Yiddish poems from ‘Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles’

Eybiker yam —Eternal Sea

by Rosa Nevodovska, From Azoy vi ikh bin (As I Am)  – 1936, Translated by Miri Koral.

Sea, sea, eternal sea! I’ve come to speak with you today –
To grasp your endless striving, your wordless ceaseless talk…
Cramped in town, I'm here to part ways with the city’s restraints ,
And beside you, sea, I seek truth, beside you today I seek accord.

My eyes calm in the vast expanse. Your ceaselessly striving is nearby —
Wide as your waves, sea, is my little human heart.
Our cities, like you, oh, sea, brim with people and life—
Multicolored are our lives …and at times night-black.

What will you, my sea, what will you impart today?
Are you truly freed? Or are you stifled by your endless coast?
Waves and foam and noise—in infinite, tumultuous haste—
Between continents in continual back and forth.

Listen, listen, sea, to my human-tongue!
And let your vast waters rock my anguish and my ache.
My sadness that near you is stilled and quenched like sun,
Hangs over me again in town — as din, as echo, as scream.

Sea, eternal sea! I’ve come to speak with you today —
To grasp your endless striving, your foamy, ceaseless talk.
I stand beside you, sea, unable to take my leave;
Your endless unrest, like mine, seeks and is unable to find accord.

Rosa Nevadovska was born in the Polish border town of Bialystok in 1890. In 1928, she arrived in New York and shortly after moved to Southern California where she rented a beachside apartment for $12 a month in Venice, which Yiddish-speaking residents referred to as “baym yam” – by the sea.


Tsum vildn mayrev zing ikh –  I Sing To the Wild West

By Henry Rosenblatt, From Mayrev no. 1 February 1925, Translated by Hershl Hartman.

Our ash-grey covered wagons did not move on,
Not drawn to you over white Sierra defiles.
We supplicated in our prayers
The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob,
Not bending our heads over loaded rifles.
It wasn’t our tents, ignited by your red-skinned foes,
That burned under your steel-blue, night-frigid sky,
On your black-bodied prairies
As fresh, red-bloodied wounds.
It wasn’t our arms, browned by the sun,
That, over clouded streams,
Shook your wet gold-sand in copper sieves.
It wasn’t our blood that streamed
From your bloodied scalping knife
On our chalk-white, expiring lips.
It wasn’t we who, mute, with bowed heads of sinners,
That dug the first grave in the desert.
It wasn’t our herds, flaming with thirst
And swollen by hunger,
That fed your blood-thirsty ravens.
It wasn’t our spines that bent over the manes
Of your hot-blooded broncos in wild gallop.
We did not dance with brown lasso-ropes
Against your buffalos’ anger-laden eyes.
It wasn’t our feet that were first to carve out the paths
Over your mountain-land.
It wasn’t our hands that first strewed
The towns and cities across your brown flatlands.

How can broken spines,
With which dust-grey peddler-sacks are laden,
Sway elastically to the rhythm of your gold in your copper pans?
How can the hands that held the wandering rod for generations and generations
On all the condemned roads of the Exile
Combat your copper arms and steel fists
And scalping knives?

We waited and waited and waited
Until our ears perceived
The blue songs of your steel-lightning rails —
The dance of the red-eyed devil with its disheveled locks of hair.
We were intoxicated by the steel-blue, white-wind wild singing,
The devils-dance under the whirlwind, smoke-brown, spark-veils —
Our bloods are poisoned,
Poisoned by the poison of the yellow metals!

We heard that your gold-sand has been washed out,
Cleansed of filth and purified of transgression;
We heard:
Your prairies, they lie like cattle after a fat, satisfying grazing —
Full-bellied, heavy-bodied, rose-color uddered;
We heard:
Your forests and gardens and orchards
Go on, enwrapped in eternal summer.
Your hills protrude like young, newly-developed, pointy breasts.
Overfilled with brown-blue milk…
We heard
That your nimble, red-skinned hee-ya,
Like a bear on a chain in the hands of a gypsy,
Dances drunkenly in your multicolored circus bedlam.
And your hot-blooded broncos go humbly yoked to garbage wagons.

