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‘David’s Quilt’ Is Made From New Jewish Music


There are enough unforgettable stories about David — the biblical poet, warrior and king — to fill several seasons of “Game of Thrones.” The story of David and Goliath even was referenced during a recent World Series broadcast. But what about the narratives that unfold with the likes of Bathsheba, Amnon, the Witch of Endor, Michal, Saul and Jonathan, too?

Selected strands of David’s wide-ranging story have been musically woven into “David’s Quilt,” an oratorio in 18 episodes by 15 Los Angeles-based composers, which premieres Nov. 5 at Stephen Wise Temple in Bel Air.

The project, begun two years ago by Valley Beth Shalom Cantor Phil Baron, found its way to UCLA music professor Mark Kligman, who helped shepherd it to completion. Now the free concert (reservations required) will kick off a two-day UCLA conference on Nov. 6-7, “American Culture and the Jewish Experience in Music,” which explores the ways European-Jewish sensibilities responded to American opportunity, transforming both cultures.

“We need to see Jewish music as a living entity.” – Mark Kligman

“Premiering a work like ‘David’s Quilt’ anchors our conference in the creative environment of Los Angeles,” said Kligman, who holds the Mickey Katz Chair in Jewish Music at UCLA. “It’s also a wonderful opportunity to create new music. We need to see Jewish music as a living entity, not just something in the past.”

For Baron, the biblical David’s flaws and inconsistencies make him one of the most approachable of the Bible’s heroes — and perfect for such an ambitious musical treatment.

“David is humanized through his imperfections,” Baron said. “He’s so much more than the stories of David and Goliath or Bathsheba. With the exception of Moses, there’s never been a character quite so large in our tradition.”

Baron said the styles of music in the piece vary widely. “We told the composers to write in the style of you, and that worked,” he said.

Like the oratorio, the two-day conference presents a quilt-like variety of topics and voices. On Nov. 6, David Lefkowitz, UCLA professor of composition, will lead a discussion “Jews and the L.A. Music Industry.” Another session delves into the extraordinary Milken Archive of Jewish Music with “Discovering a World of American Jewish Music,” a talk by the archive’s curator, Jeff Janeczko.

Subsequent sessions feature Judah Cohen of Indiana University looking at singing societies and choral music in the 19th-century American synagogue. Cohen also will lead a distinguished panel of scholars speaking on the significance and afterlife of the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Professor Daniel Goldmark of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland will explore what Jewish music sounded like in early 20th-century media. In another session, Goldmark will tackle the legacy of “The Jazz Singer,” the 1927 film about a cantor’s son who makes it big on Broadway, with a presentation looking at the notable films, cartoons and television shows inspired by the popular film.

“American pop culture is still drawing on the same basic musical palette of themes established in the 1910s and ’20s, themes for Native Americans, Jews, for most ethnicities,” Goldmark said.

The conference concludes on Nov. 7 with a re-creation of an April 24, 1945, chamber concert organized by musicologist Anneliese Landau at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. Works by Jewish émigré composers in L.A. — including Ernst Toch, Arnold Schoenberg and Louis Gruenberg — will be performed by UCLA music students at Royce Hall, with commentary by musicologist Lily Hirsch, who is completing a biography of Landau, who died in 1991.

“The 1945 concert was an incredibly political concert,” Hirsch said. “[Landau] was a champion of contemporary music with a keen sense of justice. To her, these composers deserved a platform. Re-creating the concert is important because it focuses attention on this remarkable woman and the history of musical politics in the United States.”

UCLA’s Kligman, who also directs the Lowell Milken Fund for American Jewish Music, said the conference is intended as “a comfortable hybrid of accessible and academic,” designed to inform and enlighten both the public and the UCLA community. Although the conference covers a lot of ground, Kligman said there’s no one answer as to what American-Jewish music is.

“Jewish music in America has yet to become a discipline,” he said. “It’s many different kinds of things, redefined and used in different ways. It’s an exciting arena.”

Myron Gordon and Samuel E. Goldfarb: A musical bridge between father and son


Every Jew worth his weight in latkes knows “I Have a Little Dreidel,” aka “The Dreidel Song,” but Myron Gordon knows the holiday ditty better than most. That song, written nearly 90 years ago by his father, Samuel E. Goldfarb, has become both a family legacy and a bridge to a kind of personal healing.

“I heard all these songs while my father was composing them, and they had a certain meaning for me at the time,” said Gordon, 95. “Subsequently, I realized that these songs had a very almost sad and nostalgic feeling.”

Now the popular Chanukah tune is the title track for “Dreidel I Shall Play,” a collection of Goldfarb’s children’s songs and liturgical music. Working with veteran Los Angeles musician and producer Craig Taubman, the New York-based Gordon co-produced the album to contribute to the Jewish community, but also as a way of coming to terms with a painful part of his past that included being abandoned by his father.

“I finally decided, after all these years, to try to listen to the songs in a different way that would not have so much yearning and nostalgia to them,” Gordon said.

Under new arrangements that span barbershop quartet, folk and accoustic, the tracks most certainly sound different. Some of the 16 tracks on “Dreidel I Shall Play,” which were written between 1918 and 1927, are considered standards of the Jewish American songbook. Others are lesser known. 

Goldfarb wrote the melody to “Shalom Aleichem” and “B’sefer Chayim” with his older brother, Israel. And he collaborated with playwright and lyricist Samuel Grossman, who wrote the words to “The Dreidel Song,” on a number of holiday tunes, including the Passover songs “The Burning Bush” and “The Ten Commandments,” and the Purim tunes “I Love the Day of Purim” and “A Merry Purim Song.”

Goldfarb was born in Poland but immigrated to New York at the age of 4. He started learning piano at age 10 and frequently worked with his older brother when Israel was a rabbi at Brooklyn’s Kane Street Synagogue. In 1918, when Goldfarb was the head of the Department of Music at the Jewish Bureau of Education, the brothers put out a book of “Friday Evening Melodies.” That same year, they published the two-volume “Jewish Songster,” a collection of Jewish liturgical and secular songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and English that would become standard in schools and synagogues. 

Gordon, his sister Ruth, their mother, Bella, and Goldfarb. Photo courtesy of Jewish American Songster

Gordon remembers his father singing and playing several of the songs at home, but the music also calls up memories of a childhood from which his father was largely absent.

In 1929, Goldfarb left his wife and two children, moving from New York to Seattle, where he started a family with another woman. Gordon, who was 9 at the time, saw his father infrequently over the next several decades. During one of his father’s visits, however, he taught his 7-year-old granddaughter, Tamar, “The Dreidel Song.”

The nostalgia was mixed with bitterness, said Gordon, who changed his name from Goldfarb in part to distance himself from his father. 

“I’m sure my father liked me, but I think in the back of his mind, he knew he was going to be leaving, and he knew that he wanted to avoid perhaps getting too close to me,” said Gordon, who had a lengthy career in private practice as a clinical psychologist. “I think that in terms of teaching me these songs, he just sang them to me and I’m sure I learned them at his knee. I know the songs. No one else could have taught them to me.”

The musically prolific Goldfarb, who died in 1978, earned recognition during his life, but when he moved West, he settled into a lower-profile role, directing the music program at Temple De Hirsch in Seattle. According to his son, Goldfarb was in no position to call attention to his past achievements. 

“He had to conceal that period of his life because he was in effect concealing his divorce from my mother,” Gordon said. “It’s my theory that his career really fell down a few notches. He did a little composing and he did a lot of arranging songs for the children and for the temple, but it’s my theory that because he had to bury this part of his past, he did not proceed with all cylinders.”

A couple of years ago, when Gordon discovered a box of his father’s memorabilia, he came across letters, songbooks and even 78-rpm gramophone records that were still playable. He decided that the music was ripe for reintroduction within the Jewish musical canon, and contacted Taubman, a veteran musician and producer, who operates the multicultural arts center Pico Union Project near downtown Los Angeles and is the co-founder of the Friday Night Live services at Sinai Temple.

Taubman knew several of the Goldfarb songs, but hadn’t been aware of their origins. Although intrigued, he still wasn’t certain he wanted to be involved in the project. 

“I said, ‘Why me?’ And more importantly, ‘Why you?’ ” Taubman said. “ ‘Why are you doing this? The songs are more or less out there. Why do you want to do it again?’ ”

Once Gordon shared the back story about his father’s life and career, however, Taubman was hooked. 

“As I got deeper and deeper into the story, it was so clear that Myron wasn’t outing his absentee father,” Tubman said. “This was about making peace and closing the loop for him. That, to me, is the fascinating story.”

Taubman lined up friends and colleagues,and recorded the album in Los Angeles. Participants include Rena Strober, Alberto Mizrahi, Rick Recht, Daniel Cainer and Theodore Bikel. The recording of “Little Candle Fires” was one of Bikel’s last recordings before the famous singer and actor died last year.

The CD kicks off with the 1927 recording of “I Have a Little Dreidel” with Goldfarb at the piano and Arthur Fields on vocals. On Track 2, Taubman cuts loose with a rockabilly version of the same song. “Dreidel I Shall Play” contains songs for Passover and Purim as well as liturgical music. In the CD’s liner notes, Gordon recounts the story of his family and his father’s musical legacy. 

Because the Goldfarb brothers originally wrote the songs to help Jewish children learn more about their heritage, Gordon hopes that the reimagined versions serve the same purpose for contemporary Jewish children. Just as important, by revisiting these old songs for a new audience, Gordon has reached a place of healing.

“I guess you could say that by putting them out, I discovered a part of me that was kind of forgiving and understanding of my father’s situation,” he said. 

Moving and shaking: Celebrating MLK Jr., Avraham Fried concert at the Saban Theatre and more


The Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) sanctuary was overflowing, every one of the 1,000 seats downstairs and in the balcony filled on Jan. 18 with congregants, friends and guests from Los Angeles churches and other community groups. They came to celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in a multicultural — mostly musical — program marking the 50 years that have passed since the civil rights leader spoke from the TIOH bimah at Friday night services on Feb. 26, 1965.

In his speech, excerpts of which were played during Sunday evening’s program, King spoke of racism, militarism and poverty as the defining problems of the time. 

In the evening’s keynote address, PBS talk-show host and author Tavis Smiley (“Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year”) raised those same problems as being just as relevant today. “Sound familiar?” he said, as he quoted excerpts from King’s 1965 sermon.

Keynote speaker Tavis Smiley apeared at Temple Israel of Hollywood. Photo by Ryan Torok

With a warning that he might offend some in attendance, Smiley also speculated on how King might have reacted to the cartoons in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which sparked a terrorist attack, as well as to the Sony Pictures film “The Interview,” which depicts the assassination of North Korean President Kim Jong-un. While clearly expressing his own disapproval of the terrorists in France and without condoning the leadership of the North Korean president, Smiley advocated for “civility” instead of criticizing another’s religion in cartoons and comic satires targeting the death of another country’s leader. 

“There can be no social mobility without social civility, and, frankly, as much as I treasure my free-speech rights, we can do better,” Smiley challenged the audience.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also spoke, vowing to tackle some of the serious challenges facing society that King focused on decades ago.

“Let us raise the minimum wage, as Dr. King called upon us to do. … Let us end homelessness on the streets of Los Angeles … for our veterans and, soon after, for all,” Garcetti said.

The evening also featured video reflections on their callings by area Muslim and Christian faith leaders, followed by brief appearances by each of them — including Greg Bellamy of One Church International, the Rev. Sam Koh of Hillside Church, the Rev. Ian Davies of St. Thomas the Apostle Hollywood and Imam Asim Buyuksoy of the Islamic Center of Southern California — as well as song and dance performances from church and community groups. Performers included the Life Choir (appearing with its founder H.B. Barnum) and the Leimert Park Community Program’s Harmony Project Youth Choir led by its music director, Kenneth Anderson. The latter performed Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which garnered the first standing ovation of several throughout the night. The 1964 song was an anthem for the civil-rights movement.

As a finale, a gospel-tinged performance, complete with hand clapping, of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” had approximately 75 singers onstage at once, including members of the TIOH choir, the Life Choir and the Harmony Project. The song closed out the concert portion of the evening, which began at 7:15 p.m. and ended around 9 p.m.

TIOH Chazzan Danny Maseng served as the night’s musical director, performing Elton John’s “Border Song” with a soulful singer identified only as MAJOR, of One Church Inernational. Demonstrating the range of musical styles, Shelly Fox, a member of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and a frequent TIOH soloist, performed Mozart’s “Great Mass in C Minor” in a duet with Andrea Fuentes. Two groups of colorfully costumed young Korean-American dancers, one of near-toddlers, from the Jung Im Lee Korean Dance Academy, also performed, including a traditional fan dance.

