Poem: Alphabets

I have always believed in the alchemy of letters 
                                  but never in their permanence.
Just look how the aleph was stripped of its
rightly earned place to begin the Torah
                                  how the bet is sheltered —
but only on three sides
             so its wind tunnel thrusts the reader forward.
                             In Russian the silent letters gather in the cheek like
             magic pebbles waiting to drop from the tongue. And the chutzpah

of English, its misleading spelling. Tell me, how can anyone
                                      ever learn it?

I have returned to America, but my dreams are a kite whose tail is strung with
                    alphabets of all these languages and when I awaken

to the Morse Code of birds in the oak tree I do not know
how to translate this into prayer.

Carol V. Davis is the author of “Between Storms” (Truman State University Press, 2012). She won the 2007 T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry for “Into the Arms of Pushkin: Poems of St. Petersburg,” 2007.

Spectator – Musical Mystery of Letters

While Madonna and other celebrities have made it fashionable in recent years to pursue Kabbalah, guitarist and composer Adam Del Monte has the musical sophistication and spiritual depth to explore Jewish mysticism beyond the trendy or superficial. In his new piece, “Kabbalistic Intonation From the Hebrew Alphabet,” Del Monte delves deeply into the meditative and musical aspects of each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Del Monte will perform his new composition on numerology as one of two world premieres at the Jan. 8 concert of Synergy, a chamber ensemble of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity. The performance will take place at the Emanuel Arts Theater in Beverly Hills.

Of Kabbalah, Del Monte says, “There is a high-level of consciousness, bringing down energy from the spheres in a way that affects our physical life.” To do that, “you need to be a pure vessel,” which is why some scholars have suggested that no one truly study Kabbalah until reaching at least the age of 40.

The Israeli-born Del Monte, though a year shy of 40, brings much life experience to his new work, which incorporates elements of his Sephardic, classical and flamenco expertise. He traveled for years in Spain, learning flamenco in the caves of Granada with gypsies. He discovered that flamenco derives from Sephardic roots. His present surname, given to him by gypsies, comes from a major thoroughfare in Granada.

Regarded as a virtuoso classical guitarist, Del Monte believes that there is sacredness to a name.

“Every sound, every letter, every shape of letter gives birth to a specific frequency of vibration, and, when combined with other letters, incarnates specific energies and characters,” he says.

Del Monte “makes a connection between each letter of the Hebrew alphabet in musical pitch,” says Neal Brostoff, the music coordinator of Synergy.

The January concert, dubbed “Nefesh — Music From the Soul,” will also include the world premiere of “Arba-a Bavot Niggun D’Alte Rebbe,” which Brostoff terms a “Chasidic jazz fusion,” composed by pianist Sha-rone Kushnir — as well as works by Betty Olivero and Andrew Bleckner.

Synergy’s “Nefesh — Music From the Soul,” concert will be held Sunday, Jan. 8, at 7 p.m., at the Emanuel Arts Theater, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. To R.S.V.P., call (323) 658-5824 or e-mail

Kids Page

Puzzle Place

Life is a puzzle, don’t you think? It’s just not always that easy to put all the pieces together in order to see the big picture. But the more we practice, the better we get at it. So, here are a bunch of fun puzzles to get your juices going!

Torah Challenge

Can you answer these questions from this week’s portion, Shelach-Lecha?

How many spies did Moses send into Israel?

a. 10

b. 12

c. 40

The spies came back spreading lies about Israel. What did they say?

a. The land is bad for planting

b. The inhabitants are as big as giants

c. The country is covered in grasshoppers

Only two of the spies said the land was good. What were their names?

a. Reuven and Levi

b. Joshua and Caleb

c. Menashe and Efraim

Mathmagic Land

Start with the number of Dalmatians in the title of the Disney movie, minus the number of commandments on the tablets, minus the number that is the square of 3, plus the number of stars you need to see in the sky to know that Shabbat is over.

Or, in simple terms:

Dalmatians –


– square

of 3 + stars = ?

What number do you get?

Alphabet Soup

Unscramble the 16 letters below to make a common three-word phrase for a victorious contestant:


F __ __ __ __ P __ __ __ __ W __ __ __ __ __


Yiddishkayt for Yiddle Ones

Hey parents… Uneasy about plopping your toddlers on the
sofa to watch a puffy purple dinosaur? Think they need more Jewish culture?

The founders of “OyBaby” say it’s never too early to start
teaching your kids — 6 months and up — about Yiddishkayt.

The “OyBaby” DVD/VHS and accompanying CD educates the babes
in basics like the Hebrew alphabet, colors and numbers, with a backdrop of
colorful music. The collection features Jewish classics like “Heveinu Shalom Aleichem,”
and “David Melech Yisrael” sung by vocalists Stephanie and Lisa Schneiderman
and Kim Palumbis. Loaded with Jewish rituals, the visual “OyBaby” has scenes of
a woman lighting Shabbat candles with a baby girl dutifully mimicking the act
of covering her eyes, and a recitation of “Hamotzi,” with the toddlers munching
on challah.

Just in time for Chanukah, the lovely trio sing the “Maoz Tzur”
with candles being lit and dreidel playing in the background.

“Growing up, our parents taught us to celebrate our Judaism,
and music was always a central part of that experience,” said Lisi Wolf, one of
the founders. “Now, as parents, we hope to do the same for our son. ‘OyBaby’
will be one of the first steps in his Jewish discovery, and we wish the same
for other Jewish babies around the world.”

For more information, visit

Mystic Letters

If God uttered words to create the universe, it’s not surprising that two L.A. artists are using the Hebrew alphabet as inspiration for their own work.

“Letters of Foundation,” now at The Jewish Federation’s Bell Gallery, is a multimedia show that traces the 2,500-year evolution of all 22 Hebrew letters. The letters are considered, in the kabbalistic tradition, to be “the protoplasm of creation,” photographer Dennis Paul says.

The project by Paul and his wife, artist Lynn Small, is a series of 24 pieces, one for each Hebrew letter, plus a cover image and an endplate; the colorful collages incorporate photographs, scribbled letters, painted images and woven fibers. Paul says each “tablet” shows every known form of each letter from approximately 400 BCE forward.

The series is dedicated to the memory of Israeli textile artist Julia Keiner Forchheimer. “We think of the work as being created by the three of us,” Paul said during an interview in the couple’s art-filled Fairfax-area apartment. “Each tablet has Julia’s fibers, my mixed-media drawings and Dennis’ photographs,” Small adds. The goal is to weave ancient symbols into modern metaphors.

Also in the gallery is work from the artists’ “Kabbalah Series,” more Hebrew letters and quotes juxtaposed on layered images of novas and other heavenly bodies. The dramatic “Before One” (1997-98), for example, is a large LightJet print that includes a reconfigured NASA photograph of the Orion Nebula galaxy taken from the Hubble space telescope. “A miracle of our time is that we can view a new universe literally being created,” Paul says. “Understanding that image opens new doors of perception.”

And possibly, glimpses of the divine.

The exhibit is on display at The Jewish Federation’s Bell Gallery, 6505 Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. For information, call (323) 761-8000. The artists’ Web site is www.viewart.com/colabart/kabbalah.htm.