A new tzedakah box from an old album cover


Making a tzedakah box is a fun craft activity for kids from age 8 to 80, and creating the box provides a valuable lesson in the importance of charity. This tzedakah box made from an up-cycled record album cover is eco-friendly, so it’s good for the community — and the environment. 

Of course, I don’t encourage you to sacrifice a prized record from your collection. Step away from that Beatles “White Album.” Instead, look in thrift shops and garage sales for old albums with interesting artwork. I actually found the Eydie Gorme album pictured here at an Out of the Closet thrift store. It didn’t even come with the vinyl record inside, so the clerk gave it to me for free.

And yes, because I know you’re wondering: I have made a tzedakah box from a Neil Sedaka album cover — which proves that although breaking up is hard to do, making your own tzedakah box isn’t.

What you’ll need:

  • Album cover
  • Ruler
  • Hobby knife
  • Hot glue gun
  • Duct tape

 

Follow the template available for download on jewishjournal.com in cutting the album cover. It indicates how large of a section to cut out of the album cover (11.5-by-7 inches). The black line indicates where to cut this section in half, and the red lines indicate where to score the cardboard.

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 5

Step 6

” target=”_blank”>jonathanfongstyle.com.

Ellen Grossman reviews new Jay-Z album


After befriending rapper Jay-Z on the R train to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Ellen Grossman is now reviewing his latest album, “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” for MTV News.

Grossman, a Brooklyn born visual artist, was contacted by MTV News after a clip of her subway encounter with Jay-Z was featured in the documentary “Jay-Z’s Life and Times: Where I’m From.”

The unlikely reviewer analyzes a few of the rapper’s rhymes and metaphors, honing in on the trials and tribulations of his rise to fame.

“It sounds like he’s really going deep into his heart and into fatherhood and even the meaning of fame,” Grossman said. “[He’s saying] that the money’s nice, but there’s life beyond that, that he’s exploring. I picked that up from the papers but I felt it in the man too, when I met him. That he had a depth to him.

On one of the album’s 16 tracks, Jay-Z shows love to his Jewish fans — and his lawyers in particular – with the song “Somewhereinamerica.” The first line of the first verse reads, “Shout out to old Jews and old rules.”

This isn’t the only time Jay-Z has mused on Jews in his lyrics. ‘This Can’t Be Life,” from his fifth album, “Roc La Familia: The Dynasty,” has the lyric: “flow tight like I was born Jewish.” Jay-Z has used “Jewish” as an adjective to describe those that are smart or conservative with money.

In “What More Can I say?” from “The Black Album,” he refers to himself as, ”The Martha Stewart that’s far from Jewish,” due to his money savvy mind.

Can’t knock the hustle.

Madonna and the Elusive Isaac


Madonna and scandal have been virtually synonymous from the start of the pop star’s career more than 20 years ago. There were songs about being like virgins touched for the very first time and girls getting pregnant and telling their fathers that they wanted to keep the babies. There were music videos of Madonna employing Jesus’ stigmata on her own hands, and everything was augmented by conical bras and crotch-rubbing dances.

But since Madonna’s famous conversion to kabbalah, she has been using Jewish religious iconography to shock — or at least to make her point. In her “Die Another Day” video she wore phylacteries and had Hebrew letters tattooed on body.

Now, on her latest album “Confessions on a Dance Floor,” the track that is receiving the most attention and critical acclaim is one called “Isaac.” About a month before the CD’s release on Nov. 15, rabbis in Israel claimed the song was about Rabbi Isaac Luria, the 16th-century kabbalist better known as the Arizal, and they blasted Madonna for using his holy name for profit.

“One can feel only pity at the punishment that she [Madonna] will receive from Heaven,” Rabbi Rafael Cohen told the Israeli newspaper Maariv.

But Madonna swung back, claiming the song was not about the Arizal at all, but rather was named after Yitzhak Sinwani of the London Kabbalah Centre, who sings the Hebrew incantation on the song and provides the mumbled spoken word explanatory interlude at the end.

So what is “Isaac” about? It is hard to say, although it is clear that on this album it is the song most inclined toward Madonna’s spiritual leanings. The beat throbs to the Hebrew lyrics, sung by Sinwani in a wailing rhythmic chant. The lyrics -“Im In Alo, Daltei Nadivim, Daltei Marom, El Hai, Marumam Al Keruvim Kulam Be-Ruho Ya’alu.”

Translate as “If it is locked, the gates of the giving, the gates of heaven, God is alive, He will elevate the angels, and everyone will rise in His spirit.”

In the verses, Madonna sings earnestly “Wrestle with your darkness…. All of your life has all been a test/ You will find the gate that’s open…,” and at the end, Sinwani intones, in what seems like an unrehearsed and unedited addition “The gates of heaven are always open, and there’s this God in the sky and the angels, how they sit, you know, in front of the light, And that’s what its about.”

Hmm … what exactly does all this mean? An attempt to reach Sinwani in London reached only his secretary, who said he is not talking to the press. The Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles was equally unresponsive and did not return calls for comment.

In the meantime, critics and listeners are praising the song (London’s “The Sun” called it “Stunning”) and Madonna herself has said the song moved her to tears.

“I had tears in my eyes and did not even know what he was singing about,” she told Anthony Kiedis in an interview on AOL. “Then he told me and I cried even more.”

 

Surprise: Raichel Is All About Love


“Who lends his soul so you should be happy?/ Who lends his hand to build your house….?”

Idan Raichel does — that’s who.

Israel’s latest world music pop sensation returns to Los Angeles next week with a concert to highlight his second album “From the Depths.” The album and its eponymous song, excerpted above, allude to Psalm 31 in which one calls God from the depths. But here, Raichel calls out instead to his love.