The tomahawk, bow and scalping-knife have long
Decorated the shelves of your museums.
Your copper-poured, dark-brown-eyed buffalos
Stroll about in your zoos among multicolored peacocks.
And your many-colored fields —
They lie, ordered by brown-blue, snake-crooked streets.
Your villages and cities protrude out
From under your earth-skin below
Like mushrooms in the field after a warm rain.
And over the dark hill-silhouettes
That cut against your steel-blue, western-shore sky,
There drag the erased shadows
Of your white-grey covered-wagon caravans.
The fires lit on your brown-bronze prairies
By your red-skinned foes —
Barely, barely flicker while darkly enmeshed in the folds
Of your bundle of a multicolored swirl of peoples.

We, too, will be confused in the maelstrom of your big city streets,
We, too, will be blown about by the hot whirlwind
Of your nimbly-oncoming generations.
But a generation of ours will arise, still
Over the ash-hills of your long-extinguished generations,
As Phoenix arises from its own destruction and fire
With colorful, widespread wings —
Young, nimble, new!

Born near Lodz in 1878, Henry Rosenblatt’s big break came when he saw his poems published in Forverts, America’s larges Yiddish-language newspaper, which still prints today as The Forward. Moving to California in 1921, he soon became a prominent figure in the Yiddish cognoscenti as the editor of the Pasifik literary journal. Many of his poems provide vivid descriptions of the places and people of Southern California.

Poems reprinted with permission from the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies.

Poet ponders what transpired after photographer’s shutter clicked

The 1913 photograph by August Sander on the cover of Adam Kirsch’s third book of poetry, “Emblems of the Passing World: Poems After Photographs by August Sander” (Other Press), shows two young women in high-necked blouses gazing at the camera over cups of morning coffee. One sits back, possibly suspicious of the photographer. The other, certainly the wilder of the two, leans her head on her hand, looking both bored and defiant. They are, according to Sander, “Small Town Women.” 

In Kirsch’s poem of the same name, when he writes about the two:

“In this small parlor where the window’s shut

Airtight and only beams of light convey

News of the world beyond the haven that

They are condemned to occupy all day”

–the news beyond this room is the approach of what will become known as the first world war. 

The women are in Germany, probably near Cologne, the home base of the photographer, who is also German. The photo is early work from what some see as a particularly German project, called “Menschen des 20 Jahrhunderts” (“People of the 20th Century”), which Sander intended to be a comprehensive documentation of the German population, classified by social “type.” One thousand eight hundred of these portraits, made mostly in the 1920s and 1930s, survive. 

In 2004, Kirsch encountered 150 of them at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and began to imagine a project of poems about them. The pictures of ordinary German people surrounded by the emblems and implements of their everyday work lives, he says, “made the warp of history visible.”

Kirsch’s poems take the pictures’ subjects into the complex and troubled world that came after Sander’s shutter snapped. A baby in his flowered gown grows up to die in battle. A young butcher dresses up to have his picture taken, even

“Though in the closet hangs an apron flecked

With bits of brain beside rubber boots

Stained bloody brown from wading through the slick

That by the end of every workday coats

The killing floor he stands on.”  

(“The Butcher’s Apprentice,” 1911-14.) 

Kirsch is a poet and literary critic from a family of literary journalists (his father, Jonathan Kirsch, is an author and the Jewish Journal’s book editor and critic, and his grandfather, Robert, was an editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review). Until recently, Adam Kirsch was a senior editor at the New Republic. Currently, he oversees a graduate program in Jewish studies at Columbia University, and, among his many responsibilities, he writes a weekly column for Tablet on studying Talmud. 

He spoke by phone from Berkeley, where he was preparing to give a talk on Jewish literature. After a technological glitch, when the audio recording of his conversation with the Journal vanished, Kirsch graciously agreed to write responses to the same questions. 

