Groove, dance or chill at Sephardic Music Festival

Attendees should expect the eclectic at the 11th annual Sephardic Music Festival (SMF), which this month comes to Los Angeles for a second consecutive year. The event will feature music from across the traditionally Sephardic terrain, as well as a multimedia candlelighting event, an eight-minute Chanukah mix-tape and … a klezmer musician?

“I know, that’s going to sound like kryptonite for a Sephardic festival,” said Erez Safar, the festival’s producer and founder. “But I’ve always wanted to work with [the band] Klezmer Juice, and they don’t typically get booked at a Sephardic festival. They’ll be performing under the name Electrik Sabra Sefarad. I’m really excited about it.”

And if you think Safar is excited, the energy of Klezmer Juice/Electrik Sabra Sefarad’s Gustavo Bulgach practically blasts through the phone as he recounts his wish to “get everybody to dance and to groove to the rhythms, not sit down and watch us play.” 

“We’ll bring so many titles to the table. Basically, we’ll be grooving on the Sepharad beat,” Bulgach says of the set he plans for the festival’s Sephardic Remix night Dec. 10. “We are going to spin some new re-creations of old music. We’ll be working in the middle of Chanukah, so we’ll do a Middle Eastern Chanukah medley.”

After making the festival a success for nine years in New York, Safar has earned the right to program adventurously. For the festival’s second year in Los Angeles, which includes nearly a dozen performers spread over four nights starting Dec. 9, Safar plans to mix up things. 

Literally. The “Sephardic Remix Night” is designed to fuse the music of East and West. Performing as DJ Diwon, Safar will mix Yemenite music with electro hip-hop and cinematic psychedelia. Two live bands will combine musical styles from multicultural locales, and celebrity food blogger Nina Safar (Erez Safar’s wife) will “remix” traditional dishes such as potato latkes with Sephardic flavors to create new delights. 

Festivalgoers not in a remixing mood can hunker down with the L.A.-based Israeli-American rock group Moshav, which performs Dec. 12. Moshav is an SMF returnee. For past festivals, Safar has lined up such artists as Yemen Blues, Yair Dalal, Matisyahu, Asefa and Asaf Avidan.

Tracing its root to the Jews of medieval Spain, Sephardic music is often composed both in Hebrew and in the Judeo-Spanish language of Ladino. SMF bills itself as the first music festival to focus exclusively on the culture of the Jewish communities of Spain, Portugal, North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. 

Safar’s own Sephardic roots are traceable to Yemen via his mother’s family. Although he has been drawn to the musical traditions of the Middle East, Safar has long embraced fusion in his work. He began as a DJ and radio personality at the University of Maryland and eventually created the Jewish record labels Shemspeed and Modular Moods. Jazz and klezmer submissions were plentiful in his early producing days, but Middle Eastern and Sephardic music were scarce. Safar developed the SMF as much for his own research purposes as to bring exposure to emerging artists.

“I discovered a ton of bands,” Safar said. “By using the term ‘Sephardic’ instead of, say, the Jewish Music Festival, we gave the festival this esoteric quality. People were interested outside of feeling like it was just a Jewish community festival.” 

The festival drew strong crowds and attention from publications including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Over the ensuing years, the programming has become increasingly diverse, and Safar has rarely shied away from trying new things. In another shake-up from previous years, the festival will open with an acoustic evening titled “Shedding Light on Mizrahi Remembrance Day.” In partnership with the Israeli Consulate, 30 Years After and Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA), SMF will present music to honor Arab and Iranian Jewish refugees who were expelled from their homelands. 

The evening will feature a performance by electro-blues band Automatic Toys. The band’s upcoming 2016 album contains tracks that deal with the plight of refugees and, according to lead singer Nachum Peterseil, the band’s “City of Refuge” set at the SMF will tap into many of those issues.

“I grew up in Israel, and the Syrian, Iraqi and Yemeni influences are huge,” said Peterseil, who will be performing songs in Hebrew and Arabic. “At the end of the day, Jewish and Arabic people are way more similar than not. We have way more musical doorways than probably any other nation[s] that are parallel, and I want to tap into that.” 

The festival concludes Dec. 14 at the Mint, where SMF takes over Hunnypot Live. Kosha Dillz and Diwon will perform a special holiday and SMF rendition of some of their tracks and debut their eight-minute mix-tape for Chanukah. The evening will also include sets by Hot Tub Johnnie, Cameron Parkins, Barrie and the Stars, The Milky Way and Tropical Nasty. 

“The vibe almost feels like a house party,” Safar said of the festival. “The way we set things up and the performers and venues we choose, it’s definitely more chill and fun.” 

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Lisa Loeb’s new Chanukah song “Light”

Singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb has just released an original Chanukah song called “Light.” Telling the inspiring story of hope in the darkness, the song captures the essence of the metaphor of Chanukah that no matter how little there is left there is always hope. “I realized there aren't enough Chanukah songs this time of year, and I think that everyone has to find their light.” 

Oh, Klezmer! Oh, Klezmer!

There are assorted good reasons to program a klezmer night around Chanukah, and brisk ticket sales is only one of them.

“Klezmer is a hugely important part of the Jewish language and culture,” said Dale Franzen, director of the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, in assessing the Eastern European music genre that touches on political and cultural themes. 

“The fact that Yiddish is dying worries me a lot,” she continued. “That’s a huge loss, and any little way that we can keep it going will be special. It’s depressing when languages die.”

She’ll get no argument from Lorin Sklamberg, a sound archivist for the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York and the lead vocalist for the internationally known group the Klezmatics, who will take the stage at the Broad on Dec. 7. 

“People sort of refer to this mythical place where Jewish Ashkenazi culture exists like ‘Yiddishland,’ ” Sklamberg said. “There isn’t a place where people speak Yiddish day-to-day except little pockets of Chasidic communities.”

Of course, whenever Sklamberg and his fellow Klezmatics assemble, Yiddish and klezmer music escape the threat of extinction in a big way. Franzen expects the Klezmatics show to inspire much clapping, stomping and singing from an enthusiastic crowd. She also expects a sold-out house.  

“It will be a fantastic concert,” she said.  

That’s a safe prediction. Now in their 27th year, the New York-based Klezmatics have produced 10 CDs and performed in more than 20 countries. They won a Grammy Award for the 2006 album “Wonder Wheel” and hit the Top 10 on Billboard’s World Music chart. They have collaborated with artists as seemingly unrelated as violinist Itzhak Perlman, playwright Tony Kushner, folk singer Arlo Guthrie, beat poet Allen Ginsberg and Pilobolus Dance Theater. 

The band is currently at work on a joint project with Hungarian artist Péter Forgács on the installation of the video project “Letters to Afar” at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. “Letters” is based on home movies made by Jewish immigrants from the United States while visiting their hometowns in Poland during the 1920s and ’30s. Music from the project — as well as old favorites — will be part of the Broad performance, according to Sklamberg.  

“We haven’t written for anything exactly like this [before],” Sklamberg said of the “Letters” project. “The closest thing I can think of was the work we did with Pilobolus Dance Theater. A lot of the time, you have the music and they construct the dance piece around it. This way, you’re sort of accompanying them rather than the other way around.”

The Broad gig will be a homecoming of sorts for Sklamberg, who grew up in Monterey Park, attended shul in Alhambra and studied briefly both at UCLA and USC. He is the only Klezmatic with West Coast origins and still has family in Los Angeles. 

But the roots of this roots band are decidedly East Coast. When asked about the band’s formation, Sklamberg started to tell a story that sounded like it was heading toward a punch line: “In 1986, a guy from San Francisco came to the Village in New York to play Yiddish music …

“I never met that guy,” Sklamberg said, “but his band somehow morphed into this sextet. We rehearsed in this apartment — and if you know New York, you know that apartments are long and narrow. We rehearsed standing in a line, and we just never really thought this would be something that could be a career. 

“We were playing the music with our whole beings,” he continued. “We were putting ourselves into the music in a way that came naturally to musicians who play other types of world music. There are places where music is an indigenous part of a given culture that has a homeland and place where people speak the language.” 

As the ’80s slipped away, the Klezmatics were able to ride the wave of interest in world music and the proliferation of CDs. What was originally envisioned as a novelty band to be hired for parties and weddings ended up taking them around the world. 

“That Yiddish music was included in the world music book, which was something that hadn’t ever happened before,” Sklamberg said. “Because, by and large, Yiddish music was insular; it was part of [the] Jewish community at large, but it wasn’t really being exposed to a wider audience. So now it’s considered like another genre of world music, which is all the more healthy for the longevity of the music we play.” 

The band’s current incarnation includes original members Sklamberg (accordion, guitar, piano), Frank London (trumpet, keyboards) and Paul Morrissett (bass, tsimbl), along with Matt Darriau (kaval, saxophone), Lisa Gutkin (violin) and Richie Barshay (percussion) 

Every Klezmatic has one or more side projects, and the band’s most recent album and accompanying documentary celebrating its 25th anniversary — 2011’s “Live at Town Hall” — was funded through a Kickstarter campaign. 

“I have this day job, which is part time and flexible enough for me to do what I need to do, but sometimes it becomes more difficult to sustain, to keep creating new repertoire,” Sklamberg said. “People are wedded to the idea that you put out a new collection of songs. I’m assuming we’ll make more CDs, but I don’t know.”

The Klezmatics have a handful of December dates in California and Arizona and pick up their touring again in March 2014. 

When Franzen was looking to program an assortment of different cultural holiday offerings for the Broad, she locked in the baroque group Interpreti Veneziani, “A Cajun Christmas” with BeauSoleil and the always zany Impro Theatre for “Jane Austen UnScripted.” To complete the set, she wanted a blowout klezmer night to coincide with Chanukah. 

“I talked to Aaron Paley at Yiddishkayt, [the L.A.-based group that promotes Yiddish culture], and he said ‘There’s only one band. You have to bring in the Klezmatics,’ ” Franzen said. “I did a lot of research, and indeed, they were the group to bring.” 

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Holiday preview calendar


HA HA Hanukkah

If you like to laugh and hear happy Chanukah songs, then this is the show for you. It will be a special night of funny people, including Stephanie Blum, Jimmy Brogan and Mark Schiff. Hosted by Kenny Ellis, who has long made it a mission to marry the cantor and the comic within, there will be nods to his top-rated CD, “Hanukkah Swings!” Make the sixth night of Chanukah the best night. Mon. 8 p.m. $17-$30. The Laugh Factory, 8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 656-1336. TUE | DEC 3


Bette Midler stars in the fresh-from-Broadway one-woman show that celebrates Tinseltown’s hottest talent agent. With clients like Barbra Streisand and Marlon Brando, and immigration to the United States from Germany when she was 5, Mengers’ story is a version of the American dream. The Divine Miss M, performing John Logan’s words and directed by Joe Mantello, captivates, entertains and charms. Tue. 8 p.m. Through Dec. 22. $87-$397. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-5454. WED | DEC 4


The leading Israeli journalist and writer makes a rare Los Angeles appearance to discuss his new book, “My Promised Land.” By combining interviews, personal experiences, historical documents, private diaries and letters, Shavit captures all the elements that contribute to the relationship we each individually have with Israel. How does Israel’s past inform her present? What does origin have to do with future? A Q-and-A and book signing follow the program. Reservations recommended. Wed. 8 p.m. Free. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. FRI | DEC 6


Nothing says early December like multimedia Jewish indie artists. With acts by rock band Avi Buffalo, the Los Angeles debut of Brooklyn-based performance group People Get Ready and a site-specific dance show by Jmy James Kidd and the Sunland Dancers, the evening will be a salute to some of the eager underground artists of our time. Come for the music, come for the movement, and come see the first-ever performance in the Skirball’s new Guerin Pavilion. Fri. 8:30 p.m. $15 (general), $20 (at the door). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. SAT | DEC 7


The old country just got a little newer. Taking traditional sounds and themes and infusing them with some modern funk and interpretations, the Grammy-winning band brings rhythm and timeless spirit to its audiences. With 25 years of experience and a growing fan base with each performance, the Klezmatics have changed the face of the Yiddish imprint on popular culture. They are making history, performing history and you get to dance all the while. Sat. 7:30 p.m. $69-$108. The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. (310) 434-3200. SUN | DEC 8


Nat Silver is desperate to rid himself of his unlucky-in-love motif as his eighth engagement goes awry. Our urbane and neurotic hero sets up a matchmaking business to learn what it takes to find a match for himself in this 1940 romantic comedy by Edgar Ulmer. Part of Sholem Presents: Yiddish on the Silver Screen series. Other films coming up include “The Light Ahead” (Jan. 26) and “The Dybbuk” (Feb. 9). Sun. 10:15 a.m. $15 (general), $5 (members). Westside Neighborhood School, 5401 Beethoven St., Los Angeles. (818) 760-6625.” target=”_blank”>