Most of the songs on this album are about love, which may seem surprisingly standard for a musician who became a cultural force in Israel for giving voice to the Ethiopian community. But then, Raichel’s themes and his emotive, well-written lyrics were not what most set him apart. It’s been his sound — a combination of Ethiopian and other “minority” influences that both respects musical diversity and sets it to a catchy, tuneful beat.

Raichel’s first album, “The Idan Raichel Project” — so named because of the 70 collaborators who worked with him — featured Ethiopian singers in their native language, something rarely heard in mainstream Israeli circles, despite the 19,000 or so Ethiopian Jews in Israel.

“Ofra Haza did the Yemenite songs, and Teapacks did Moroccan music,” Raichel told The Journal, referring to the popular singer and rock band that brought two other of Israel’s minority groups into the music mainstream. “This was the first time that Ethiopian tradition became the mainstream music of Israel.”

The doe-eyed, dreadlocked 28-year-old is not Ethiopian, far from it: Raichel’s a typical Ashkenazi Israeli who grew up secular in Kfar Saba, 20 minutes from bustling Tel Aviv, to parents of Eastern European background. But his neighborhood was Yemenite, and he cultivated a taste for the Yemenite chants, which later opened up his ears and heart to other communities in Israel, namely the immigrants from Ethiopia and Curacao.

Raichel’s musical taste was always eclectic. In the fifth grade he played waltzes and Israeli folk songs on his accordion. In high school he’d majored in music, adding pop and jazz to his repertoire. His army service was spent the the Education Corps’ entertainment troupe, where he first encountered African roots music.

At the ripe old age of 23, after his army service, Raichel began mixing these sounds — chants, poems, lyrics, voices — and eventually landed his first album in 2002.

The final cut of his debut album primarily featured Ethiopian sounds — instruments, singers and original Amharic lyrics and poems. It immediately shot to No. 1 and went triple platinum in Israel, selling more than 120,000 copies. Culturally, it highlighted the manifold but often forgotten and silent community of Ethiopians in Israel.

Raichel doesn’t see himself as a champion for that particular group. Even though his music has instilled pride in Israeli Ethiopian teenagers who finally have some famous role models in Raichel and other members of the “Project” (two of his fellow performers were born in the hardscrabble settlement villages built for Ethiopian refugees). Even though some proceeds from his Nov. 18 concert at the Kodak Theater will help pay for the emigration of 20,000 Jews still in Ethiopia. This latter-day exodus is under the auspices of the United Jewish Communities.

“I don’t feel like a spokesperson for Ethiopians,” Raichel said, noting that his group would be happy to support lots of good causes. “What I’m dealing with is music. I’m not dealing with racism, or with politics, I’m just making music. This is what makes young Ethiopian teenagers from boarding school proud…. This is the answer for them.”

While the Ethiopian sounds were prominent on Raichel’s first album, it’s not his only influence. “Actually the music that I’m doing is representing all the Israeli melting pot,” Raichel said. And with his new album, he proves it. Although it still features some of the Amharic strands prevalent on the first album, “From the Depths” weaves in the sounds of Yemen and Curacao — which come together like a Caribbean reggae.

“I think this is the real music of the streets of Israel. This is the real music of 2005. This is the real mainstream,” Raichel said. “You can record pop songs or rock songs with a European or American influence,” he said.

Some critics have faulted Raichel for being “inauthentic,” or Ethiopia-lite, because of his Eastern European heritage and his popular sound. But the musical reality he’s striving for is one that is simply Israeli in feel. What he’s avoiding is Americanized Israeli pop: “Our challenge is to create music of the Israeli mainstream, of the Israeli truth — the real music of the Israeli melting pot.”

On “From the Depths” he tries to, opening with famous Yemenite Chantuese Shoshana Damari, a diva in her 80s who hasn’t recorded in 20 years, singing the warbly “A Leaf in the Wind.” The second song, “On Shabbat,” begins with a Yemenite riff and an undulating Sephardic lyric, merging into a Caribbean chorus. Those songs seem more like world-music tributes, experiments in fusion, rather than songs that will hit the top of the pop charts in Israel.

It’s only with the next songs, “Come to My House” and “I Still Have Strength in Me” that he transitions to the mind-sticking melodies and simple, sensual lyrics that radio stations adore.

“I have strength in me/ now when you left/ the moon smiled at me /shined its light through the window/And tonight I’m not scared anymore/ To be alone and dream/ and here it is you again/ you, who touches, you, who runs away….”

Sure there are Ethiopians rapping in the background or an oud or two between choruses in these songs, but for the most part, these are the sort of tunes on Israeli radio all the time and just the sort of subject matter: heartbreak. In the end, there is only one message, only one cause that Raichel cares to champion:

“At the end of the day we are all singing about love,” he said. “It sounds great in Amharic, it sounds great in Hebrew and it sounds great in English: It’s all about love.”

The Idan Raichel Project and Keshet Chaim Dancers will be performing at the Kodak Theatre on Nov. 19. For more information or tickets contact www.kcdancers.org or (818) 986-7332.

 

Bob Dylan: In His Own Lyrics


Torah References:

Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”

Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”

God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”

God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but

The next time you see me comin’ you better run:

Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killing’ done?”

God says, “Out on Highway 61.”

— From “Highway 61 Revisited” on the album, “Highway 61 Revisited” (1965)

Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed

Dignity never been photographed

I went into the red, went into the black

In the valley of dry bone dreams

…Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take

To find dignity

— From “Dignity” on the album, “Under the Red Sky” (1991)

Reference to Jewish Liturgy:

May God bless and keep you always

May your wishes all come true

May you always do for others

And let others do for you….