Jewish Journal: Some reviewers talk about the poems bringing the people in the pictures to life. Is that what you are doing here? How would you describe the relationship between the poems and the individuals in the photographs?

Adam Kirsch: Often I am thinking about what the future of these people’s lives would have been like. Because these photos were mostly taken in the 1920s and 1930s, there is a huge historical shadow looming over them, and it’s impossible to see these people without wondering what kind of role they would play in Nazi Germany and the second world war. With other photos, I’m reflecting on the kind of life that creates the person we are seeing — whether it is a beggar, as in “Match-seller,” or the contented middle-class women who are on the cover.

JJ: In our phone conversation, you talked about looking for humanity in the face of the enemy. You’re not just looking back in time but looking back at Germans as a Jew. How do you see the relationship between German history and these poems? 

AK: For me, the Holocaust is a constant subtext of the poems. The people in the photos are, broadly speaking, “the perpetrators.” However, by seeing them in these pictures as individuals, you begin to wonder about the connection between an individual and a mass phenomenon like Nazism, and about what culpability these specific people bear for what is about to happen. Some of them will be monsters, other bystanders; some might even have been dissidents. Is history something we create, or something that happens to us? At the same time, I chose not to write about Sander’s photos of actual Nazis in their uniforms because I didn’t feel up to addressing such people head-on in poetry.

JJ: The formal, carefully constructed poems in “Emblems” seem well matched to Sander’s portraits, which are are almost stark in their directness, but also intriguing. In your introduction to the poems, you write about this duality: “Nothing human can be so static. Inside the social function … inside the clothes and accoutrements … there is the face. “ The book consists of 46 photographs matched with 46 poems. How did you choose which of the pictures to write about? 

AK: I didn’t have a rule of thumb about which pictures to use; I looked through the catalog (which is massive, with about 600 photos) and waited to see if an idea or a possible approach came to me. I was looking for photos that gave rise to a further story or idea, where I felt that I could add something to the image.

JJ: How did you use the pictures while you were writing? 

AK: After studying the photo, I seldom went back to it while writing the poem; I didn’t want to actually describe the picture closely, but to take it as inspiration for something new. 

JJ: You said some didn’t work out. Looking back, do you have thoughts about why? Was any part of the project particularly a struggle? 

AK: Sometimes there were poems I couldn’t bring together, or that once finished struck me as not interesting enough. I don’t think I could name a common theme, though. … I had no certainty while I was writing that I would actually be able to publish a book with the photos — I was extremely fortunate that Other Press wanted to commit to producing this kind of a book, and that the August Sander Archive was willing to work with us to make it happen.

JJ: Your poems are interested in the question of how others see us and what of us can be seen. You talked about issues of complicity and what we 21st-century Americans might be seen as complicit in, viewed 50 years from now. How aware do you feel the people in the photographs are of their place in history? 

AK: One thing these photos show, for me, is how much of fate is out of our hands, a matter of chronology and demography. In a photo of a baby boy born in 1920, you know that he will grow up to be in the Hitler Youth and to fight in the German army during World War II — maybe much worse. Yet, of course, he didn’t choose to be born in that time and place; his fate was generational. Sander’s photos raise the dilemma of how we feel free, in our individual lives, yet [which] are actually determined to a great extent by history and circumstance. That conflict is one of the themes of the poems.

Poem: On Her Deathbed, Bessie Beckoned My Mother Close

Once, a pocket was not attached to a woman’s clothing,
but tied around
her waist with a string or tape.

It would contain cellar keys, a paper of pins, a packet of seeds, a baby’s bib,
a hank of yarn or a Testament.

Or enough money to be buried,
so she would not burden her family.

Published in “5AM,” Spring 2006

Patty Seyburn has published four books of poems. Her most recent is “Perfecta” (What Books Press, 2014). She is an associate professor at CSU Long Beach.