The mastermind and producer of the event was composer and TIOH board of trustees vice president Michael Skloff (best known for composing the theme song from TV’s “Friends”). To honor Skloff’s efforts, TIOH Rabbi John Rosove presented the impresario with a framed and autographed photograph of King shaking hands with the late Rabbi Max Nussbaum, who was the congregation’s spiritual leader when King visited the synagogue a half century ago. Marta Kauffman, Skloff’s wife, an accomplished TV showrunner (“Friends”), staged the fast-paced and multifaceted event. Monica and Phil Rosenthal sponsored the evening.

Attendees included Smiley’s mother, Joyce Smiley; West Hollywood Mayor John D’Amico; and David Levinson of Big Sunday, a co-sponsor of the event and which held a clothing drive the next day at its Melrose Boulevard headquarters in honor of the MLK holiday.

Alicia Bleier, 54, a TIOH member, said she had enjoyed the evening. Speaking to the Journal during a dessert reception that followed the concert, she described King as “the most inspirational leader in the past 50 years. I pray and hope for a new Black leader who is as insightful and pragmatic as he was. … I can only hope we have another Martin Luther King.”


Martin Luther King Jr. Day-inspired Shabbat services took place across Los Angeles last weekend. 

On Jan. 16, Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple and singer/songwriter/community leader Craig Taubman (Pico Union Project) led an interfaith service at Sinai in Westwood. Guests included the Revs. Chip Murray, Mark Whitlock and Najuma Pollard, all of  USC’s Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement. The evening included a performance by H.B. Barnum’s Life Choir.

Nearby at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills that same evening, Temple of the Arts’ Rabbi David Baron officiated a service and performance that honored the Rev. Ronald Myers, a civil-rights activist and founder of the modern movement promoting the holiday of Juneteenth. The evening drew approximately 500 attendees. 

Speakers and performers included Consul General of France in Los Angeles Axel Cruau, and jazz harpist and pianist Corky Hale. Actor Gabriel Macht (“Suits”) appeared, and television editor Ari Macht served as keynote speaker. Stephen Macht, an actor/director and the father of Gabriel and Ari, produced the event.

Events took place at Temple Aliyah and Beth Shir Shalom, as well. 

At Temple Aliyah, a Conservative synagogue in Woodland Hills, congregants came together on Friday with St. Bernardine of Siena Catholic Church, the Mohammedi Center and the Islamic Society of West Valley in “prayer, music and mutual respect” in celebration of King, a press release said.

Titled “Voices of Freedom: The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King,” the event featured Life Choir; gospel artist DeBorah Sharpe-Taylor, singer John Bilezikjian, Arabic singer and actor Ben Youcef, the Voices of Peace Choir, the  Kolot Tikvah (Voices of Hope) choir and others. 

Meanwhile, Beth Shir Shalom, which is based in Santa Monica and describes itself as a “progressive, Reform synagogue,” paired with the Watts congregation Macedonia Baptist Church for the weekend. Approximately 175 individuals turned out for Friday night services, which celebrated King, at Beth Shir Shalom. On Sunday, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom served as a guest preacher at Macedonia. 

“It’s an amazing, joyous spiritual experience for a rabbi to address this combined congregation of my people along with people from Macedonia,” he said in a phone interview about the Sunday event, which also featured Macedonia’s the Rev. Everett Bell. “It’s just a privilege and an honor, and we are so committed to doing more with each other than a once-a-year celebration.” 

Nearly 1,800 people packed the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on Jan. 11 to see Avraham Fried in concert during a musical extravaganza presented by the Modern Orthodox Beth Jacob Congregation and the synagogue’s  Cantor Arik Wollheim. Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau also took to the stage and delivered an impassioned address, according to a press release.

Avraham Fried (right) sings during a concert at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. Photo by Joe Shalmoni © 2015. All rights reserved

Born and raised in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Fried is a Jewish singer, songwriter and musician whose musical style integrates variations of rock, pop and jazz, and features Jewish lyrics and themes. His hits include works sung in English, Hebrew and Yiddish. He has performed worldwide to large audiences, including a 2007 show in Jerusalem with Charedi superstar Yaakov Shwekey commemorating the 40th anniversary of the reunification of the city.

The event attracted large groups from Beth Jacob, Chabad yeshiva schools, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, Maimonides Academy, Beverly Hills High School, and YULA boys and girls high schools, as well as casual Jewish music fans, the press release stated.

Sunday night’s concert was a festive occasion, as Fried and Wollheim involved the audience from the outset, imploring them to participate by singing along, dancing and forming conga lines in the aisles. Wollheim asked why a city like Los Angeles, with such a vibrant Jewish community, isn’t host to more events like this.

A conga line formed during the Fried concert at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. Photo by Joe Shalmoni (C) 2015. All rights reserved

“What is it about Jewish-American culture that prevents this from happening, and why does Jewish music tend to be limited to weddings in this city?” the Israeli-born cantor asked, according to the press release. “Why are we not a major consumer of Jewish music?” 

Wollheim indicated that he hopes to change this trend in Los Angeles and is already mapping out ideas for a large-scale Jewish music event in 2016.

— Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer


Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles has appointed Erica Rothblum as its new head of school.

From left: Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, Sheryl Goldman (executive director of Temple Beth Am), Erica Rothblum, Rabbi Cantor Hillary Chorny, Rabbi Yechiel Hoffman (director of Youth, Learning & Engagement) and Rabbi Ari Lucas. Photo by Lee Salem

“I am excited to help Pressman continue to push forward and continue to grow its excellent programs and reputation in the community while maintaining its warm, inclusive community,” Rothblum, who started July 1, told the Journal.  

Pressman Academy houses an early education center, the temple’s religious school and a Solomon Schechter Day School. Prior to Rothblum’s arrival, Rabbi Mitchel Malkus was head of school for 12 years. He left in 2013 to work at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Md.; Temple Beth Am Rabbi Emeritus Joel Rembaum served as the interim head of school.

Rothblum grew up in suburban Boston, received an Ed.D. in educational leadership from UCLA and began her teaching career in Compton as part of the Teach for America program. Before taking the position at Pressman, she was head of school at Beth Hillel Day School in Valley Village.  

Rothblum said she was drawn to Pressman because of its national reputation for strong academics, particularly Judaic studies, and its local reputation for a strong community and “menschlikayt” behavior. She noted that there are many challenges the academy and Jewish day schools in general face. 

“We face what many Day Schools are facing. The rising costs of tuition, along with the expensive nature of being a Jew in Los Angeles, create a strain for our families. We need to continue finding ways to offer an excellent program to every Jewish child who wants a Jewish education,” Rothblum said.

— Rebecca Weiner, Contributing Writer


The Levantine Cultural Center’s 13th anniversary gala on Dec. 13 raised $50,000 for the nonprofit, which hopes to open a second, $1 million facility in either North Hollywood or Westwood by June 2015. 

Executive director Jordan Elgrably said the organization has come a long way since its inception but that the work it does is as necessary as ever. Located on West Pico Boulevard, the center presents arts and education programs on the Middle East and North Africa, according to its mission statement.

Levantine Cultural Center executive director Jordan Elgrably appears at the organization's 13th anniversary gala. Photo by Sheana Ochoa

“The need for this, I guess for better or worse, hasn’t diminished, it has only increased,” Elgrably said in a phone interview. “If you look at the events of this past summer — with the Gaza conflicts, the events in Ferguson [Mo.] — and the events in Paris last week, intolerance and racism and misunderstanding about each other is manifest, and our work — it sounds cliche to say it —  has only just begun. All I have done is scratch the surface of this.”

The gala, which took place at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach, drew approximately 500 attendees and featured a “Sultans of Satire: Middle East Comic Relief” comedy show, with performers Aron Kader, Sammy Obeid, MT Abou-Daoud, Melissa Shoshani, Sherwin Arae and Tehran.

Guests included Bana Hilal and Josh Elbaum, members of the center’s national advisory board; Ani Zonneveld, president and co-founder of Muslims for Progressive Values; Bassam Marjiya, an immigration attorney born and raised in Nazareth who has previously appeared at the center; and Nikoo Berenji, who has supported past Levantine events.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Mark Kligman fills new Mickey Katz chair at UCLA


Mickey Katz is a name not well known to most young Americans, or even young American Jews, but his influence on popular culture has been significant. The father of Joel Grey and grandfather of Jennifer Grey was a man ahead of his time, a comedian and musician who eschewed assimilation in favor of emphasizing his Jewishness at a time when to do so was considered out of style. Now, in death, he will continue to leave his mark in music, as his son Ron Katz and Ron’s wife, Madelyn, have endowed the new Mickey Katz Chair in Jewish Music at UCLA, which will be filled by Mark Kligman, a professor of Jewish musicology for whom Los Angeles represents both a homecoming and a new horizon.

Kligman was born in Santa Monica in the 1960s, grew up in Northridge and had his bar mitzvah at Temple Ramat Zion. He and his wife met at California State University, Northridge, after both attended the Brandeis Collegiate Institute, and Kligman was, for a time, music director at Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades. All of which is to say, his roots run deep.

“I would say that I credit a lot of my success to my rich upbringing, eclectic upbringing in Los Angeles,” Kligman said, speaking by phone from his soon-to-be-former home on the East Coast.  

Kligman spent many years in New York, first as a graduate student at NYU, where he earned both his master’s and doctoral degrees and studied the music of the Syrian-Jewish community in Brooklyn, and later as a professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). At HUC-JIR, Kligman spent a lot of time helping to digitize the archives of Eduard Birnbaum, who left the school what may be the largest collection of Jewish music in the world, a collection spanning three centuries.

Kligman plans to continue his work on Birnbaum’s archives at UCLA, but the appointment also opens up a new world for Kligman. “From an academic standpoint, I really thought that this was an extraordinary opportunity to advance Jewish music,” Kligman said of the new position. “This is the first endowed chair in Jewish music in the United States. … There is no other position like this.”

Daniel Neuman, interim director of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, as well as the holder of the UCLA Mohindar Brar Sambhi Chair of Indian Music, expressed excitement at Kligman’s appointment. “Mark Kligman at HUC-JIR occupied the chair that was held by Eric Werner, who along with Abraham Idelsohn, are the two major figures in … early- to middle-20th-century Jewish musicology,” Neuman said. 

“So Mark stepped into a very important seat, even there. … Here, with establishment of a chair, there’s kind of a permanence, a concreteness and kind of a center for the study of Jewish music in a department that includes both ethnomusicology and musicology, that will provide a kind of academic ecosystem really unparalleled anywhere in the world,” he said.

UCLA has an extensive department of musicology and ethnomusicology, as well as a strong Jewish and Israeli studies program, and Neuman believes that will be of great help to Kligman. “I think this is going to turn out to be an exceedingly important appointment, separate from his occupying the chair,” Neuman said.

Kligman agrees. “The advantage that I have in this position is to really use the resources of a big music school to really look at Jewish music.”

The allure of exploring Los Angeles’ Jewish musical history also appeals to Kligman. “There are many wonderful stories to tell about the uniqueness of the music of synagogues in Los Angeles,” he said, in particular what he called “significant Sephardic communities in Los Angeles.”

While Kligman’s main interest lies in Sephardic and Mizrahi music, he also hopes to explore contemporary Jewish music. “Creating new music is something that I’d really want to see happen, as well, and I really hope that through my connections at the music department we can perform works of living composers and provide opportunities to students to really create their own work.”

Neuman hopes Kligman’s work at UCLA will attract graduate students, specifically to study Jewish music. “Mark Kligman comes from the beginning as a Jewish music specialist,” said Neuman, who pointed out that even Kligman’s mentor, the noted musicologist Kay Kaufman Shelemay, began her career studying Ethiopian music and not specifically Jewish works.  

Kligman hopes that, as the holder of the Katz chair, he can show people that Jewish music has both a great history and a great future. “I have always developed the notion that I want to show Jewish music and culture as a living entity. I am concerned with all aspects of the past and present; all are valuable. My emphasis has been to show the vitality and vibrancy of music in Jewish life.”

It’s a vision of which Mickey Katz certainly could be proud. 

