Glorious Living


We are a product of our environment, we cannot change.  

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Our circumstances have been set in motion from the beginning.

We are failures.

We are stuck.

We are worthless.

These sentences are belief systems. They are only real by the conviction that our own minds have set for them. But they are figments of our imaginative minds that lack true imagination, yet ache for invention.

To change our made up voice that thinks these negatives, we must only look inside our own truths that exist underneath, that are drowning, that are aching to be seen.

Try hearing the self that speaks to you quietly, under the loud voice that screams these false beliefs and see how quickly your life becomes alive.

True courage comes from hearing the whisper of your own voice emerge through the sea of the negative rattle.

Today become alive.

See what happens.

It is glorious.

 

Ban champ Tyson Fury from boxing over anti-Semitic comments, ex-titlist Wladimir Klitschko says


Former world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko called for his successor to the crown, Tyson Fury, to be banned from boxing over anti-Semitic, homophobic and sexist comments.

On Thursday, Klitschko described the remarks in May by Fury, who took the Ukrainian’s title in November, as “Hitler-like.”

Fury, 27, of Britain, was filmed warning viewers not to be “brainwashed” by Zionist Jews, who he said own all the banks and media. He later apologized for the remarks.

“I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community, and when he got to the Jewish people he sounded like Hitler. The man is an imbecile. Seriously,” Klitschko told the British media. “You cannot put it all together as a representation of the sport of boxing. He’s an imbecile champion.”

Fury and Klitschko will meet in a rematch for the world championship next month in the British city of Manchester.

#myLAcommute These are my friends


ZACHARY TAYLOR

I work at a day center for developmentally disabled people. I hang out with them, we do arts and crafts. I feed them lunch. Sometimes I change diapers. I help them throughout the day. It definitely takes a lot of patience and is pretty taxing, but all in all is very rewarding as well. Sometimes they have bad days and sometimes they have pretty good days, like any of your friends, and these are my friends.

Holly Street to Rodeo Road

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square.

#myLAcommute Sometimes I just close my eyes


SHANNON L.

I’m a student at a dance school in Hollywood. It’s a foundational program for jazz, ballet, choreography, and hip-hop. When I’m on the train, I review dance video for my classes. I wish I could read, but I get motion sick. Sometimes I just close my eyes.

Hollywood Blvd. to 1st Street

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square.

Hebrew word of the week: Kasher/kosher


When one hears or sees the word “kosher,” one immediately thinks of Jewish food. However, the original meaning of the root k-sh-r is “to be fit (in general),” as when Esther asks Ahashverosh if it is kashér, meaning “agreeable,” with him to annul Haman’s plan (Esther 8:5).

Hence, in Israel, Hadar kósher is a “fitness room, gym”; hakhsharah is “making kosher,” as well as “preparing, training (someone for a skilled job, aliyah to Israel, etc.); makhsir is “makes kosher” (verb), or an “instrument” (noun) (a gadget that makes something fit for use); kisharon means “talent, ability”; and mukhshar “talented, very fit.”

*The Israeli (Sephardic) kashér (with kamats) has the same meaning as the American (Yiddish) “kósher,” which coalesces with the Israeli kósher (with Holam), meaning “fitness.”

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

Hebrew word of the week: Miriam


Thanks to Miriam, Moses’ sister, the prophetess and singer-dancer, as well as Mary, the mother of Jesus in the New Testament, this name (with its varieties) is one of the most common in the world. The name’s origin seems to be Egyptian, meaning “wished-for child,” derived from myr (“beloved”) or mr (“love”).

More traditional explanations (as by Rashi) include the Hebrew mar (“bitter”) or meri (“rebellion”), signifying the bitter slavery in Egypt and the wish to rebel.

Variations of the name include Maryam (Greek-Christian; Arabic-Islamic), Maria (Latin), Maliah (Hawaiian), Mary (English, Christian, but occasionally Jewish, as well), Mira/Miri/Mimi (Israeli), Mirele (Yiddish) and combinations such as Marianna, Mary Kay, etc. Even Mayim (best known for actress Mayim Bialik) is a variant of Miriam.

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

#myLAcommute I wish the city would help the homeless


DOLORES APARICIO

I sell leather accessories in the Fashion District. My commute is long, but I wouldn’t want to live in the middle of L.A. It’s too polluted and everything is too fast-paced. Arcadia is beautiful. We have lots of tree-lined streets.

I wish the city would do something to help the homeless. I walk by Skid Row every day, and it breaks my heart to see children growing up around drugs, prostitution, and so much violence.

San Pedro Street to Santa Clara Street

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square

Hebrew word of the week: Pistachios


The spelling with the initial “f” sound suggests a borrowing from Arabic.* However, the original name is preserved better in the English pistachio, from the Italian pistacchio, from the Latin pistacium, from the Greek pistakion, from the original Persian pestah — the original motherland being Iran’s mountainous regions. Iran is still the most prolific grower of pistachios in the world (producing about 200,000 tons per year). The original, academic Hebrew name is elah amittit (Latin: pistacia vera) or elatboTnah (plural boTnim;** as in boTnim ushqedim, Genesis 43:11). The Persian name is retained in talmudic pisteqa.

