On Election Day, Jewish Dems face challenges


Several Jewish Democratic incumbents are fighting for their political survival as Americans head to the polls.

Lawmakers under threat Tuesday in a midterm election cycle that has seen a conservative/Republican resurgence include U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Reps. Ron Klein (D-Fla.), Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), John Adler (D-N.J.)  and Steve Kagen (D-Wis.).

Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) appears set to lose his bid to win New Hampshire’s open U.S. Senate seat, as does Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher , a Democrat.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) looks like she has beaten back a challenge from Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard.

The results may open up new leadership opportunities in both houses.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, is poised to become majority leader should Republicans retake the House, as is anticipated.

If Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) loses a hotly contested battle to conservative Tea Party-backed Republican Sharron Angle, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is likely to run for party leader in the Senate, where Democrats are expected to maintain their majority.

Rightward swing in Hungarian elections


A far right party, Jobbik, won 26 seats in Hungarian parliamentary elections Sunday, to the dismany of Hungarian and European Jewish leaders.

The winner in Sunday’s election was the conservative Fidesz party and its ally the Christian People’s Party, which together took 206 seats in the 386-seat Parliament. Fidesz now has until June to form a government.

The ruling Socialists suffered a humiliating defeat, with only 28 seats left in Parliament. Jobbik’s success shows that “acceptable” anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racism are still alive and well in parts of Europe, a statement issued by the European Jewish Congress said.

Moshe Kantor, president of the EJC, called the results a real blow for tolerance in Europe. “This is an example of the political fragility of certain societies in Europe,” Kantor said. “As a result of the economic crisis, certain extreme parties are able to deliver a scapegoat upon which to blame all their ills.

“This growing popularity of racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic parties in Europe pose a grave danger to the fabric of Europe and could drag us back to the dark days of the past. We must act now,” Kantor said.

MUSIC: ‘That Yemenite Kid’ Diwon makes a mix tape — in Yiddish


NEW YORK (JTA) — Courtesy of Diwon, the artist formerly known as DJ Handler and otherwise known as the executive director of Modular Moods and Shemspeed.com, comes this fresh mix of pop, hip-hop, electronica and . . . Yiddish?

We spoke to “That Yemenite Kid” and asked him what’s up with this unusual release.

JTA: As an artist and producer you’ve focused on highlighting Sephardic and Yemenite Jewish music as an alternative to what some see as the Ashkenazic domination of the Jewish cultural scene. With that in mind, what’s a nice Yemenite kid like you doing in a Yiddishe place like this?

Diwon: I’m half-Yemenite. My other side is Ashkenaz. That is the side that came out here. Don’t forget, I started a klezmer punk band in college called Juez. So this really isn’t too far out for me. I think just because of the recent change of my artist name from DJ Handler to Diwon and some of the press around the music, now I’m seen as very Yemenite and the past is sort of washed over. I’m definitely more passionate about the Yemenite music I’m making because I feel that there has already been a big Yiddish and klezmer music revival.

At the same time, I don’t know of any Yiddish mixtapes that have ever been made — you know, Yiddish through the eyes of a street mixtape DJ. It was a challenge to take the source material flip it over my own beats and remixes and then throw in some of my friends who are fusing Yiddish with electronic music and what not. Plus that Andrew sisters “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” is so hot. I DJ it in clubs all the time. That in itself was almost reason enough to create this mixtape.

JTA: I notice you have some Hebrew language stuff in there as well. That’s going to make the Yiddishists angry . . .

Diwon: Ha! I don’t know. I guess some controversy is good.

There is a lot of great classic Yiddish music out there that, beyond revivals from Golem and Socalled, most young Jews today are completely unfamiliar with.


Click for streaming audio

JTA: Do you see any potential for the reinvigoration of Yiddish music as anything more than a novelty for this generation?

Diwon: I could see why people would say that Socalled is a novelty, but you could argue the music isn’t a novelty because he grew up listening to Yiddish records and this is how he makes Yiddish music — as opposed to say, an artist who put one Yiddish thing on their non-Yiddish album, as a novelty.

It’s a tough question to answer since most artists fuse different elements and genres and influences into their compositions. I don’t think that it’s novelty if an artist fuses their tradition into their music if it’s done in a sincere way and not with a smirk.

JTA: But what about for the consumer? So let’s say your doing Yemenite music isn’t a novelty, it’s an expression of your identity, but for the average music consumer, it’s a novelty. Take Matisyahu for example. Did non-Jews buy his album because he’s a great reggae artist, or because he’s an amusement?

Diwon: I think it depends on the consumer. One who isn’t that familiar with the tradition might buy it as novelty. But someone who knows the music and likes Yiddish or Yemenite music will buy it to expand their collection and for them its not necessarily a novelty purchase.

I know non-Jews who bought Matisyahu’s record because they like reggae. But then there are tons that probably bought it off the hype that was fueled by the novelty of it all. But I don’t think any of that matters. If he had put out one record and then went to making regular, non-Jewish reggae, I think it would be different. People would say “what a fake” and “what kind of marketing stunt is this?” But the fact is this is his true expression. He tours the world playing it and he is onto his third record, making it. It’s obvious that he doesn’t view it as a novelty. And the fact that he is still successful at it shows that it’s definitely more than a novelty. That and maybe the fact that he doesn’t wear a suit and a black hat anymore.