Chana Bloch’s new poems on art, life and the old world

Great anticipation and much pleasure always accompany the release of a new book of poetry by a major poet. This certainly is the case for Chana Bloch's “Swimming in the Rain, New and Selected Poems 1980-2015” (Autumn House Press). The book includes 29 new poems and includes selections from four previous collections.

There are a wide range of themes in the section of new poems, from those about art: “Late Self-Portrait” after Rembrandt, and another on Courbet, to those about everyday life, Berkeley rain and an animal “scrabbling up in the rafters,” to “Hester Street, 1898” and  a poem describing the Bronx in the early 1970s. A number of the poems are looking over the shoulder at the “old country,” while the persona firmly stands in the 21st century. In “White Heat,” Bloch quotes her grandmother saying, “If you feel a storm coming, cover your head /and pray” which comes before a wonderful line in the last stanza, “I’m afraid of safety.”  

The title poem, “Swimming in the Rain,” moves from the narrative of a day's outing to a broader metaphor “Half the stories / I used to believe in are false.” In many of Bloch's poems, there is a biblical echo, as in the end of the poem:

… and sunlight


falls from the clouds

onto the face of the deep as it did

on the first day


before the dividing began.

These poems are never afraid of danger or honesty, of examining stories and myths, whether biblical, historical or personal. Many of the new poems examine a future which, inevitably, is also an ending. However there is a delight in the every day, in nature and in unexpected new love.

In poems from “Mrs. Dumpty” (1998), included in the new book, Bloch reimagines the story from the wife’s perspective, but there is a broader metaphor here about women's role in society and a chronicle of a man’s mental illness and marriage falling apart:

And now he’s at my door again, begging

in that leaky voice,

and I start wiping the smear

from his broken face.

People tend to read to poetry as autobiographical. That is a mistake, because there's always imagination, invention, attention to language and metaphor at work. Still, it's tempting to look for insight about a poet’s life. In “Twenty Fourth Anniversary,” Bloch writes, “There is that other law of nature / which lets the dead thing stand.” The first section ofMrs. Dumpty” seems to celebrate romance, but there is often an ominous cloud hovering nearby. In “Act One,” Bloch contrasts newlyweds with Hedda Gabler: “We are just-married, / feeling lucky. // But Hedda—how misery /curdles her face.”

“Blood and Honey” (2009) is well represented here, as well. A mix of humanity and intimacy infuses that collection. One extraordinary poem, “Brothers,” reimagines the Russian fairytale figure of Baba Yaga, a witch with the legs of a chicken. Here the persona is the poet stalking and chasing her two young sons: “They shivered and squirmed my delicious sons / waiting for a mighty arm / to seize them.” The contradiction is what makes the poem so powerful. The undertone of a mother's protection and the danger in the familiar, as well as out in the world, is ever present.

As a scholar, Chana Bloch taught for many years at Mills College in Oakland and was director of its creative writing program. She is one of the preeminent translators of Hebrew poetry: “The Song of Songs,” with her first husband, Ariel Bloch; Yehudah Amichai’s “Open Closed Open” with Chana Kronfeld; Dahlia Ravikovich’s work, and others. In her own work, her ear for language is always sharp, and her word choice often surprising. A reader never wishes she had chosen a different noun; her imagery is always fresh. Bloch is a poet well aware of her place between the immigrant generations with their superstitions, fears and stories and a younger generation raised neither with the richness of Yiddish nor with the collective memory of  that life. The Holocaust, too, provides an often-unspoken background in Bloch’s work, as in “Flour and Ash”: “Footprints grime the snow. / The about-to-be-dead line up on the ramp/with their boxy suitcases,/ashen shoes.” 

“Swimming in the Rain” is a book full of affirmation and playfulness, especially in the new poems, as they celebrate the surprise of new love in later life. It is a book to dip into and go back to again and again, reading older poems, new poems and seeing the fullness of a collection that spans so many decades.

Poet Carol V. Davis is the poetry editor of the Jewish Journal.

