word for goat is tsig (ציג) and a small goat, a tsigele (ציגעלע). Eastern European Jews have long identified with the goat, a small, intelligent and humble animal.
Via: Youtube

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

5 Years Later: ‘Cancer Free’

The Cancer Journey
“Der mentsh tut hofen biz er vert antshlofen.”
Yiddish saying

Cancer Free After 5½ Years
Photo Credit:
©2018. Perry J. Greenbaum

My oncologist gave me some very good news yesterday; we were discussing my latest and last CT scan. The good doctor (Dr. R.), sitting across me, first looking at the computer screen and then at me, said: “It’s five years and you are cancer free. How are you feeling”? I said, “In fact, very good. With this news, even better.” Indeed, I am one of the fortunate 64% of Canadians who are around five years later.

This is the news I was waiting to hear since I was first diagnosed in December 2012. Five-and-a-half years after being diagnosed with Stage III colorectal cancer, after surgery, after chemo treatments, and after post-chemo complications (CIPN) that persist, I am (finally) feeling good. You can read about the struggles, the ups and downs, the emotional roller-coaster, in “My Cancer Posts, 2012–2013.” It is a familiar journey to those who have had cancer, and yet each individual, no doubt, has his or her own story.

Other than a colonoscopy, which I have to do this year and which is a normal routine for most people my age, I will now be free of the years of medical tests and interventions. Truly, I never want to see the inside of a hospital. They are in many ways depressing places, despite the greater good they do, and despite how dedicated doctors and nurses are. Yet, it is one of those things; having a disease like cancer colors your views in many areas of life.

Even so, I want with great desire to return to a life that I love and know., a life that resonates with me. My plan is to both regain my life and rebuild my life to some semblance of normal. This includes gainful employment in doing what I know and love: writing; there is also, in my view, the necessity to have more enjoyable times with friends and family, and of course to pursue more healthy eating and living.

Not all these factors have been present in the last five-and-a-half years, at least not in sufficient degree. You see, cancer disrupts life, including the normalcy of family life. It makes other things more urgent, most notably, survival. Normalcy of life is what I seek; normalcy is what I want; normalcy is what I am working towards. Now with this good news under my belt this can and hopefully will lead to a good and better life in the near future. The sooner the better.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Columbia University in NYC Establishes First Yiddish Language Chair in America (1952)


Madame Yiddish and Her Escort. Cartoon depicting philanthropist Frank Atran escorting “Yiddish” up steps of Columbia University, celebrating the establishment of the Atran Chair in Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture, the first Yiddish studies chair in an American university (Morgn-zhurnal, 16 March 1952).
     Columbia University writes on its site: “The graduate program in Yiddish Studies began at Columbia in 1952 under the leadership of the renowned linguist Uriel Weinreich and reached international acclaim as the most important and influential center of research into the Yiddish language, Yiddish literature, and Yiddish culture. Under Weinreich and his successor, Marvin Herzog, Yiddish Studies at Columbia were located in the Department of Linguistics and were offered in close conjunction with the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. As of 1989, graduate studies in Yiddish literature, linguistics and culture are directed by an Interdepartmental Committee on Yiddish Studies.”
     Other than this, I could not find out much about the history of Yiddish Studies on the Columbia University site, but did determine that Yiddish Studies at the undergraduate level at least, has been rolled into the Department of Germanic Languages. My guess is that this was an economic decision and not one based on history. I had always thought that Yiddish was its own language, but I guess such are the thoughts of a pashut Yid. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

Monday, August 13, 2018

912 days of the Warsaw Ghetto (2001)

The Holocaust

“What we were unable to cry and shriek out to the world we buried in the ground….I would love to see the moment in which the great treasure will be dug up and scream the truth at the world. So the world may know ….We would be the fathers, the teachers and educators of the future….May the treasure fall into good hands, may it last into better times, may it alarm and alert the world to what happened…in the twentieth century….May history attest for us.”