The comedian, actor and writer has a new book of poetry out! “To Laughter With Questions” is a collection of serious and not-so-serious verse, limericks, rhymes and an attempt at iambic pentameter. While you might know him best from his many film and TV appearances, here is an opportunity to get to know the man more intimately. His collection is full of personal experiences, and with Berman having taught in USC’s Master of Professional Writing program, you know it’s well written. Thu. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. MON | DEC 23


Forget the movies — the man is making music. With more than 35 years of bringing New Orleans-inspired music to audiences all over the world, the band has mastered creating the sounds Allen has loved since childhood, including nods to George Lewis, Jimmie Noone and Louis Armstrong. Come because you liked “Manhattan,” and stick around because you’ll love New Orleans. Mon. 8 p.m. $52-$112. Royce Hall at UCLA, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101. FRI | DEC 27


It makes more sense to tell you what Hamlisch was not responsible for when it comes to defining music — but sense is no fun. A musical prodigy at the age of 6, the conductor and composer was the brain behind “A Chorus Line,” and wrote the scores for “Sophie’s Choice,” “Ordinary People” and, more recently, “Behind the Candelabra.” In this first film biography, we get an inside portrait of one of the most respected artists of both the 20th and 21st centuries. Fri. 9 p.m. on PBS. Check local listings. SUN | JAN 12


Join the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Chief Cantor Shai Abramson, the IDF Vocal Ensemble and conductor Ofir Sobol for a community concert featuring classical, opera and Israeli music. Presented by Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, this benefit concert features a special guest appearance by IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz. Sun. $29-$180. 6:30 p.m Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 843-2690. FRI | JAN 17


The new year means we are all ripe for self-deprecation, and there is no one better to serve as our shepherd than Rivers. For more than 50 years she has been making us laugh, think, squirm, agree and disagree. Whether you saw her on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson,” spent revealing time with her in the documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” or currently watch her during awards season, you know exactly who Joan is and what you have to look forward to. Fri. 9 p.m. $77-$225. Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 655-0111. SAT | JAN 18


The principal guest conductor leads one of the United Kingdom’s most prestigious orchestras through some Bach, Schoenberg and Brahms. Born in Tel Aviv, Zukerman trained at Juilliard before playing the violin with the London Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. After a successful career in recording, he began conducting in 1970. Since then, he has been a global musical leader, player and teacher. Forget the sounds of silence — bring on Zukerman. Sat. 8 p.m. $40-$65. Valley Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. (818) 677-3000. TUE | JAN 21


It’s a religious satire musical from the guys who brought you “South Park” and “Avenue Q.” That means you’re gonna laugh. Tag along with a couple of Mormon missionaries as they try to spread the word to a remote village in Northern Uganda. It won nine Tony Awards in 2011, including best musical, so if you feel better about going to critically acclaimed things, you can feel good about this. Tue. 8 p.m. Through March 16. $43-$103. Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 468-1770. THUR | FEB 13


“X-Files” co-creator Chris Carter is in conversation with Edward Frenkel — one of the 21st century’s leading mathematicians. Working on one of the biggest math ideas in 50 years — the Langlands Program — Frenkel, in his autobiography, reveals a side of math filled with all the metaphysical beauty, elegance and spirit of a work of art. Discover how the things you just thought were numbers might carry a charge of love. Thur. 7:15 p.m. Free (reservation required). Mark Taper Auditorium, Central Library, 630 W. Fifth St., downtown. (213) 228-7500. SAT | FEB 15


If you were a respected and talented comedian, singer, author, actor and monologist, you’d love being me, too! From a big break in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” to a recurring role on TV’s “Roseanne,” to off-Broadway successes, Bernhard understands entertaining. She will sing, she will muse about her teenage daughter, and she will love being her. And we love that. Sat. 8 p.m. $25-$60 (general), $15 (UCLA Students). Royce Hall at UCLA, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101.

Hectic, eclectic songs of the season

The closer we get to candle-lighting time, the more we warm to sounds of the season. Of course, there is no rule that every note of every song must be to-the-letter traditional (or even particularly Jewish), as a handful of new and recent releases demonstrate. As you’re preparing to spin the dreidel, give some of these gems a spin: 

The first and only English spoken words of “Putumayo Presents: A Jewish Celebration” (Putumayo) are heard nine songs into the 13-track CD, at the conclusion of the Klezmer Conservatory Band’s buoyant rendition of “The Dreydl Song.” The line is shouted, not sung. 

“Alonzo, make me a dreidel!”  

And that’s it, folks. If you want to follow the lyrics with this globe-spanning compilation, you’d best brush up on your Yiddish, German, French and Spanish. What, you expected heterogeneity from a CD published by Putumayo World Music? More than half of the artists are from the United States, but the songs are decidedly international in flavor.

It shouldn’t matter. These songs are presenting decidedly new spins on some very old favorites (as well as a few that aren’t so old). In addition to the oleo of languages, “A Jewish Celebration” serves up a blend of musical styles, including reggae, bossa nova and African tribal rhythms. Chances are you have never come across a rendition of “Ocho Kandelikas,” suffused with the promises of Chanukah quite like the sultry tango beat that accompanies Alisa Fineman’s version. Or such a unique melding of choral voices from the Abayudaya Congregation of Uganda, united in the chorus of “Hinei Ma Tov.”

The liner notes supply some tasty background, including thematic links behind the lyrics of “Vehistakel” and the Jamaican reggae stylings of Bob Marley favored by Kayama’s Mikael Zerbib. Zerbib contends that had Marley been an Orthodox rabbi, he would have created music in the vein of Kamaya. Reggae and rabbis? Why ever not? 

The Idelsohn Society — historians of Jewish culture through recorded sound — had me with the title “It’s a Scream How Levine Does the Rhumba” (Idelsohn Society). The somewhat bawdy 1952 ditty by Ruth Wallis is more than just the title track for this two-CD compilation tracing the overlap of Jewish and Latin music. “It’s a Scream …” sits firmly within the musical tradition of Jews gloriously discovering salsa sounds, learning to shake their maracas and — in many cases — being made to look royally silly while doing so. 

The Idelsohn collection has several representative examples of this largely satiric (and quite dated) silliness, from the opening “Moe the Schmo Takes a Rhumba Lesson” by Irving Kaufman to the Barry Sisters’ “Channa from Havana,” wherein a housewife’s trip to Cuba produces comic results, to “My Yiddishe Mambo” by the klezmer comedian Mickey Katz and his orchestra.  

Fortunately, the bulk of the “It’s a Scream …” numbers are not satiric. By chronologically tracing the musical crossover between the two cultures from the 1940s through the 1980s, the Idelsohn Society unearthed some real gems and illustrated some fascinating links. Xavier Cugat is represented (“Miami Beach Rhumba”), as is his wife Abbe Lane (the former Abigail Francine Lassman), who sizzles her way through “Pan, Amor y Cha Cha Cha” alongside no less a figure than Tito Puente. 

There are no fewer than three distinct and spiced-up versions of “Hava Nagila,” with Celia Cruz’s “Hava Nageela” being especially smoky. When you can put Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd, Mongo Santamaria and Damiron in the same collection as Carole King and Larry Harlow and locate the Jewish presence in every number, you’ve got something.

Tradition takes a holiday of sorts on “The Best of Festival of Light” (Six Degrees Records), the digital-only compilation of seasonal airs. Folk rocker Marc Cohn kicks things off spectacularly with a rendition of “Rock of Ages” (“Ma’oz Tzur”) so straightforward yet stirring that it could keep those candles aglow for another eight nights at minimum. Take a seat, Adam Sandler, this one should be the new Chanukah perennial. 

From that opening track, things cool off a bit, even though the artists are no less skilled or eclectic. Wally Brill is in full cantorial — indeed, near operatic — splendor with “Kiddush Le-Shabbat.” Klezmatics founder Frank London lends his pixie-ish trumpet to the swinging “Oh Hanukka Groove” (accompanying his Big Band) and, later, soloing with “Song of Praise.”

With elaborate strings, lively percussion and the occasional unusual sound added to the mix — could that have been a didgeridoo on the aforementioned Brill “Kiddush”? — none of the renditions feels the least bit ordinary. 

They Might Be Giants gets the collection’s most comic entry, the yenta-ish and  borderline snarky “Feast of Lights”: “The only thing we have is fights / But there’s got to be a change tonight. / Please be nice on this feast of lights.” Contrast the Giants with the hugely earnest laundry list of Peter Himmelman and David Broza’s “Lighting up the World,” and you’ve got a gamut-spanning album, indeed.

Then there’s the album “Shruggy Ji” (Sinj Records), by Brooklyn-based bhangra band Red Baraat. Its Web site touts the band’s extensive presence on the road and at targeted events (TED conferences, London 2012 Paralympic Games). Clearly when dhol player and group founder Sunny Jain and the eight members of Red Baraat show up — brass and drums in tow — parties start. 

Maybe not so much in your living room, though.  

“Shruggy Ji,” the group’s second full-length studio album, offers some seriously frisky and upbeat tunes with drums bolstering horns or vice versa, depending on the track. Fusing a big-band sound with Indian rhythms, Red Baraat belongs in neither camp. Three or four numbers into the 13-song album, however, those beats, exultations and breakdowns start to feel a bit repetitive, particularly in the instrumental tracks. It becomes even a relief to hear actual lyrics, particularly the attitude-laced raps of John Altieri in numbers like “Private Dancers,” “Mast Kalandar” and “F.I.P.”  And while I’m not sure what a “Tarantino car chase” is supposed to sound like, sorry Web liner notes …“Burning Instinct” ain’t it

Choir saving Ladino music

A dozen members of Kol Sephardic Choir stood in a semicircle, clutching songbooks as they rehearsed the lyrics of “Quando el Rey Nimrod.” Halfway through the Ladino folk song, music director Avi Avliav held his hands up and told the group to stop. 

“The idea is to lose yourselves and enjoy this,” Avliav said. “Let’s see if we can put our books down and find a connection to the music.” 

A week later, at the choir’s Chanukah concert on Dec. 16 in West Hollywood, it was clear that members had taken his advice to heart. Bedecked in sequined vests and ruffled skirts, Kol Sephardic Choir performed a moving selection of Ladino-language ballads and Chanukah songs at Plummer Park’s Fiesta Hall, accompanied by the clacking heels of flamenco dancers twirling brightly colored fans.

The concert capped the 20th anniversary of Kol Sephardic Choir, which began in Los Angeles as an informal sing-along group and blossomed into the only professional choir in the United States — and one of few worldwide — whose repertoire consists primarily of Ladino music, founder and director Raphael Ortasse said. 

Ladino, a fusion of Hebrew and Spanish that evolved among Jews in medieval Spain, has been kept alive by Sephardic communities around the world since the Spanish Inquisition expelled the Jews in 1492. Woven into the romanceros (love songs) and cantigas and coplas (Iberian songs) the choir performs is the DNA of a long-dwindling culture that Ortasse hopes to preserve.

“These are the songs that were sung by my mother, my father,” said Ortasse, a retired aeronautical engineer and Hebrew school educator who traces his lineage back to pre-Inquisition Spain. “Sephardic music and culture are almost unknown among the Jewish community. We’re just a small group, but we’ve been able to bring them to light.”

The themes of the music are timeless: ballads from lovelorn poets, drinking songs, prayers for a son, well-wishes for a bride. “They reflect the lives of the people — and their lives then, in some ways, were no different than our lives today,” Ortasse said. 

Ortasse declined to give his age, but with his white beard and glasses, he presides over the choir with a grandfatherly air.

Born in a small Sephardic community in Khartoum, Sudan, Ortasse moved to British Palestine with his parents when he was 6. He joined his uncles in New York to attend the Polytechnic Institute of New York University) around the time Israeli statehood was declared. After moving to Los Angeles, he worked on the space program for 22 years. 

Between his family and his career, Ortasse didn’t set aside much time for exploring his heritage. But he always remembered walking home from school as a child and hearing his mother’s voice waft out the kitchen window, singing “La Serena.” The beauty of that melody stuck with him for decades.

By the early 1990s, Ortasse wanted to revive interest in L.A.’s rich, but waning, Sephardic tradition. He had an idea: a choir. He partnered with the rabbi at what was then the Sephardic Hebrew Center to put out a call for members. Eventually, sign-ups started to trickle in. 

Then there was the question of what music they would sing. Ortasse pored over songbooks in libraries, dug through dusty files, and asked Sephardic cantors and acquaintances in Israel and Europe to recall melodies passed down from previous generations. 

“It was not an easy task,” Ortasse recalled. “I scratched around. I collected whatever I could lay my hands on. When you decide to do something like this, you don’t leave a stone unturned.”

Politics pushed him away from the fledgling choir when the center merged with another synagogue, but Ortasse regrouped and founded Kol Sephardic Choir as an independent entity in 1992. The group began with a dozen members who met at the Westside Jewish Community Center to sing Ladino songs. Since then, the choir has hired a music director and professional flamenco dancers, performed at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion twice and recorded a CD. 

Today, the choir is about one-third Sephardi. The rest are mostly Ashkenazi; one is Catholic. Members range in age from their 30s to 80s. 