*Arabic does not have the p sound (it becomes f), as pepper, related to Hebrew pilpel, is in Arabic filfil, plural falafel, “falafel.”

**In modern Hebrew, used for “peanuts.”

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA

#myLAcommute I sketch people on the train


JAMIE FERGUSON

I’m a graphic designer, but I really want to be a children’s book illustrator. I didn’t go to art school so I’m teaching myself life drawing, figure drawing, perspective, that kind of stuff. I’m getting a lot better. When I’m on the train, I sketch the people in front of me. Sometimes they notice and I feel embarrassed, but I secretly wish they would ask me for their drawing.

Halstead Street to Marmion Way

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square

#myLAcommute I want to see it all


LEA DAVIDSON

I’m originally from Washington D.C. I moved away from home because there is so much to explore in the world. I want to see it all.

Grand Ave. to Jefferson Blvd.

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square

#myLAcommute Aquafaba is magical


BRITNEY L.

I run my own vegan catering business. I like to cook curries. I make vegan sausages and cookies with chickpea brine—or aquafaba. It whips up like meringue. It’s so magical. I’ve been vegan for 11 years. I was in the punk rock scene and a lot of my friends were hippies. So I decided to try being a vegan. I lost a lot of weight. My skin cleared up. I felt amazing. I stick to what works!

8th Street to Long Beach Boulevard

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square

#myLAcommute I never get bored in class


ERNESTO SANTIZO

I’ve been doing this commute since August 24th. I remember the exact date because it was the first day of school. I’m a kinesiology student—that’s the study of body movement. It’s so interesting. I never get bored in class. Today, I learned that once you get a concussion, you’re never the same again. You can actually lose a learned skill. So don’t play football or rugby! It’s bad for your head.

Nordhoff Street to Normandie Avenue

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square

#myLAcommute I drink Folgers all day


KEOKA TURNER

I pray for an open seat on the train so I can read the Bible and listen to music. I work as a telemarketer, so I talk to people all day long. When someone is angry, I don’t even try to diffuse the situation. I just wish them a nice day. I can’t turn their day around, and I don’t take it personally. To do my job, I need to have a lot of spontaneous responses, enthusiasm, and cheerfulness. I drink Folgers all day to get me hyper.

88th Street to 6th Street

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square

#myLAcommute My job brings out my inner detective


JEFF T.

I monitor clients’ bank accounts. You know when you get that email about unusual activity in your account? That’s me looking out for you and making sure you’re not a victim of fraud. I really enjoy my job. It brings out my inner detective.

Arroyo Parkway to 1st Street

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square.

#myLAcommute I find my zen on the train


JACKIE P.

It’s better to find your zen on the train than to sit in traffic. I work as a secretary for a doctor. I like being busy. I never have time to get bored. I make sure that everything runs smoothly. When a patient isn’t happy, I speak to them in a very soft and gentle voice, like a whisper.

Larchmont Blvd. to Monterey Road

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square.

WATCH: 50 Reasons to love Tel Aviv (and never, ever leave)


A video version of Simone Wilson's ode to Tel Aviv: 

Drawing new interest to the Talmud


This story originally appeared on JNS.org.

Last August, in conjunction with the beginning of a new seven-and-a-half year cycle of “daf yomi”—the daily study of a double page of the Babylonian Talmud that is observed by tens of thousands of Jews worldwide—Nicholls inaugurated an online “Draw Yomi” project that day-by-day results in a hand-drawn response to what she has studied.

“Here I go. Full of optimism and hope that I will not be defeated by the daily discipline of learning,” the London-based Jewish artist wrote on her blog to initiate the project.

With drawings of a human heart, a scorpion, and the Hebrew word “Amen,” Nicholls introduces and explicates the often-arcane world of the Talmud.

“Drawing is a way to slow down and get the brain to take a different path,” she told JNS.org.

After several months, that path—which is available for view on her website, http://drawyomi.blogspot.com/—has illuminated with graphic and thought-provoking drawings a world of Jewish law, storytelling and contemplative thought that had previously been limited mostly to the word and textural study.

In Nicholl’s illustrations—each illustration is accompanied by a reference to the text from which she bases the illustration—Talmud study shifts to the visual as Hebrew letters anthropomorphize into fists, and a human skull helps to illustrate “the blessings on all the weird and wonderful things in the world.”

As a kind of warm-up to Draw Yomi, Nicholls had earlier created a drawing a day for the 49 days of the counting of the Omer. As it turned out, she missed the ritual of sitting down to draw every day. “I like the immediacy and deadline,” she said.