Calendar: October 11-17


SAT | OCT 12

“THE HEBREW HILLBILLY”

Yeehaw! Shelley Fisher’s Hollywood journey begins in Memphis, Tenn. — and growing up Jewish in the Deep South with dreams of performing can make for a colorful childhood. This one-woman musical show, with 14 original songs by Fisher, Kenneth Hirsch and Harold Payne, is a deeply personal and hilarious ride. Directed by Chris DeCarlo. Through Nov. 3. Sat. 8 p.m. $35. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. (800) 838-3006. SUN OCT | 13

“A DAY OF JEWISH LEARNING AND MUSIC”

Like harmony? Torah? Community? So does the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music! Come be a part of a day of prospective students, cantorial soloists and cantors. Whether you are there for the new repertoire, the professional networking or the spiritual nourishment, you’ll leave with a tune in your head. The program will be followed by an evening of song and story open to the community. Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. $25. Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Jack H. Skirball Campus, 3077 University Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 749-3424. ” target=”_blank”>theautry.org.

SEDER ARTS NIGHT

Don’t worry, it’s not officially Passover — but that doesn’t mean we can’t create some order. Attend a Nu ART SEDER and help directly fund new, creative and uniquely Jewish or community-led projects aimed to inspire. Attendees get a delicious vegetarian meal and a chance to vote on artists’ project submissions. Sun. 7 p.m. $18. RSVP to sederlosangeles@gmail.com. Gabba Gallery, 3126 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. TUE OCT | 15

“CREATIVE COLLABORATION IN MUSIC AND ARCHITECTURE”

Frank Gehry, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Nicolai Ouroussoff are in discussion about the process of planning, developing and constructing the Walt Disney Concert Hall. With a Harvard graduate and internationally reaching architect, a conductor laureate and former music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and a Los Angeles Times and New York Times architecture critic moderating, the evening will be a special peek into expert passions. Tue. 7:30 p.m. Free (ticket required). Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000. WED OCT | 16

“THE BEETLE”

With his first child on the way, a rusty yellow Volkswagen Beetle and a nervous wife, Yishai Orian did what anyone would do in his position — he made a documentary. Follow the writer/director as he journeys to meet the previous owners of his beloved car, an auto-renovator in Jordan and, finally, his own newborn. Funny, exciting and sad, the documentary is a testament to letting go and moving forward. Wed. 6:30-8 p.m. Free. UCLA, Perloff Hall, Room 1102, Los Angeles. (310) 825-9646. ” target=”_blank”>laphil.com.


THU OCT | 17

GIL HOFFMAN

 

Let’s assume you can’t ever get enough of Israeli political commentary — well, neither can this guy! As the chief political correspondent and analyst for The Jerusalem Post, Hoffman is well connected to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, interviewing every major figure across the Israeli political spectrum. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, he wrote for American papers before joining the Israel Defense Forces and eventually became “the most optimistic man in Israel.” So, listen up — the man has things to say. Thu. 9:30 a.m. Location to be determined. (323) 761-8000. “>performingartslive.com.

Documentary filmmaker has a ‘Hava Nagila’ in her heart


“Hava Nagila” is one of those songs, like “Celebration” and “Auld Lang Syne,” that brings back memories and gets stuck in one’s head. In fact, “Hava Nagila” is so ingrained in American pop culture that many non-Jews can readily identify it, and high-profile non-Jewish recording artists, including Harry Belafonte, Connie Francis and Glen Campbell, count their renditions as a career highlight. 

As filmmaker Roberta Grossman discovered, the circumstances that brought “Hava Nagila” to such widespread recognition are complex. With wit and scholarly research, she takes viewers on “Hava Nagila’s” journey, from its semi-tragic origins in the 19th century Ukrainian village of Sadigora to its nearly worldwide renown as a Jewish anthem today, through “Hava Nagila (The Movie).” 

Opening in L.A.-area theaters on March 15, there will be a March 7 screening and question-and-answer session with Grossman presented by the L.A. Jewish Film Festival and the Jewish Journal at Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills. 

[For tickets to the “Hava Nagila” screening, visit Director Roberta Grossman   Photo by Robert Zuckerman

But when Grossman’s young daughter asked her to “make a happy film next time,” that led the filmmaker to consider making a substantial but entertaining documentary about “Hava Nagila” as a Jewish cultural milestone.

“While we were making it, I realized those ‘Hava’ moments at events like weddings, bar mitzvahs and other family gatherings stamped my soul,” Grossman recalled. “I did not know what the words meant, or know if it was a written song or traditional hymn. While researching and shooting, we encountered fabulous scholars who studied the origins and impact of ‘Hava Nagila.’ This, in turn, made us realize that the song is a window into more than 150 years of Jewish history, culture and spirituality.”   

Grossman and her team found some of the best material for the film by accident. For instance, while shooting footage in Sadigora, Grossman ran into the great-great-great grandson of Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, the Ruzhiner rebbe, who is credited with originating the song as a Chasidic nigun, or wordless melody, in the mid-19th century. (The lyrics were added in 1915 by composer Abraham Zevi Idelsohn.) For more than a year prior to that chance meeting, Grossman had been searching doggedly for a descendant of Friedman to discuss the role of Chasidic life and how it shaped the song’s beginnings.  

“My grandmother said the meeting … was bashert, or mean to be,” Grossman said. “Besides the fact that he spoke eloquently about Jews in Sadigora in the 19th century, he had a foot in the non-Chasidic world and graciously allowed us to film and interview him and to use the footage.”

One of the most profound revelations Grossman experienced while making the film came from interviews with klezmer musicians. 

“At first, I could not understand why they expressed hostility toward the song,” she said. “I eventually realized ‘Hava Nagila,’ for some, represented the disenfranchisement of the old Yiddish klezmer tradition in the way the Hebrew language displaced Yiddish.” 

Although Grossman’s next project will focus on the more somber topic of the secret archives of the Warsaw Ghetto, she makes the point that the widespread embrace of “Hava Nagila” in the ’50s and ’60s was ultimately a direct response to the Holocaust along with the determination of a people to endure and carve out a better life.  

Even with the exploration of the Warsaw Ghetto in progress, Grossman insists she will return to a cheerful topic. In much the way she did with “Hava Nagila,” she plans to examine the cultural impact of “Fiddler on the Roof,” Norman Jewison’s 1971 film adaptation of the Broadway hit. 

Almost like the song that inspired it, “Hava Nagila (The Movie)” has already made a big splash on the film festival circuit both nationally and internationally, including opening the 2012 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. 

“From the first frames on, people were clapping, singing along and laughing,” Grossman said. “There were 1,400 people in the audience at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, as well as three more sold-out screenings. Between July 2012 and March 2013, 55 Jewish film festivals included ‘Hava Nagila (The Movie),’ and about half of these had it open or close their program.

“No pun intended, but this film is really hitting a chord with viewers.”  

Calendar Picks and Clicks: August 11-17, 2012


SAT | AUG 11

NEIL DIAMOND
The Grammy-winning pop-rock icon played a series of sold-out shows at the Greek in the summer of 1972, which led to the multiplatinum double live album, “Hot August Night.” Forty years later, Diamond returns to the Greek stage to celebrate the anniversary of those concerts, performing such hits as “Sweet Caroline,” “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Solitary Man” and “I Am…I Said.” Sat. Through Aug 25. 8 p.m. $49-$250. Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 665-5857. greektheatrela.com.


SUN | AUG 12

SEPHARDIC JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL WORKSHOP
Experts from the film industry—producer Robert Israel (“Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”), documentarian Bette Jane Cohen (“The Spirit in Architecture: John Lautner”) and animator Brooke Keesling (“Boobie Girl”)—present clips of their work and discuss the moments and people who have inspired them. Sun. 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Free. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. RSVP (323) 272-4574. sephardicfilmfestival.com.

“VOICES FROM THE SILENCE”
A new print of 1924 Yiddish silent film masterpiece “Yidishe Glik” (“Jewish Luck”)—based on Sholem Aleichem’s satiric stories about daydreaming entrepreneur Menakhem Mendl—marks today’s 60th anniversary of the executions of 13 leading Jewish literary and civic figures in the former Soviet Union. Los Angeles Times and NPR film critic Kenneth Turan appears in person to introduce the screening. Sun. 5 p.m. Free. Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 389-8880. yiddishkayt.org.


TUE | AUG 14

REGINA SPEKTOR
The Russian-born singer-songwriter puts her multi-instrumental chops on full display on new singles “All the Rowboats,” a haunting sample-driven number, and “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas),” an upbeat piano-pop tune, from her new album, “What We Saw From the Cheap Seats.” Spektor has proven that she hasn’t lost her touch even after six albums. Tonight, she performs with special guest Only Son. Tue. 8 p.m. $39.50-$55. Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 665-5857. greektheatrela.com.


WED | AUG 15

“SHALOM AMIGOS”
The migration of approximately 1,000 Jewish settlers to the Dominican Republic during World War II – and the integration of Jews into Dominican society – forever changed the Caribbean nation. Tonight at the Skirball, an interactive Web documentary examines the relatively unknown history of the Jewish community in the Dominican Republic through the memory of the settlers and their descendants. A Q-and-A with directors Adrien Walter and Emmanuel Clemenceau follows. Wed. 8 p.m. $6 (general), $5 (Skirball members, full-time students). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.


THU | AUG 16

JEWLICIOUS SUMMERFEST
Rock n’ roll meets religion at Jewlicious’ summer camp-style festival for young professionals (18 and over). Taking place over the course of four days and three nights, this annual overnighter features performances by reggae singer Pato Banton, acoustic-pop musician Ari Herstand, Mikey Pauker and others. Activities include horseback riding, mountain biking, late-night Torah learning, and discussions on social entrepreneurship and relationships, among other topics. Thu. Through Aug. 19. 3 p.m. $56-$699. Brandeis-Bardin Campus American Jewish University, 1101 Pepper Tree Lane, Brandeis. (310) 277-5544. jewliciousfestival.com.

DUDAMEL CONDUCTS COPLAND
Celebrated Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Venezuelan pianist Sergio Tiempo in a performance of quintessential American composer Aaron Copland’s four-movement “Symphony No. 3,” which fuses jazz, neoclassicism and modernism. Thu. 8 p.m. $1-$133. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000. hollywoodbowl.com.


Friday | AUG 17

“IT IS NO DREAM”
The latest production from Moriah Films, the Oscar-winning film division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, explores of the life and times of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism. Co-written and produced by Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and directed by Richard Trank, the film features narration by Ben Kingsley and stars Christoph Waltz as the voice of Herzl. “It Is No Dream” follows Herzl as he meets with kings, prime ministers, ambassadors, a sultan, a pope and government ministers in his quest to create a Jewish homeland. Fri. Various times. $11 (general), $8 (children under 12, seniors). Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Laemmle’s Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-3836. laemmle.com.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: August 3-10, 2012


SAT | AUG 4

“THE MUSIC OF JEWISH COMPOSERS”
The ninth annual Beverly Hills International Music Festival features the world premiere of composer Assaf Rinde’s “Meditation on a Sephardic Theme,” performed by guitarist Edward Trybek. Mezzo-soprano Iris Malkin and pianist Jean-David Coen perform pieces by composers Gerald Cohen, Stephen Richards, Max Janowski, Richard Neumann and Daniel Akiva. Pianist Coen performs Joseph Achron’s “Hebrew Melody” with violinist Limor Toren-Immerman as well as Alexander von Zemlinsky’s “Trio in D Minor, Opus 3” with clarinetist Gary Gray and cellist Stephen Green. Festival runs through Aug. 12. Sat. 8 p.m. $25 (general), $15 (seniors, students and Temple Emanuel members). Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. (310) 779-7622. bhmusicfestival.org, panoramaticket.com.

THE BANGLES
Best known for hits like “Manic Monday,” “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “Eternal Flame,” the Bangles perform as part of the Pershing Square Downtown Stage Free Summer Concert Series. Celebrating their 30th anniversary, Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson and Debbi Peterson recently released their newest album, “Sweetheart of the Sun.” Alt-pop band Right the Stars also performs. Sat. 8-11 p.m. Free. Pershing Square, 532 S. Olive St., Los Angeles. (213) 847-4970. laparks.org/pershingsquare.