— From “Forever Young” on the album, “Planet Waves” (1973)

Christian Reference:

I was blinded by the devil

Born already ruined

Stone-cold dead

As I stepped out of the womb

By His grace I have been touched

By His word I have been healed

By His hand I’ve been delivered

By His spirit I’ve been sealed

— From “Saved” (with Tim Drummond) on the album, “Saved” (1980)

Allusions to Jesus:

You’re a man of the mountains, you can walk on the clouds

Manipulator of crowds, you’re a dream twister

You’re going to Sodom and Gomorrah

But what do you care?

Ain’t nobody there would want to marry your sister

Friend to the martyr, a friend to the woman of shame

You look into the fiery furnace, see the rich man without any name

— From “Jokerman” on the album, “Infidels” (1983)

Pro-Israel, Pro-Jewish Reference:

The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land

He’s wandered the earth an exiled man

Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn

He’s always on trial for just being born

He’s the neighborhood bully

— From “Neighborhood Bully” on the album, “Infidels” (1983)

On Social Justice:

Come you masters of war

You that build all the guns

You that build the death planes

You that build the big bombs

You that hide behind walls

You that hide behind desks

I just want you to know

I can see through your masks

— From “Masters of War” on the album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” (1963)

On Faith in God:

Father of grain, Father of wheat

Father of cold and Father of heat

Father of air and Father of trees

Who dwells in our hearts and our memories

Father of minutes, Father of days

Father of whom we most solemnly praise

— From “Father of Night” on the album, “New Morning” (1970)

Source: “Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-2001” (Simon & Schuster, 2004)

 

Spectator – A Hand in Global Harmony


The Middle Eastern fusion music on “Hamsa” is so insidiously infectious and rhythmic that you will not only be humming along but tapping your feet, as well.

“It was never intended to become an album,” said Carvin Knowles, the CD’s creator. “It was how I felt at the time. But I kept hearing from people I had given it to as a gift about how much they loved the music, so I put together this collection.”

Knowles, 41, a native of Long Beach who now lives in Hollywood, has been scoring films since 1991 — perhaps his best-known track is from the infamous pie scene in “American Pie.” His creative flair, though maybe not his name, is best known to Jewish Journal readers through the award-winning covers he designs for the publication.

Knowles, who is not Jewish but a student of Jewish culture and mysticism, wrote “Ghita” and “Taqsim,” the first of the 12 songs that would eventually make up “Hamsa,” for a documentary about Egyptian archeology that was in production prior to Sept. 11, 2001. The unique sound was an amalgamation of musical influences, such as klezmer, Egyptian pop, hip-hop and Rai (a combining of Arab classical music with R&B).

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the documentary was never released, and Knowles temporarily lost his taste for Middle Eastern music.

“For a full year I didn’t listen to Middle Eastern music at all, because I was really angry,” he said. “Working in the media, I saw images of Arabs celebrating our loss, and I was angry.”

Knowles’ anger dissipated when he started hearing from music scene friends about how many Middle Eastern artists were concerned, rather than gloating. Some artists canceled concerts to show solidarity with the victims; others used their fame to promote peace and dialogue. Newly inspired, Knowles picked up his ud (like the oud — a round backed string instrument — but smaller and Turkish) and started recording again. The result was “Hamsa,” a mostly instrumental CD.

In concert with his desires for global harmony, Knowles produced and played rhythms that borrowed from many cultures (North African, Turkish, Lebanese) — then fused them together.

He titled the CD “Hamsa” — a hand-shaped amulet, thought to represent the hand of God, which is used to banish the “evil eye.” He also designed the beautiful, filigreed, earthy-red hamsa that appears on the cover. “Part of what the hamsa means is ‘Go away Westerner. We don’t want you here,'” said Knowles. “But the hamsa is also a signpost marking where East and West touch. It is a symbol not just of the conflict, but the meeting, the cooperation.”

For more information, go to href=”http://www.carvinknowles.com” target=”_blank”>www.carvinknowles.com. To order “Hamsa,” visit

The King of Israeli Hip-Hop


With angry lyrics that court controversy, two multiplatinum albums and a third on the way, his own clothing line, record label, legions of fans and glittering religious jewelry, Subliminal could easily be mistaken for a Jewish P.Diddy.

The lyrics are mostly in Hebrew (although he’s now branched into English, French and Arabic), the record label has spawned a plethora of new artists, the clothing line has a Star of David on every item and his fame (or notoriety) is bringing him to U.S. shores next week.

At 25, Subliminal (né Kobi Shimoni) is the king of Israeli hip-hop. And right now, it appears he can do no wrong. On March 2, Subliminal, along with his sidekick The Shadow (Yoav Eliasi), and 12 members off his record label TACT (Tel Aviv CityTeam) under the banner of Architects of Israeli Hip Hop, will kick off their seven-state American and Canadian tour at The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills.

And with the recent launch of his third album — TACT All-Stars — Subliminal is recording with the industry’s cream of the crop, including Killah Priest and Remedy of Wu-Tang Clan, Ashanti, Wyclef Jean and Israel’s own hip-hop violinist Miri Ben Ari, who just won a Grammy for her work with Kanye West.

So it’s hard to believe that less than eight months ago Subliminal was officially uninvited to the Prospect Park bash in Brooklyn, N.Y., by JDub Records, a nonprofit Jewish record label. Deemed too right-wing for the event, Subliminal apparently didn’t fall under the concert’s banner of “openness and peace.”

Certainly, Subliminal’s lyrics did much to raise eyebrows even within Israel, where there has always been room for political dissension. He managed to capture the frustrations and fears of Israeli youth at the height of the Intifada. His lyrics included such gems as:

To think that an olive branch symbolizes peace, sorry it doesn’t live here anymore; it’s been kidnapped or murdered….”