To create her illustrations, Nicholls, who describes herself as a traditional Jew, first studies the double page portion to get a “sense of what’s up on the daf (page)” and to search for a theme she can illustrate.

With raised fists, Jacqueline Nicholls's interpretive Talmud drawings also take on social issues. Credit: Illustration by Jacqueline Nicholls.

Sitting in her studio, she limits her time for the drawing to thirty minutes. “I use a kitchen timer,” she explained. “The drawings are not a finished piece of art–more like a sketchbook,” added the artist, who in September had a showing of her previous artwork at the Laurie M. Tisch Gallery in Manhattan.

Nicholls said she has found that drawing is not only a process of study, but also a “way of taking the daf out of the yeshiva.”

Moving even further from the yeshiva, Nicholls, who studied anatomical art and medical drawing, does not shy away from illustrating the female form. For example, to illustrate a daf that she interprets as being “all about life and babies,” she illustrates a pregnant woman in position for childbirth.

Each week, to further explore the text, Nicholls invites a learning partner to add another voice to the ongoing Talmudic conversation by engaging in chevruta—the time-honored method of Talmud study where two students bounce ideas, questions and interpretations off of each other.

“She has changed the medium for commentary,” said Rabbi Deborah Silver, who has been one of Nicholls’s chevruta partners. “She holds up a particular kind of mirror to the text,” added Silver, the assistant rabbi at Temple Adat Ari El in Los Angeles who studied with Nicholls before she began the Draw Yomi project. “I know her for along time, and this is her language,” she said.

Silver explained that the drawings are a “springboard” serving to “take the conversation deeper, quicker,” showing a more concentrated view of Nicholls’s thought process.

Depending on the Talmud daf (page), Jacqueline Nicholls's interpretation can take a whimsical approach. Credit: Illustration by Jacqueline Nicholls.

For instance, to illustrate a daf on what it means to forget, and specifically to forget Shabbat, Nicholls shows a woman missing the top of her head. “Is forgetting the same as never knowing?” she asks.

To capture a Talmud page on waiting for Shabbat to be over, Nicholls shows a clock overseen by three stars. On the belief that crying can cause blindness, she draws a tearful smoldering eye.

If there is humor in the text, Nicholls shows that, too. To illustrate a page that likens a city to a person with limbs, we don’t see a serious city with “Broad Shoulders,” as we might imagine from Carl Sandberg’s  “Chicago,” but an animated town with bent arms, cartoony fingers, even a couple of feet.

But to illustrate another page of Talmud that speaks of “cities that are dangerous to enter if you are from the wrong neighborhood,” Nicholls’s buildings grow angular, and with raised arms, look ready for a fight.

After more than half a year of the project, Nicholls has received interest from several quarters, including “a fairly right-wing chasidic chap,” and others who are approaching daf yomi using social media and international conversation. There has even been interest from those wanting to buy the drawings.

A woman with the top of her head missing in a depiction of a daf (page) from Tractate Shabbat in the Talmud by Jacqueline Nicholls. Credit: Illustration by Jacqueline Nicholls.

In May, Nicholls was also invited to serve as a scholar and artist-in-residence at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, where she presented the Draw Yomi project and heard comments from people who had been learning daf yomi for years. She said she was “pleasantly delighted” by the feedback she received.

At this stage of the Draw Yomi project, Nicholls knows “a couple of people who like my art, check in and see my drawings quite regularly and have now started learning daf yomi themselves.”

“What she does is jump the language barrier,” said Rabbi Silver.

Food, inspired by Israel


Sandy Leon, 42, grew up Catholic, but she never connected with the religion. Three years ago, she took a trip to Israel to see if, perhaps, Judaism was right for her. 

“When I got there, I wanted to embrace everything in Israel, like the food, the culture and the people,” she said. “I went to Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall; it was huge for me.”

During the two and a half weeks she spent in Israel, Leon, who works as a hospital chef, took frequent trips to Jerusalem’s Arab shuk (market) in the Old City and shopped for local produce. She immersed herself in the culture, visited King David’s Tomb and explored Tel Aviv. “I traveled before, but Israel was calling to me,” she said. “It was the most beautiful experience. … I loved it.

“As soon as I came back, I knew for sure that I wanted to convert.” 

She took simple steps to start the conversion process. Leon bought a Star of David necklace in Israel and wore it every day thereafter. She also purchased a mezuzah and hung it in front of the door of her Arleta home. 

Leon started her formal conversion process in the summer of 2012. After studying initially at House of David bookstore in Valley Village, she was referred to the Judaism by Choice program, run by Rabbi Neal Weinberg — who formerly ran a conversion program at American Jewish University (AJU) — and his wife, Miri. Following a class about the Holocaust that she dropped in on, Leon realized she had made the right decision. “It was a very moving class,” she said. “I knew this was something that I wanted to do that same day.”