Three new kids’ books, and some poetry for adults

“Apple Days: A Rosh Hashanah Story” by Allison Sarnoff Soffer. Illustrated by Bob McMahon (Kar-Ben, 2014)

Every year at holiday time, Katy looks forward to making applesauce with her mother. When she shares her excitement with her religious school classmates, she also mentions the other exciting news: Later in the month, she will have a new baby cousin. 

A well-written, preschool-appropriate story of a young child and her mother sharing the love of picking fresh apples and then cooking together, “Apple Days” blends the themes of the Rosh Hashanah holiday with the value of living as part of a warm Jewish community. When the baby arrives on the exact day Katy is planning to go apple picking with her mom, she is disappointed, and it makes her sad that her plans have been thwarted. But her caring community of friends, including the crossing guard, her teacher, principal, hairdresser, shoe salesman and rabbi, work together to make Katy’s applesauce-making day as enjoyable as she had hoped it would be. Katy learns how to work around disappointment with the help of her father and friends and shares her cooking success with her classmates and even the new baby. Alert readers may note that the illustrator has realistically depicted an ethnically diverse Hebrew school class — a nice change from other books for the Jewish preschool set. (Also, no biggie here: a woman rabbi.) An applesauce recipe at the end looks very tasty and would be easy to make with young children upon finishing this cheery, enjoyable book.

“Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons” by Alice B. McGinty. Illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt (Charlesbridge, 2014)

Gastronomic Judaism is alive and well. This delightfully illustrated tale takes us around the Jewish year through the delectable meals consumed by kind (and adorable) Rabbi Benjamin. He and his little dog (kids can search for the pup somewhere on every page) welcome congregants to his synagogue with the motto, “A happy congregation is the sunshine of my heart.” The congregation loves him so much, they make him a special holiday vest, “fastened in the front with four shiny silver buttons.” And a great-looking vest it is: bright yellow, with appliques of various Jewish holiday symbols that can be seen even from the back of a crowded sanctuary. On the fall holidays, the rabbi’s grateful congregants shower him with delicious homemade goodies: honey cake and apple torte on Rosh Hashanah, sweet potato pie and stuffed cabbage on Sukkot. 

After visiting a different family’s Sukkah each night — pop! — one of the four shiny silver buttons pops off and lands in the etrog jelly. Uh-oh … Rabbi Benjamin is getting fat. Other buttons pop off after latkes at Chanukah and a bit too much charoset at the Passover seder. What to do? He has lost his silver buttons, but he does have an idea. Over the summer, he does extra gardening to prepare for next Sukkot’s harvest, hikes to the lake for next Passover’s gefilte fish and helps with the apple harvest for upcoming Rosh Hashanah. But having slimmed down a bit too much, his wonderful holiday vest now sags and looks terrible. He unsuccessfully tries tallit clips where the buttons should be. Even his dog is embarrassed. The tale ends satisfyingly as the always-happy congregants gather together to make a new, even more splendid holiday vest for the upcoming New Year. The laughter-inducing pen-and-ink watercolor illustrations of the overjoyed congregation happily offering delicacies to their beloved rabbi will delight any reader. And consider trying a few of the mouthwatering recipes at the back of the book.

“Goldie Takes a Stand: Golda Meir’s First Crusade” by Barbara Krasner. Illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley (Kar-Ben, 2014)

Picture-book biographies are gaining more and more popularity as publishers are embracing the Common Core curriculum goals of learning through reading nonfiction. When searching for a children’s biography of a well-known Jewish person, parents can generally find a bevy of Einsteins and a shelf of Houdinis, but nothing on Israeli political figures — not even Ben-Gurion or Herzl. So it is a pleasure to find this new release for very young children relating a specific incident in the life of young Golda Meir. Many little girls will find a kindred spirit in the story of Golda Mabowehz, a take-charge kind of kid (read: bossy; but that’s OK, considering her later career) who sees a need in her community and decides to fix it. 