Venus Kapuya, one of the original members, joined to rekindle a connection to her own Sephardic roots. She remembered many of the songs from her childhood in Turkey. 

“I used to hear them from my mom,” Kapuya said. “Sometimes she would tell me stories about how my grandmother sang them while she was doing her sewing; she would keep rhythm with the sewing machine.”

Elizabeth Martínez didn’t know she had a Jewish background until she joined the choir four years ago. Raised Catholic in a Mexican-American family, Martínez grew up singing in Spanish and English. She found her way to Kol Sephardic Choir through a friend, the ensemble’s pianist. When she showed up to practice, the first strains of music stirred something inside her. 

“I had this lightning-bolt moment,” Martínez recalled. “There were a couple of songs that I knew, and I wasn’t sure why.”

She examined her family’s background with her father and found uncanny similarities: knowledge of Ladino folk songs, for one, and family names that were Sephardic in origin. Like many descendents of Sephardic Jews who survived by hiding their faith, she had never been told. 

“I grew up knowing that some people in Mexico have menorahs, and they don’t know what they’re for,” she said. “Singing with this choir has filled in some gaps. It has been a really spiritual and enlightening experience.”

Each piece in the choir’s repertoire illuminates some aspect of life in the Sephardic communities of yore and also carries the stories of those who took the songs with them after the expulsion from Spain. “Arvoles Yoran Por Luvias,” for example, a cry of longing by a lover leaving on a journey, was sung by Sephardic Jews during the Holocaust as they boarded trains bound for concentration camps, Ortasse said. When the choir performs the song, lyrics like, “What will become of me?” follow the recorded screech of a train on its tracks. 

Music makes the strongest case for the preservation of Sephardic culture, Ortasse believes. 

“Music transcends,” he said. “Music, art — these are the things that everybody can relate to. You don’t have to be Italian to enjoy an Italian opera.”

Margarita Kligerman had “no idea what Ladino was, what Sephardic was,” when she joined the choir 12 years ago, she said. But the native of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, recognized what she calls “the Jewish soul.”

“I fell in love with the music. I’m Ashkenazi, but music is music; it doesn’t matter what I am,” Kligerman said. “When I stand on the stage and sing, I see people’s eyes looking at us, hungry for something spiritual in the music. People who come to one concert follow us to the next concert. We’re all so different; we come from different countries, speak different languages. But this is what we have in common — love for this music.”

Ortasse hopes to send the choir on the road someday, traveling with musicians, artists and performers to showcase the flavors of Sephardic Judaism. “My goal is to not let it die,” he said. “It’s not just a song or a language — it’s a way of life.”

Ken Elkinson: Holiday sounds of chill

When musician Ken Elkinson began receiving kudos for his Christmas album, he knew it was time to return to his roots. “I started feeling guilty that I was selling my people out,” Elkinson, 40, said, speaking by phone from his home in Los Angeles. While he was in esteemed company among Jews who’d done Christmas albums or written Christmas songs — boldface names like Bob Dylan, Mel Tormé, Irving Berlin and Johnny Marks, to name but a few — Elkinson was ready to tackle Chanukah.

This year, Elkinson has become a double threat, releasing a pair of albums, “Chanukah Ambient” and “Christmas Ambient,” for the holidays. Ambient, a style of music popularized by artists like Brian Eno, Vangelis and Tangerine Dream, features heavy use of synthesizers to create a very atmospheric, often mellow tone. It may be most recognizable to people who’ve seen 1980s movies like “Legend,” “Blade Runner,” “The Keep” and “Chariots of Fire,” all of which heavily feature ambient pieces in their soundtracks.

For Elkinson, the choice to do ambient music was “more personal than musical.” A longtime pianist whose earlier albums were almost exclusively piano music, Elkinson’s children were a big part of his switch to ambient music — the form allows the composer to lay down one layer of sound, take a break to help out with the kids, and then go back into his studio to work. Elkinson said he also loves the depth of the music. “I like stuff where there’s a lot of complex things going on in the background,” he said. 

Elkinson achieved some fame for his ambient compositions after his boxed set “Music for Commuting” was written up in The New York Times, The Washington Post and on CNN. “I’m still kind of baffled by it,” Elkinson said of the album’s wide appeal, which was heightened due to its release just before Carmageddon, the weekend-long closure of Los Angeles’ hyper-busy 405 freeway in 2011. It was a lot of attention for an album that Elkinson says had its genesis in his own need to calm down while driving. “I can’t stand watching people eat meals and shave and put on makeup and drive [at the same time],” the New Jersey native said. 

Elkinson’s “Chanukah Ambient” album is certainly different from most Chanukah albums on the market, and he’s happy about it. “Some people are probably going to hate it,” he said, adding, “I have really thick skin, I’m totally fine with it. I just got tired of hearing the same songs over and over in the same way.”

Crafting the album became something of a learning process for Elkinson and deepened his understanding of the winter holiday. “I learned through this process that ‘Ocho Kandelikas’ is not a traditional Chanukah song; it’s actually something that was written in the ’80s,” said Elkinson of the song written by Bosnian Flory Jagoda, which people often think is a classic melody. “I feel more proud of the Chanukah music.”

Growing up, he said, he remembers Chanukah being a holiday that brought his family together, in a time before his parents divorced. “We didn’t get fancy presents. I always wanted an Atari and a dog and HBO and sugar cereals; those are the four things I always wanted for Chanukah, and I never got any of that stuff.” Like many former kids, he now remembers the holiday more for its gift of joy than for anything material. “It was a really happy time in my life.”

Today, Elkinson is excited about celebrating the holiday with his own kids. “I like passing the traditions on that I had as a child,” he said. And of course, there’s also the music. “They sing the songs the whole year. It’s funny watching them.”

Elkinson hopes his own album helps “calm people” during a time of holiday stress and brings them a “different perspective” on the familiar celebration. “It’s not like the Chanukah music you know,” Elkinson said. 

“Why just do another boring dreidel song?”

Holiday music puts the Cha Cha Cha in Chanukah

December always brings a torrent of Christmas-themed recordings by musical artists of all stripes. If you’re at all serious about longevity in a recording career, you record an album of holiday music — the sooner, the better.

No matter what the state of the recording industry, the American public seems to have a bottomless appetite for Christmas songs, regardless of the genre: classical, pop, jazz, country, rap — even death metal.

But while Christmas CDs proliferate, Chanukah-themed albums are seldom forthcoming, and they are hard to locate when they appear. This year offers a bumper crop of three — count ’em, three! — new Chanukah CD collections.

The most traditional comes from the London Jewish Male Choir. Not quite 100 years old as an institution, it sings a wide array of sacred music on “S’u Sh’orim” (Arc Music). The group is one of the world’s foremost Jewish choral ensembles and performs mostly a cappella. Israeli folk, liturgical pieces, Chasidic laments and Ladino songs are all fair game for the choir, whose ranks are open to non-Jews.

The sonorities are thick here, and the soul runs deep. David Hilton’s authoritative bass leads the freylich “Boch Rabeinu,” and Yossele Rosenblatt’s “V’hu Rachum” is a heart-clutching call to prayer by tenor Ben Camissar. “V’al Kulom” has Jason Blair’s tenor soaring over the ensemble, which rolls gently but powerfully. The Ladino numbers show that Jewish soul comes in different flavors, too. This is a great addition to a Chanukah music collection or a very good place to start one.

San Mateo standup comic Lauren Mayer offers something completely different with a sardonic menu of original songs on her self-produced “Latkes, Schmatkes!” It’s a novelty album, albeit one with an ax to grind. Mayer immediately goes for the jugular in “Nine Words”: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat!”

Her “The Jew-in-a-Gentile-World Blues” sums up what she’s after. Likewise, a hip-hop send-up, a country tune, and songs “The Chanuka Cha Cha” and “I Hate Holiday Music” all drive home the draft she feels in December.

But Mayer’s an equal opportunity complainer. On the title number she kvetches about splattered oil and concludes: “Why can’t we eat potato chips instead?” As a singer, she’d never be mistaken for Barbra Streisand, but she does manage to hit the notes. 

The complex relationship of Jews and gentiles to their respective holiday music and that of the other faith is thoroughly explored in the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation’s two-CD collection, “ ’Twas The Night Before Hanukkah.” The complicated topic should be no surprise coming from this outfit, which brought us the “Black Sabbath” compilation, documenting black performers essaying Jewish music. 

Taken as a whole, the collection is a long and multifaceted meditation on tradition versus assimilation. While non-Jews have had virtually no effect on the musical literature of the Festival of Lights, Jews have proven indispensable to Christmas music.

Ray Brenner and Barry Blitzer’s “The Problem” is a funny though incisive musical playlet about the dilemma of how to deal with the overwhelming influence of Christmas for Jews, and it encapsulates much of what the Idelsohn people wrestle with here. The fictional Reform rabbi of the “Hollywood Synagogue,” which comes complete with a health club and shvitz — “Tony Curtis reserved a locker for the High Holy Days!” — is, as Lenny Bruce would say, “so reformed he’s ashamed he’s Jewish.” Ironically, Brenner and Blitzer’s piece is modeled after the brilliant recordings of Stan Freberg, the gentile comic genius from Glendale.

The first disc has some of the more far-reaching musical Chanukah tributes. For tradition, Ukrainian-born Yossele Rosenblatt, with several octaves at his disposal, demonstrates why he was the world’s highest-paid cantor in the early 20th century through his rendition of “Yevonim.” Cantor David Putterman’s ensemble delivers a rousing and obligatory “Ma’oz Tzur” (Rock of Ages), while Tin Pan Alleyman Gerald Marks, who wrote Santa Claus ditties, weighs in with his solemn and historic “Hanukah.” 

Children’s music maven Gladys Gewirtz leads a sing-a-long on “A Chanukah Quiz,” and Temple B’Nai Abraham of Essex County Children’s Choir sings “Svivon Sov Sov Sov” like the Vienna Boys Choir. These are all quite earnest expressions.

Then the Klezmatics and the Klezmer Conservatory Band give us the flavor of old Second Avenue in New York, or at least what they think it sounded like. Debbie Friedman, the Jewish Joan Baez, leads a crowd through her rousing “Latke Song” as her doppelgänger would have done on “We Shall Overcome.”

The curve balls commence when Dust Bowl minstrel Woody Guthrie sings his own sprightly “Hanukkah Dance” (his second wife was Jewish), black folk matriarch Ella Jenkins offers “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel,” and Don McLean cuts a folk-rock “Dreidel.” Eternal folkie Theodore Bikel sings a Christmas song in English and Hebrew — naturally. 

A number of Jews sang Christmas fare just as sincerely. Pop idol Eddie Fisher sounds earnestly dreamy with “Christmas Eve in My Hometown.” And everybody’s favorite convert, Sammy Davis Jr., exchanges with kids who sound like the Von Trapp children for “It’s Christmas All Over the World.” 

Mel Tormé epitomizes jazz cool on his own “Christmas Song,” while Dinah Shore’s squeaky-clean “Twelve Days of Christmas” could have been sung by June Cleaver. Concert singer and cantor Richard Tucker’s “O Little Town of Bethlehem” holds its mud next to Pavarotti’s.

Then there’s the Velvet Underground’s smug Lou Reed wishing everyone, “Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah … or whatever it is that you do,” followed by a song by the Ramones (lead singer Joey Ramone was born Jeffrey Hyman). Latin bandleader and Santeria convert Larry Harlow (nicknamed “El Judio Maravilloso” — The Marvelous Jew) also renders a salsa Christmas number.

It’s only fitting that Bob Dylan, who’s played hide-and-seek with his Jewishness for decades, croaks “Little Drummer Boy.” Jeremiah Lockwood of the Sway Machinery mates “Dreidel” with the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian chant “Iko Iko.” 

If it sounds quite scattered, you’re right: the collection is eclectic to a fare-thee-well. But it also reflects the multiplicity of the American experiment; this music couldn’t have been made anywhere else. It’s as American as Chinese food and a movie on Christmas Day.  

Matisyahu’s ‘Miracle’ Chanukah song [VIDEO]

A message from Matisyahu from

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks Dec. 27- Jan. 2: Hot Rod Chanukah, Moroccan New Years Eve


The week has been loaded with holiday merrymaking, but if you’ve got a drop of energy left, you’ll want to make it last all night long at the Hot Rod Chanukah Party hosted by The Jewish Federation’s Young Leadership Division and Birthright ” target=”_blank”> Non-alumni may buy tickets at ” target=”_blank”>

Nope, the Chanukah celebrations aren’t over yet. That’s one of the great things about being Jewish, isn’t it? Instead of one night of merriment, the parties just go on and on and on… Jumping right in is the Israel division of The Jewish Federation/ Valley Alliance, which is throwing its own holiday family festival complete with a magician, festive singing, a menorah-lighting ceremony, and — old magazines? Actually, attendees are asked to bring some along to turn them into a menorah. Not to worry, there will be expert magazine-menorah-makers on hand to help with the project. Sun. 4:30-6:30 p.m. Free. The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3206.