JTA: How’s the Jewish music scene holding up in light of the current economic downturn? Is your label, Modular Moods, surviving, thriving, dying?

Diwon: Well stateside we’re still alright. It’s a bit harder when I tour internationally, but no matter what I’m still going to grind and get as much good music out there as possible. If only to cheer up the people who are down due to the economy.

JTA: Well, giving away free music helps!

Diwon: Yeah, well music is basically free nowadays anyway, so why try and front? I feel like I give 75% of my music out for free and use the other 25% to fund it all and survive.

JTA: So what can we expect from Modular Moods in the coming months?

Diwon: Don’t miss the Sephardic Music Festival this Chanukah in NYC, the Shemspeed 40 Days 40 Nights Tour of college campuses in February, and a slew of new songs and albums unlike anything people have ever heard. We ain’t gonna stop now.

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks August 23 – 29: Benny Goodman, opera, magic and more


SAT | AUGUST 23

(OPERA)

Today, the importance of recalling the horrors and magnitude of the Holocaust are more important than ever. The children at LA Opera’s annual summer camp (photo,below) will present Hans Krasa’s moving piece, “Brundibár.” The enchanting tale of tolerance and hope is a work that is historically significant because it had been ” target=”_blank”>http://www.laopera.com.

” target=”_blank”>http://www.laemmle.com.

(MAGICAL BENEFIT)

Here’s how to market a charity event: Just plug the words “fantasy” and “illusion” into the title. And that’s exactly what you’ll get during “A Night of Fantasy and Illusion” hosted by The Guardians of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging. Illusionists and fire-eaters will sweep through the mysterious Houdini estate, entertaining guests as they drink, dine and dance while beats spun by the Playboy mansion’s resident DJ wake up the neighbors in the Hollywood Hills. All this and a good cause! Sat. 8 p.m. $150 (women), $200 (men). The Harry Houdini estate, 2400 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Hollywood Hills. (310) 479-2468. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.sababaparties.com

(THEATER)

Women always worry about guests. Will there be enough food? Will they like it? Oy vey! Enter Abigail, the protagonist of Mike Leigh’s middle-class comedy, “Abigail’s Party,” who forces food and cigarettes on her guests to cover up that her dinner party and her marriage are falling apart. Sat. 8 p.m. Through Oct. 12. $15-$45. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>in a showcase of musical flavors. Expressing the cultural diversity of Jews in the Diaspora, guitarist Adam del Monte joins Cantor Marcelo Gindlin, harpist Marcia Dickstein and the Mariachi Divas for a musical feast in the outdoor air. Sun. 7:30 p.m. $25-$36. The Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. (323) 461-3673. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.kreativekidsla.com.

(PLAY)

We’ve all heard the horror story where the happily-in-love betrothed couple get to the fateful aisle and someone gets the urge to run. “Lovers and Other Strangers” tells such a tale, set in the 1960s against the backdrop of women’s lib. The story examines the impact of the women’s movement on marriage, work and family — with the unfortunate groom having to bear the brunt of a new and unfamiliar world. 6 p.m. (Sun.), 8 p.m. (Fri.-Sat.). $20. Through Sept. 28. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 960-7827. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.cerritoscenter.com.

TUE | AUGUST 26

(PARTY)

Nessah mixes fun with philanthropy at its “Glamour Summer Night” party at one of the hippest clubs in West Hollywood. Sam Nazarian, the business brain behind some of Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan’s favorite haunts, is donating his club to raise money for Nessah Young Professionals and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. Twenty and thirtysomethings are invited to dress to the nines and blow out summer with a bang. Tue. 8:30 p.m. $50 (presale), $75 (door). AREA, 643 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 631-1000. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>Social Circle at Steven S. Wise Temple, why not learn a bit more about your options? Renowned plastic surgeon Dr. George Sanders will answers all the nitty-gritty questions of getting sliced and diced to look oh so nice. And even if you choose not to go under the knife, who can say no to a night of food, drinks and some laughs? Wed. 7-10 p.m. $15 (members), $20 (guests). Hershenson Hall, Stephen S. Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 204-1240. johnseeman@aol.com.

THU | AUGUST 28

(FILM AND TELEVISION FESTIVAL)

What do you get when you mix Israeli pilots, a star-crossed and love-struck Nazi-Jewish couple and Plato? A taste of the emerging talent at the August Sun Film and Television Festival. Director Robert J. Locke and August Sun Productions looked for movies, TV pilots and shorts with two things in common: quality and promoting world peace. Today, when we struggle with the idea of peace both in the Middle East and around the world, maybe the perfect solution is relaxing and enjoying a show. Thu. 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Also Fri. $25 (half pass for screenings only), $50 (full pass for screenings and seminars). The Crest Theatre, 1262 Westwood Blvd., Westwood. (818) 284-9084, (310) 474-7866. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.bcc-la.org.

–Jina Davidovich contributed to this article

MUSIC VIDEO: Kenny Ellis — ‘Swingin’ Dreidel’


Kenny Ellis sings his hit single from his ‘Hanukkah Swings!’ album on Favored Nations Records—swingingest ‘Dreidel Song’ ever

There’s Some Good Music to Fill the Air


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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