In this case, author Barbara Krasner embellishes the true story of the American Young Sisters Society, a group of Jewish immigrant girls formed by 9-year-old Goldie, who naturally appoints herself president. She explains to the group that they are there to do something about the problem of kids in their school who do not have enough money to buy textbooks. They each need to raise 3 cents a week — a nearly impossible sum — the same price as a loaf of bread or a quart of milk. Goldie ingeniously comes up with a plan to add a 2-cent surcharge on groceries purchased by the patrons of her mother’s grocery store while mother is gone; but this backfires when customers object. Goldie masterminds another plan, this time more ambitious: She will secure a large hall and invite important people to a public meeting where she, a 9-year-old fourth-grader, will give a speech persuasive enough to secure funding for the cause. 

“Education is the only way to lift ourselves out of poverty … I ask each of you to look into your hearts and wallets and give what you can.” 

Krasner states in her afterword that this incident in Meir’s life is true and was written about in The Milwaukee Journal of Sept. 2, 1909. It may have also been related in Meir’s autobiography, which is listed in the useful bibliography, but this is not stated. The brown and gray palette chosen by illustrator Kelsey Garritty-Riley is historically appropriate, and the added touches of early 20th-century wallpaper patterns enhance the period feel. Black-and-white photos of a young Meir, age 6, alongside a much later picture of her as prime minister of Israel with the caption, “She never stopped taking a stand on important issues,” brings her life full circle.

“The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season” by Marcia Falk. Brandeis University Press, 2014.

Poet and translator Marcia Falk’s 1996 groundbreaking “Book of Blessings,” inspirational liturgy from a feminist perspective, has been a wedding gift staple for almost 20 years. Now she continues her translations of traditional Jewish liturgy, this time turning to High Holy Days prayers. Falk’s newest book of prayers, poems and reflections aims to appeal to those who have a deeper connection to their Judaism but feel uncomfortable with patriarchal imagery. Her gift for capturing the essence of holy days spirituality will be appreciated and admired — prayers can be read in English or Hebrew, with the layout and design appealing and easy to follow. The book is organized as a kind of alternative machzor — reimagining the prayers starting from the evening Rosh Hashanah meal to the Kaddish and the Unetaneh Tokef 10 days later. Falk describes it as a “companion for travelers on the to-and-fro journey of the Ten Days of Returning — inward to the self and outward to relationships between self and other.” She wants to be inclusive; she believes that these re-creations of Jewish prayer will appeal to anyone — believers or non-theists, religious or spiritual, secular or humanist. She writes, “The High Holiday liturgy, with this emphasis on sin and judgment, can strike a discordant note even for those who pray regularly during the year. My intention in this book is to bring fresh language and meaning to the seasonal liturgy and to speak to the widest possible spectrum of Jews looking for a new experience of the High Holidays.” Rabbis and lay leaders surely will find a treasure trove of beautiful readings to add to their services. This touching book can be used as either an alternative or a supplement to traditional liturgy, creating real meaning and adding a special vision of the High Holy Days as we open our hearts to forgiveness and teshuvah.


Let’s Work

In this week’s portion, Lech Lecha, we learn about a fight between the shepherds of Abraham and his nephew, Lot. There was plenty of space for everyone, but they weren’t getting along so it seemed too crowded. Our rabbis teach us that when two people get along, they can be happy together sharing even the smallest of spaces, but when they don’t, the whole world can seem too small.

By working at getting along with the people around us, we can make our whole world seem bigger and brighter.

Don’t forget to send in your essay of where you would go in time and space if you could climb into a time machine? Write an essay, story or poem telling us about your adventure. Send entries by Nov. 4. to abbygilad@yahoo.com. Remember to include your full name, age, address, school and grade.

Friends Unite to Rock the Classroom

On a sunny afternoon at Cheremoya Avenue Elementary School in Hollywood, fourth- and fifth-graders rapped to a poem about slavery, accompanied by a ponytailed musician on an African drum.

“This isn’t necessarily proper English,” the musician said afterward, while helping ethnically diverse students analyze the poem. “But whenever we work with lyrics or poetry we can change things around a little bit, to create a bit of attitude … and have some fun.”