SUN | AUG 5

“JEWISH HOMEGROWN HISTORY FILM DAY”
The Skirball screens four documentaries that address the richness, complexity and inherent contradictions of the Jewish experience in the modern age. “The Family Album” draws on home movies to capture American family life from the 1920s through the 1950s. In “The Hunky Blues —The American Dream,” Jewish Hungarian filmmaker Peter Forgács uses home movies and archival footage to explore the immigration of Hungarians to America. While tracing the roots of her family, filmmaker Jacqueline Levitin discovers the 1,000-year-old history of a Chinese-Jewish community in Kaifeng in “Mahjong and Chicken Feet.” And while documenting the life of Chasidic Jews living in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles, urban anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff documents her conversion to Orthodox Judaism as she copes with her imminent death from cancer, in “Her Own Time — The Final Fieldwork of Barbara Myerhoff.” Sat. 11 a.m.-3:40 p.m. Free. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

MAGGIE ANTON
Author of the acclaimed “Rashi’s Daughters” series appears at Beth Chayim Chadashim tonight to celebrate the release of her new novel, “Rav Hisda’s Daughter, Book I: Apprentice,” which follows talmudic sage Hisda’s beautiful and learned daughter Hisdadukh. Derailed by a series of tragedies, Hisdadukh must decide if her path lies in the way of sorcery, despite the peril. Klezmer music, food and scholarly words from Anton highlight this book launch. Books available for purchase. Sun. 6 p.m. Free. Beth Chayim Chadashim, 6090 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-7023. bcc-la.org.


WED | AUG 8

“JEWISH COMEDY NIGHT: COAST 2 COAST”
Comedians Wayne Federman (“Late Night With Jimmy Fallon”), Kira Soltanovich (“Girls Behaving Badly”), Mark Schiff (Jewlarious), Avi Liberman (Comedy for Koby) and Laugh Factory regular Ian Edwards perform in one of two stand-up comedy shows on both coasts on the same night. Wed. 8 p.m. $20 (advance), $25 (door). Laugh Factory, 8001 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 656-1336. jspace.com/allevents.


THU | AUG 9

ORQUESTRA SARABIA
Blending traditional Jewish and Arabic songs with Afro-Cuban rhythms, Cuban composer and percussionist Roberto Juan Rodriguez’s 10-piece ensemble of Cuban, Jewish and Arabic musicians performs tonight at the Skirball. Part of the museum’s “Sunset Concerts” live music series. Arrive early to dine under the stars, tour the Skirball’s galleries and explore the museum’s architecture and hillside setting. Thu. 8 p.m. Free (concert), $10 (parking per car, cash only). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.


FRI | AUG 10

“NOBODY LIKES JEWS WHEN THEY’RE WINNING”
Playwright Maia Madison’s comedy follows interfaith couple Sarah and Patrick, who want to get married and live happily ever after, so long as Sarah’s Jewish family never finds out. Examining the ways in which Jews are portrayed in Hollywood and how pervasive these stereotypes are, the play explores the larger themes of family, intimacy and self-determination. Part of the Open Fist Theatre Company’s fourth annual First Look Festival, a celebration of contemporary theater. Fri. Through Sept. 8. 8 p.m. $20. Open Fist Theatre Company, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 882-6912. openfist.org.

‘Upper West Side Story’ – The Groggers [MUSIC VIDEO]


Online memorial service for Debbie Friedman scheduled for Sunday night [RECORDED VIDEO]


[UPDATE] This is a recording of a live broadcast from Sunday night, January 9, 2011.

The JCC of Manhattan will broadcast a live memorial service at 5pm PST tonight to remember the late ” title=”JewishJournal.com/debbie_friedman” target=”_blank”>JewishJournal.com/debbie_friedman.

 

Trumpeter gives cantorial classics fusion makeover


Ten years ago, this would not have been: Steven Bernstein, a jazz trumpeter whose most popular bands include the Sex Mob and a Kansas City-style big band, leading a group playing jazz-inflected cantorial tunes. But at a recent Sunday night gig at the Jazz Standard in New York, Bernstein was doing just that.

The show debuted Bernstein’s new album, “Diaspora Suite,” recently released on the Tzadik label, and by far his most original. It is Bernstein’s fourth album in the Diaspora series, which began in 1999 with the debut of the popular “Diaspora Soul” album. But unlike the previous three albums, where Bernstein took standard Jewish songs like “Rumania, Rumania” and “V’Shamru” and infused them with jazz rhythms, the latest album features entirely original Jewish melodies.

They are inspired by cantorial songs, but none are exact copies, and all are combined with the psychedelic sounds of 1970s jazz-fusion bands. Think Mahavishnu Orchestra laced with a Koussevitsky hymn.

“I never felt like I wanted to define myself as a Jewish musician,” Bernstein said, sitting at the bar of the Jazz Standard a few hours before his show. “My identity hadn’t been defined yet.”

Bernstein, 46, was referring to his early years as a musician in New York in the 1980s. He moved from Berkeley to attend Columbia University but dropped out after two years, spending most of his time playing with jazz groups downtown. He first gravitated toward Haitian and Latin bands but eventually became a member of a prominent punk rock and jazz-fusion band, Lounge Lizards, in 1990.

When Bernstein founded Sex Mob five years later, all these influences coalesced: a bit of Caribbean clave, the electronic instrumentation of fusion bands, even the hard-rocking sounds of new bands like Nirvana.

So when John Zorn, the pioneering musician and founder of the Tzadik label, approached Bernstein in the mid-’90s about doing a Jewish album, Bernstein hedged. The only Jewish songs he knew were from his bar mitzvah, and, he recounted, “I was really just a sideman.”

Sex Mob, which was nominated for a Grammy in 2006, was still in its infancy. Bernstein made a living playing in the ensembles of greats — Lou Reed, Sam Rivers, Levon Helm. “Basically I worked for other people,” he said.

Which made Zorn’s proposition seem like a mixed blessing — it offered Bernstein the opportunity to make his first album as a bandleader, but it might pigeonhole him as a “Jewish” musician. So he sat on it for a while, choosing first to produce a record with Sex Mob in 1998.

Meanwhile, his research for Robert Altman’s film, “Kansas City” (1996), for which Bernstein composed the score, hovered over this whole period. In addition to Sex Mob, he founded the Millennial Territory Orchestra in 1999, which was inspired by the marching bands that originated in New Orleans and moved into the Midwest territories.

“I was reading all these books about New Orleans [and] I was really thinking about all that history,” Bernstein said.

All along, Zorn kept asking about the Jewish album. And then it hit him at a bar mitzvah. “Chuzen Kalah Mazel Tov,” which he was playing for the bar mitzvah gig, had the same basic melody as “St. James Infirmary,” a jazz standard.

“I just started playing it like it was a New Orleans tune,” he said.

Not long after, he called Zorn and told him about the odd event. The Diaspora project was born.

The first album, “Diaspora Soul,” was released in 1999 and continued in the Bernstein tradition of fusing a smorgasbord of genres into a cohesive whole. “Diaspora Soul” mainly mixes cantorial, Jewish wedding and holiday tunes with the tropes of New Orleans marching bands, the Afro-Cuban cha-cha and bata rhythms and a few psychedelic riffs.

The album was a hit. National Public Radio, Down Beat and a host of other media outlets gave it enthusiastic reviews. To date, it has sold more than 10,000 copies, an impressive amount for an independent record, and for Bernstein, second only to a Sex Mob album of James Bond covers, he said.

After the surprise success, Bernstein went to work on a second Diaspora album, producing “Diaspora Blues” in 2002, which took more Jewish songs and put them to the blues. Two years later, Bernstein produced “Diaspora Hollywood,” taking inspiration from Jewish composers in 1950s Hollywood and combining their aesthetic with traditional Jewish songs.

Now comes “Diaspora Suite,” an entirely new venture. Zorn said that he wanted Bernstein to produce all original work, which meant no covers.

Instead, Bernstein drew from the Jewish cantorial melodies he has studied closely — those of Koussevitzky and Rosenblatt, mainly — plus the sounds of the Jewish Diaspora he’s absorbed while playing abroad in Spain, Moscow and even Ireland.

“I played in a bombed-out synagogue … in Cork, Ireland, in a pub,” Bernstein recalled.

There’s no shame in the Shondes’ melodious yelling


Eight Jewish albums hit high notes in ’07


At the risk of sounding like Walter Cronkite, what kind of a year has it been in Jewish music?

It’s been a very good year, though you wouldn’t know it from this annual compilation of five-star records — there are only eight this year, the fewest in the decade I’ve been doing this. Long-time stalwarts like Joel Rubin and Budowitz released new records, another wave of Israeli jazz musicians has been getting lots of work and Jewish musicians are bending that hyphen that separates genres into a pretzel. Finally, even if it was a year with only eight five-star albums, it was also a year in which there were a lot of 4 1&’8260;2-star efforts, and that is good news.

As Cronkite would say, “That’s the way it was in 2007.” Have a good 2008!

Balkan Beat Box: “Nu-Med” (JDub). Say what you will about post-modernism in other areas of endeavor, but in music, it has been a delicious wake-up call, a practical example of the (admittedly few) benefits of globalization. And Balkan Beat Box, with their second album, are the poster boys.

This set is a glorious mash-up of bhangra, Bedouin and Balkan brass; swirling reeds; and skirling turntable scratches. In short, it’s world hip-hop with a strong Middle-Eastern flavor, danceable in the extreme and endlessly inventive.

Budowitz: “Live” (Golden Horn). A decade or so ago, the klezmer revival pushed the pendulum from the New World to the Old Country, and an increasing number of bands began to explore music driven by violin and cymbal, rather than brass and reeds. Budowitz was one of the spearheads of that new approach.

This all-instrumental, double-CD live set, recorded in Switzerland in late November 2005, is a superbly played introduction to that sound for those who are not yet familiar with it. The bulk of the 33 selections are traditional tunes arranged by band members, with seven originals that blend in quite nicely.

If you didn’t look at the track listings, you wouldn’t know which songs were written in the 21st century and which were handed down through generations. Budowitz draws its repertoire from across the map of Jewish Eastern and Central Europe, and there isn’t a stale tune in the bunch. This is a set worth a seven-year wait.

Anat Cohen and the Anzic Orchestra: “Noir” (Anzic). Released simultaneously with “Poetica,” this set features Cohen, mainly on sax, dipping into a repertoire that deftly combines standards with her beloved Brazilian jazz — how about a medley of “Samba de Orfeu” and “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue”?

The big band behind her features some very familiar New York City names — Ted Nash; Cohen’s brother, Avishai; Ali Jackson Jr.; and Erik Friedlander, among them — and the charts by Oded Lev-Ari remind me of the delicious blend of funk and elegance that distinguishes Gil Evans or Bob Brookmeyer.

Although it is her session, Cohen is very generous with solo time, and there are telling contributions from many of the players. But the centerpiece is Cohen, stomping hard on tenor (“No Moon at All” and a combustible “Cry Me a River”), making creative use of the clarinet’s lower register (“La Comparsa”) and generally swinging hard throughout. Don’t look now, folks, but this is the calling card of a major new jazz voice.

Peter Himmelman: “The Pigeons Couldn’t Sleep” (Himmasongs). Himmelman is back with another set filled with brawny rockers, ranging from the funkified 12-bar blues of the title tune to the lacerating guitar-driven lurch of “A Dog Can Drink Stagnant Water.”

As usual, his lyrics are somewhat cryptic but unmistakably carry a heavy charge of spiritual self-evaluation. Certainly, there can’t be a more appropriate line for the Days of Awe than, “There comes a time to mend your way, and that time is now.”

Most of the songs are terse and punchy, with sudden, unexpected flashes of a lyricism Himmelman keeps concealed most of the time. You have to love a guy who can use a word like “exhalations” in a lyric, then follow it with a coruscating guitar solo.

The CD comes with a DVD of an hourlong documentary about Himmelman, “Rock God,” which displays his rather unexpected humor, frequently self-deprecating and always charming.

The Joel Rubin Ensemble: “Midnight Prayer” (Traditional Crossroads). Like the Budowitz set, this is Old World-style klezmer, albeit with Rubin’s clarinet providing the main voice and the presence of trumpeter Ferenc Kovacs adding a little more heft. The set was recorded in four days at the Operetta House in Budapest, and several of the band members are Hungarian, but the tunes are drawn from the historical treasure trove of Soviet-era field work by Moshe Beregovski and his predecessors in the An-Ski Expeditions.

The set has a delightfully jaunty feel to its klezmer numbers, starting with the up-tempo section of the opening track, “Khabno,” while the other musical source of the recording, Chasidic nigunim, provides a soul-wrenching counterpoint. Rubin is in fine form throughout but particularly electrifying on the nigunim and, most of all, on the title tune, where he weeps with the best of them.

