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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

Israeli Philharmonic will play in London despite protest


The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra will perform at the prestigious BBC Proms in London despite calls for a boycott of its performance.

The orchestra is scheduled to play Thursday night at the Royal Albert Hall. Audience members will have their bags searched in order to keep out political protesters, according to the Evening Standard.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign called on ticket holders not to attend the concert in protest of the orchestra’s support of the Israeli army. The organization objects to the Israeli Philharmonic’s performances at army bases.

The BBC refused to cancel the performance, saying the invitation to perform was “purely musical,” according to the London Jewish Chronicle.

Anti-Israel protesters said they would demonstrate outside the hall, while the Zionist Federation of the UK has planned a counter-demonstration, according to the newspaper.

The concert is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Israeli Philharmonic and conductor Zubin Mehta’s 50th year with the group.

Barenboim to conduct orchestra in Gaza


Renowned Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim will present a “peace concert” in the Gaza Strip.

Barenboim, a Palestinian activist, will direct an organization of 25 European musicians on Tuesday, the French news agency AFP reported. The so-called “Orchestra for Gaza” was announced Monday by the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

It marks the first time that Barenboim, who was granted honorary Palestinian citizenship, will visit Gaza. He and the musicians are set to enter Gaza from Egypt through the Rafah crossing, according to AFP.

Barenboim has played for Palestinians in the West Bank on several occasions. He was refused entry to Gaza through Israel on several occasions; it is illegal for Israelis to enter Gaza.

Barenboim lives in Berlin and, in addition to being a citizen of Israel, also is a citizen of Argentina and Spain.

“The concert is to try and bring something to the people of Gaza,” he told APF. “It is not a political event in any sense.”

Bieber says logistics stalled meeting with kids


A spokesman for Justin Bieber told JTA that the pop star is not meeting with children from Israel’s rocket-beset south because of logistics, not politics.

“Justin welcomes the chance to meet with kids facing difficult circumstances, regardless of their background, and in fact, he had already invited children from the Sderot area to join the 25,000-plus other fans at his concert in Tel Aviv on Thursday night,” the spokesman told JTA.

Bieber was enjoying his first trip to Israel, the spokesman said, “despite some logistical challenges.”

The pop star has complained on Twitter that the Israeli paparazzi have forced him to hole up in his hotel room.

“i want to see this country and all the places ive dreamed of and whether its the paps or being pulled into politics its been frustrating,” he tweeted Tuesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly canceled a meeting with Bieber set for Wednesday, a day before the concert, after the singer refused to meet with children from southern Israel, Israel’s Channel 2 reported. Netanyahu reportedly had invited children living in communities that have been hit by rockets fired from Gaza to join the sit-down. Bieber and his manager had asked for the meeting with Netanyahu, according to reports.

Some 700 children from southern Israeli communities that have been hit by rockets and missiles from Gaza were given free tickets to the concert. The tickets, as well as transportation, are a gift of The Schusterman Foundation-Israel, The Morningstar Foundation and ROI Community of Young Jewish Innovators.

Bieber arrived Monday in Israel and has been touring the country. His itinerary includes visits to Christian sites in the Galilee, the Dead Sea, Masada, Acre and Caesarea.

Shabbat in Liverpool: New CD adapts Beatles’ tunes for services


When is it kosher to listen to the Beatles on the Sabbath?

When your chazan adapts the Kabbalat Shabbat Friday night service to the melodies of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Lenny Solomon, the founder of the song-parody group Shlock Rock, employed “nusach Liverpool” for a service in late December at the Young Israel of Hollywood, an Orthodox synagogue in South Florida.

“I’ve never had more pride in anything else that I have ever performed,” said Solomon, who has been in the Jewish music business for 25 years. “I had created something new that could be sung in the shul. This is something that I had never done, and I was beaming by the time the services ended.”

The service was the culmination of a years-long project for Solomon that has included the release of a CD with 21 Beatles’ songs set to various parts of Shabbat services and liturgy.

On the CD, “Shalom Aleichem” is sung to the tune of “With a Little Help from My Friends”; the “V’Shamru” portion of kiddush is set to “The Long and Winding Road”; “Ein Keloheinu” sounds like “Let it Be”; and the Havdalah service is set to “Imagine.”

The story of the CD began in 2004 when a friend and neighbor asked Solomon, who lives in Israel, for the 40th birthday gift of a CD of the songs of Kabbalat Shabbat set to Beatles music. Solomon was skeptical but the neighbor, Allen Krasna, sent him an Excel spreadsheet with the Beatles’ songs in one column and the prayers and songs of the Shabbat service on the left.