JConnect is no stranger to bringing L.A.’s Jewish community together, but this gathering is for women only. As part of their monthly women’s gathering series, guest speaker Tova Hinda Siegel will be discussing “A Light Unto Our Nation: Are WE Women the Guiding Light?” Siegel, a certified midwife and very active in the city’s Jewish community, is in a unique position to discuss women and their relationship to Israel. The conversation will take place over a kosher potluck brunch, so make sure to bring along your favorite dish. Sun. 11:45 a.m. Only cost is your contribution to the potluck. JConnectLA, 1801 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 322, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P to for the exact address of the event. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>Fuel in Studio City into a Moroccan-style lair of rich tapestries, lush cushions and sensuous belly dancers. The feast will not be limited to just your eyes: There will also be a decadent kosher Moroccan buffet by Bazilikum Caterers and Chef Sharon On, a free hookah patio with a variety of sweet flavors and a champagne toast at midnight. Sababa’s loyal DJ duo, Ziv and Titus, will be spinning ’70s, ’80s, hip-hop, dance, house and plenty of hip Israeli crowd-pleasers. Part of the proceeds from this relatively affordable NYE bash (a nod to the struggling economy) will be donated to Yad B’Yad, a nonprofit that provides services to abused children in Israel. 21 and over. Wed. 9:30 p.m.-2 a.m. $48 (prepaid via PayPal), $58 (at the door). Club Fuel, 11608 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (310) 657-6650. ” target=”_blank”>; ” target=”_blank”>


Rabbi YY, as Yehuda Yonah Rubinstein is fondly known, is one of the most requested Jewish speakers in the United Kingdom. There, he is a regular broadcaster on national radio and television and was named one of the top five people in Britain to turn to for advice by the Independent newspaper. He has written innumerable essays and a couple of books, including “Dancing Through Time” and “That’s Life.” Jewish Learning Exchange is hosting this veteran public speaker and teacher with a gift for fusing Torah, modern-day challenges and humor at a special weekend starting tonight. Rubinstein will lead Melava Malka on Saturday night and speak on the subject of what Judaism says about dreams. Guests are asked to specify if they need sleeping accommodations and/or meals. Fri.-Sat. $36. Jewish Learning Exchange, 512 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. Call (323) 857-0923 or e-mail to register and to receive a detailed schedule. ” target=”_blank”>

No Rat King, no fairies — just one ‘MeshugaNutcracker’

Not long ago, Scott and Shannon Guggenheim’s 4-year-old daughter, Lily, looked up at them and asked when Santa would be bringing her Christmas presents.

“To say that we, as creators of a Chanukah musical, were shocked is an understatement,” recalls Shannon Guggenheim. “[Lily] is already feeling the pull so many Jewish kids feel. She probably went drifting off to sleep dreaming of sugar plum fairies.”

That Chanukah musical, “The MeshugaNutcracker!” is the Guggenheims’ tuneful contribution for children like Lily, who need an antidote to the ubiquitous Christmas blitz that occurs every year.

The Bay Area-based couple co-wrote, produced, choreographed and directed the holiday staple. Drawing on music from Tchaikovsky’s famous “Nutcracker” ballet, “The MeshugaNutcracker!” has been a hit with Jewish families since its 2003 debut in the Bay Area.

Now, says Shannon, the show is expanding its reach, playing cities like Seattle and Scottsdale, Ariz., for the first time this Chanukah. That’s in addition to runs in San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento and Los Angeles.

This year, six of eight cast members are new, the music has been re-orchestrated to give it a more Broadway feel, and a newly constructed proscenium arch will be in place for opening night.

“It’s an homage to Chagall,” Shannon says of the goat-and-fiddler decorated arch. “We still have the dreidel as the centerpiece. And now we have a dream cast of amazing musicians. In the past we had actors who sing. This year we have singer-actor-dancers.”

“The MeshugaNutcracker!” tells the tale of eight citizens of Chelm, the mythical shtetl of fools, who gather every year to perform at their Chanukah festival. Through the course of the two-act musical, each tells a story of Chanukah heroes from the time of the Maccabees through today.

Shannon wrote the lyrics and Scott directs, while both wrote the musical’s book based on stories adapted by Eric A. Kimmel (author of “The Jar of Fools”) and Peninnah Schram and Steven M. Rosman, (authors of “Eight Stories for Eight Nights”). Stephen Guggenheim, Scott’s brother, provides musical direction.

The musical is just one mainstay of the theatrical couple. Their company, Guggenheim Entertainment, provides entertainment, marketing and support services for corporate and private clients (think “holiday show for the mall”), and their National Jewish Theater Festival develops Jewish-themed stage productions for every audience.

But “MeshugaNutcracker!” holds a special place in their hearts, largely because their own daughter fits the target-audience profile.

“It’s no joke,” adds Shannon. “We say it in the show: ‘Santa has the last laugh/His holiday lasts a month and half.’ I’m not saying what we’re doing is brain surgery, but it occurred to us that it’s a Jewish parent’s cultural responsibility to take their kids to this show. It’s not Tiny Tim or the Mouse King.”

Shannon, a Jew-by-choice, stresses that she and her husband are not engaging in Christmas bashing.

“Santa is a good guy,” she says. “But Jews have something else right here in their backyard. They can say ‘I own that and I am proud of that.'”

Though with each passing year the Guggenheims have taken their show on a longer and longer road, they are reluctant to license the musical to other theater companies. Call it creative control, call it a labor of love, but the two plan on keeping “MeshugaNutcracker!” to themselves for those eight crazy nights and beyond.

However, eternal as the lights of Chanukah may be, the holiday comes around but once on the calendar, which can be a drawback to a theater company.

“Sometimes,” Shannon says with a laugh, “we kick ourselves for having a show that’s only six weeks a year.”

Performances of “The MeshugaNutcracker!” take place at the University of Judaism on Saturday, Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m.; and on Sunday, Dec. 17 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. $35-$50. 15600 Mulholland Drive, just off the 405 Freeway. For more information, call (818) 986-7332 or visit

KCRW’s annual Chanukah show lets the light go out

Ruth Seymour, general manager since 1978 of KCRW-FM 89.9, is best known to many listeners for her annual Chanukah program, “Philosophers, Fiddlers & Fools,” which will have its final airing on Dec. 15. But Seymour is not stepping down.

“I’m not retiring,” she says over the phone in her classic New York accent. “I’m retiring the show.”

The Chanukah show has been a staple in Los Angeles, which, before its first airing in 1978, had been missing this classic blend of Yiddishkeit: folk music, readings of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s stories, memorials to Holocaust victims, Second Avenue “hit parade” songs.

Much has been made of the humble beginnings of KCRW, a station created after World War II to train veterans for careers in radio, which as late as 1978 was located in a middle school in Santa Monica and famously had the oldest transmitter in the West. Seymour has transformed the station into an institution by creating erudite programs like “Bookworm,” an essential half-hour for any literary Los Angeleno; issues-oriented shows like “Which Way, L.A.?” and political debates, such as “Left, Right & Center.”

Her emphasis on literature and politics is fitting, since Seymour grew up in a home of left-wing Jewish intellectuals in the Bronx. She relates a story in which her mother, upon seeing her tending to the plants outside, asked, “Why are you gardening? You could be reading ‘War & Peace.'”

By now, “Philosophers” fans know the story of how Seymour’s college professor, Max Weinreich, told her that “Yiddish is magic. It will outlive history.”

What many may not know is that some years ago, she received a letter in her mailbox with those words written on the outside of the envelope as a teaser. She opened it and found it was from YIVO, the Yiddish institute that focuses on the study of Jewish culture and literature. Apparently, one of YIVO’s employees had lived in Los Angeles and heard Seymour tell the Weinreich story on the air.

Seymour has always contended that the show should be “ephemeral,” out of deference to the Holocaust victims.

“There wasn’t any way to bring them back,” she says, which is why she has never recorded any of her Chanukah programs.

She has often cited the words of Andre Schwarz-Bart, French author of “The Last of the Just,” who wrote that the Holocaust victims disappeared “like the smoke from the chimneys of Auschwitz.”

Although Holocaust survivors have always wanted to preserve the apparatus of and artwork related to the Holocaust, so as to document the severity of the genocide, Seymour sees radio as being inherently “transitory.”

“There just comes a moment in your life when it’s over. The sources dry up. Do I want to psychoanalyze it?” she asked, “No.”

She adds, “It had a prolonged life, a life of its own.” She said she is astonished that it “touched so many people.”

One person who touched her was Schwarz-Bart, who recently died at 78. He spent time in the concentration camps during the war and wrote “The Last of the Just,” which won France’s highest literary honor, the Prix Goncourt, in the late 1950s.

He “literally seems to have survived to write it,” she says, pointing out that he began writing right after the war, when he was in his twenties, and spent
years working on it in a Paris library, since his home did not have heat.

Not surprisingly, Seymour, who has always paid homage to Schwarz-Bart on her Chanukah show, will do so again in her final segment.

Another author whom she intends to acknowledge in her last show is the late Singer, the only Nobel Prize laureate who wrote primarily in Yiddish. She met Singer many times when she was living in New York.

Seymour’s then-husband, poet Jack Hirschman, who wooed her with a letter from Ernest Hemingway, introduced her to Singer. They would get together in a vegetarian restaurant and discuss astronomy and the kabbalah with Singer and his latest girlfriend, never his wife. Singer fancied concentration camp survivors for dates; interestingly, Seymour says that these young women had “dreams [that] would always be amazingly similar to his stories.”

Seymour says she was never a devotee of radio when she was young, even though she is a contemporary of Woody Allen and was raised in the “Radio Days” era of the late 1930s and 1940s. “I landed totally by accident.”

The accident occurred in 1961, when Hirschman was teaching at UCLA, and KPFK-FM 90.7 came calling, asking for tapes of his work. Seymour provided the Pacifica radio station with the tapes and shortly thereafter, was offered the job of heading up the station’s drama department.

More than a decade later, she joined KCRW.

Although she will stop broadcasting her marquee program, she says she will continue to host programs like “Politics of Culture,” and we will still hear her over the air during fundraising drives. As for “Philosophers,” she says, “It was never something that was conceived to go on for 28 years.”

“Philosophers, Fiddlers & Fools” will air for the final time on Friday, Dec. 15, from noon to 3 p.m. on KCRW, 89.9 FM.

Swingin’ Chanukah with Kenny Ellis; The Klezmatics at the Disney; Three More Tenors

Saturday the 16th

To our knowledge, only one man can claim all of the following titles: writer, director, actor, comedian and Dixieland jazz clarinetist. Artist of all trades Woody Allen focuses tonight on that latter occupation. He and his crew, a.k.a. Woody Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band, perform in a rare large venue appearance at UCLA’s Royce Hall as part of their first North American tour.

8 p.m. $25-$125. Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood.

Sunday the 17th

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Thursday the 21st

Originality trumps repetition in the holiday songs battle

I will be frank. I’m tired of hearing the same holiday songs over and over. So the best Chanukah present I’ve received this year is a pile of Chanukah-themed CDs with lots of new holiday songs, many of them quite good. Here’s what crossed my desk this December.

The Klezmatics: “Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah” (JMG) and “Wonder Wheel” (JMG). I wasn’t that enthused by the “Matics” Guthrie Chanukah set when it was released last year, but I have to admit I was wrong.

This is a spirited, jaunty and frequently funny set that should be particularly appealing to children (and will give their parents a respite from “The Dreydl Song”). The set adds four instrumental tracks to last year’s release, allowing the band to stretch out and show their chops, but my favorite is a carry-over, “The Many and the Few,” a classic example of Guthrie’s skill at rendering narratives into song lyrics redolent of ballad classics.

“Wonder Wheel” continues the Klezmatics’ collaboration with the Guthrie Archives, which is looking like a very fruitful pairing indeed. Drawing a wide range of moods and tones from the archives collection of previously unset lyrics, the band gets to show off its considerable range, from a funky faux-Latin “Mermaid Avenue” to a lovely Calpyso-ish lullaby “Headdy Down,” from a weirdly Asiatic/alternative-country “Pass Away” to a klezmer “Goin’ Away to Sea.” One of the surprises of the set is how profoundly spiritual some of the Guthrie lyrics are. One expects the good-natured progressivism of something like “Come When I Call You” and “Heaven,” but the deeply felt religious feeling of “Holy Ground” is unexpected and moving.

The LeeVees: “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?” (JDub/iTunes). When the LeeVees’ “Hanukkah Rocks” came out on JDub last year, I wrote, “Alt-rock heavies Adam Gardner of Guster and Dave Schneider of the Zambonis felt that the post-punk world desperately needed a Chanukah record of its own…. The result is a very funny, smart self-satire, with adolescent agonies turned into the difficult choice of sour cream vs. applesauce (‘Tell your mom to fry, not bake’) and of not getting presents (well, there are ‘six-packs of new socks from each of our moms’).” Now, they have added an EP, mostly of playful acoustic versions of the previous Chanukah tunes and a punchy new tune “Jewish Stars,” downloadable from iTunes. Like the originals, these are amiable, bouncy and witty rockers. Thirteen minutes of pure pleasure.

The Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble: “Chanukah Is Freylekh!” (self-distributed). This is a very jolly set of European-style performances — tsimbl and fiddle predominate, no brass — that often feels like a family gathering. And that’s appropriate, because the CD comes with dance directions for kids, as well as the usual translations, bios and such. It is a delightful recording, fueled by Cahan-Simon’s warm, friendly sound. Available from Hatikvah Music, (323) 655-7083 or

Poppa’s Kitchen: “A Rockin’ Hanukkah” (self-distributed). A cheerful MOR-rock set of new Chanukah songs from Robert Romanus (who you may recall from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”) and Scott Feldman. The EP (only 21 minutes) has one song for each night, a cheerful blend of California rock and holiday spirit, witty lyrics and some hook-filled tunes. Available from

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman: “Fli, Mayn Fishlang! Fly, Fly My Kite!” (Yiddishland). It is devoutly to be hoped that casual listeners will not dismiss Schaechter-Gottesman as the “flavor of the month” because she has become so prominent of late; she has more than earned the attention, and I, for one, hope it continues for a long time. The quality of musicians she attracts is one mark of how good she is — this set includes contributions by Lorin Sklamberg, Binumen Schaechter, Matt Darriau and Ben Holmes. This CD features her Yiddish children’s songs, which have a charming wistfulness that reminds me more of a French chanson than anything else. There are also songs for several holidays (including a couple of Chanukah tunes) and, as usual from Schaechter-Gottesman, a lot of yearning lyrics about the changing of the seasons. Available from

Julie Silver: “It’s Chanukah Time” (HyLo). Of course, there is another way to pep up those tired traditional holiday songs — you can reinterpret them, change the lyrics around, make them contemporary. This is often a recipe for disaster, but Silver’s “The Dreidel Song” reworked as a frisky country rocker works wonderfully (almost hilariously) well, and sets a high standard for the rest of this set. A reggae “Al Hanisim” and a Latin-flavored “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah” work almost as well. The only problem with this approach, even when it’s done right, is that the focus shifts from the message of the holiday to a guessing game: What’s next, a goth-metal “Mi Yimalel,” “Maoz Tzur” as a morning raga? Silver doesn’t do anything that absurd, so the set doesn’t spiral out of control, but there is an inevitable lingering doubt in the listener’s mind that some of the choices were motivated by the need for the unfamiliar rather than the musical possibilities. Still, it’s a nicely played and sung set. Available from and at Barnes & Noble.

In addition to these Chanukah-themed recordings, there are two big-ticket items to keep in mind when doing your year-end gift shopping. The ongoing partnership between Naxos Records and the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music has resulted in 50 CDs showcasing the remarkable range of Jewish American music; although they will continue to issue new recordings on a regular basis, they are celebrating this milestone by offering a set of those first sets. The deluxe box set of all 50 Milken Archive CDs will be available for $349, a savings of $100 if purchased individually. Available at

If you are feeling less ambitious or less solvent, or if you know an aspiring Jewish musician, you should consider Yale Strom’s latest project, “The Absolutely Complete Klezmer Songbook,” published by Transcontinental Music. This volume boasts more than 300 songs that Strom has collected in his travels through the Old Country, and comes with a CD that features his performances of 36 of them. At $49.95, it is a must for anyone interested in East European Jewish music. Availble wherever music books are sold.

George Robinson, film and music critic for Jewish Week, is the author of “Essential Torah” (Shocken Books, 2006).

There’s Some Good Music to Fill the Air

I was sitting in a fast-food joint last week when they piped in a pop-salsa version of “Jingle Bells.” If it had been Eddie Palmieri or Ray Barretto, I would have been fine, but this sounded like Menudo on crystal meth, and I decided I’d had enough Christmas music for the next millennium.

So I went home to a desk littered with new Chanukah CDs: surf guitar, lounge, big-band swing, alt-rock and a large helping of Allan Sherman wannabes. Surprisingly enough, several of these albums are not only better than a doped-up kiddie band, they’re actually pretty good. Here are the best:

Kenny Ellis: “Hanukkah Swings!” (Favored Nations, $13.95). As the cover photo of Ellis in a stingy-brim hat suggests, this is a loving pastiche of the great Sinatra of the Capitol years, a sort of ring-a-dreidel-ding feel.

The arrangements by Harvey R. Cohen are a pretty good imitation of Nelson Riddle and Billy May, but Ellis gives the game away whenever he opens his mouth. The voice is too light, the vibrato too insistent for the Sinatra-style material.

Ellis is more at home on the big ’70s shmaltz anthems like “Hanukkah Candles.” On the cha-cha version of “Ocho Kandelikas” he sounds great. (available at

Guns ‘n Charoses: “Gimme Some Latkes … and Other Musical Chazerai” (Chutzpah Music, $12.95). Think Allan Sherman meets Weird Al Yankovic in shul.

I’m not usually well-disposed toward musical parody unless it’s on the level of Sherman or Weird Al, but Mark Edelman, who wrote all but one of these tracks (and collaborated on the other), is genuinely clever, and I laughed out loud repeatedly. The musicianship, almost all of it by Jeremy Belzer, is not on the flat-out rocking skill level of Yankovic’s band, but it’s good enough not to get in the way of Edelman’s send-ups of “La Vida Loca,” “Yakety-Yak,” “The Gambler” and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

The only letdown is “Using My Religion,” and the real problem there is that Michael Stipe’s sense of song structure is a little too slippery for parody. Otherwise, a hilarious record and, unlike most comedy sets, funny more than once. (Available from

The LeeVees: “Hanukkah Rocks” (Reprise/J-Dub, $13). Alt-rock heavies Adam Gardner of Guster and Dave Schneider of the Zambonis felt that the post-punk world desperately needed a Chanukah record of its own. Well, they wanted to do a Chanukah record, and with their track record (and producer Peter Katis who has worked with Interpol and Get Up Kids), they had no trouble getting one made.

The result is a very funny, smart self-satire, with adolescent agonies turned into the difficult choice of sour cream vs. applesauce (“Tell your mom to fry, not bake”) and of not getting presents (well, there are “six-packs of new socks from each of our moms”).

Meshugga Beach Party: “Twenty Songs of the Chosen Surfers” (Jewish Music Group, $17.98). How much surf guitar can you take in a single sitting? If you answer, “All you can give me,” then you will love this set.

Mel Waldorf is a very, very good surf guitarist in the Dick Dale mode, and this recording of Jewish standards, including “Driedl, Driedl” and “Oh Hanukkah” is both very funny and very danceable. Twenty cuts of this stuff is a bit too rich for my blood, but Waldorf does it well. Only one miscue, a dark and serious version of “Kol Nidre” that is in questionable taste.

Of course, you could set your sights on a lower brand of humor and dig “Kosher Christmas Carols” (Footlight, $14.95) a compendium of Shermanesque riffs on classic Yule songs with rather smarmy, “Jewish-themed” lyrics (available from

Or you could watch George Segal’s career take an unexpected turn as he becomes the rapper Dr. Dreck, the keystone of Chutzpah on their album “Eponymous” (JMG, $17.98).

On a more positive note, there is a new album of the score from “The Odd Potato” (6-10 Productions, $15.95) a well-received off-Broadway show about the holiday, available from Judd Hirsch narrates, and the cast includes such stars as John Mahoney and Elaine Stritch.

Or as punk icons The Vandals suggested, “Hang yourself from the [Christmas] tree.”

George Robinson is the film and music critic for The Jewish Week. His new book, “Essential Torah,” will be published by Schocken Books in the fall of 2006.

A Funny Present Happened Here

Lighten up your Chanukah without striking a match. Yes, we fought, we won, we ate — but we can also laugh. While gift-buying is sometimes lumped in the same category as root canals and traffic on the 101, the humorous books, music and DVDs below will make the whole process a lot more fun.

Even better, every item below is available via the Internet. So stay home, put your feet up, crack open some foil-wrapped gelt and get ready for myriad thank-yous from your friends and family, who are so glad you didn’t give them socks — again.

Nap time is Shluffy Girl’s favorite time of the day…. Unfortunately, Shluffy Girl’s love for sleep sometimes gets her into trouble.” While most of us have been there, done that, there are lessons to be learned from Shluffy Girl, the newest character in Anne-Marie Asner’s Yiddish-titled Matzah Ball Books series (Gingerbread houses might be nice — but nothing beats a gingerbread menorah. The Popcorn Factory’s (Make 2006 go by just a bit funnier with “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Presents America”: The Calendar — now with August (Warner Books, $11.95). Based on the book of the same name, the desk calendar comes with instructions on how to assemble the darn thing (it’s really difficult).

Keep an eye out for the nods to the MOTs, such as on Rosh Hashanah, where the Timeline of Democracy notes that in 1,300 B.C.E., God gives the Ten Commandments — “and nothing bad ever happens to the Jews again.”

You think your family is bad this time of year? What about Holistic New Age Aunt, Uncle Speedo and Child Who Was in a National TV Commercial? All the freaky relations are gathered together in Justin Racz’s new book, “50 Relatives Worse Than Yours” (Bloomsbury, $14.95).

Each relative comes with a profile, gift idea, motto, home, benefits and drawbacks. But even if you can’t relate, literally and figuratively, to Uncle Speedo, fear not — Jewish Mother is at No. 23 (and there is room in the back to add in other odd branches of your family tree).

While it’s Chanukah at your house, it can be “Springtime for Hitler,” as the musical film version of the musical stage version of the nonmusical film, “The Producers,” releases its soundtrack (Sony, $18.98). Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Gary Beech and Wisteria Lane’s favorite pharmacist, Roger Bart, reprise their roles in Mel Brooks’ Tony Award-winning show. The veterans are joined in absurdity by Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman, who actually sings. No, really.

What if you hit your head and woke up in Menorahville — where everything is bought and sold in gelt, every female is Jewish and single and almost no guy wants to get married? OK, Los Angeles right now isn’t too far off, but this stuff is fiction.

Author Laurie Graff takes us to the crazy world of dating in “Eight Dates of Hanukkah,” one of the three stories in “Scenes From a Holiday” (Red Dress Ink, $12.95). When singles events planner (and slight commitmentphobe) Nikki Heller lands in a “Chanukoma,” it may take more than a miracle to help her find her way out of an endless cycle of the Festival of Lights.

Forget The Wiggles. If you’re getting songs stuck in your head, they might as well be Jewish ones from “OyBaby 2” (

A Jewish Spin On Gift-Giving

Everyone has the same shopping countdown this year: Dec. 25th is also the first night of Chanukah. With holiday-season commercialism rising exponentially each year, the plethora of items for purchase can be blindingly confusing for even the savviest shopper. Whether it’s finding something for your non-Jewish co-worker or your husband’s Tanta Miriam, the pressure’s on.

Easing the strain of finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list, however, are products like The Box of Questions. These boxes come in four varieties — Thanksgiving, Shabbat, Christmas and Chanukah — and are attractively decorated to suit their respective themes. Each contains a set of 35 thought-provoking questions about its event, like, “What does the Christmas spirit mean to you?” and “If you could invite anyone in the world to your home for Shabbat, who would it be?” There are also little prizes, such as a dreidel, thrown in.

The boxes come with instructions, but these are more like suggestions on how to facilitate the discussion.

The ladies behind the boxes, Heidi Haddad and Cece Feiler, were searching for a way to entertain their families during an indelibly long wait for their orders to arrive. They came up with round after round of challenging questions about what makes family so important or what values people cherish the most and why. The activity was a big hit, so Cece and Heidi decided to share their method for having great family discussions by taking the trivial out of the pursuit.

Now known as The Box Girls, Haddad and Feiler donate all proceeds from the sale of the boxes to various charities. The boxes are sold at high-end retailers, such as Saks and Fred Segal’s, for $19.95 and are also available online, at — Staff Report

The martini on the cover of “The Hanukkah Lounge: Instrumental Jew Age Music” (Craig N’ Co, $14.98) should give you some idea of what to expect from the songs inside — it has a blue olive with a Star of David toothpick sticking out of it.

The entire CD should help turn any Chanukah party into the most swinging event of the season. Craig Taubman’s version of “Maoz Tsur” is as smooth as a gob of sour cream on a latke, with a drumbeat and clarinet background that will definitely get your head moving.

The chimes in Scott Leader’s “Hanukkah o Hanukkah” make the song sound like something one might hear at a day spa during a massage. Don’t be surprised if your guests get up and dance a little salsa to the Afro-Semitic Experience’s “Descarga Ocho Kandelikas.” Even the simplistic “I Have a Little Dreidl” gets a grown-up treatment — it sounds almost dreamlike. And, of course, what Chanukah CD would be complete without the candle blessing?