I particularly like Claudio Jacomucci’s lithe accordion lines and interplay between cymbalom master Kalman Balogh and the violinists, Sandor Budai and David Chernyavsky. I realize that Rubin is busier than ever with his teaching, writing and producing duties, but I hope we don’t have to wait 10 years for another recording of his own masterful playing.

Metropolitan Klezmer: “Traveling Show” (Rhythm Media). There used to be two complaints about live rock albums. Either the band just played their greatest hits exactly as they had on record — who needs a live recording that’s nothing but a reprise of the studio, only with the mistakes intact? Or they indulged their arty sides with long, dull solos.

Old-line klezmer wasn’t as much of an improviser’s art as, say, jazz, but contemporary new klez is much more so. And that means that a live set like this new one from the Metros is welcome.

JDub worldwide concerts add synergy to the season


The buzzword in business circles is synergy. That’s what JDub Records was looking for when it began to think about its third annual Chanukah event.

And when Daniel Brenner, vice president for education at the Birthright Israel
Foundation, told JDub heads Aaron Bisman and Jacob Harris that he was interested in doing a project with the nonprofit music label, the buzz of synergy filled the air.

The result is the most ambitious Chanukah program yet for the label, a set of concerts planned Dec. 8 around the world — Los Angeles; New York; San Francisco; Seattle; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Moscow; Mumbai; Tel Aviv; Rio de Janeiro; Toronto; Sydney, and possibly others — as a way of reminding Jews of their global connection to one another and a good reason to party in earnest.

“We knew we wanted to do something bigger and better, and Birthright came at the
right time,” said Harris, the label’s vice president. “Birthright has all these
alumni on the ground, so we’re expanding our reach. And we’re bringing them a
quality program for their alumni.”

Brenner admitted that his original concept was a bit grander, perhaps a little
too much so.

“I had the wildly ambitious idea of doing this all around the world on the same
night in 50 cities,” he recalled with a laugh. “I had to be talked off that
cliff. I certainly wanted the global Jewish peoplehood theme, which is one of
the things Birthright people get to experience in this one night.”

In a sense, he noted, that is the key to the whole Jewish experience, the
fellowship feeling that exists despite the Diaspora.

“We’re blown to the different corners of the world, and here we are seeing one
another for the first time. I wanted to recreate that feeling on one night,” he
explained. “The secular analogue was Dick Clark and the New Year’s ball dropping
around the world. I wanted that global sensibility. This is something in which
we are all together on this special night.”

While the Clark analogy still holds, the result is slightly more modest,
although the program has continued to expand during the planning stages.
For Birthright, JDub was the perfect partner.

“I felt that JDub had already cultivated such a great group of Israeli and
American artists, this would be one way to kick-start this thing,” Brenner said.
“And they’ve gone beyond their own bands and found some exceptional talent for
this.”

Bisman noted: “Our Chanukah efforts have often been about launching new bands,
but this is obviously different. We wanted to hit significant audiences in a lot
of different places at once. We tried to design shows that make sense of each
city.

“We knew, for instance, that for San Francisco, we wanted to get Apollo
Sunshine, because their indie-rock sensibility blends so well with the city’s.

We want to make interesting shows. It was not easy, but it was fun,” he added.
Ultimately, it always comes down to what is possible.

“It depends on who’s available on the date and who’s in town,” Bisman said, “We
wanted to have more Israeli bands involved, but to fly in an Israeli band for
one show is just impossible.”

The choice for Los Angeles is a particularly interesting one. The headliners are
JDub artists Balkan Beat Box, who have played the city several times before. And
the presence of one-half of the Israeli rap group, Soulico — the other members
will be at the New York concert — makes perfect sense, since both groups offer
spirited Israeli takes on hip-hop.

So why not have the Cambodian surf-rockers, Dengue Fever, play on the same bill?
It may seem counterintuitive, but both Harris and Bisman think the blend is
perfect.

“The pairing speaks to the overall mission of JDub, promoting new Jewish music
and cross-cultural dialogue,” Harris said. “[Dengue Fever’s] manager is Jewish;
they are an indie-rock world music collective that is very interesting. They
reached out about playing with BBB and Golem [another JDub band] specifically.”

And what they’re doing with Cambodian music is related: “There’s a rich ethnic
history and a sense of being a Diaspora music that doesn’t fit within the
mainstream Western world”

“With Balkan, you need another band, a bunch of different voices,” Bisman added.
In general, JDub has been working to expand its presence in Los Angeles. In the
past year, it has hired its first full-time staff person for Los Angeles, and,
as Harris noted, “We’re trying to get local artists involved, doing parties like
we did when we got started in New York, and our bands are going to be doing a
lot more West Coast touring.”

Although the label’s Los Angeles profile was already simmering, JDub expects it
to blow up very big with this event.

“I think L.A. is going to be the biggest party of all the Chanukah shows,” Harris predicted. “I expect there will be nonstop dancing on the eighth.”

The Los Angeles show, featuring Balkan Beat Box, Dengue Fever, Soulico and the Festival of Rights, will take place on Dec. 8 at the Echoplex, 1154 Glendale
Blvd., Los Angeles. Doors will open at 8 p.m.; show will begin at 9 p.m. For
more information, phone (213) 413-8200 or visit http://www.goeight.com.


Balkan Beatbox live in France

For listening, for giving — klezmer and its cousins



Romashka Live at Joe’s Pub

After two consecutive years of a mailbox clogged with new Chanukah music, this year seems to have produced a drought of latkes-candles-and-dreidel epics. No matter. There are plenty of terrific CDs around that will make good gifts for those who do the December festivities thing, or you could buy them for yourself (you selfish thing).

There is a phrase we use in my house to denote any music that makes you move your lower limbs almost involuntarily. We call this “wiggle music,” and the following selection features some very potent examples of the genre. If a winter dance is on your agenda, you could do a lot worse than to throw a couple of these in your CD player and hit shuffle. Or better yet: “wiggle.”

Metropolitan Klezmer, “Traveling Show” (Rhythm Media)

There used to be two complaints about live rock albums. Either the band played their greatest hits exactly as they had on record (Who needs a live recording that’s nothing but a reprise of the studio, only with the mistakes intact?) or they indulged their arty sides with long, dull solos. Old-line klezmer wasn’t as much of an improviser’s art as, say, jazz, but contemporary New Klez is much more so. And that means a live set like this new one from the Metros is welcome. The band swings hard, everyone has ample solo room and plenty to say. There’s even a track from Eve Sicular’s other band, Isle of Klezbos. In short, this is what a live set should be: great fun.

http://www.metropolitanklezmer.com/.

The Polina Shepherd Vocal Experience (featuring Quartet Ashkenazim), “Baym Taykh” (Oriente)

This dazzling new recording is a distinct change of pace from what I usually hear (I get to listen to a lot of new Yiddish music, which can be a positive or a negative depending on the recording). The songs are all originals, composed by Polina Shepherd and sung by Shepherd and a quartet that includes her and husband Merlin Shepherd (who also contributes memorably on reeds and guitar), Yana Ovrutskaya and Evgenya Slavina. This is elegant chamber music that dances nimbly from postmodern a cappella to jazz to art song without missing a beat. A beautiful, frequently moving CD. You can’t dance to it, but you can listen for hours without losing interest.

http://www.polinashepherd.co.uk/

Blue Fringe, “The Whole World Lit Up”
(Craig ‘n’ Co.)

These guys have developed an ardent cult following, and it’s not hard to see why. With their hook-filled soft rock featuring inflections of The Beatles, The Eagles and The Byrds, Blue Fringe has found a plausible vehicle for their religious feelings, and their music is both thoughtful and danceable. Not my favorite genre, personally, but they do it well. I prefer the rockers, especially when the lead guitarists — to borrow a phase from boxing — let their hands go. Nevertheless, a satisfying set from a rising band.

http://www.bluefringe.com/

Gail Javitt, “Like a Braided Candle, Songs for Havdalah” (self-distributed)

A nice idea for a record, compiling songs relating to Havdalah, and the result is a pleasant if unexceptional recording. Javitt has a sweet Debby Friedman-like voice; I wish she would use the lower part of her range more because it’s quite expressive, while the top is a bit thin. The material is a solid mix of the familiar (“A Gute Voch,” “Birhot Havdalah”) and the somewhat more unusual. I’m particularly fond of the Sephardic “Hamavdil” that opens the set.

http://www.zahavamusic.com/

Klezamir, “Warm Your Hands” (self-distributed)

Fourth album from this excellent Massachusetts-based quintet sees them proceeding without vocalist Rhoda Bernard. The result is a more instrumental-oriented set, but like their previous CDs this opens with a butt-shaking number, “Undzer Nigundl,” powered by a strong rock beat from drummer Keith Levreault. After that it settles into a more traditional groove, but the results are very satisfying.

http://www.klezamir.com/

Romashka, “Romashka” (self-distributed)

A wildly swinging set from this excellent Gypsy-cum-klezmer-cum-Balkan-brass-band aggregation. I saw Romashka live in a superheated little bar about a year ago and I was curious whether any recording could capture their insane level of intensity. From the rocketing opening of “Mariana,” the first cut on their new set, through some smoldering, smoky vocals by Inna Barmash to a pounding “Moldovan Batuta,” this is as full of energy and thrills as any studio set can be. Particular kudos to Ron Caswell, whose tuba provides a bouncing dance floor for both this CD and the Slavic Soul Party set reviewed elsewhere in this column.

http://www.romashka.net/

Chana Rothman, “We Can Rise” (Oyhoo)

Here’s a promising debut from Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Chana Rothman. She offers a heady mix of liturgically based hard folk-rock and reggae-inflected and hip-hop informed rockers, all originals. She reminds me of a young Basya Schechter without the Middle Eastern influences, and her best writing (“Ana,” “Gates of Justice”) is quite good. Her rapping isn’t quite there yet — too many eccentric rhythmic choices that disrupt her flow — but I’m definitely looking forward to watching her evolve.

http://www.chanarothman.com/

Slavic Soul Party, “Teknochek Collision” (Barbes Records)


This is a wildly swinging amalgam of Balkan brass band, Gypsy and klezmer elements, with as many swerves and twists as a mountain road. The fusion of disparate elements is seamless, not a surprise if you consider how much these various traditions share. As the band’s name suggests, this is great party music, so grab a bottle of Slivovitz and a friend and dance.

http://www.slavicsoulparty.com/

‘Tent’ meeting showcases new spirit of synagogues


A crowd of 4,500 gathered recently at the ornate Fox Theater in Atlanta for a celebration of Jewish spirit and synagogue life that can accurately be described as a Jewish tent meeting.

“Hallelu Atlanta” was an extraordinary moment in the history of one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in North America. The afternoon gathering held significance, meaning and purpose far beyond what may have appeared to be simply a concert featuring a who’s who of Jewish music.

One of the greatest cantors of our generation, Alberto Mizrahi, opened the program with a Sephardic version of “L’cha Dodi” and a Yiddish lullaby. Theodore Bikel, a sprightly 80-something, transfixed the crowd with his set, while a 20-something Joshua Nelson led a 200-voice community youth choir in a song about the Jewish future.

Actress Mare Winningham stunned the crowd when she shared the tradition’s teaching that all converts to Judaism are to be considered as if they, too, were present at Sinai, as she launched into a country music “Convert’s Jig.”

Nelson, a third-generation black Jew from New Jersey who teaches Hebrew school when not performing, sang a gospel-infused “Adon Olam” that raised the roof. Neshama Carlebach channeled the legacy of her late father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Rounding out the roster were Debbie Friedman and Craig Taubman, perhaps the two most influential composers of contemporary Jewish music. Taubman, the producer, assembled an array of talent reflecting the diversity of age, gender, race and background of the audience, itself a mirror of the current demography of the American Jewish community.

So what?

It was the purpose of the event that made the difference between a Jewish hootenanny and a celebration of synagogue and spirit. It was the culmination of a yearlong series of Synagogue 3000 workshops on membership outreach and inreach for the clergy and lay leadership teams of 20 Atlanta-area congregations from across the denominations.

Virtually all 4,500 tickets were sold exclusively in blocks of seats by the congregations themselves to enable synagogue members to sit together, much like a political convention. This created a “community of communities” in the hall.

The transliterated words of all the songs were projected onto a huge screen to facilitate the “congregation” to sing along. The themes of the songs — “From Generation to Generation,” “Return Again, “Sing a New Song” and “One People” — were carefully chosen.