She studied Jewish history, prayers and rituals. She celebrated Shabbat and holidays, shul hopped, and decided to attend Temple Beth Am regularly and live a Conservative Jewish life. Her kitchen was kashered, and she started to learn Hebrew with the Beverly Hills Lingual Institute. “I was converting little by little,” she said.

During the conversion process, Leon also decided to investigate a family rumor that her ancestors were Jewish. “For years I knew, and it was always a question,” she said. “On my mother’s side, my ancestors came from Spain. I always wondered why they went to Mexico, of all places.”

Leon contacted FamilyTree.com, took a DNA test and within three months, found out she has Sephardic Jewish roots. 

Alhough her Catholic family has no intention of converting, Leon said they are very supportive of her choice. “My parents wanted to know more and why I wasn’t spiritually fulfilled as a Catholic. They told me, if you’re happy, we’re happy. They saw the positive in me during my conversion. Now they want to go to my synagogue. It’s great to be so open and not be discriminated or judged at all.”

After speaking with her family about it, and taking classes for seven months at Judaism by Choice, Leon completed her conversion by meeting with the beit din, a group of rabbis, at AJU this past March. Her sponsor was Rabbi Ari Lucas of Temple Beth Am. “I’m still shocked,” she said. “I was extremely nervous, but the rabbis made me feel so comfortable in the process. They were really good to me. Emerging [from the mikveh immersion] was such a beautiful spirit moment. I was relaxed, at ease, and I cried like a baby. The whole experience was amazing.”

To make the transition, Leon has started a home library of Jewish books, eats at kosher restaurants in Pico-Robertson, speaks as much Hebrew as possible, attends synagogue and spends time with the friends she made through the conversion program. She chose the Hebrew name Yanah Danit, which means “He (God) answers” and “God is my judge,” respectively. For fun, she explores the outdoors, sees her family, boxes, and cooks Middle Eastern and Israeli food. One of her favorite activities is reading on Shabbat, because, she said, it allows her to “disconnect from the world completely.”

Throughout her three-year endeavor, Leon was able to come back to family traditions and start new ones of her own. Looking back on her journey, she said that she wouldn’t have done anything differently. “I would not change a thing. My conversion was a memorable experience. I was blessed to have shared my journey with good, positive people around me. I have made longtime friends, and Rabbi Weinberg and his wife, Miri, made me feel like family.”

Leon has taken on a new identity, but she said that she is “proud to be a Latina Jew. It’s a great feeling to be part of two beautiful cultures and celebrate both traditions.”

Talmud Study


How do you measure anything —
count your deaths, who loves you, who loves you knot.
Today you are the ox, tomorrow the victim
of the gorging ox.
 
You build a house, you are holy,
but your walls are shaky.
Inside there is wine to be drunk.
Outside there is a plague.
You are on the wrong page.
 
Someone is coming to town on a donkey.
He will insult your intelligence
then ask for forgiveness.
Everything is a ratio, parts of the whole.
 
You watch the ants as they crawl across your plate.
You snuff out every third one with your pinky finger.
Years later they will say, blood, frogs, boils,
but what are they remembering
Your house is falling —
who is the protagonist and what is it that he wants?
 

Carly Sachs is the recipient of the 2012 Charlotte Newberger Poetry Prize; “the stream sequence” is her first collection of poetry.

Yankees offer Youkilis $12 million


The New York Yankees reportedly offered Jewish free agent Kevin Youkilis a one-year, $12 million contract.

Youkilis, a three-time All Star for the Boston Red Sox before being traded to the Chicago White Sox in June, was leaning toward accepting the offer, a source told The New York Times.

The offer would have Youkilis play third base, replacing Alex Rodriguez, who is expected to be sidelined until next June because of hip surgery. The Cleveland Indians are also said to be interested in signing Youkilis, according to the Times.

Joshua Bloom: His voice is more than the sum of his parts


The old theater saying that there are no small parts, only small actors, can also be said for opera. Just ask Australian bass Joshua Bloom, who was in town last month to begin rehearsals as Masetto for the Los Angeles Opera production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” The opera’s seven performances run Sept. 22 through Oct. 14 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Masetto marks Bloom’s L.A. Opera debut. “Masetto is a small role, but a good one because you can certainly make an impression,” Bloom said during a break in rehearsal. “There are some roles where nobody remembers you, but Masetto has enough meat to it — it’s great to debut with in a major house.”

The role has already earned him accolades at other major opera houses, including last year at the Metropolitan Opera. In The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini praised his peasant Masetto as “stalwart,” adding that his “hearty bass” made for an “endearing performance.”

Audiences may recall Bloom from his Walt Disney Concert Hall debut last year as Algernon in a striking concert version of Gerald Barry’s unpredictable operatic take on Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Though primarily a bass, Bloom’s flexible range comfortably negotiated this quirky comic baritone part.

Bloom’s lyric, rather than dramatic, voice type has a substance and weight that projects well, especially in the Handel, Mozart and Rossini repertory.