And perhaps his most controversial lyric is the one that states, “The country’s still dangling like a cigarette in Arafat’s mouth.”

It’s this kind of in-your-face, pull-no-punches attitude that sets Subliminal apart from other emerging hip-hop artists, including Mookee and Hadag Nachash, all of whom are enjoying success in the field. But neither has aroused the controversy that Subliminal has.

Now he’s mulling over the strange twists and turns that have come with his fame and, yes, fortune. On the brink of his U.S. tour, he cannot help but reflect on the fact that it’s due to the backing provided by Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and the prime minister himself.

“It’s great,” he said. “For the first time, the Israeli government is pushing us and supporting us. We’re being sent as ambassadors for Israel. And even though that’s what we’re trying to be on a daily basis, to get official support from the government, that’s a huge recognition and we’re really grateful for that.”

In the wake of Arafat’s death (no more dangling cigarettes), the upcoming Gaza pullout and the steps Mahmoud Abbas is making, Subliminal said, “I’m very, very happy that there’s this first chance finally for peace, for the Palestinians, they’re making a real effort and they have a chance to become a democracy.”

He also spoke about his first two albums “The Light From Zion” and “Light and Shadow” — released at the height of the Intifada — which include songs that state, “United we stand, divided we fall.”

“It’s militant,” he conceded. “We’re saying we have to have peace but first we have to live, we have to survive, to remain in one piece.”

Now, he said, his third album is much more hopeful, with softer lyrics and a stronger message of hope with one of the songs titled “Peace in the Middle East,” which is sung in both Hebrew and English.

“It’s more of a prayer,” he said. “We want people all over the world to understand that even the strongest soldiers have peace as the prayer in their heart all the time.”

Yet while Subliminal has raised both eyebrows and consciences, it has much to do with the fact that he’s coming from a deeply personal place.

“My father is from Tunisia, my mother from Iran. They both escaped persecution,” he said. “I was brought up in a world where I have my own country. But I understand Arabic, my parents speak fluent Arabic; we would hear Arafat’s speeches about driving the Jews into the sea.”

And it’s this that makes Subliminal’s messages so strident. A recent trip to France opened his eyes to the amount of hate outsiders have toward Israel.

“The strongest hip-hop artists in France are immigrants from Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, and most of them preach hate toward the Jewish people and Israel,” he said.

In his own controversial style, Subliminal actually challenged Sniper, the biggest French anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rapper, to an onstage “battle” where the artists respond to each other’s raps.

“He chickened out,” Subliminal said, “and we even invited him to Tel Aviv just so that he could see what it is he hates so much about Israel.”And that, he said, is the biggest challenge of this tour: “To deliver the important message to those who are radical and fanatic and extreme. To open their eyes and let them know that there is still hope for peace, that there can be no better solution than peace and that we’re willing to open up a debate. Through hip hop we can do that.”

Subliminal performs March 2, 8 p.m., at The Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. For more info, call (310) 273-2824 or visit

Spend Chanukah Barenaked


 

While naming your holiday album “Barenaked for the Holidays” is a pretty catchy way to get some attention, for the quirky pop band that calls itself the Barenaked Ladies, it made sense — about as much sense as getting naked on “The Sharon Osbourne Show” last year, anyway. Apparently, stripping down’s just part of the offbeat Canadians’ sense of fun. So it follows that anyone expecting the Ladies’ holiday album to be anything less than silly would be, well, silly.

The new CD offers up revamped Christmas, Chanukah and New Year’s classics, as well as a few original tunes, including one called “Hanukkah Blessings,” written by Jewish band member Steven Page. The reinterpreted songs include a version of “Jingle Bells” that has “the extra lines you remember from being a kid,” Page recently told rollingstone.com.

Another song, titled, “Deck the Stills,” is a variation on “Deck the Halls” that functions as a bizarre homage to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, wherein the band’s name, sung repeatedly to the melody of “Deck the Halls” makes up the entirety of the song.

Two Chanukah standards also make it onto the album: “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah” and “I Have a Little Dreidel,” both redone in traditional — if a little peppier — style.

While the Ladies might not seem bent on tradition, there is at least one that it’s said they stick to. The band is known for always recording at least one song per album completely nude. Which song that is remains a mystery, although for the sake of Sarah McLachlan, their collaborator on the recording,”God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” we hope it wasn’t that one.

And while in typical, unpredictable style, the Ladies released their holiday CD way back in October, Page was quick to mockingly defend the choice on the band’s official blog, noting its release was “just in time for the holidays. Well, by holidays I mean Ramadan and Canadian Thanksgiving.” Still, he added, “It might be early for a stocking stuffer, but it’s perfect as a turkey stuffer.”

 

Did You Know…?


Did You Know…?

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• Sometimes the marriage ceremony is held outdoors. Particularly in ultra-Orthodox and Chasidic weddings — but anyone can do this — the marriage ceremony is performed outside at night. The custom developed because the stars are associated with God speaking to Abraham: “I will bless thee and multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven and as the sand of the seashore” (Genesis 22:17).

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• The bride stands to the right of the groom because of a biblical verse is Psalms (45:10): “The queen stands on your right hand in fine gold of Ophir.”

In Jewish tradition, the bride is a queen and the groom is the king.

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• A light bulb is often substituted for a glass during the ceremony. Since many believe the main purpose of breaking the glass is to create noise (to scare away the demons), some prefer a light bulb because it is easier to break and usually makes a louder noise.

Will You Marry Me?

Grooms are making big productions of their proposals these days. Sometimes they rent a billboard; sometimes they pop the question at a quiet, intimate time; sometimes it is in a restaurant while a violinist plays their favorite song.