The collection is part of the Celebrate Series (” target=”_blank”> — SL

Gifts Galore From Bubbe to Baby

When it’s time to celebrate Chanukah, nobody should be left out of the fun. We’ve scoured the holiday gift scene to find the perfect presents for Mom, Dad and the whole family. Count on any of these “candles” to light up the face of someone you love during this year’s Festival of Lights.

Candle No. 1.

Who says a baby is too young to light a menorah? As they say, practice makes perfect. So start with the huggable, colorful “My First Plush Menorah” ($13.95, The best part: It comes with a special pouch holding nine candles that fit right into the menorah’s holders.

Candle No. 2.

Any young child would want to cuddle with the bright blue Mazel teddy bear by Russ Berrie & Co. ($12.99, But if you’re having trouble peeling a kid away from the computer, slip in the CD-ROM, “Who Stole Hanukkah?” ($19.95, The interactive mystery game teaches the story of the Maccabees in five languages.

Candle No. 3.

When it comes to teenagers away at college, first thing’s first: send a menorah. A classic Chanukiah will do the job ($24.95, Then, it’s about what a teenage girl wants. A trendy T-shirt makes a statement. The “Famous Challah Bread” tee takes its cue from rap and hip-hop, sporting the words “Challah Bread” on the front and “Challah Back” on the back — as in, when someone gives a shout, you “challah” right back. The saucy “Kabballywood Tee” pokes fun at Hollywood stars like Madonna who can’t get enough of kabbalah. ($30-$40,

For an aspiring superhero teenage boy, pick up a copy of the “Jewish Super Hero Corps Comic Book” featuring Menorah Man and Dreidel Maidel ($3.95, Throw in some classic, kosher Hebrew Bazooka Gum, which has comics inside its wrappers ($10.95 for 100 pieces, Another Jewish superhero, “The Hebrew Hammer,” saves Chanukah, this year out on DVD. ($16.99,

Candle No. 4.

If Mom has all the menorahs she needs, give her an elegant dreidel she can display. Waterford makes a beautiful, crystal dreidel etched with Hebrew letters ($49, If you want to splurge, buy a handcrafted, porcelain, Lladró dreidel. The detail makes these pieces unique. ($105-$130,

Candle No. 5.

Nudge Dad into the miracle mood with music. The group, Safam, has a lively “Chanukah Collection” and “Passover Collection” two-CD set ($25, Original and upbeat tunes like “Eight Little Candles,” “Maoz Tsur” and “Judah Maccabee” will get Dad — and the whole family — hopping. You can listen to some songs on the Web site before you buy, but you won’t go wrong with this one.

Candle No. 6.

Grandparents will love a gift they can share with their grandchildren. Those who speak a bissel of Yiddish are sure to get nachas from reading their grandchildren Dr. Seuss’ “Cat in the Hat” — in Yiddish ($15, But if the language of the Old World prompts an “oy vey,” go with a modern classic like “A Blue’s Clues Chanukah” by Jessica Lissy for preschoolers ($11.80, or “Festival of Lights: The Story of Hanukkah” by Maida Silverman, for children 4-8 years old ($5.99,

Candle No. 7.

There’s always the family friend or baby sitter who deserves some love. In this case, your best bet is an edible treat. For a cookie “monster,” get some chocolate-covered Oreo cookies topped with Chanukah decorations. Nine cookies come in a gold box, tied with a blue ribbon ($16.99, Make a chocolate lover’s day with See’s Candies’ Star-of-David box. It’s filled with kosher goodies like milk chocolate coins, blue-and-white sugar sticks and lollipops that will satisfy any sweet tooth ($8,

Candle No. 8.

Worried your pet will feel left out? Chanukah’s no time for ordinary ol’ bones. Throw a dog the blue and yellow “Squeaky Dreidel Dog Toy” ($8, and a give your cat some silver and blue “Chanukah Mice” ($7.99,


The Jewish Journal is no longer accepting mailed orfaxed event listing information. Please e-mail event listings at least threeweeks in advance to:

By Keren Engelberg


NOVEMBER 27/Saturday


Hebrew Discovery Center: Nov. 26-28. Family Shabbaton with special guest speaker Rabbi Isaac Balaness. $195, $375 (couples). Ventura Beach Marriott, 2055 Harbor Blvd., Ventura Beach. R.S.V.P., (818) 348-4432.


Padua Playwrights: 4:30 p.m. Padua Playwrights presents a workshop production of “Tirade for Three” and “Gary’s Walk,” parts one and two of a trilogy by Murray Mednick. $10. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. (310) 823-0710, ext. 4.



San Diego Center for Jewish Culture at the Lawrence Family JCC: Noon-5 p.m. “Diversity of Life: A Photographic Exhibit” by Zion Ozeri. Free. David and Dorothea Garfield Theatre, 4126 Executive Drive, La Jolla. (858) 362-1348.


Yiddish Alive: 4-7 p.m. A new conversation group in Orange County. All ages and experience levels welcome. Temple Beth Tikvah Fullerton, 1600 N. Acacla, Fullerton. (714) 671-0707.



Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel: 7 p.m. Discussion on “‘In God’s Image’ or ‘The Image of God’: a Spiritual Look at Your Brain.” $15 (includes dinner). 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 475-7311.


Workmen’s Circle: 3-5 p.m. Stanley Schwartz presents his “The Peaceable Kingdom” sculpture. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

Academy for the Performing Arts at Huntington Beach High School: 7:30 p.m. “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” the story of one boy’s journey through the Terezin ghetto on the way to the Auschwitz death camp. $6. Huntington Beach Library Theatre, 7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach. (714) 536-2514, ext. 4305.

MET Theatre Company: 8 p.m. Opening of “The Merchant of Venice,” the classic play reset in early 20th-century New York. $15, $12 (students and seniors). 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. (323) 957-1152.


Beth Jacob (teens): 9 a.m. “NFL” Non-stop Fun and Learning, featuring four big-screen NFL games playing simultaneously. Free. 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-1911, ext. 120.

OASIS (seniors): 1:30-3 p.m. Yiddish conversation group. All levels welcome. $5 (per trimester). Jewish Family Service, 8838 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 446-8053.

City of Hope Singers: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Vocal group for singers of all skill levels from all over Los Angeles. Hope Village, Comedy Theatre, 1500 E. Duarte Road, Duarte. (714) 562-0860.



Caravan for Democracy: 5 p.m. Natan Sharansky, Israeli minister for Jerusalem and diaspora affairs addresses students and faculty at UCLA. Free. For more information, see page 16.

The Menachem Institute: 7:30 p.m. Rabbi Laibl Wolf discusses “The Art of Jewish Meditation.” ($5 in advance), $7 (at the door). 18181 Burbank Blvd., Tarzana. (818) 758-1818.


Hammer Museum: 7 p.m. Hammer conversation with screenwriter Bill Condon and author T.C. Boyle. Free. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7056.


Jewish Federation of the San Gabriel and Pomona Valley Jewish Book Festival: 7:30 p.m. Author Kate Wenner discusses “Dancing With Einstein.” La Canada residence. R.S.V.P., (626) 967-3656.



Adat Ari El: 12:30-1:30 p.m. Erika Jacoby a Holocaust survivor discusses her new book, “I Held the Sun in My Hands – a Memoir.” $3. 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.

StandWithUs: 7 p.m. Lecture by Khaled Abu Toameh, award-winning Palestinian journalist. $10 (in advance), $15 (at the door). Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 836-6140.

Jewish Book Month: 7:30 p.m. Author Ruth Ellen Gruber speaks about her latest book, “Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe.” Alpert JCC, 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (562) 985-7585.


Hammer Museum: 7 p.m. Some Favorite Writers presents Jonathan Franzen. Free. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple: 7 p.m. (beginners), 8 p.m. (regular class), 9:15 p.m. -midnight (open dancing). David Dassa leads Israeli dancing. $7. Irmas Campus, 2112 S. Barrington Ave., Los Angeles.


Valley Beth Shalom Day School: 9:15 a.m. Kindergarten Live. 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 530-4072.


Temple Isaiah: 4-7 p.m. Chanukah Bazaar. 332 W. Alejo Rd., Palm Springs. (760) 325-2281.


Northridge Hospital Medical Center: 6:30 p.m. The Healing Arts program offers its monthly topic, “Balanced Nutrition for Holiday Eating.” Roscoe Campus, Penthouse Auditorium, 18400 Roscoe Blvd., Northridge. (818) 885-5488.



Israel Cancer Research Fund: 7 p.m. Dr. Timothy Cloughesy, associate clinical professor, UCLA department of neurology, discusses “Using Molecular Biology to Individualize Brain Cancer Care.” Free. Loews Beverly Hills Hotel. 1224 Beverwil Drive, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (323) 651-1200.

California Museum of Ancient Art: 7:30 p.m. “Warrior Women of the Bible” with speaker Dr. David Noel Freedman. First in a two-part series, “Women of the Ancient Near East.” $15 (adults), $12 (seniors), free (members). Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Piness Auditorium, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 762-5500.


L.A. Film School: 8 p.m. Larry Hankin’s “10 Funny Fables Plus 1” with cameos by Janeane Garofolo, Larry Hankin, Jeff Garlin, Jerry Stiller and others. Free. 6363 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (877) 952-3456.



B’nai Tikvah Congregation: 6:30-7:30 p.m. A musical family shabbat. Services and potluck dinner. Free. 5820 W. Manchester Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 645-6262.

Nashuva: 6:45 p.m. Nashuva community service-oriented Kabbalat Shabbat.

Westwood Hills Congregational Church, 1989 Westwood Blvd, Westwood.


CSUN Arts Council: 7-9 p.m. Eighth annual high school art invitational opening reception. Thirty-nine Valley high schools and more than 200 students are participating in the show. Main Gallery, N. University Drive, Northridge. (818) 677-2226.

Camelot Artists Productions: 8 p.m. David Steen’s “A Gift From Heaven” is the story of an Appalachian family’s demise. $28 (general), $20 (students). Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 358-9936.

Vanguard Theatre Ensemble: 8 p.m. Opening night gala of the holiday play “Greetings.” Champagne reception immediately follows the show. $23. 120-A W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton. (714) 526-8007.

Imaginary Friends Music Partners: 9 p.m.-midnight. Jazz pianist George Kahn and the George Kahn Quartet play songs from their newest release “Compared to What?” Featuring Andy Suzuki, Karl Vincent and Paul Kreibech. $10 cover, plus minimum. Lunaria Jazz Club, 10352 Santa Monica Blvd., Century City. (310) 282-8870.


Chai Center: Dec. 3-5. Desert Hot Springs Retreat. Hot springs mineral baths, women speakers and teachers, gourmet healthy food, stress reduction, massage and informal classes. R.S.V.P., (310) 391-6691.


Sat., Dec. 11


MnR Dance Factory: Creative drama workshops for children with Chicago actress/writer Lisa Diana Shapiro. Free. 11606 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 826-4554.

Sun., Dec. 12


ATID (21-39): Dec. 12, 4 p.m. “Adventures in Judaism II” for young professionals ages 21-39, an afternoon of workshops, latkes, cocktails, “ultimate dreidel” and a Middle Eastern buffet. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3244.

Dec. 30-Jan. 2


Wilshire Boulevard Temple: Winter Rikud in Malibu. Israeli dancing weekend. From $175.

Feb. 17-21.


Jewish Student Union: Applications now available online for the annual JSU New York experience trip.



Conversations at Leon’s: 7:30 p.m. Post-Thanksgiving mixer. $15-$20. 639 26th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 393-4616.

Jewish Singles, Meet! (30s and 40s): 8 p.m. “Not-So-Speedy Meeting” and game night in conjunction with Temple Ner Maarav. $9. 17730 Magnolia Blvd, Encino. R.S.V.P. by Nov. 26, (818) 750-0095.


Jewish Singles Volleyball: 3 p.m. Volleyball and post-game no-host dinner. Free. Playa del Rey Beach court No. 11 at the end of Culver Boulevard, Playa del Rey. (310) 278-9812.

JDate: 7 p.m. (reception), 7:30 p.m. (concert). Performance by Israeli recording artist Noa. $45 (online only). Fred Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.

New Age Singles (55+): 7 p.m. “Starlight Ballroom Dance” with music by Johnny Vana Trio. $10-$12. University Synagogue 11960 Sunset Blvd., Brentwood. (310) 473-1391.


Nexus (20s and 30s): 7:30 p.m. (beginners), 8:15 p.m. (intermediate), 9-10 p.m. (open dance). Israeli dancing lessons and open dance. $5 (members), $6 (nonmembers). Alpert Jewish Community Center, 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach.

Project Next Step: 8 p.m. “Coffee Talk” with coffee and pastries. $7. 9911 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 284-3638.


L.A.’s Fabulous Best Connections: 6-9 p.m. Dinner at Marmalade Cafe. The Grove, Third Street and Fairfax Avenue. R.S.V.P., (323) 782-0435.