“A lot of the roles for my voice type are smaller, but they’re significant,” Bloom said. “Masetto is the only one who stands up to Giovanni in any meaningful way, and that makes him interesting in a cast of people who are often manipulated by Giovanni without any recourse.”

Masetto is just one of the comprimario, or supporting parts, in Bloom’s repertory. In August, he played Leporello, the Don’s servant, at a festival in Tallinn, Estonia. And when Bloom returns to L.A. Opera in May 2013 for a six-performance run of Puccini’s “Tosca” (May 18 through June 8 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion), he will be playing Angelotti.

“Angelotti is another small part, but actually it’s really pivotal,” Bloom said, “and possibly my favorite small role to do. You have some really good music, and it’s very dramatic.”

L.A. Opera music director James Conlon observed in an e-mail that the late tenor Charles Anthony often made his greatest impact in smaller parts. A New York Times critic, reviewing his Met debut in 1954, said Anthony even made bit parts, like the Simpleton in Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov,” unforgettable.

“Angelotti is very, very important,” Conlon said. “A great deal of the first act of ‘Tosca’ absolutely depends on a strongly sung and defined Angelotti as a counterweight to the other characters.”

Conlon added that Angelotti’s escape from prison sets “Tosca’s” entire drama in motion, which ends —  (spoiler alert!) — in the violent death of the opera’s four most prominent characters.

Bloom has sung larger parts, including the title character in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” and Nick Shadow (the Devil) in Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress.” Next year, he is scheduled to sing the bass role in Gerald Barry’s opera “The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit.” It’s part of a double bill with Handel’s “The Triumph of Time and Truth” at a festival in Germany.

“I play Time in both shows,” Bloom said. “The role has very low notes, but also very high. Gerald likes to explore the extremes of people’s ranges, so there’s not a huge difference between his baritone and bass roles. He writes a lot of falsetto for basses as well.”

Bloom, 38, grew up in Melbourne with musician parents who exposed him to all sorts of music from a very young age. But they encouraged him to go to law school. 

“Music wasn’t something I ever thought of doing as a profession,” Bloom said. “Music, to my parents, was not a good career choice. I think they wanted me to get a real job.”

Bloom, whose father is Jewish, went to Anglican schools on a music scholarship as a cellist and double bass player. “Technically, I’m not really Jewish,” Bloom said. “My parents are firm atheists, so I was never particularly religious. I went to Jewish kindergarten. That was as far as it went. Nonetheless, obviously having a Jewish father, and my name being as it is, well, there you go.” 

Bloom majored in history at the University of Melbourne, focusing on Hitler’s Germany, Holocaust history and Russia under Stalin. He also started acting in fringe theater, “doing the odd musical.” 

“I wanted to be an actor,” Bloom said, but people who heard him sing recommended he take voice lessons. “I kind of fell into opera. It wasn’t something I was desperate to do from a young age.”

Bloom left Melbourne for New York when he was 26 and is now based in San Francisco. Since his father was originally from Chicago, Bloom said he’s never had a problem working in the United States, which became necessary for him to cultivate an interesting career.

“Australia is very isolated geographically, and the arts scene is tricky,” Bloom said. “If you want to be a full-time, professional opera singer, there’s really only one company that is available — Opera Australia.”

Over the years, Bloom has been invited back regularly to Opera Australia, but he doesn’t regret leaving. “It’s a great country,” he said, “but for opera singers, it’s a difficult environment.”

Bloom, who is on the road for most of the year, said his parents are “very proud” of his thriving singing career. But, he added, living out of suitcase gets old quickly. And there’s no time for relationships outside the work.

“I would have to establish something quickly and then manage the long-distance thing, which is difficult at the best of times,” Bloom said, adding that most of the people he meets are in the business.

Though he continues to enjoy the variety of small and large lyric roles he’s offered, Bloom said he hopes in the next decade to venture into heftier emotional terrain. One of his dream roles is King Philip in Verdi’s “Don Carlos.” 

“He’s such a complex and profound character,” Bloom said. “There’s a lot of pathos involved, and the music is extraordinary. Although I’ve never played him, Don Giovanni is also a role where, depending on your stage of life, you have a different insight into the character. Those roles have multiple layers, to be explored over a lifetime.”

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

Kipah-wearing teen set for ‘America’s Got Talent’ semis [VIDEO]


Edon Pinchot, a kipah-wearing Jewish day school student, will be performing in the semifinals of “America’s Got Talent.”

Pinchot, 14, of Skokie, Ill., will be among 12 acts performing live Tuesday night on the popular NBC reality show before a a television audience that could top 10 million. The second set of 12 semifinalists will perform Sept. 4.

Other semifinalists joining Pinchot, a singer and pianist, on Tuesday’s show include singers, a dancer, a dog ventriloquist, an acrobat, a mind reader and a comedian.