The unusual — and fun — lesson is part of a new program, Rock the Classroom, which uses music to help students master reading and writing and perform well on standardized tests.

“Music education has been shown to improve memory, test scores and overall performance in virtually all subjects,” said Bradley Kesden, the program’s executive director. “We link everything to the existing curriculum.”

While the pilot program is based at Cheremoya and Hillcrest Drive Elementary School in Baldwin Hills, it actually began across town in Pacific Palisades — not in a school board office but in a chavurah founded by three Kehillat Israel congregants 18 months ago.

The congregants were Kesden, a rock ‘n’ roll band leader, author and screenwriter; philanthropist Richard Foos, founder of Rhino Records and the Shout! Factory; and Adlai Wertman, a Wexner Heritage Foundation fellow who quit investment banking to head Chrysalis, a nonprofit that helps poor and homeless people find jobs, in 2001.

The three men became friends after discovering their daughters attended the same Hebrew school class two years ago: “We decided to create a structure to our relationship, and that structure was Judaism,” Wertman said. Thus the friends founded a mini-chavurah, hiring a rabbi to conduct monthly study sessions for themselves and their families.

“We wanted to observe Shabbat, celebrate the holidays and do charitable work, tikkun olam, together in a Jewish context,” Wertman said.

Rock the Classroom came about when Kesden, burned out by a difficult celebrity book- writing experience, expressed his desire to leave show business for the teaching profession.

Foos piped up that he’d wanted to start a free music program in the public schools, where arts education has languished since Proposition 13 cut funding in the 1970s. “We all looked at each other and Adlai said, ‘Someone is going to have to quit their [day] job,'” Foos recalled.

Kesden immediately agreed: with advice from Foos and Wertman, he immersed himself in research to ensure Rock didn’t infringe on existing programs and that it stood out among the approximately 30,000 nonprofits competing for funding in Los Angeles County.

“What we found is that due to President Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative and other standards, you could show up with the world’s best music program, and teachers wouldn’t have time to teach it,” Kesden said. “But if we created something linked to the existing curriculum, we could get in.”

After hiring a consultant and raising more than $40,000 from private sources, the philanthropists zeroed in on a Civil War unit in a Los Angeles Unified School District textbook. The first school to sign on was Cheremoya, where professional musicians began visiting classrooms weekly, with instruments such as guitars and ukuleles in tow.

“First we teach music basics in a fun, kinesthetic way,” Kesden said of the program. “Eight kids shouting their names in a line demonstrates melody. Eight kids shouting the same names in falsetto behind them demonstrates harmony.”

Students study simile and metaphor by performing an underground railroad song, “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd”; they learn about how slaves created the blues and write their own blues songs, following specific rhyme schemes and illustrating Civil War characters.

“Does anyone know why it’s called ‘the blues?'” a teacher recently asked Cheremoya students.

“Because blue is the color of depression,” one girl replied.

In September, Rock the Classroom will expand to Crescent Heights Elementary; its founders have raised an additional $50,000 to help the project go even wider next year.

“We want the program in every third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classroom in L.A.,” Wertman said.

Its already worked wonders at Cheremoya, according to principal Chris Stehr.

“There are students being engaged by Rock the Classroom who otherwise would be spending afternoons in the principal’s office,” he said. “This [is] … what education is all about.”

For more information about Rock the Classroom, call (310)458-0822 or visit www.rocktheclassroom.org .

World Briefs

Bush Suspends Embassy Move

President Bush again suspended moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Invoking a waiver that cites national security reasons, Bush again resisted complying with the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which mandated that the U.S. Embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city. Presidents have invoked waivers every six months since the law was passed. In a memorandum Tuesday to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Bush said his administration “remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem,” something he pledged to Jews during his presidential campaign in 2000.