What’s in Style Today?

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• Bridal suits are making a comeback.

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• Rosette details on sleeves, bodices and backs are in the news. Rosettes are also used on the headpiece and accessories to complement the wedding gown.

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• Pink, peach, and other pastels are a fashionable alternative to traditional white, ivory and silky white.

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• Beads, lace, sequins, pearls and embroidery are used for embellishments.

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• In place of a regular wedding album, you might also choose a “storybook” plan, where the photographer takes continuous pictures so that you end up with a copy of a picture of each event and each shot. (This produces a very large and thorough album, and is more expensive than a standard album.)

Little Tricks of For a Great Wedding

For Him:

If you are able to control the music, select a romantic one. She will always remember the song that played when he proposed — and it is bound to become “your song.”

For Her:

Are you going to have a “Presentation of the Bride?” The groom is brought into a room before the ceremony. There he finds the bride, looking her most beautiful, in her wedding attire. The couple has some time to spend together, after which they have the signing of the ketubah and take photographs.

Other Kooky Wedding Customs

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•Couples in 18th-century Mexico shaved their heads to signify their adulthood.

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•French suitors sent their nail clippings to their betrothed.

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•In 18th-century England, a new bride’s mother-in-law broke a loaf of bread over her head to bring luck and happiness to the couple.

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•Polish brides brought luck and happiness to their new homes by walking around a fire three times and kicking each door with their right foot.

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•Prenuptial agreements, which have enjoyed a resurgence, actually date back to ancient Jewish and Roman marriages.

How To Get Through the Day

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• Stay Calm.

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• Break away for a few minutes

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• Take some deep breaths.

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• Keep focused and avoid problems before they become problems.

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• Just remember: The most important parts of planning an event is having fun and enjoying the benefits of all your hard work. With careful planning, even the most elaborate and glamorous affair can be a dream.

Joan Greenberger Friedman lives in Reading, Pa., and can be reached at joan@friedman.net.

Long-Hair Music Gets Kid’sBuzz Cut in ‘Beethoven’s Wig’


Move over Baby Mozart and Baby Bach. If you really want your children to learn the classics — and know the composer’s name to boot — check out “Beethoven’s Wig, Sing Along Symphonies.” The Grammy-nominated release by Richard Perlmutter adds witty lyrics to some of classical music’s best-loved pieces.

The CD’s title, for example, is from the lyrics set to the opening notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony: “Beethoven’s wig, is very big.” And while the lyrics are fun for children, adults will appreciate the droll humor. Regarding the finger speed of pianist Franz Liszt, Perlmutter croons that Liszt “could play the minute waltz so quickly that he’d end in 30 seconds flat.”

Last month, Perlmutter released a follow-up album, “Beethoven’s Wig II, More Sing Along Symphonies,” which proves equally amusing and addicting. Listen a few times and you’ll find yourself singing along with such lyrics as those accompanying Mendelssohn’s Wedding March: “Oh, what a wedding cake, it stands over six stories high….” In both CD’s, the sing-along versions are followed by orchestral versions without lyrics.

As a child, Perlmutter built his own guitar (“It was pretty bad,” he admitted) and later worked as a song leader at Stephen S. Wise Temple and other area synagogues in the 1980s. Perlmutter, who has produced several albums for children, was educated at the business and architecture schools at Yale.

“Music didn’t seem like the type of thing you could do as a career,” he said. Looks like he’s turned that theory on its head.

Selections from “Beethoven’s Wig” will be performed at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA, Reading by 9 Stage, on Saturday, April 24, at 12:30 p.m., and Sunday, April 25, at 1:30 p.m.

For more information, visit www.beethovenswig.com .

Folk Singer Observes a Pensive ‘Holiday’


Some years ago, folk diva Chava Alberstein discovered therundown immigrant neighborhood around the south Tel Aviv central bus station.For the Israeli superstar, the area became a refuge, a place to stroll or sipcoffee unmolested by fans. The residents were foreign workers from countriessuch as China, Thailand, Nigeria and Romania.

But as their numbers swelled to replace Palestinians afterthe intifada, Alberstein — considered Israel’s Joan Baez — saw conditionsdeteriorating.

“These people are brought to Israel, their passports areconfiscated so they can’t go anywhere and they’re forced to live in the worstsituations,” she said. “You see people crawling out of the most unbelievablehovels. It’s bothered me for a long time.”

So Alberstein, 56, did what one would expect of Baez: Shepoured her indignation into an album. Her new CD, “End of the Holiday” (RounderRecords), due in stores Jan. 13,  provides heartbreaking glimpses into thelives of Israel’s estimated 200,000 foreign workers. In her song “FridayNight,” homesick Romanian men sit at dingy snack bars listening to Gypsy music.In “Real Estate,” laundromats and garbage bins are transformed into workers’lodgings in cramped south Tel Aviv. In “Black Video,” an African house cleanertapes tourist sites, rather than his shabby room, to send home with all hissavings.

Speaking from her Tel Aviv home, Alberstein said she isespecially moved by the foreigners’ plight because she, too, immigrated to Israel.

“It’s important to me that the Jews, who were temporaryresidents of so many countries, should be able to welcome the stranger,” shesaid. “I would love to give other people the chance to make Israel their home,as I’ve made this country my home.”

Alberstein, the daughter of Polish Holocaust survivors,arrived in Israel around 1950 at the age of 4. Her father, a piano teacher, wastoo poor to purchase a piano, so he bought an accordion and made Chava hisfirst pupil. At age 12, Alberstein was riveted by a Pete Seeger concert andbegged her father for a guitar; he procured for her a used one from a sailor inHaifa. Several years later, she was inspired by American folk musicians whodrew on their ethnic roots to put out her debut album in Yiddish. It wasconsidered a bold, even controversial move in the Hebrew-dominated state.