Should enough TV viewers cast their votes for Pinchot, he will advance to the finals and a chance to take home the $1 million prize. He has performed an audition, in the Vegas round and in the quarterfinals to reach the semis. His kipah has made him a focal point for viewers.

Pinchot,  who is Sabbath observant and keeps kosher, is the fourth of five children and has been playing piano since he was 9. His grandmother, Ginger Pinchot of Silver Spring, Md., says Edon is “very athletic. He’s one of the stars of his soccer team, and he’s also a straight A student. He’s just kind of an all-around guy.”

The show’s three judges—Howie Mandel, Sharon Osbourne and Howard Stern—are Jewish.

Pinchot will be starting high school soon at the Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago.

Families reading together: Two summer novels for children


When was the last time your fifth grader read a book written in free verse? How about a children’s version of life in Stalinist Russia?  These two very unusual novels for young people from two Los Angeles children’s authors make excellent summer reads and particularly good discussion starters for families to read together.

Looking For Me… in This Great Big Family

by Betsy R. Rosenthal (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, NY. $15.99)  Grades 4 – 7.

It’s not so easy to get children to read a book of poems. But there is a particular genre of children’s literature called free-verse novels that has been very successful in doing exactly that. These books offer up a succession of individual poems that tell an entire story. They contain fine characterization, tense plots, gripping conclusions, and very few words per page. They are considered perfect for reluctant readers, but also for literature lovers who like to linger on a good turn of phrase. Often these free verse novels have won the highest awards of children’s literature (see Karen Hesse’s, “Out of the Dust” or Margarita Engle’s “Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba”). Now Betsey Rosenthal, A Los Angeles author of delightful picture books, has hit the mark with her first novel, which she based on anecdotes from her mother’s poignant childhood in depression-era Baltimore.

The book is short, and each page is graced with a poem, sometimes rhyming, sometimes not—more often not. Each poem is titled and captures the distinct voice of 11-year-old Edith Paul, Rosenthal’s mother and the fourth of 12 siblings. “In my overcrowded family/ I’m just another face./ I’m just plain Edith/of no special place.”  As the young girl searches for her individual identity within her large and boisterous Jewish family, she also wonders about the type of person she can become. Rosenthal relies on extensive interviews with her mother, along with the many stories she was told as a child to recreate what life was like in the tumultuous depression years of 1936-37. This young girl sees herself only as she imagines others see her: as a “good little mother ” to her younger siblings, or a child worker in her gruff and distant father’s diner. When a caring teacher finds that spark within her that lights her way to imagining herself as the first of her family to go to college, she is able to break out of her musings about her invisibility and see into the future, knowing she is on her way “to being so much more/than just plain Edith/who’s number four.”

The Judaism practiced by Edith’s family will intrigue today’s children. Edith sincerely describes her struggles to fit in. She is pleased her family changed its name from Polansky to Paul and astonished to discover that a “dumb neighbor” thinks Jews have horns. She is also embarrassed at having to refuse a ham sandwich at a friend’s house, but then eats crab cakes with her sisters on a paper plate at home (“sometimes we cheat”). At Rosh Hashanah services, she wonders whether God is listening to her prayers (“Even though I don’t understand a word of it,/I like hearing the sounds—it’s like a visit with an old friend.”), and empathetically recounts the difficult choices made by her immigrant grandmother on the day she had to leave Russia for America.

Readers will particularly appreciate Rosenthal’s inclusion of an author’s note at the end of the book, including a black-and-white photo of young Edith Paul, along with a glossary of the Yiddish terms she has seamlessly woven within the text.

This beautifully written short poetic novel is a great choice for a young person to share with parents. Each poem is a little gem and readers will admire the author’s ability to be able to create entire characters out of just over 100 individual poems. Pair this one with Sydney Taylor’s classic, “All of a Kind Family,” for a take on what it was like to grow up in a Jewish family in the first half of the 20th century.

“Breaking Stalin’s Nose”

by Eugene Yelchin (Henry Holt and Co. 2011. $15.99) Grades 5 – 8

Artist Eugene Yelchin never imagined his first novel would win a Newbery honor medal, the highest award in children’s literature in the United States. Previously known as a fine artist before emigrating from the Soviet Union, Yelchin began illustrating for the Boston Globe and other magazines, and then moved on to picture book illustration. He illustrates his intriguing Kafkaesque novel for kids with engaging black-and-white graphite drawings that add immeasurably to the book’s disturbing atmosphere of Soviet life in the Stalinist era.

The story revolves around ten-year-old Sasha, who idolizes his father, a staunch communist, until events occur that make young Sasha question his own beliefs in the goodness of his perfect society. In fact, Yelchin dedicates the book to his own father, “who survived the Great Terror”.