Moscow Bomb Kills Jewish Student

A Jewish student was among the five people killed in Tuesday’s suicide bombing in Moscow. Igor Akimov, 18, was a freshman at Moscow State University’s Center for Jewish Studies and Jewish Civilization. The campus is located near the site of Tuesday’s attack, which injured 14. Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Akimov graduated from a Jewish day school in his native city and moved to Moscow this fall. He was majoring in Jewish history and wanted to become a professor in the subject, friends said.


Israel slammed a U.N. decision to have the International Court of Justice rule on the West Bank security barrier.

“What kind of morality is it that the U.N. does not lift a finger against a wave of offensive operations against Israel but condemns defensive measures? That is moral bankruptcy,” Dore Gold, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former ambassador to the United Nations, said Tuesday.

Monday’s resolution brought new pressure to bear on Israel, though the sort of advisory opinion sought from the International Court of Justice is not binding. One of Sharon’s Cabinet members, Justice Minister Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, already has requested that the fence be rerouted to minimize seizure of Palestinian lands.

Gere’d Up for Peace

Actor Richard Gere visited the West Bank on the second day of a private peacemaking visit. A longtime campaigner against the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Gere met with Palestinian intellectuals in Ramallah on Tuesday before touring Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. The actor, on his second round of grass-roots meetings in the Middle East during the Palestinian intifada, also is believed to have held private talks in Israel on Monday.

Report: Israel hyped Iraq threat

Israeli intelligence exaggerated the threat to Israel posed by Iraq, according to a new report written by reserve Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brum for Israel’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies. Reacting to the report Dec. 4, Israeli Knesset member Yossi Sarid called for an inquiry into Israeli intelligence leading up to the Iraq war.

Dating Sites Get Hitched

Two of the top Jewish dating Web sites are tying the knot. MatchNet of Los Angeles, which owns JDate.com and other specialized dating sites, is buying JCupid.com, owned by PointMatch of Tel Aviv, in a deal that unites two of the top competing Jewish singles sites, the Jerusalem Post reported. PointMatch’s vice president, Eldad Ben Tora, said the deal was aimed at connecting Israeli and Diaspora Jews. Computer dating is among the few growth areas online and is expected to generate $400 million in revenue overall this year.

UNESCO Condemns ‘Protocols’

A U.N. body condemned the display of a notorious anti-Semitic forgery at an Egyptian library. UNESCO said Dec. 4 that the presence of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” at a display at the Alexandria library would leave the institution “open to accusations of racism in general and anti-Semitism in particular.” The book, described by library director Yousef Ziedan as “as one of the sacred tenets of the Jews” and “more important than the Torah,” had been placed next to an exhibit of Torah scrolls. The UNESCO condemnation comes as the organization is preparing an event called “The Centennial of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion: a Paradigm for Contemporary Hate Literature,” to be held in Venice this weekend.

Report: Fewer French Muslims

The number of Muslims in France has been widely exaggerated, according to a new report. According to figures extrapolated from government statistics on the numbers of French citizens with at least one parent born outside France, there probably are less than 3.7 million Muslims in France, the L’Express weekly reported Friday. The figures are considerably lower than various estimates by politicians that have placed the Muslim population as high as 6 million. Slightly more than 1 million Muslims in France are of voting age, the report adds. It is illegal in France to compile government statistics based on religion and ethnic group, but the question asking about parents’ birthplace was added to a recent government-sponsored questionnaire.

Concert to Feature Camp Poems

A concert in Prague will feature music based on poems written by Jewish children held at Terezin. The concert is to be held at the State Opera in Prague on Jan. 27. The event, which will coincide with the 58th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, has been organized by the Prague Jewish community in cooperation with the Mauthausen Committee, based in Austria.

Now, Don’t Get Frothy …

A Canadian researcher is investigating how stressed Montreal Jews get when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kimberly Matheson, a psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, is checking how much of the hormone cortizol is secreted when Jews read articles about the Middle East, Canada’s National Post newspaper reported. The idea came to her when she saw how red Jewish colleagues’ faces became when they read articles they considered anti-Israel. Matheson conducted a similar study among those born in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s Balkans War.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.