A live blogger, Yo Yenta (www.yoyenta.com) documented her reactions to what was transpiring on the stage. A tribute to Yitzhak Rabin on the anniversary of his assassination, which included the singing of “Hatikvah,” left many in tears.

Videos of congregants sharing their often hilarious reflections on synagogue life tickled the audience of mostly synagogue members.

The climax was the honoring of professionals who serve synagogues and the blessing of those who support synagogues, led by the combined choirs of the Atlanta congregations and their cantors and soloists.

Certainly, when 4,500 Jews experience something together, there are bound to be at least that many opinions about what happened. Some complained about their seats; others worried about security. One critic thought there was too much “1980s music,” while some wanted more nostalgia. Others could not believe that the artists sang only two songs, when each could easily carry a full concert.

They didn’t get it.

But many of the leaders of the community did. They stood among the core memberships of Atlanta synagogues who had assembled to celebrate the joy of being Jewish — not to commemorate past tragedies, not to debate why our numbers are declining, not to evaluate responses to a crisis, not to demonstrate for a cause, but to celebrate.

They witnessed hundreds of children and adults from individual choirs join their voices in a communal choir. They gathered in a popular and venerated public venue, not in a sanctuary. They brought their friends and prospective new members to witness the new spirit that animates many synagogues today.

They left the event elated, uplifted, honored and energized to continue the important work of transforming our synagogues into sacred communities of spirituality, committed to deepening the relationships between the members and their congregations and between each individual and God.

“The workshops and ‘Hallelu Atlanta’ celebration were truly a gift to our community,” said Mark Jacobson, executive director of The Temple. “Moreover, the project has challenged and stimulated a conversation at all levels of communal leadership about how to sustain the ‘Hallelu’ spirit in the synagogues and community.”

Something else is at work here. In our study of the evangelical megachurches, we have observed the power of large-scale gatherings. While a congregation, such as Saddleback Church in Orange County, holds six religious services on the weekend — attracting 5,000 people at each — our congregations rarely have more than several-hundred people at a service.

The exception, of course, is the High Holy Days, when we offer many hours of worship to large crowds. Even then, we hardly ever sit together in one “tent,” experiencing the thrill of feeling part of a larger community of communities.

I commend the synagogue leadership in Atlanta for having the courage and vision to create a more welcoming community. And for those communal leaders and funders who ask why we cannot develop ways to emphasize the joys of Judaism, the meaning and value of community engagement and the new spirit animating those congregations who are working hard at becoming welcoming sacred communities, the experience in Atlanta is worthy of consideration and emulation.

Dr. Ron Wolfson is president of Synagogue 3000, a national institute for congregational leadership and synagogue studies research. He is the best-selling author of “The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform Your Congregation Into a Sacred Community” and “God’s To-Do List” (Jewish Lights Publishing).

Master of musical fusion blends klezmer with salsa


These days, the world is constantly getting smaller, and musical styles don’t respect national or traditional boundaries. Matisyahu, for example, has made a name for himself by fusing Eastern European Chasidic strains with Jamaican reggae.

At the Skirball recently, Chango Spasiuk performed songs that combine his Ukrainian heritage with his Argentine upbringing. Practitioners of world music are constantly exploring ways to fuse disparate musical strains in new and interesting ways.

Given all that, it should not be a surprise that there is a new group that combines klezmer with salsa. Odessa/Havana — “The Explosive Jewish/Cuban Musical Mash-Up” — a musical project that brings together these two musical traditions in a jazz context will perform at the Skirball Cultural Center at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29.

During a telephone interview, David Buchbinder — the Jewish jazz trumpeter who founded the group and who composes (or co-composes) much of its music — said that he first felt the close ties between Jewish and Latin music many years ago.

“Even in my early days of playing klezmer,” Buchbinder said, “I heard the connections and noted that they shared modes and scales, similar melodic approaches, a strong rhythmic drive and deep spiritual underpinnings”

Twenty years ago, Buchbinder was in a recording studio, laying down tracks for a klezmer CD.

“I was working a chorus into one of the pieces,” Buchbinder said, “when a merengue tune came out,” referring to the exuberant merengue music and dance from the Dominican Republic.

He included that merengue-style in the finished product. “This made perfect musical sense, and it remained in the back of my mind.”

In 2006, Buchbinder was nominated for a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) and was asked to put together a musical group for radio concerts. He invited pianist Hilario Duran — a fellow Juno nominee, originally from Cuba — to join him.

“The musical idea in getting together with Hilario,” Buchbinder said, “was not necessarily to fuse klezmer and Cuban but rather to create and play jazz that has both influences in it.” And, indeed, their music, as heard on the promotional CD, is rich and complex, embodying elements that Jewish and Cuban music have in common: from foot-tapping, celebratory joy to moments of profound dirge-like sadness.

“The musical associations [between Jewish and Cuban music] are many-faceted, multilayered and rich indeed,” Buchbinder said, “rooted in their common ancestry on the Iberian peninsula and sharing Arabic, Roma — Gypsy — Sephardic and North African forebears…. After the expulsion of the Jews [from Iberia] … a minority went to Eastern Europe, so that stream flowed into Yiddish culture.”

Buchbinder’s first Canadian concerts with Duran, who also lives in Toronto, were sold out, and people were turned away, which is unusual for a new musical project.

“I think what happened,” he said, “is that people found the idea fascinating. I also think that Jews have been mightily attracted to Cuban music for many years. The Miami association, the whole mambo craze in the 1950s, was fueled by the American Jewish community.”

Buchbinder and Duran have composed music specially for Odessa/Havana. “People who attend the concert,” Buchbinder said, “can expect high-energy, unique music that is rich, dramatic, intense, challenging but ultimately very accessible.”

Buchbinder gives part of the credit for bringing different streams and traditions together to Toronto, which, he said, “Is truly a multicultural city…. It’s an incredibly diverse atmosphere, a rich mix of different cultures. And a mix between cultures.

“Toronto is moving … to what I call post-multiculturalism…. At first, the attitude was that one should celebrate one’s own culture, which meant looking backward toward the culture that people came out of. But then it changed, and now people are dedicated to creating new, unique art that combines different streams in new ways.”

Buchbinder practices cross-cultural fusion not just in his musical life but in his private life, as well. He’s married to Roula Said, a dancer-musician-actress.

How did he meet his wife?

“I met Roula in the large, floating group of musicians and performers that are part of the Toronto scene…. We knew people in common and met at a party about eight years ago. We liked each other and took it from there. She’s of Palestinian-Christian background. We have a daughter who’s 4 1/2. Some people can’t imagine how we did it, but we’ve aligned in life.”

Buchbinder and Said have also aligned in their art.

“We’ve worked together on several projects,” he said. “‘Feast of the East,’ which brought together different musical groups from the Middle East. And we did a series of concerts: ‘Imagine the Sound of Peace.'”

Both personally and professionally, Buchbinder is the master of fusion.

Odessa/Havana will perform on Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-4500

Matisyahu — reggae king without a crown?


Has Orthodox reggae star Matishayu severed his ties with Chabad-Lubavitch? Is he a bad influence on religious youth? And is he still frum?

Blogs have been buzzing over these questions since Matisyahu appeared to distance himself from Chabad last month.

“My initial ties were through the Lubavitch sect,” he told Miami New Times. “At this point I don’t necessarily identify with it anymore. I’m really religious, but the more I’m learning about other types of Jews, I don’t want to exclude myself. I felt boxed in.”

In the article, Matisyahu — who’ll perform in Irvine on Aug. 19 — said that to prepare for concerts, he prays and meditates, then sips wine and listens to rapper Jay-Z.

Some Orthodox readers saw red: “I’m officially off the Matisyahu fan club train,” Chaim Rubin wrote in his “Life of Rubin” blog.

“His lyrics no longer really reflect deep Jewish spirituality, and his behavior onstage is becoming increasingly secular,” Rabbi Levi Brackman wrote on his blog. “Now that he has publicly distanced himself from Chabad-Lubavitch, I am admitting that I was wrong to ever promote Matisyahu. It is my hope that he keeps his faith and does not go off the deep end and thus take others with him.”

Other bloggers fiercely defended 28-year-old Matisyahu. Y-Love, an Orthodox rapper, said that the musician is experiencing the typical growing pains of a baal teshuvah: “The first few years after making the transition to Torah are often marked by a lot of soul searching.”

Matisyahu could not be reached for comment, but previously has said he spent part of his youth as a self-professed “Deadhead,” taking hallucinogenic drugs and following Phish on tour. He became observant around 2001 after discovering Chabad, and has become perhaps the quintessential frum hipster, performing songs that merged Jewish spirituality with popular music. Billboard named him top reggae artist of 2006.

Around the same time, the musician raised eyebrows when he left his managers at JDub records, a company that promotes Jewish artists; at that point he said he left for more experienced representation. If he is again sparking debate, it’s perhaps because some of his appeal lies in his efforts to bridge two very different worlds — the fact that he, at times, has difficulty navigating them means he is only human.

Chabad insiders interviewed say bloggers have taken Matisyahu’s recent quotes out of context — and blown them out of proportion. They say that the artist is continuing to stay with (and pray with) Lubavitch friends and rabbis at times on his current tour. At a recent concert, Matisyahu reportedly alluded to the New Times controversy, then, as if to answer questions about his Judaism and his feelings about Chabad, he launched into a Lubavitch melody.

Rabbi Chaim Cunin, CEO of Chabad of California, said he first met Matisyahu before the musician performed on the national Chabad Telethon several years ago where Matisyahu sang his hit “King Without a Crown” and some Chasidic niggunim (melodies).

The two men have kept in touch since.

“Matisyahu is a beautiful, honest, straightforward person, and he is largely misunderstood by the Jewish community, especially those who obsessively follow his every move on the Internet,” Cunin said. “When he became a household name, he never saw himself as an official representative of Chasidis, or Chabad or the Jewish faith. He’s a man who is on a very personal spiritual journey, and he’s sharing that in a creative and meaningful way with the world. That’s why people connect with him, and that’s something that should be embraced.”

Cute, menschy boy bands make traditional tunes cool


In June 2005, the Backstreet Boys released “Never Gone,” an album filled not with the teeth-rotting pop confections of the group’s youth, but with songs of a more adult contemporary style. To date, the disc has sold some 3 million copies — huge numbers for most bands, but a far cry from the 30 million copies of “Millennium” that the group moved easily in its heyday. The album’s relative failure marked a turning point in mainstream music — Backstreet wasn’t selling, *NSYNC had disbanded and nobody ever really cared what happened to 98 Degrees. The era of the boy band was officially over.

In the pop world, that is. In the Orthodox world, it had only just begun.
Male performers have always dominated the Jewish music scene — the kol isha prohibition against men hearing a woman sing saw to that. Adult male-dominated groups, like Schlock Rock and the Neginah and Neshoma orchestras, have been mainstays at weddings and bar mitzvahs for decades. But recently the popularity of such ensembles has fizzled out, and Jewish audiences have warmed to a new sound, the sound of boy bands.

In the past five years alone, such bands as Six13, Chai 5, Shalsheles, Bsamim and The Chevra all have achieved varying degrees of fame. Each band is composed of between three and six young, cute guys who sing songs about God, dance as well as anyone can expect Jewish boys to dance and harmonize their way into the hearts of yeshiva girls everywhere.

But why such popularity?

Simple, said Nachum Segal, host of “Jewish Moments in the Morning,” a radio show airing on Jersey City, N.J.’s independent station WFMU. “The Orthodox community likes the traditional stuff. Even the kids are buying only slightly more contemporized versions of the traditional stuff.”

And nothing says traditional and slightly contemporary like a quartet of freshly scrubbed, yarmulke-topped singers praising Hashem in perfect harmony.

At a recent Six13 concert at Makor, a performance space in New York City, the band members, dressed identically in blue jeans, white shirts and blazers, sang songs from their eponymous debut album, periodically peppering their scripture-heavy a cappella arrangements with more mainstream hits, like Matisyahu’s “King Without a Crown.”

“I hate to admit it,” said Six13 musical director and founding member Mike Boxer, “but we’re six young males standing on a stage with microphones, and though our choreography isn’t that extensive yet, we do dance. We are indeed a boy band.”

Although Boxer doesn’t like the term, he also doesn’t feel that the image hinders the group in any way.

“Typical boy bands are all about putting their voices on top of canned music,” he said, noting that if Six13 had any vocal weak spots, they would not be masked easily by some smooth dance moves. “We’re an a cappella group. We are the music.”