Nevertheless, the singer-songwriter went on to record almost50 albums and become one of Israel’s most celebrated folk icons, along withartists such as Shlomo Artzi and Yehoram Gaon. “She is the same age as hercountry, and she has captured its growing pangs in her music,” said SimonRutberg of Hatikvah Music in Los Angeles.

Indeed, Alberstein’s dusky alto has often served as a voiceof conscience for the Jewish state: Her “Chad Gadya,” a scathing riff on thePassover tune, admonished Israel for perpetuating the cycle of violence duringthe first intifada. The 1989 song was virtually banned from the radio and ledto canceled concerts and threatening phone calls to Alberstein.

More recently, the folk artist returned to her immigrantroots by writing songs based on Yiddish poems and recording them with theKlezmatics. The resulting CD, 1999’s “The Well,” drew critical praise in theUnited States, as did Alberstein’s cabaret-flavored “Foreign Letters,” recordedin Yiddish, Hebrew and English.

She wasn’t intending to begin a new album two years ago,when her husband, filmmaker Nadav Levitan, showed her poems he had writtenabout foreign workers.

“I thought I was resting,” she said. But then Albersteinread his work, which included “Vera From Bucharest,” about a caretaker strandedwhen her elderly charge dies. “I cried when I read the poems, and I knew I hadto set them to music,” she said.

Alberstein infused the songs with melodies she had heard onthe streets of south Tel Aviv: Romanian strains for “Vera,” for example, andAfrican rhythms for “Black Video.” But while the album is melancholy, she said,it is not about despair.

“It’s about people who are desperate, and who findthemselves in a bad place, but who are struggling to make their lives better,”she said.

The album has been well received in Israel, according toAlberstein.

“It’s accepted with enthusiasm, especially by young peoplewho realize there are so many issues we don’t deal with as we tend to obsessonly about war and peace,” she said. “Because of the political situation … weoften forget there are other people with other problems in the world. Andsometimes they are just around the corner.”

For more information about Alberstein, visit www.aviv2.com/chava.

A Song in His Heart


Singer-pianist-archivist Michael Feinstein’s new album, his first with a symphony orchestra, is all standards and all Jewish.

"Using all Jewish composers didn’t take effort," Feinstein said, describing his latest CD, "Michael Feinstein With the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra" (Concord Records, $17.98), released in May. In the liner notes, Feinstein explains, "It’s an extraordinary fact that most of the major American popular song composers of the 20th century were, for some inexplicable reason, Jewish."

Backing Feinstein on the album, which features about 50 years’ worth of songs from theater, films and cabaret, is the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), which turned itself into the biggest of big bands to work with Feinstein. The singer recorded the songs in spring 2001 in Tel Aviv, during his very first trip to Israel.

Feinstein sees his collaboration with the IPO as a musical thread in the struggle for peace in the Mideast, pointing out that the orchestra has been involved in programs bringing together Arab and Jewish musicians. He is donating proceeds from the new CD to the Arab-Jewish youth organization Seeds of Peace.

"I feel that music is a healing modality that can help bring peace," Feinstein told The Journal, adding that one of the cuts on the album, "Somewhere," is an homage to its composer, Leonard Bernstein, who had a long association with the IPO and "represented ideals of peace."

Feinstein and the IPO had been scheduled to play the Hollywood Bowl Aug. 26, but their eight-city American tour was canceled by its promoters. The orchestra denied that it faced security and insurance problems when it announced in late July that the tour was "postponed," but subsequent stories in the Los Angeles Times and Variety cite concerns over security affecting ticket sales and ability to obtain insurance as reasons for the tour’s cancellation.

Feinstein, 45, learned to play piano by ear as a small child in Columbus, Ohio, and as a teenager was playing weddings and parties. As a kid, he favored the show tunes his parents listened to rather than the rock and teen pop choices of his peers.

Classic American songs from theater and film, Feinstein told a reporter in April, "resonate in a way other music does not. It is music that transcends time."

A New York Times review of a June performance at Carnegie Hall described Feinstein as both an acolyte and a peer of his musical heroes, which include the Gershwins, Harold Arlen and Irving Berlin, "conversing with his idols in a musical time warp."

After graduating from high school, he began playing piano bars around Columbus instead of continuing in school. At one point, he told The Journal, he went to his mother and said, "Aren’t you even going to ask me about college?"

"My parents were very supportive of my music," Feinstein said. "My love for music came from them; they are truly responsible for my career."

He moved to Los Angeles in 1976 at age 20, and the following year, met lyricist Ira Gershwin, then about 80 years old, through June Levant, widow of pianist, comic actor, and Gershwin intimate Oscar Levant. Feinstein had obtained June Levant’s phone number and called her after coming across some obscure recordings of her husband’s work in a used record store.

Well-versed in the music of Gershwin’s era, Feinstein was put to work cataloging phonograph records, but eventually became Gershwin’s musical assistant, organizing his papers and bringing the latter-day world of show music into his home before Gershwin’s death in 1983.

Gershwin introduced Feinstein to Liza Minnelli; he’d been best man at the wedding of Minnelli’s parents, Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland. Minnelli, in turn, made possible Feinstein’s first big club date at the Algonquin Hotel in New York in 1986, which began a stream of high-profile club and concert performances, recordings and film and television appearances that shows no sign of drying up.

Feinstein said he’s "very devoted to the Jewish community," though not religious. His parents sent him to Hebrew school at a Conservative synagogue in Columbus; Feinstein said he didn’t much like the classes, which met in a dingy basement. He complained to his folks until his mother visited the classroom and said, "My God, it is that bad."