Westwood Jewish Singles (45+): 7:30 p.m. Therapist Maxine Gellar leads a discussion about “My Most Embarrassing Moment.” $10. R.S.V.P., (310) 444-8986.

The New JCC at Milken: 8-11 p.m. James Zimmer leads Israeli folk dancing. $5-$6. Salsa, swing and tango lessons for an additional $3 (7-8 p.m.). 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (310) 284-3638.


Nexus (20s-40s): 6 p.m. Volleyball followed by no-host dinner. End of Culver Boulevard, near court No. 15, Playa del Rey.


Conversations at Leon’s: 7 p.m. “Date or Mate, What Are You Looking For?” $15-$17. 639 226th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P. (310) 393-4616.

J Networking: 7:30 p.m. The new Jewish networking group meets in the West San Fernando Valley. R.S.V.P. by Nov. 26, (818) 342-2898.

Mosaic: Dec. 2-5. Trip to Kartchner Caverns, Ariz.


Brandeis-Bardin/Makor Jewish Learning Circle: Dec. 3-5. Partnership weekend with the theme “The Search for Roots and Wings: Commitment and Creativity” with Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin. $130 (singles), $240 (couples). Simi Valley. (805) 582-4450.

New Age Singles: 6 p.m. No-host dinner at Nibbler’s in Beverly Hills followed by Creative Arts Shabbat Service at Temple Beth Am. 1039 La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 838-7459.

Singles Toward Marriage (30-39): 6:30 p.m. Monthly Shabbat dinner with group discussions led by Rabbi Shlomo and Tovi Bistritzky. 5998 Conifer St., Oak Park. R.S.V.P., (818) 993-0441.


Sat., Dec. 11

Sephardic Singles Havurah (40s-60s): 7 p.m. Chanukah celebration and potluck dinner with candlelighting, prayers, songs and dancing. $5. R.S.V.P., (323) 294-6084.

Jan. 21-23

J-Ski (20s-40s): Mammoth Ski Trip. $185. Also, March 2-6, Whistler Ski Trip. $759.

Keren’s Corner

Le Nouvel Anti-Semitism

What’s new in French anti-Semitism? Head downtown Thursday, Dec. 2 to find out as ALOUD at Central Library presents Michael Curtis, who will discuss “Anti-Semitism in France: Past and Present.” The author of numerous books on the history of France and anti-Semitism will discuss the relationship between historic traditional anti-Semitism in France and its current manifestations, including new factors like the extreme political left and Muslim

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

Suddenly Seymour

In the days when National Public Radio flagship KCRW-FM was an obscure Santa Monica College station, general manager Ruth Seymour decided to create a live Chanukah show as an alternative to Christmas programming.

It was actually a Yiddish show — feting a culture Seymour imbibed during her 1940s Bronx childhood — but during its 1978 debut, the phones went dead and stayed there.

"Honestly, I thought we’d gone off the air," she told The Journal. "Then the show ended, and the switchboard exploded for three hours. People absolutely went berserk."

Since then, Seymour’s annual Chanukah time show, "Fiddlers, Philosophers and Fools," has become a holiday institution. Jews and non-Jews tune in to hear her play folk music, 1940s pop tunes and Yiddish prose translated into English, among other fare.

There’s also a Holocaust memorial segment, which is one reason Seymour refuses to record the show. "People are angry about that," said KCRW’s visionary leader, whose parents were intellectual, immigrant leftists. "But I always wanted the program to be ephemeral. This is really a show about a culture and a way of life that was lost."

"Fiddler" helped keep the mamaloshen (mother tongue) alive in Los Angeles, according to Yiddishkayt L.A. founder Aaron Paley. Years before, the klezmer revival helped fuel a Yiddish renaissance in the late 1980s, "the only visible evidence of Yiddish for the general public here was Ruth’s show," he said.

Seymour — who attended the rigorous Sholom Aleichem "folk schools" — takes the responsibility seriously. Every year, she trudges to Hatikvah music on Fairfax Avenue to pick up and peruse scores of albums. She said keeping "Fiddlers" fresh is easier because the Yiddish revival spurred diverse CDs by young artists.

Just don’t ask her to make any other changes to the show. "It’s the most personal thing I do on the air, because it’s so redolent of my childhood and my beliefs," she said. "So either take it as it is or turn the dial." n

Listening to Needs

When kids from Sinai Temple celebrate Chanukah with the members of Temple Beth Solomon (TBS) in Tarzana on Friday night, Dec. 6, they’ll notice that the service is slower and streamlined, but that the singing is performed with every bit as much gusto as a “Friday Night Live” service. And the kids themselves will be able to join in, having learned how to sign the “Shema” when TBS members paid a visit to Sinai.

Building bridges between the deaf and hearing communities is the goal of programs like those of TBS and the group Our Way, which is aimed at observant Jews. More than ever in history, deaf Jews are looking to connect with their heritage and trying to overcome the frustration of a hearing Jewish community that, while well-meaning, still doesn’t seem to “get it.”

For example, a number of people — like the producers of the “Hallelu” concert held Oct. 20 at the Universal Amphitheatre — are attempting to make their programs more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing by providing interpreters. While the deaf community appreciates the gesture, TBS administrator Jan Seely believes it misses the point.

“You could have someone sign the music but it’s not the same experience,” she said. “There is something in the music you will never get through an interpreter. You’ll get lyrics, you might get rhythm, but you’re not getting the essence.” Not only that, but as TBS lay leader Roz Robinson points out, there is a large constituency of older Jews who missed out on having a Jewish education because they attended residential schools for the deaf. As a result, they lack the basics that most rabbis and teachers take for granted when giving a lecture and are unable to appreciate what is being signed to them in temple services and sermons.

“If the material of the sermon is over their heads and nothing they can relate to, the deaf would be lost even with an interpreter, because an interpreter doesn’t explain anything,” Robinson said. “The interpreter only translates what is being said into sign language. The Hebrew portion of any service is also a problem. Most interpreters will only sign, ‘speaking Hebrew.'”

In general, there are numerous problems for the Jewish deaf, which probably never occur to those who can hear. If you are trying to follow an interpreter and your attention wanders, you may not be able to find your place again in the service. And what if the lighting is poor or there are other visual obstructions? At one Orthodox service that hosted deaf visitors, the mechitza made it almost impossible to follow the service when seated in the women’s section.

Even participating in Jewish communal and social activities presents a challenge.

Robinson, the only deaf person in her family of four, expressed frustration with the fact that she has never been able to fully participate in the sisterhoods at either of the hearing shuls her family joined. Although she is a very animated talker and speaks clearly enough to be easily understood, Robinson said the few times she attended Jewish communal events she never spoke up, fearing that by the time she jumped into the conversation the others would have already moved on to another topic — and she would be left looking and feeling foolish.

“Large group discussions are impossible for deaf people to follow and participate in, even with an interpreter, because people talk in random order and because the deaf are always one step behind whatever is happening,” she said.

“I can’t really see any temple providing full access for the deaf except for our temple, because it is designed by and for deaf people,” Robinson said. “We understand all the pitfalls and can meet individual needs in our small group.” However, TBS is affiliated with the Reform movement. For more observant Jews, Our Way may provide a more fitting alternative, helping its members integrate into hearing Orthodox congregations.

Our Way is a New York-based national organization run by Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, the hearing son of two deaf parents who has two deaf daughters among his six children.

When Lederfeind became observant as an adult, he noticed “there were certainly clubs for the Jewish deaf but it was not the same as having a real level of observance and commitment.”

He began working with deaf Jewish teenagers and gradually expanded the program to include family Shabbatons, programs teaching Torah via e-mail and a sports program for deaf children with separate gyms for boys and girls. The organization even has a matchmaking service, the Jewish Deaf Singles Registry (

Lori Moore, a North Hollywood mother of two boys and a teenage girl, leads the Our Way chapter in California. Her sons, Jason, 20, and Andrew, 12, are both deaf. She said the family’s involvement with Our Way has helped her children to integrate better into their community. She recently helped plan a Shabbaton hosted at Shaarey Zedek that drew participants from across the country. “The Shabbaton was a good eye-opener,” she said. “People could see how the deaf are really excluded from the community. Even when we want rabbis to come speak to the Our Way group, they are apprehensive. I really wish, with all the money the shuls raise, that they would give some to Our Way to help people stay in touch with their Judaism.”

Jason Moore, reached in New York, said there have been difficulties (“In middle school, I wasn’t exactly welcomed among my peers”), he wrote in an e-mail, but that there have been certain advantages to having a hearing loss, including the strength of the deaf community.

“It’s amazing how much the deaf look after their own,” he said. “Also, I can shut off my hearing aids when conversations start to annoy me.”

His challenges as a religious Jew who is also deaf are more complex. They include issues like not being able to hear the shofar being blown and questions from others about whether he is “able to be Yoseh under someone else’s bracha” — in other words, whether halachically he is able to perform a mitzvah on behalf of other people, like reading the Megillah, if he cannot hear it and therefore cannot fulfill the mitzvah for himself.

Still, while some deaf Jews remark that they would characterize themselves as deaf first and Jewish second, Jason Moore disagrees.

“I am a Jew; deafness is secondary,” he said. “Deafness only applies in this olam hazeh [this world] whereas being Jewish applies in this world and the next.”

“Being a religious Jew overtakes any ‘defect’ a person might have, because whatever your defect, you are always Jewish,” Moore said.

The Moore family and Robinson, while on very different ends of the religious spectrum, do agree on one thing: hearing and deaf communities should continue to strive for greater inclusion, on both sides.

“TBS is open to all,” Robinson said. “Our services are completely voiced in addition to signed, so that anyone can follow along with us.”

The Musical Sound of ‘Lights’

Not all Chanukah music is kiddie music — even when it’s played by kids. On Sunday, Dec. 1, the Skirball Cultural Center will host the West Coast premiere of Russell Steinberg’s suite, "Lights On!" Steinberg will conduct the Stephen Wise Youth Orchestra, a group of 70 youngsters ages 9 to 18 from throughout greater Los Angeles, who attend more than 40 public and private schools.

The second half of the program will be Steinberg’s "Symphony No. 2," titled, "What Is a Jew?" featuring narration by actor Ed Asner, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin of Stephen S. Wise Temple and Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom.

"Lights On!" gives a symphonic twist to eight traditional Chanukah tunes. After beginning in darkness, the musicians add one melody after another, with the light increased for each tune, until they finish in a blaze of light and a complex intertwining of sound — a musical chanukiah on the eighth night of the holiday.

"I didn’t like most Chanukah music," Steinberg told The Journal, speaking from a residency at the MacDowell Colony, an artists’ retreat in New Hampshire. That disaffinity, he said, "gave me a blank canvas," and the piece wound up being "a lot of fun to write."

Steinberg, 43, who holds a doctorate in music composition from Harvard University, was hired at Milken Community High School four years ago to teach music. He created a conservatory at the school that gradually expanded to younger children. The youth orchestra is an outgrowth of the conservatory.

"We’re reaching out to the whole community, not just Jewish kids," Steinberg said.

A self-described "Valley boy," Steinberg said he came late to an interest in Jewish music, which was sparked by his involvement with Milken and through association with Noreen Green, director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony. Attending Shabbatons at Brandeis-Bardin Institute, he said, also brought him into Jewish life.

"I realized [music] was a wonderful way for me to explore Judaism," Steinberg said. "It’s a journey I never would have imagined taking."

The Stephen Wise Youth Orchestra will perform Sunday, Dec. 1, at 4 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. $8 (Skirball members), $10 (nonmembers). For tickets call (310) 440-3500 ext. 3344.

7 Days in the Arts


Puppets, paupers, pirates and poets — especially poets — are invited to the Workmen’s Circle tonight for Slam Shirim, a competitive performance poetry event for the Jewish community. Anyone can sign up to perform, judges are chosen randomly from the audience and the rest of the audience is encouraged to share their reaction to the poetry, so expect a raucous evening. The flyer says it’s “like an amusement park adventure of spoken word.” We say it’s good, artsy fun.

8 p.m. $7 (members); $10 (nonmembers). 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.


Chanukah comes early this year, but it can’t come early enough for the kids. Universal Studios understands, and they’re bringing out the chanukiah — and the stars — a few days early for a big park-wide celebration today. Spider-Man spins the dreidel, the Rugrats characters light the candles, Mayor James Hahn will lend an official air to the proceedings and Jerry’s Famous Deli will present “The World’s Largest Latka.” Plus, the performances range from the sweet Mallory Lewis and Lambchop to Jewish rapper Remedy of the Wu-Tang Clan. This Chanukah celebration, co-sponsored by The Journal, has something for everyone — it’s Universal!

10 a.m.-6 p.m. With coupon it’s $35 (adults) and $25 (children).
100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City. (800) 864-8377.