Unlike Six13, some groups readily embrace the oft-detested moniker. On its Web site, Chai 5 actually promotes itself as “The Jewish Boy Band.”

“The term was popular a couple of years ago,” said Chai 5 producer and manager Benji Rafaeli, a crafty businessman who brings to mind Lou Pearlman, a well-known Svengali who created Trans Continental Records and managed *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys, among other boy band sensations. Rafaeli formed Chai 5 by placing ads in Jewish newspapers to seek out young male performers.

“Now I usually just say ‘Jewish band,'” he said.

Rafaeli explained how he “noticed that the Jewish market was in need of some good, soulful music and some happy songs.” He found four 20-something men, taught them a few melodies and quickly sent them out to find fame on the “day school and shul circuit.”

Rafaeli writes and produces all the band’s music, and even occasionally appears onstage alongside the members to bask in the spotlight and hear some teenage girls scream.

Yes, many a religious girl has been known to make a fool of herself at a boy band concert, screeching her favorite guy’s name at the top of her lungs, getting overwhelmed at the very sight of the group or being 100 percent positive that the lead singer made eye contact specifically with her while performing the big hit of the night.

“If I was single, I’d probably enjoy that aspect of this a lot more,” Six13’s Boxer joked.

Whatever the reason for the proliferation of Jewish boy bands, one thing’s for sure — we won’t be saying bye, bye, bye to them for quite some time.

This article originally appeared in the missFlag shuns politics for love in Israel’s indie rock scene

Fairfax Shops Feel the Squeeze


A venerable Jewish business in the Fairfax District has received a short-term stay of execution. Hatikvah Records, an internationally known vendor of both popular and rare Jewish music, will remain open at 436 N. Fairfax Ave. until mid-January, despite earlier reports that its closure was imminent.

A sizeable rent increase had threatened to close the shop by Oct. 15, but Simon Rutberg, who has owned 51-year-old Hatikvah since 1989, said he’s been allowed to pay at his current monthly rate a few months longer.

“The owners did not want me to lose the Chanukah season and were good enough to extend through it,” Rutberg said, adding that Chanukah is when he moves the most merchandise.

Rutberg expects to shutter his storefront soon after and switch to selling via the Internet only.

The fate of Rutberg’s shop could play out all along Faifax Avenue as rising property values and rents threaten to force out traditional merchants who have given the street its Jewish flavor. A string of businesses across the street from Hatikvah are struggling to hold on since their building was sold and their rents raised.

Picanty grocers, run for 18 years by 77-year-old Nori Zbida, is being squeezed by a monthly rent increase of $850, boosting it to $3,771 — a lot for a business that caters to locals looking for kosher groceries and Hebrew-language newspapers. Arnold M. Herr Bookseller will be out early next year; Solomon’s Bookstore is threatened; and the National of Council of Jewish Women has acknowledged a steep rent increase for its shop space.

The building that houses Hatikvah Records changed hands in June. Fairfax Avenue LLC purchased the property with support from lender Harkham Family Enterprises, a company that has been involved in several land purchases on Fairfax, including the property across the street. A precipitous rent raise for Hatikvah was to take effect first in August, then in October — until the latest postponement.

But one way or another time seems to be running out.

“I lament it,” said Stephan Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society.

He has childhood memories of driving in from the San Fernando Valley with his parents to the Fairfax District and recalls how Hatikvah Records defined the very atmosphere of the area.

“You would hear the music blaring out down the street,” he said. “It was very special.”

 

B’nai B’rith Radio Launches on Web


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Headphones on, face pressed against the microphone in a cramped cubicle, the leader of one of the best-known Jewish organizations in the country is reliving his youth.

Well, sort of.

“This is B’nai B’rith Radio, and I’m your host, Dan Mariaschin.”

Mariaschin is far from the 50,000-watt radio station where he used to be a disc jockey in Keene, N.H., from the time he was in high school. But he also is far from his current day job as executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International.

Throughout the workweek, Mariaschin leaves his spacious Washington office for the makeshift radio studio down the hall, and spends several hours recording promotions and other messages for the first Internet radio station devoted to world Jewish music.

“I always wanted to get back into it, and I never saw the possibility,” Mariaschin said of his radio career. “Once I started in the Jewish community, there wasn’t a possibility.”

But now there is. Mariaschin and other B’nai B’rith officials hope the fledgling station, launched in October, will connect younger Jews to their organization and the world of Jewish music.

The approach is novel, considering that the music and the format appeal to wildly different audiences. Older Jews, more accustomed to the types of music B’nai B’rith Radio offers, are less likely to be online and using Internet radio. Younger Jews, who are more accustomed to listening to music on their computers, are less attached to Jewish musical genres.

Mariaschin, who hopes his station can bridge the two groups, has been reaching out to members of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization and Hillel, and is using genres of Jewish music that go far beyond Debbie Friedman.

“We’re trying to bring Jews together,” Mariaschin said. “And it’s introducing a whole new generation of Jews to what B’nai B’rith is.”

During one week recently, the station had more than 20,500 listeners. Listeners can log on and, within minutes, be listening to an eclectic mix of Israeli, Yiddish, cantorial, klezmer and even Hebrew new age and hip-hop music. There also are plenty of mainstream artists, such as Kenny G., Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond.

“We’ve been such a musical people, we’ve been such a creative people,” Mariaschin said. “The beauty of Jewish music is that something is there for everyone.”

While it may sound like Mariaschin is spinning Jewish records round the clock, the playlist actually is preprogrammed and runs 24 hours a day.

The music plays seven days a week, but Mariaschin’s voice is not heard on Saturdays, in observance of Shabbat.

That’s just one of the quirks that Jay Garfinkle, B’nai B’rith’s director of communications and the station’s program director, has had to deal with in formatting a radio station for the Jewish community.

Before joining B’nai B’rith, Garfinkle produced television programs. Now, with his son, Elon, he is working to create a lineup of music that will air throughout the day and night, and will be different every time someone logs on. He also is researching biographical tidbits that Mariaschin reads throughout the broadcast on the artists and the music.

The program allows viewers to get the latest news headlines from JTA, and even purchase the music they are hearing via Amazon.com.

“The music is for 20-somethings,” Garfinkle said. “There’s a lot of rock here and a lot of jazz.”

Garfinkle said the music is “too hot” to be piped into the community centers and senior citizen homes that B’nai B’rith operates.

Station creators have lofty goals: They would like to have broadcasts in Spanish and French and intersperse news reports and other features, perhaps including sports and children’s programming.

The main goal, however, is to move the station from the Internet to satellite radio, where they hope to find a wider audience.

“It’s limitless in terms of what we can do,” Mariaschin said. “The real challenge is to bring the audience in.”

Another challenge is finding the time to keep the station running. In the current setup, all of the staff is working on the radio project in addition to their normal duties at B’nai B’rith.

Garfinkle and Mariaschin both say that for their vision of the project to become a reality, additional funding and staff will be needed.

For now, however, Mariaschin is content being the voice of the fledgling station.

“My experience in radio is very positive,” he said. “I like the spontaneity of radio, and music is very important to me.”

To hear the station, visit bnaibrithradio.org.

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7 Days in the Arts


Saturday

Find yourself laughing tonight as Debbie Kasper and Sheila Kay perform their two-woman show, “Venus Attacks!” Their parody of New Age gurus and seminars and self-help Mars/Venus philosophizing had critics raving when they performed the show in 2001. Don’t miss it this time.Runs through Nov. 7. 8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.), 2p.m. (Sun.) $15-$20. Hudson Avenue Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 960-5521.

Sunday

Unabashed Bush bashing begins today with the inaugural lecture in the Workmen’s Circle’s series “The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy: Unmasking, Understanding and Defeating It.” Renown author, lecturer and journalist John Powers discusses “George Bush’s America and the Rest of Us.”2 p.m. $6-$10. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 552-2007.

Monday

And the hits just keep on coming in “The Future Dictionary of America,” newly released by McSweeney’s. With suggested new words by nearly 200 writers and artists including Michael Chabon, Art Spiegelman and Jonathan Safran Foer, the book is also accompanied by a CD featuring songs by musicians including REM, Tom Waits and David Byrne. Proceeds benefit organizations that oppose the current presidential administration.$28. store.mcsweeneys.net.

Tuesday

Philosophy and art converge with today’s opening reception of “Too Jewish-Not Jewish Enough” at The Jewish Federation’s Bell Gallery. The exhibit highlights 23 works by Jewish Californian artists whose work is influenced by their faith, and who have taken part in the Jewish Artists Initiative and dialogued for the past nine months on what it means to be a Jewish artist.6-8 p.m. Free. 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 761-8352.

Wednesday

Sabra pianist Daniel Gortler comes to the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts stage. Gortler has collaborated with the likes of Zubin Mehta, Valery Gergiev and Pinchas Zukerman, and performs solo works by Beethoven and Mendelssohn tonight only.7:30 p.m. $10-$20. 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. (800) 300-434

Thursday

Tune that radio dial to K-Mozart tonight at 10 p.m. for the first in the 13-part series, “American Jewish Music from the Milken Archive with Leonard Nimoy.” This episode offers a series overview, featuring conversations on the question of whether there is such a thing as a distinctly Jewish kind of music, as well as highlights from the various musical themes to be explored later on – including biblical epics set to music by Kurt Weill and other musicians, Jewish legends in tone poems, film scores, operas and klezmer music.105.1 KMZT FM. www.milkenarchive.com.

Friday

Opening tonight is Michel Deville’s, “Almost Peaceful.” Set in 1946 Paris, the film tells the story of Holocaust survivors working in a ladies’ garment workshop. They struggle to live with survivor’s guilt and the trauma of all they have endured, while at the same time they fervently try to embrace life.Laemmle’s Royal Theatre, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 477-5581.

The Circuit


The Touch of Kotton

The apparel industry is not just about sartorial splendor. On Nov. 22, the aptly named Issy Kotton, and the less-aptly named Fred Lionetti both received the Apparel Industry Humanitarian of the Year Award at a black-tie gala at the Beverly Hilton.

Kotton is a Bel Air resident and senior partner with BDO Seidman, LLP, in Century City, where he specializes in apparel, manufacturing/distribution and technology. Lionetti is the senior vice president of Continental Business Credit in Woodland Hills. Both are members of the Professional and Financial Association, currently known as the Apparel Industries Group for City of Hope.

The event raised $275,000 for the National Jewish Medical and Research Center (NJMRC), a nonprofit and nonsectarian institution, which is the only medical and research center in the United States that is devoted entirely to respiratory, allergic and immune system diseases — including asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema, severe allergies, AIDS, cancer and autoimmune diseases such as lupus. The NJMRC is one of the wonderful types of institutions that treats all patients regardless of their ability to pay.

Book ‘Em, Carl

The Robert F. Kennedy Medical Center in Hawthorne made Chanukah shopping for your favorite bibliophile easier by hosting its 27th annual Book Affaire luncheon at the Ritz Carlton in Marina del Rey on Nov. 21, which raised $2.5 million for its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Carl Reiner, Carol Channing and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. were among the many authors promoting their books at the benefit.

Reiner was doing double duty by signing both his children’s book, “Tell Me a Story … But Not Too Scary!” and “My Anecdotal Life,” a memoir about his career as a comedian and director. So what fueled his success in the entertainment industry?

“What inspired me is life and people I’ve met along the way,” Reiner said.

And while the 2,000-year-old man may believe that Saran Wrap is humanity’s greatest gift to itself, Reiner puts his support behind another great accomplishment: books.

Author and musician Barney Saltzberg was also in attendance promoting his new children’s book and CD, “The Soccer Mom From Outer Space,” in which a young boy learns his mother is an alien. His plans for the upcoming holiday? “Latkes and opening presents,” he said. — Alena Barrett, Editorial Intern

The Desert and Oz

Israeli author Amos Oz delivered the keynote address at the American Associates, Ben-Gurion University 2003 Tribute Dinner on Nov. 16. The dinner honored the Magbit Foundation of Greater Los Angeles, and Vilma and Ivan Halaj received the Lifetime Support Award for their Halaj Family Foundation.

Ben-Gurion University, located in the Negev in Israel, has more than 17,000 students, and is one of the institutions that has helped transform what was once a desolate wasteland into a valuable resource for Israel’s security, economic growth and social progress. It has become one of Israel’s major centers for biotechnology and high technology and is also a university that takes its communal responsibilities very seriously.