When Feinstein chose not to have a bar mitzvah, "it was more of a scandal in the neighborhood than it was to my parents," he said.

His Ohio roots and his eponymous New York nightclub, Feinstein’s at the Regency, notwithstanding, Feinstein is very much an Angeleno, with a home in Los Feliz. As a young man new to Los Angeles, he played piano at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda twice a week, and he still goes back occasionally.

"I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else," Feinstein said. "I feel very connected to Los Angeles, and I feel very connected to the Jewish community here."

Sweet And Loeb


Singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb is eating a tuna sandwich and a spinach salad, talking about “Cake And Pie.”

In a voice as sweet and knowing as her wistful folk-pop, she says the point of her new album is that in life, as on the dining table, you can have your cake and eat your pie, too. “As weird as it seems, the best way for me to keep healthy and keep my weight down is to eat a little of everything,” the petite, famously bespectacled chanteuse-guitarist explains between bites at an Encino cafe. “If somebody offers me cake or pie, I say, ‘I want both!’ It’s a feeling of no limits. In the music business, and in a lot of businesses, you often hear the words, ‘No. it’s not going to work.’ But things can work. You can make things happen.”

Loeb — whose musical debut was in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at her Dallas Jewish Community Center — should know. Back in 1993, she was temping by day and working New York clubs by night, all without a manager or a record deal. But she did have a famous fan, the actor Ethan Hawke, who lived across the street from her Greenwich Village apartment (he used to call down to her from his second-floor window). When the fetchingly rumpled actor suggested Loeb’s lilting ballad, “Stay (I Missed You)” for the soundtrack of his 1994 Gen-X flick, “Reality Bites,” the singer suddenly found herself sharing album space with U2. She also starred in a coy music video, directed by Hawke, that appealed to MTV viewers burned out on gloomy grunge rock.

Loeb became the first unsigned artist to have a number-one single, making her one of the first female folk-rock musicians to emerge in a trend that would later include Jewel and Alanis Morrisette. Six major record labels vied for her services; a Grammy nomination ensued.

“It was a bit overwhelming,” concedes Loeb, who also had to deal with critics who questioned whether she was a one-hit wonder. “Some of my friends and family thought I was changing, but I was just busy. I was managing myself, as well as [doing] just basic things, like making sure my hair looked good on TV.”

Besides “Cake And Pie,” there is a distinct duality to 33-year-old Loeb — and it’s not just the contrast between her perky, retro-’60s look and her melancholy lyrics about ambivalent lovers. In person, she’s cerebral and girlish, wearing funky-granny glasses and a ponytail. She’s a pop culture diva who loves opera and has a comparative literature degree from Brown University.

And while her shows suggest Americana (she hopes to bake an apple pie onstage during 2002 shows), some of her earliest musical influences hail from her childhood Jewish community.

The first time Loeb played acoustic guitar in public was at Dallas’ Camp Chai, where, she says, “We changed the words of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ so they dealt with ‘cabin number one’ instead of ‘that lady.'” Musically, she says she related more to the “singalong songs” she learned at camp than to the “very dissonant, modern classical music” she heard at her Reform synagogue.

At her elite girls’ prep school, where she was one of only a few Jews, she refrained from singing the obligatory Christmas carols. Classmates attended a cotillion at a club that barred Jews, but that didn’t prevent Loeb from serving as class president or starting to write songs at age 15.

Even then, her lyrics were angst-ridden: “In my family life and my school the focus was always on keeping everything together, putting on a good face and trying to be pleasant and polite,” she explains. “For me, songwriting was a time to let everything else come out.”

The habit continued as Loeb formed a singing duo at Brown, burst on the national scene with “Stay” and released her 1995 debut album, “Tails,” which went gold. Her 1997 CD, “Firecracker,” featured her hit single, “I Do.”

By now her career trajectory is as famous as her frames, but Loeb has also embarked upon a quieter, parallel journey: her exploration of the spiritual side of Judaism. It began about six years ago “as I was getting of the age when I would hopefully get married and have children,” she says. “And — my parents would say, unfortunately — I’ve been dating men who are not Jewish, which means I have to really think about and be able to explain to somebody else, what I believe.” Loeb notes that she’s currently dating Dweezil Zappa, son of the late subversive rocker Frank Zappa: “He’s very anti-organized religion, which has really put my beliefs to the test,” she says.

To learn more, Loeb’s been reading books such as Rabbi Ted Falcon’s “Judaism for Dummies” and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s “The Book of Jewish Values” and attending a variety of synagogues around town (she favors Traditional services).

“Every time I go to temple, I think, ‘Why don’t I go more regularly?'” she says. “It’s almost like going to a shrink — you know if you go at least once a week it gives you time to think about where you are. And it allows you to connect with your community.”

It makes sense that Loeb, the self-proclaimed bookworm, would connect through charities that focus on reading. She’s participated in celebrity readings for Koreh L.A., The Los Angeles Coalition for Literacy and a CD project to benefit the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles.

Has her Judaism affected her songwriting? “It’s perhaps my tendency to be very analytical, to ask questions and to overquestion.”

With her musical career melding seamlessly with her faith, Loeb’s clearly having her cake and eating her pie, too.

“Cake And Pie” (A & M Records) hits record storesFeb. 26. For information about Loeb’s April concerts in Los Angeles, go to www.lisaloeb.com .

CDs to Light Up Eight Nights


They are round, shiny and popular. But CDs don’t melt like chocolate coins — and they have fewer calories. To give the gelt without the guilt, try the gift of music.

Rick Recht “Shabbat Alive!”