In literature, a “dystopia” is defined as “an imaginary place in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror.”  In fact, children’s literature is so full of novels describing horrific dystopian future societies, (see: “The Hunger Games” and practically every other popular YA novel) that it is astonishing that up until now, no one has yet tried to tackle this subject for children: a real life dystopic society that actually existed not so long ago. Yelchin’s short novel remarkably achieves that goal while at the same time it is deceiving in its simplicity. It begins: “My dad is a hero and a Communist and, more than anything, I want to be like him. I can never be like Comrade Stalin, of course. He’s our great Leader and Teacher.”

It must be hard for an American child who has never heard of the Soviet Union to understand just what happened there. Did children really inform on their parents? Did millions of people really revere their leader like a god? Did this beloved leader really kill his people ruthlessly while they blindly declared allegiance to him? It seems that it shouldn’t be a topic for a children’s book, but the way the author tackles the subject is appropriate and compelling and will leave young readers asking the right kind of questions about the past.

Yelchin’s narrative takes place over a two day period during the 1930’s; a period that condenses the entire Stalinist regime of terror into the experience of a young boy. The “large, happy family” life of young Sasha who lives together with 48 “hardworking, honest Soviet citizens” (who share a single communal kitchen and toilet) is shattered the day his father is arrested. He has been reported on by a neighbor who covets the extra space that will be gained when father and boy are removed. Sasha’s father’s final words to him as he is dragged away by guards are, “It’s more important to join the Pioneers than to have a father.”  The creepiness factor begins as the illustrations appear more ominous and Sasha now becomes a ward of the state. The boy must fend for himself in a place where informing on your friends and neighbors seems to be society’s highest objective. With a nod to the great Russian writer, Nikolai Gogol, Yelchin narrates the various antics that ensue when Sasha accidentally knocks the nose off a plaster statue of Stalin while proudly swinging the patriotic banner of his beloved Pioneer movement.

By the end of the novel, Sasha’s eyes have been opened to reality and he begins to rethink his place not only within the Pioneer movement, but within the only world he knows.

The anti-Semitism Yelchin experienced as a child is relived through the experiences of Sasha’s young friend, “Four-Eyes Finkelstein”  who justifiably disobeys a teacher but is sent to the principal after a “democratic” vote by his classmates. The author explains in his afterword that “fear was passed on from generation to generation. It has been passed on to me, as well. This book is my attempt to expose and confront that fear. My family shared a communal apartment. My father was a devoted Communist. And like my main character, I, too, had to make a choice. My choice was about whether to leave the country of my birth.”

This serious book is so gripping that it will not leave your mind for quite a while. Children with no knowledge of the Stalinist regime will wonder about it (and maybe check online to find out more) while others will simply see it for the cautionary tale that it is. Either way, Yelchin’s award winner will serve as a “1984” for the grade school set and will be an important conversation starter that teaches the nature of innocence in a time of great evil.


Lisa Silverman is the director of the Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library and former children’s editor of Jewish Book World magazine.

Shlomo Carlebach’s life comes to the stage in ‘Soul Doctor’


As he researched the complex life of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach for a new musical, playwright Daniel Wise found a surprisingly candid source.

Neshama Carlebach, a successful recording artist and popular performer of her father’s compositions, openly revealed his many struggles as “a lonely and conflicted” Orthodox rabbi—both rock star and spiritual shepherd.

“When someone collaborates on a show and at the same time is the daughter of the subject matter, and she is serving of the show rather than her own perspective, it helps make the show what it is,” Wise says. “It was also very brave.”

As Neshama explains, her father’s message is that everyone “can surpass their own walls. Some people say he was an angel. He was a person. But he was a strong person. He made beautiful choices and that should be a inspiration for the world.”

Some of Carlebach’s followers aren’t so pleased with the candor.

“Reb Shlomo was a soul on fire who was a rebbe to thousands,” says Shy Yellin, president of the Carlebach Shul on New York City’s Upper West Side. “He was a tzaddik rooted in the love of God and His Torah and whose purpose, like other great rebbes, was to connect us to ‘Hashem yisborech’ in the deepest way. Because he was human, with all the challenges one faces, Shlomo could relate to his flock and we to him. If he made any mistakes, they were long ago expiated. He was beloved by all.”

During his lifetime and perhaps even more since his death in 1994, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach—known widely as Reb Shlomo or simply Shlomo—is credited with reinvigorating Jewish life with uplifting song and spiritual teachings. His fascinating trajectory is the basis of a Broadway-bound show, “Soul Doctor: The Journey of a Rock Star Rabbi,” the first new Jewish hit musical in decades.

Neshama shares an official “creative credit for additional material” for the show, which is carried by more than 30 Carlebach melodies, often with new lyrics by David Schechter. “Soul Doctor” sold out in test runs in Florida and New Orleans, and opened to a limited engagement July 24-Aug. 19 at the New York Theatre Workshop. Again, the show rapidly sold out.

Producers are negotiating with a New York theater for an open-ended run. 