“It’s one of the only universities that requires its students to participate in community action before graduating,” said Israel-Christian Nexus founder Shimon Erem, who was at the dinner with his wife, Danielle.

Also spotted in the crowd: playwright Dan Israely, who told The Journal that his new play, “Orgasms,” was very funny; Dr. Steven Teitelbaum, American Jewish Congress Pacific Southwest Region president; and Murray Fromson, director of the USC journalism school.

Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis, was the master of ceremonies at the Skirball Cultural Center dinner, while Deputy Consul General of Israel Tzvi Vapni brought greetings from the Holy Land.

Movable Minyan Moves

The name Movable Minyan conjures up an image of some itinerant worshippers who go from place to place bringing prayer wherever they go, but actually the Los Angeles minyan has just parked itself at its new home at 8330 W. Third Street. On Nov. 30, singing and dancing Movable Minyan members escorted two Torah scrolls on a 1.8-mile march through the streets of Los Angeles to the new premises during a traditional haknasat Sefer Torah.

The Movable Minyan is a nondenominational group that conducts lay-led, egalitarian services, with an emphasis on group and individual participation. Children get their own sessions at the Movable Minyan on Shabbat morning, where they are encouraged to learn and lead through art or dramatic interpretation. Services are conducted the first and third Saturday of every month at 10 a.m.

For more information, call (310) 285-3317.

Good as Gold

Beverly Hills-based Stanley P. Gold, the president and CEO of the Burbank-based Shamrock Holdings, Inc., has been in the news a lot lately since he and his longtime ally, Roy Disney, recently resigned from the board of directors of The Walt Disney Co.

But even without his Disney credentials, Gold is still a very influential figure in the Jewish community. On Dec. 4, he was one of the honorees at the Israel Policy Forum’s (IPF) 10th Anniversary Dinner in New York, where New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman delivered the keynote address. Friedman spoke about what America should do to salvage the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Stephen P. Cohen, IPF national scholar and diplomat, and David Makovsky, senior fellow and director of the Middle East Peace Project at the Washington Institute for Middle East Policy, also addressed the crowd.

The IPF also honored Seymour D. Reich, senior partner at Gallet Dreyer & Berkey, LLP and psychologist Yaffa Martitz and offered special recognition to both Lord Michael Levy, who acts as a personal envoy and adviser on the Middle East to Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Lady Gilda Levy, who is active in education, public affairs and the Jewish community in Great Britain.

Vive La Veterans!

There are more than 30 veterans of the armed forces living in the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA), and on Nov. 11, Veteran’s Day, the JHA saluted them in a special presentation of drama and song in its main dining room. The event was far from somber, and it uncovered some hitherto undiscovered nonagenarian talent — 96-year-old Grandma Rapper, a.k.a. Lee Glanzer, who rapped “Gunner Jim’s Rap Poem.”

Other highlights included Dorothy Scott, 80, who read “Thank You Dear Dad,” World War II letters from a daughter, and the JHA’s men’s glee club (which includes four veterans) sang a variety of service songs, including “Mariner’s Hymn,” “Anchors Away,” “The Caissons Go Rolling Along” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

Play It Again, Shlomo

For people who love Jewish music, the late Shlomo Carlebach is a legend. He composed hundreds of songs that have become such an entrenched part of the synagogue liturgy that it would be almost impossible to imagine davening without them. His warm and embracing approach to Judaism inspired thousands to become more in touch with their religion.

On Nov. 22, the Happy Minyan — Los Angeles’ own Carlebach-style minyan, held its ninth annual Memorial Concert in Honor of Shlomo Carlebach in the main sanctuary at Congregation Beth Jacob. The cream of Los Angeles’ musical talent performed, including the Moshav Band, the Happy Minyan Band, Avshalom Katz, Sam Glaser, Neil Seidel, Gregg Fisher, Yedidyah Blanton with Phil “P.F.” Sloan, Yisroel Koch and Etan G., the Jewish Rapper. The music managed to fire everyone up — at several points in the night there was dancing in the aisles going on.

A number of guest speakers, including David Sacks, Stuart Wax, Darlene Rose, Rachel Espana and Olivia and Shlomo Schwartz (a.k.a. Schwartzie), shared their memories of Carlebach with the crowd.

‘Tis the Season

‘Tis the season to be giving and to feed the homeless, says West Coast Chabad Lubavitch, which teamed up with the Hard Rock Cafe in Los Angeles on Thanksgiving to feed hundreds of homeless people.

Chabad brought in kosher food and koshered the service line in the kitchen, while the Hollywood Food Coalition bused in people from shelters all over Los Angeles. Volunteers from the Chabad Drug Treatment Center came to help serve and clean.

Rabbi Shimon Kashani and his wife, Vered, of the Southern California Jewish Center also got into in the giving spirit by joining forces with the annual Thanksgiving Food Basket Distribution Program provided by the 98th Street Community Youth Organization and donating more than 50 turkeys to needy families in South Los Angeles. And, to make Thanksgiving even sweeter for those families, Kashani also donated cars.

“This outreach is our new annual venture to bridge together the regional, social and ethnic groups in this city, with the thought that if we begin at home, we can bring the message to all,” Kashani said. “There is much wisdom and knowledge to be shared between our communities and the Southern California Jewish Center has taken this first step to reach out to the inner city.”

Where Religion Meets Bohemia


“What on earth is that?” asks Jordan, a 27-year-old actor in Los Feliz.

He is staring at a dancing rabbi on a flatbed truck that is inching its way down Vermont Avenue, one of the main boulevards in Los Feliz.

Vermont has a certain bohemian air about it. Like Jordan, many of the people on the street — and there are a good number of them lounging around in the outdoor cafes — are artists of some kind, and quite a few look like they are transplants from Haight Ashbury. Most are wearing as little clothing as possible in the 90 degree heat, so the vision of a man in full rabbinical regalia (black hat, frock coat, long pants and beard), dancing to loud Jewish music blaring from loudspeakers on a truck, is curious, to say the least. Especially since the rabbi is being followed by a parade of about 200 people, who are singing along to the music and clapping their hands. A few of the them are holding a velvet chuppah, and one is bobbing along with a Sefer Torah in his hand.

The parade is to honor a new Sefer Torah that was donated to Chabad of Greater Los Feliz, and this scene — of the Russian shtetl coming to one of the hippest neighborhoods in Los Angeles — is an incongruous one, but to the Jewish community in Los Feliz, it is not uncommon. “Every Shabbos, we make it look like central La Brea and Fairfax,” says Rabbi Leibel Korf, 30, (the dancing rabbi) who came to Los Feliz four years ago to open up a Chabad house under the auspices of Rabbi Shlomo Cunin. “People sitting in the cafes who see us are amazed that this is Los Feliz.”

Chabad of Greater Los Feliz, located on 1727 N. Vermont Ave, ‘107, caters to what Korf calls a “unique” community. Like the rest of the population of Los Feliz, the Jews who are attracted to the neighborhood tend to be involved in artistic endeavors. “A lot of them are in the movie business,” Korf says of the 40 members who attend weekly, and the hundreds who come for holiday events and parties.

Los Feliz gained its artistic cachet years ago, when cheap rents attracted swarms of starving creative types who could not afford to live anywhere else. They gave the neighborhood its cool quotient. Now, as the neighborhood is becoming known as an up-and-coming, trendy place to live, the rents are rising, pushing out the types of people who gave the neighborhood its flair in the first place.

“Los Feliz has changed a lot since I moved here five years ago,” says Seth Menachem, 27, an actor who is a member of Chabad of Greater Los Feliz. “It’s now heavily gentrified, and the rents have skyrocketed. But still, it is not your typical doctor-and-lawyer community. People are more laid-back here, and you can feel the difference.”

Menachem, who was raised Reform, was attracted to Chabad of Greater Los Feliz because of its spirituality. However, he finds that Chabad house is as good a place for networking as it is for praying. “I’m working with two people who I met through Chabad on a TV show,” he says.

For Brooklyn-born Korf and his wife, Dvonye, Los Feliz was the realization of a lifetime goal. “My entire life I would sit at the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s farbrengens [talks] and he would tell us that we had to share Yiddishkayt with others,” he says. “I dreamed that I would come to a neighborhood that was completely different to being in a frum [religious] environment, and I would be able to share with the people there the great treasure that we have — the Torah.”

The new Sefer Torah, donated on June 23, was donated by Lisa Brahms, who passed away last July. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Brahms had started searching for spirituality and started studying with Korf.

“The weaker she was getting the more she was adopting spirituality, and she felt that her dying was a mission,” Korf says. “She totally transcended to a deeper appreciation of life, and so she wanted to share this with other people, which is why she commissioned a scribe to start writing the Sefer Torah.”

Chabad of Los Feliz will host “Jews in the Lotus,” Today’s Quest for
Spirituality And the Lure of the East, on Wednedsay, July 24, at 7:30
p.m. Featuring Rabbi Kravitz, founder of Jews for Judaism.

Cantors Sing a New Song


If Jewish Los Angeles seemed a more melodious place in late June, you can thank 250 of the Reform movement’s sweet singers of Israel, who gathered in Beverly Hills to celebrate Jewish music and share their knowledge, skills, and repertoire.

The 47th annual convention of the American Conference of Cantors (ACC) and the Guild of Temple Musicians (GTM), the first to be held in greater Los Angeles since 1982, met June 25-29 at the Beverly Hilton. Participants included Reform cantors and cantorial soloists from across North America, plus a smattering of synagogue music directors and organists.

The programming covered the full range of musical styles now being offered in – or proposed for – Reform synagogues, with an emphasis on West Coast composers. “We wanted to let people know that this is where it’s happening,” said Cantor Sam Radwine of Congregation Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes, a member of the convention’s local planning committee.

Much of the week’s activities reflected the trend toward synagogue music that’s easily singable by congregants and that incorporates contemporary sounds, including Craig Taubman’s popular “Friday Night Live” music and Cantor Steve Puzarne’s Tish Tones, a instrumentally and stylistically eclectic ensemble that has proved popular at Puzarne’s synagogue, Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica.

Almost as strong a current throughout the convention as the musical character of Reform worship was attention to the role of the cantor, which has expanded, especially in how it’s perceived by rabbis and congregants, since many of the ACC members began their careers.

While many cantors have long worked with religious school children, helped prepare adolescents for Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and made hospital visits, it’s only recently that congregations have come to view cantors as educators and counselors as well as singers. “When I started out… I felt like a jukebox, where every time we needed a song, a quarter would be put in, and ka-ching, it was time to sing,” said Cantor Judith Rowland of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, a past president of the ACC.

“I think in today’s modern congregation, the cantor is more and more perceived as a partner in the clergy role of educating, moving, touching each and every member with his or her own individual expertise,” Rowland added.

The cantor plays a crucial role in Jewish lifecycle events and in healing rituals, said Anne Brener, a psychotherapist who has written extensively on caregiving and bereavement and who lectures at Hebrew Union College. “Cantors work with people at the most profound moments in their lives,” she said.In a workshop titled “The Cantor as Counselor,” Brener told participants of the need to create a “healing space” between themselves and the people to whom they’re listening. “More than just about anybody, I think cantors have the tool to create this space, which is your music,” she said.

Similarly, Arlene Chernow, Reform’s regional outreach director for the Southwest, led a workshop on the cantor’s role in welcoming mixed families and converts to Judaism. “Music is one of the places where the connection is made,” she told participants, adding that cantors are often seen by non-Jews in a congregation as more approachable than rabbis and therefore should have their radar up for people who need a supportive temple leader.

“I think the congregation sees their cantor now… as a person who they can come to for counseling, a person who they can come to for solace, who they can depend on in time of need and joy, someone who carries their prayer with [his] own,” said Cantor Scott Colbert of Temple Emanu-El in Atlanta.The 2000 ACC/GTM convention provided glorious music and collegial interaction, plus new tunes and ideas to share with congregations. As Cantor Linda Ecker of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley, another member of the convention’s local planning committee, said, it was meant to send participants home “refreshed, revitalized and ready to roll.”

No one expressed the role of the cantor better than Samuel Kelemer, cantor emeritus of Temple Beth Am and a founder of the ACC, who became a chazzan before he became a bar mitzvah and was honored at the convention’s Wednesday night banquet for more than 70 years in the cantorate. “I’m happy to say that I helped thousands of people feel closer to God,” Kelemer said. “It’s more than a calling – it’s a privilege.”

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