You don’t want to miss Rock Recht with his voice, guitar and charisma, he’s held his own with every oxymoron from Vertical Horizon to Supertramp. Recht transmits spirituality, social conscience and a sheer love of Judaism — all in an irresistible rock ‘n’ roll package. His is the sound of America’s Jewish youth — happy, strong, and blessed with potential. “Shabbat Alive!” is his second Jewish release, and another can’t-ignore-it work.

Achinoam “Noa” Nini/Gil Dor “First
Collection”

Israel’s most brilliant musical jewel today is Noa. Born in Israel to Yemenite parents and raised in New York, Noa’s music is anchored, as she says, on “both sides of the sea.” Her first all-Hebrew anthology, “First Collection,” arrived this year. The album chronicles a decade of her music — from a single guitar to the Israeli Philharmonic. But the centerpiece is that voice, sparkling as silver and warm as gold. If you’ve ever enjoyed Noa’s concerts, all her best stuff is right here.

Diaspora Yeshiva Band “The Diaspora
Collection”

Founded at the Diaspora Yeshiva by rock-loving students in the late ’70s, Diaspora created the Jewish rock genre, now reaching a new plateau. “The Diaspora Collection” is a two-CD set that captures the history of the band. It proves Diaspora’s claim as the seminal Jewish rock band, and also the greatest Jewish country band ever, thanks to Avraham Rosenblum’s rangy guitar and Ruby Harris’ down-home fiddle and mandolin. Come discover the favorite band you never knew.

Sam Glaser “The Songs We Sing”

We’ve always sung “Adon Olam,” and “Erev Shel Shoshanim.” But we’ve never heard them the Sam Glaser way. A tireless, gifted producer, Glaser established the annual Jewish Song Festival that helped launch many careers. An engaging performer, Glaser combines old-fashioned haymishness with state-of-the-art technology. Here, he reimagines Jewish favorites as rock, blues, and reggae numbers. In “The Songs We Sing,” Glaser explains why this music has endured: it always sings to the current generation.

Philip Don/Ruby Harris “Tzalel
Nafshi”

The title song won an international Jewish-music competition, and is featured in the Oscar-winning documentary, “The Long Way Home.” Encompassing American, European and Israeli music, “Tzalel Nafshi” features the words and voice of Philip Don and the compositions and music of Ruby Harris. Harris is a one-man string section, playing up to four instruments on one track. And on other tracks, he plays the harmonica and even does a dramatic reading. This is a tough but ultimately rewarding album, made with acoustic instruments and a lot of loving care.

Shirona “Judaic Love Songs (Love Songs to the
Creator)”

Ruth Wieder Magan “Songs to the Invisible God”

Two takes on the same idea: a woman with a plush yet soaring voice singing love songs to God.

But here the similarities end. Shirona writes her own material, based in scripture and liturgy, and backs it with lush instrumentation. Her debut release evidences Eastern European and Middle Eastern, but also Celtic, influences. Like the jewelry Shirona designs, the tone is elegant and golden. One track, “Ki Elecha,” is so moving, it has become a wedding march. As a whole, “Judaic Love Songs” is a spiritually uplifting experience.

Ruth Wieder Magan sings cantorial works composed by the great classical Jewish arrangers. The only sound on the entire album is Magan’s haunting voice. The works are beautiful, but can be challenging, even frightening at times (both her parents survived the Holocaust). All are enshrouded in the embrace of the Shechina, the very presence of God. “Songs to the Invisible God” is the more difficult of the two, but also the more profound.

Whether you eat your latkes with sour cream or applesauce, make sure to eat them with music!

Elias and Company


You may know Jonathan Elias as the guy who composed the music to Chaplin and 9 1/2 Weeks. Or most of the songs on the Yes album, Union. Or the ditty to the original MTV promo, the one where the astronaut plants the MTV flag on the moon.

So it may come as a surprise that Elias’ latest project is an album that has soared to the top of Billboard’s classical crossover chart. The Prayer Cycle (Sony Classical) is holding fast at number six, not far below the new Star Wars CD.

It’s a multilingual, New Age-y, nine-movement choral symphony featuring Alanis Morissette (yes, Alanis Morissette) singing in French and Hungarian. Linda Ronstadt croons in Spanish; James Taylor performs a medieval prayer; and Israeli artist Ofra Haza sings a duet, Forgiveness, with the late Pakistani-Muslim, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. There’s a personal chant by Perry Farrell, the punk rock singer from Jane’s Addiction and Porno for Pyros, who apparently has been exploring his Jewish roots.&’009;

Elias, who composes free music for Amnesty International ads, says he began writing The Prayer Cycle while brooding about the future of the mankind during his wife’s pregnancy three years ago. I was nervous about bringing Lilli into this world, he said, and my symphony became a prayer that the future is not like the present.

Morissette telephoned Elias just a few days after he sent an early version of the piece to her manager. She was so taken with the music that she agreed to sing on half the album. Morissette even composed her own lyrics and melodies for the project. We both come from Hungarian lineage, mine Jewish, hers Christian, so we clicked immediately about her singing in Hungarian, Elias says.

Yet the composer was jittery when Morissette, the big rock star, arrived for her first recording session in L.A. But after the first 10 seconds I was at ease, Elias says. Alanis was totally cool. And I was just awestruck by her ability. She’s only 24, but she can hold her own with people like [African artist] Salif Keita.

Sadly, Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn unexpectedly died before he could finish recording his duet with Ofra Haza. The Jewish artist had to improvise to fill in the blanks. Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn was so open and excited about working with an Israeli singer, Elias says. He knew that we were breaking cultural and political boundaries. — Naomi Pfefferman, Entertainment Editor.