Dawid Graber, age 19, August 2, 1942, Warsaw Ghetto

912 days of the Warsaw Ghetto (2001) was commissioned by the The Jewish Historical Institute [also known as the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute] located in Warsaw, Poland. Narration is by Władysław Bartoszewski [1922–2015], a noted journalist, social activist and politician, and an honorary citizen of Israel, who was part of the Polish underground and who participated in the Warsaw Uprising. Stanford University writes of this documentary: “They present the daily lives and deaths of those imprisoned in the ghetto, their hopes and efforts to survive, their armed resistance and struggle, and finally their total extermination. Unique Polish and German archival materials were used in the preparation of these films. Before World War II, Warsaw was the biggest Jewish community in Europe and second largest in the world after New York; over 380,000 Jews lived there. It was the most important center of Jewish culture in Poland and one of the most important in the world.”
     An important point that should be noted is that there was considerable Jewish resistance, and there were heroic actions by many Jews against Nazi German oppression—a point that I will flesh out in greater detail in future posts. Survival under such brutal conditions is itself a daily defiance of evil—it ought never be viewed as insignificant or made redundant in recounting the “greater narrative” of The Second World War.
    Contributing substantially to our understanding and appreciation of such efforts is the documentary record of the Ringelblum Archive and the heroic actions of the Oyneg Shabes group to preserve the historical record, and whose contributions are undeniably important to the record of the Holocaust in general and to the memory of the Jews of Warsaw in particular. Ir zent ale heldn. At a time when, in some quarters, facts are viewed with suspicion and not only questioned but subverted, it is imperative to have the facts before us to keep us sane
Via: Youtube

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Czortkow Jews on a Sunday in August (1925)

Prewar Poland

Czortkow Jews on a Sunday in August: The shops are closed, so they sit on wooden crates outside the shop window and talk. The YIVO Digital Archive on Jewish Life in Poland writes about this photo: “On the wall behind them is a poster advertising what appears to be a talk by Alter Kacyzne titled ‘Literature: A National Treasure’. Various items are on display in the shop window.” This photo was taken on Sunday, August 9, 1925, by Alter-Sholem Kacyzne [1885–1941], a Yiddish writer, photographer and literary critic, who was born in Vilna (then part of Russia and now called Vilnius in Lithuania). Kacyzne opened a photography studio in Warsaw in 1910; and in the 1920s, he did considerable work for di Forverts (Forward), based in New York City, where, among other artistic and literary pursuits, he documented Jewish life in Poland.
    This photo is part of such a collection. Then the war and the Holocaust disrupted everything, everything, that is, which was good and normal and beautiful. The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe writes: “After the outbreak of World War II, Kacyzne left Warsaw with his wife and only daughter and found refuge in Soviet-occupied Lwów, where he participated in state-controlled theater and radio programs. Fleeing before the German advance, he arrived in Tarnopol and was killed on 7 July 1941, along with thousands of other Jews.”
    His life’s work—decades in the making—including most notably his archive in Warsaw, was also destroyed. Yet, 700 of his photos had thankfully already been sent to New York, where there are housed at the YIVO Institute, from where this photo came. Czortkow is now called Chortkiv and is part of western Ukraine. But between the two world wars it was briefly part of Poland. In 1931, the town had 19,000 people, of whom 30 percent were Jews. In 1939 just before the war, there were an estimated 10,000 Jews, JewishGen writes, and after the war only about 100 Jews remained alive.
    You can read more about the life of the Czortkow Jews [here], which was named Chortkov (טשאָרטקאָוו‬‎) in Yiddish.
Courtesy: YIVO Digital Archive on Jewish Life in Poland; The Forward Association

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Jewish Berlin Cabaret: Paul Godwin Orchestra (1930)

Paul Godwin Orchestra & Max Hansen: This is Weimar German Kabarett music, or more precisely Jewish Berlin Cabaret, which was popular in the 1920s and ’30s before the Nazi brutes took over and destroyed all that was good and beautiful. (So much  good was lost, destroyed by hatred!) It is so wonderful to enjoy the playfulness and freedom of the language, so apparent in the singing of Max Hansen. The song is “Was kann der Sigismund dafür, dass er so schoen ist” [How Can Sigismund Help It If He’s So Beautiful?]. Paul Godwin [1902–1982], who was born Pinchas Goldfein in Sosnowitz (Russian Empire; now Poland), left Berlin in 1933, seeing the writing on the wall, relocating for The Netherlands, where he lived the rest of his life. Max Hansen [1897–1961], born Max Josef Haller in Mannheim, Germany, was a singer, actor and a cabaret artist. He left Vienna in 1938 after Nazi Germany's invasion of that country, settling in Copenhagen. He returned briefly to Germany (1951–1953) before returning to Copenhagen, where he lived out his days.
Via: Youtube

Friday, August 10, 2018

Jewish Life in Krakow (1939)