“When you’re a Hip Hop Hoodio, it’s Chanukah-time 24/7, 365 days a year.” So say the members of Hip Hop Hoodios, the Latino-Jewish rap supergroup, and listening to their music, you believe them. In addition to a beat-heavy version of “Hava Nagila,” the group’s album, “Raza Hoodia,” includes their attitude-heavy Chanukah track, “Ocho Kandelikas.” UCLA Hillel and Yiddishkayt L.A. bring this free concert tonight, with multiethnic samba-funk-rockers Bayu and an afternoon discussion panel on what all this fusion means.

2 p.m. (panel). 2408 Ackerman, UCLA. 8 p.m. (concert). Bradley International Hall, 417 Charles E. Young Drive West, UCLA. (213) 389-8880.


Set in the near future, George Larkin’s new play “Perverse Tongue” portrays an America ruled by an absolute literalist interpretation of the Bible. Follow the story of two sisters, the younger of whom must flee the Soldiers of God, enforcers who want to put her on trial for having been raped.

8 p.m. $15. Mon.-Wed., through Dec. 18. No performance Wed. Nov. 27 or Mon. Dec. 2. MET Theater, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. (323) 957-1152.


< She may be better known for her decades of social activism, but Betty Sheinbaum is also recognized for her art. When she's not filling banquet halls with friends for a fundraiser, Sheinbaum fills galleries with her paintings. Now at Santa Monica's The Artist's Gallery, her collection "Bullfighting" examines the dramatic tension between man and beast.

11 a.m.-5 p.m. Through Nov. 30. The Artist’s Gallery, 2903 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 829-9556.


Sculptor Keith Edmier doesn’t claim to be the only artist inspired by an angel, but he may be the only one to collaborate this well with a Charlie’s Angel. Edmier began a collaboration with Farrah Fawcett in 1999 and the fruits of their labor are on display now at LACMA. Fawcett, an art major in college, contributed equally to the six-sculpture, multiple-photo exhibit, which set out to examine the relationship between artist and muse.

Through Feb. 17, 2003. $7 (adults); $5 (seniors and students); $1 (children).
5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6000.


Light one candle, have some latkes, then head out to celebrate the first night of Chanukah with a few laughs from Eric Schwartz, known to listeners of KIIS-FM as Smooth E, the Suburban Homeboy. The Thousand Oaks-raised comic will be sharing the stage with some big names next week at The Jewish Federation’s Vodka Latka gala, but you can also catch “Lose the Gelt,” “Welcome to the Valley” and other hip-hop ha-has this weekend.

8 p.m. Also Sat. Hornblowers Comedy Club,
1559 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura. (805) 658-2202.

Music for All Ages

For the Kids

When Paul Zim sent me his new children’s CD, “Shabbat is Here,” to review, I did the only logical thing — I gave it to my 5-year-old son, Yair, for his opinion. The reviews are in — “This is great!”

Yair is a long-time fan of Zim, who is known not only for his children’s music but for his cantorial work and Yiddish songs.

In addition to some original songs written for “Shabbat Is Here,” Zim does his own variations on classics such “Bim Bam,” “Yom Rishon,” and “Gili Gili Good Shabbat,” and includes traditional favorites such as “Lecha Dodi,” “Mizmor Shir” and “Eliyahu Hanavi.” The musical styles vary from klezmer to jazz to something that sounded like a cowboy ballad.

Like Zim’s other children’s tapes, such as the Noah’s ark-themed “Zimmy Zim’s Zoo” and “Jewish Holiday Time,” “Shabbat is Here” establishes a friendly rapport with listeners by using children as back-up singers and narrators in the ongoing dialogue that carries through the tape, explaining various aspects of Shabbat. Zim’s singing is slow and enunciated so that even small children can learn the words to Hebrew songs they may not even understand.

“Shabbat is Here” is available at local Judaica stores, or by calling (888)3-SAMEACH,

For the Bigger Kids

Just in time for Chanukah, Craig Taubman has produced “Celebrate Kids: Kids’ Kosher Cuts,” a fourth CD in his “Celebrate Series,” which includes theme albums on Chanukah, Passover and Shabbat.

This latest CD, like the others in the series, includes selections from about a dozen singers, from favorites such as Debbie Friedman and Craig ‘n Co. to some newcomers. The musical styles are diverse and tantalizing — you never quite know what might come next: ’50s bebop, a cappella, country, jazz, disco and even a song by “Visions” that sounds like it came off a Britney Spears track.

What holds the CD together is a broad, unifying message — being Jewish is cool, it’s fun and it gives you something to think about. Half of all revenues from this CD will go to Magen David Adom.

The CD is available at Borders Books, Gelsons and Ralphs, or at (800) 6-CRAIG-8,

For the Grownups

The Western Wind Ensemble, in cooperation with National Public Radio, has released an updated version of its choral and narrative “Chanukah in Story and Song.” Narrated by Leonard Nimoy, the CD interweaves the story of Chanukah with vocal arrangements, both a cappella and accompanied, from the span of Jewish musical history.

With Chasidic melodies, Israeli folk songs and liturgical pieces set to both contemporary and classical compositions, the CD offers an evocative and thoughtful rendition of the traditional story.

Especially moving is solo performance of a Sephardic melody about Hannah, whose seven sons submitted to the sword rather than commit idolatry.

KCRW 89.9 FM will air the Western Wind’s “Chanukah in
Story and Song” Friday, Dec. 14, noon-3 p.m. To order the CD, call (800)
788-2187, .

Flash! Handel’s Chanukah Oratorio in Yiddish

This year the December dilemma got just a little easier, thanks to George Frederick Handel and the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony with help from the late, great Max Helfmann.

In a concert entitled “The Light of Helfman-Generations of Music from the Brandeis-Bardin Institute”, which celebrates Max Helfman, founder of Brandeis Bardin’s Summer Arts Institute, the LAJS will inaugurate its sixth season with a performance of Handel’s triumphant “Judas Maccabeus” in a Yiddish translation by Helfman.

Drawing on the drama of the Hanukkah Story, Helfman’s unique adaptation brings new life to this holiday classic. The concert will mark the first performance that combines Handel’s original orchestration with the Yiddish text.

Something for Everyone

Some years ago, the American Booksellers Association’s holiday advertising theme was the phrase: “Give a gift of love; Give a book.” Jewish Book Month, scheduled in November, anticipated the gift-giving season. This year, as always, a fresh crop of children’s books appeared for the holiday. Consider choosing one of these instead of toys that beep and break:

* Highly praised in publications of the American Library Association and other reviewing journals, Cathy Goldberg Fishman’s “On Chanukah” (Atheneum, 1998) describes the meaning and rituals of the holiday as observed by a young girl and her family. As each candle is lit, a different aspect of the observance is examined and differing qualities are associated with each night’s light: a light of hope, strength, giving, knowledge, freedom, happiness or faith in the darkness. Illustrations by Melanie W. Hall are in mixed media, soft and somewhat abstractly rendered images of family celebration, which include specific symbols in their fluidly glowing composition. Ages 4-8.

* “A Chanukah Treasury” (Henry Holt, 1998), compiled by prolific children’s writer Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Emily Lisker, is a delightful compendium of not only history and tradition, but stories, songs, poetry, recipes, legends and lore. It offers information found nowhere else I know of: for example, the source of the White House Menorah (did you know there was one?); how to celebrate Chanukah in Alaska while being stalked by a moose (hint: he loves latkes); and a few interesting variations on the dreidel game. The pictures, in acrylic paints on canvas, are brightly colored, reminiscent of folk art and a definite asset to this entertaining and educational work. For family use; all ages.

* Little people are not unknown in Jewish children’s literature. We did, after all, have K’tonton. But he was an out-in-the-open human family member. In “When Mindy Saved Chanukah” (Scholastic Press, 1998), also by Eric Kimmel, Mindy Klein’s miniature family — like The Borrowers — live very much behind the scenes, in the back of the walls of the famous Eldridge Street Synagogue in New York. When the shul brings in a predatory cat, the Klein family’s plans to go foraging for a candle with which to celebrate Chanukah become very dangerous indeed. After Papa fails, intrepid Mindy dares all and succeeds, helped by zayde, who understands that cats can seldom resist pickled herring. Barbara McClintock’s ink, watercolor and gouache illustrations are a delight, using sepia tones to enhance the early 1900s setting and amusing details to underscore the family’s size (zayde’s helmet is a thimble; Mindy’s climbing hook is a paperclip). Ages 4-8.

* Mark Podwal, whose work appears both in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Times, is the author/illustrator of many Jewish books. His latest, “The Menorah Story (Greenwillow, 1998), is in simple text and glowing pictures. Podwal gracefully casts light on this important symbol and its place in Chanukah’s history. Ages 5 and up.

* In 1987, Jane Breskin Zalben began writing and illustrating a series of warm and cozy stories that brought Jewish holiday tales into the popular tradition of using small animals to tell universal stories. This holiday season brings us “Pearl’s Eight Days of Chanukah (Simon & Shuster, 1998). Pearl, a young lamb, celebrates each of the eight days along with visiting cousins Harry and Sophie. Linked by short segments describing the family’s activities for each night are recipes, crafts, puppet shows, songs, history of the holiday and more. Painstakingly and charmingly illustrated in pencil and watercolor, this is an excellent guide for families celebrating with young children. Ages 4-9.

* For a Chanukah chuckle, seek out David A. Adler’s “Chanukah in Chelm,” wonderfully illustrated by Kevin O’Malley, (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1997). In this picture book, Mendel, the caretaker of the shul, has a big problem when the rabbi instructs him to place the chanukiyah on a table by the window so its glow may be seen outside. Finding the menorah in a closet, he goes off in a futile search for a table, ignoring (like many of us) what is right under his nose, the table the menorah rested on in the first place. Funny and fond old-world watercolor and pen pictures by O’Malley are just the thing to expand upon Adler’s humorous folk tale. Ages 4 and up.

Also appropriate for Chanukah are several new books that not only address Chanukah, but the entire Jewish year:

* Gilda Berger’s “Celebrate! Stories of the Jewish Holidays” (Scholastic Press, 1998), with vivid and dramatic watercolor paintings by Peter Catalanotto, first ties each holiday to a story from the Bible (e.g. the story of Jonah for Yom Kippur), Berger then appends three sections on each story: What We Celebrate, exploring the background of the holiday including a timeline; How We Celebrate, explaining traditional observances; and Crafts and Food, which provides activities and recipes with careful instructions. All ages.

Rita Berman Frischer is the librarian at Sinai Temple

Homage for the Holidays

Don’t call her the “Jewel” of Jewish preschool.

Sure, Pearl B. sings to the accompaniment of her acoustic six-string. And she does lean professionally on her gem-like first name. But that is where any similarity to the chirpy pop star ends.

“There are so many levels of Judaism — from the most religious to the most secular kind of Jew and there’s this common thread…. My goal is to make it understandable for a young child.”

No aching tales of love lost here — the songs Pearl B. (the B is for Berzansky) writes for young Jewish children mix the joy for Jewish tradition with “a bit of silliness in the approach.” Pearl will perform her original compositions — along with traditional Chanukah songs — at a string of local appearances with Sue Epstein, a fellow writer/performer of Jewish children’s songs, beginning this Sunday.

Last year saw the release of Pearl B.’s first musical collection, “Gotta Sing All Week Long!” On the tape, the modern-day bard sings, but not alone — choruses performed by children fill out the songs, with the binary purpose of inviting child participation and reinforcing the positive Jewish values that is at the heart of each ditty. While several tracks deal with life’s daily routines, most of “Gotta Sing” celebrates Jewish ritual. “Days of the Week” enthusiastically counts down the week until the Sabbath. “Havdalah Trio!” embraces the end of Shabbat, singing the praises of the Kiddush cup’s purple wine, the spice box and the twisty candle. “Hallah Chain Hamotzi” incorporates the Hebrew bread prayer while “Jing-a-ling” rhapsodizes tzedakah and even gives a shout-out to SOVA, the local food-collection charity organization.

Born in South Africa, where “everybody belongs to an Orthodox shul even though nobody was Orthodox,” Pearl — whom the kids like to call “Curl” — currently resides in Venice. A mother of three and grandmother of six, Pearl is no stranger to children or Judaism. All three of her grown children are observant Jews, “each in a different kind of religiousness. My oldest daughter is a Lubavitcher, my middle daughter is [Modern Orthodox], and my son is a black hatter…. And they’re all so happy.”

A rabbi’s daughter, she spent many years working as a religious-school director and teacher before switching to a full-time music career five years ago.

“It kind of just mushroomed,” says Pearl.

“I’ve had parents tell me their kids won’t go to sleep unless they put my tape on.”

Parents and educators interested in purchasing copies of “Gotta Sing All Week Long!” will find the tapes on sale at temple gift shops, synagogues and at these upcoming Pearl B. appearances:

Pearl B. and Sue Epstein’s Magical Musical Chanukah Party Family Concerts, Sunday Dec. 6, 4 p.m., Temple Aliyah, 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills.

Sunday Dec. 13, 1:30 p.m., Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Mann Family Early Childhood Center, Marcia Israel Chapel Auditorium, Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. — Michael Aushenker, Community Editor