As a cultural phenomenon in the 1960s music scene, Carlebach’s songs grew wildly popular. He performed on stage with Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Jerry Garcia, Pete Seeger, the Grateful Dead and Nina Simone, among others. He played venues from Carnegie Hall to hippie coffeehouses, prisons to ashrams. He even performed spontaneous midnight concerts under New York City’s West Side Highway for the local homeless, whom he often knew by name.

Carlebach died suddenly when his heart failed on airplane at LaGuardia Airport in New York. His annual yahrzeit triggers memorial concerts around the world. In a category all his own, his music now captivates Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, gay and lesbian, Orthodox and Chasidic communities.

Cross-over Jewish reggae sensation Matisyahu coined himself a “Bob Marley-Shlomo Carlebach fusion.” Even Pope John Paul II used Carlebach’s composition “Brothers and Friends” to open his last Mass at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.

“Soul Doctor” reveals how Carlebach’s music and heart-centered teachings of “boundless love and joy” touched disillusioned hippies and dropouts, says Wise, who also directs the show.

The musical riffs on the successful formula of “Rent,” which Wise took on tour around the world. Both employ actors playing multiple roles and doubling as stage hands, gracefully transforming sets through scenes.

“Soul Doctor” travels from contemporary Vienna back to Carlebach’s childhood there under Nazi occupation, from a New York home and a dynamic musical beit midrash to the psychedelic House of Love and Prayer in 1960s San Francisco and more, in the multiple loops of Carlebach’s explorations of Jerusalem. Caracas. Nepal. And beyond. 

As his newly published commentary on Genesis reveals, Carlebach also was an innovative Torah scholar. As a Chasidic figure and composer of niggunim—wordless, expressive tunes infused with spirituality—Carlebach bridges Old World and new, pre-war Orthodoxy and the post-war establishment he realized wasn’t reaching America’s rapidly assimilating Jews.

Despite its rabbi protagonist, “Soul Doctor” attracts diverse audiences because “It’s about how we are spiritually all the same,” says veteran Broadway composer and orchestrator Steve Margoshes, who wove together the score for “Soul Doctor” and previous Broadway smashes such as Elton John’s “Aida,” “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” and “The Who’s Tommy.”

In the 1950s, the thirtysomething Orthodox rabbi searches American counterculture and becomes intimate friends with Simone, a then-unknown jazz singer who introduced him to gospel music and R&B.

Carlebach suddenly finds himself “torn between his deep traditional roots and his dream to create a Jewish revival through his joyous and soulful melodies,” Margoshes explains. “He wakes up one day and decides the Jewish experience is bankrupt and he is going to reinvigorate it, no matter the personal cost.”

Their unusual connection—Simone later became the musical voice of the civil rights movement—helped Shlomo shape contemporary Jewish music and reinvigorate the American Jewish experience in the aftermath of the Holocaust, Wise says.

With composite characters and scenes, “Soul Doctor” is not a strictly factual presentation of Carlebach’s life. Rather than pure hagiography, it is a gripping exploration of the many challenges and controversies encountered by Carlebach.

“It is more the idea of Shlomo than what historically happened,” says Rabbi Naftali Citrin of the Carlebach Shul and Carlebach’s grand-nephew. “It’s a version of Shlomo’s life that can’t possibly contain everything.”

“Soul Doctor” reflects the humanity of this larger-than-life personality leaving an Orthodox dynasty to become Chasidic while attempting to reach the young and unplugged through conventional rabbinic teachings. The methods prove ineffective, so Carlebach struggles again to break out of the mold of previous Orthodox leaders and “become Shlomo,” the recording star, performer, spiritual minstrel and friend still both treasured and criticized.

Carlebach grapples with questions of modernity and how to heal young broken souls who expect a hug and won’t dance with a mechitzah.

“Soul Doctor” doesn’t shy away from Carlebach’s struggling with his upbringing’s Orthodox restrictions against even casual physical contact with women and intense condemnation from the establishment and his own father. Audiences watch him find love, attempt to balance family with touring, and ultimately encounter a devastating divorce when his wife takes their children—Neshama and her sister, Nedara (now a married mother of two living in Israel)—to Toronto.

Today, the sisters honor their father’s rich contributions to Jewish tradition through the Carlebach Legacy Trust, which collects his teachings, compositions, photographs and bootleg recordings. Neshama, also a mother of two, is working on her ninth album celebrating her father’s music, despite Orthodoxy’s concerns of kol isha, or halachic rulings regarding men hearing women sing. She also is trailblazing interfaith concerts with the Rev. Roger Hambrick and members of the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir of the Bronx. Their album, “Higher and Higher,” was a sixth-time Grammy entrant last year.

“There is work to be done,” Neshama says, “and not everyone is down for the work.”

This is Lisa Alcalay Klug’s third article in a JTA series about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s legacy. Klug is the author of two humor books, “Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe,” a National Jewish Book Award finalist, and “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe,” a celebration of Jewish women debuting in October.