Jewish Life in Krakow is archival footage that forms part of the collection of The Spielberg Jewish Film Archive of Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It depicts an aspect of Jewish life in prewar Poland, in its chief  cultural centre, a city where Jews contributed a great deal. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum writes that “on the eve of the war some 56,000 Jews resided in Krakow, almost one-quarter of a total population of about 250,000.” After the war, the numbers tell a different story, writes JewishGen: “In 1948, the post-holocaust Jewish population had been decimated to about 5,900, and by 1978, the number had dwindled to a mere 600.” Along with the death of the men, women and children was the death of a rich and vibrant Yiddish culture. A culture cannot be sustained without people who give it life. Mayle, what was destroyed by human hands can never be regained, only remembered with great sadness. Vos iz geven iz geven.
Via: Youtube

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Arbetlose Marsch (1937)

Arbetlose Marsch [Song of the Unemployed] was written and composed by Mordechai Gebirtig [born Markus Bertig; 1877–1942].  Like so many other Polish Jews at the time, he was murdered by the Nazi/Fascist beast in the Warsaw Ghetto. Another version that I would recommend is by Daniel Kahn [here], a modern version yet telling the same story of rusted factories and people not working. The singer here is Ernst Busch [1900–1980], a lifetime communist who fled Nazi Germany in 1933, settling initially in The Netherlands before going to the Soviet Union, eventually settling in East Berlin. Wikipedia writes: “A beloved figure in the German Democratic Republic, he is best remembered for his performance in the title role of Brecht’s Life of Galileo and his recordings of workers songs, including many written by Hanns Eisler. He also made a memorable recording of Peat Bog Soldiers.”
Via: Youtube

The first verse and translation is found below:

Eynts, tsvey, dray, fir, arbetsloze zenen mir.
Nisht gehert khadoshim lang
in fabrik dem hamer klang,
s’lign keylim kalt fargesn,
s’nemt der zhaver zey shoyn fresn.
Geyen mir arum in gas,
vi di gvirim pust un pas.

One, two, three, four, we are unemployed.
We have not heard all month long,
in the factory the hammer sound.
Tools lie cold, forgotten,
the rust is beginning to eat them.
While we go around on the streets,
like the rich, idle and aimless.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Primo Levi: Back to Auschwitz (1983)

Primo Levi: Back to Auschwitz (1983), recounts Primo Levi’s [1919–1987] return to Auschwitz, in 1982, as a free man but with memories of the horror intact; this was broadcast by the Italian State Television, Rai, in 1983. The interviewer is Daniel Toaff, the son of Elio Toaff, the former Chief Rabbi of Rome. Part 2 can be viewed here. Primo Levi, a trained chemist, was a lucid writer and his books rank among my favourites, which might surprise a few people when one considers what he writes about. It is precisely for this reason that I view his work as not only important but essential reading for every human being who has a conscience. Levi’s understanding of humanity, and his articulation of it, is among the best of the best. On a final note, I am among the many who view his death as accidental and in no way intentional, a dizzy spell and a fall from the interior third floor landing outside his apartment. Yet, his writing is accessible; do me the honour of reading his books. Your understanding will assuredly increase. For more, go [here], [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Via: Youtube

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Jan Peerce: Vu iz dus gesele?

Jan Peerce: Vu iz dus gesele?  [Where is the little street?] as recorded in 1963 by the great operatic tenor born as Jacob Pincus Perelmuth. The song was composed by Shalom Secunda and the lyrics by Israel Rosenberg. This song, says Yidlid, emanates from the musical “Mashe oder Margarita” (1926) and is inspired by a Polish and Russian folk songs. There is also a wonderful rendition by the incomparable Barry Sisters [born as Bagelman].
Via: Youtube

Monday, August 6, 2018

Rivkele, Rebeka: A Yiddish Tango (2016)

Rivkele, Rebeka, sung by Olga Avigail with Tango Attack, a musical ensemble composed of Hadrian Tabęcki (piano); Grzegorz Bożewicz (bandoneon); and Piotr Malicki (guitar). This is Polish-Jewish composer Zygmunt Białostocki’s [1897–1942] most beloved and often-recorded song.  This was performed at the Cultural Center Wilanów in Warsaw, Poland, in 2016. As one Polish cultural site  (Folk 24; 2016) puts it: “The latest project initiated by Olga Avigail Mieleszczuk is ‘Yiddish Tango’. In 2015 the artist invited leading musicians of tango in Poland–Tango Attack to create the new arrangements of the pre-war tangos based on tradition, but in more modern formula. The singer is fascinated by the phenomenon of Warsaw of the 30’s, which was the European capital of tango. The vast majority of tango pieces was composed by Polish Jews and its uniqueness came from combination of Slavic and Jewish elements mixed with Argentinian musical influences. Tango hits were composed in Polish and Yiddish as well. ” I find this rendition hauntingly beautiful. Bialostocki was murdered by the Nazis during the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Via: Youtube