Solomon went to work.

Working on and off, he needed nine months to take the 35 tunes and incorporate the melodies to the words of the Shabbat prayers.

Solomon recorded the CD, “A Shabbat in Liverpool,” in 2005, but it took another five years to obtain the proper licensing to release the project. The collection finally was released publicly last November as a 21-song CD, which is available for sale at Amazon and other retailers. (Samples of the collection are available at shlockrock.com.) Solomon was in the United States promoting the CD.

Dec. 24 marked the first time that Solomon actually used the songs in a real service. The reaction at the Young Israel of Hollywood seemed to be mostly positive.

“I enjoyed it and sang along with Lenny,” said congregant Avi Frier. “I think it will take awhile, though, for something like this to really catch on and became mainstream, like the Carlebach minyanim.”

It was hardly the first time Jewish services have been set to secular music. Some of the most popular Shabbat tunes originally were secular songs, such as “Erev Shel Shoshanim” (“Evening of Lilies”), a Hebrew love song written in 1957 by Yaffa Yarkoni.

“Every song that comes into this world has a holy spark,” Solomon said. “It is the obligation of the Jewish musician to take the best melodies of the secular world and bring them from the side of darkness to the side of light. This will cause the Jewish people to get closer to God and hasten the redemption.”

Krasna, whose request spawned the creation of the CD, agrees.

“I’m in favor of anything that is done in the service that elevates one’s spirituality,” said Krasna, a lifelong Beatles fan. “Certainly, Conservative and Reform synagogues may embrace this kind of thing more easily, since they always look for ideas to make their services more relevant to the times. But I believe there is a place for these tunes even at Orthodox synagogues.”

Solomon sees the Beatles service as a work in progress.

“My first effort at leading the service was not perfect,” he said. “I do hope I’ll have the opportunity to do this again, so that other congregants can learn the service and appreciate the rich Shabbat liturgy in a brand-new way.

“I’m also convinced that there are many people who ordinarily do not attend a synagogue but who can be introduced to the holy words of our Shabbat prayers through this music.”

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday the 14th

?Como se dice, “fun” en Espanol? LA Latino Book and Family Festival, por

Keren’s Corner

Jewish Book Month isn’t till November, but why wait?

Two Jewish children’s authors have events of note going on this week. At Pepperdine’s Smother’s Theatre, see the staged musical adaptation of Judith Viorst’s “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by now a hilarious classic. Or for Jewish folktale funnies, Children’s Book World hosts storyteller Jon Reed, reading from Ann Redisch Stampler’s “Shlemazel and the Remarkable Spoon of Pohost.” Stampler will also attend and sign copies of the book.

Pepperdine: Oct. 14, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. $10-$15. (310) 506-4522.

Children’s Book World: Oct. 14, 10:30 a.m. Free. (310) 559-2665.

supuesto! The festival comes to the Fairplex in Pomona this weekend, and features a children’s stage and play area, food courts, science discovery center and a youth and adult writing exhibition. Pick up a new title, like Susanna Reich’s “Jose! Born to Dance” in the book village, view Latino arts and crafts in the culture and travel village or wander off into one of the other three themed villages.

10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Sat.), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Sun.). Free. (760) 434-7476.

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Monday the 16th

UCLA Hillel’s art galleries mess with our emotions this season. Serenity can be had on the third floor’s “Silent Waves” photographs by Douglas Isaac Busch. Just one floor below, however, the Gindi Auditorium features Shulie Seidler-Feller’s unsettling snapshots of a devastated New Orleans, in “Broken Landscapes.” They are on view through Nov. 15 and the end of December, respectively.
Hillel at UCLA, 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081.

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Thursday the 19th

Dealer and defender of sentimentality Mitch Albom strikes again with his new release, “For One More Day,” about a suicidal alcoholic man who gets that miraculous titular day with his eight-years-deceased mother. The “Tuesdays With Morrie” writer comes to Starbucks today for a Q-and-A, and to Sinai Temple tonight, for a reading and signing.

Starbucks: Noon. 11707 San Vicente Blvd. (Brentwood), Los Angeles. (310) 207-4202.

Sinai Temple: 7:30 p.m. 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.

Friday the 20th

” target=”_blank”>Bob Dylan makes an L.A. stop tonight on the latest installment of his “Never Ending Tour.” What he’ll perform is anyone’s guess. As always, the one thing the show promises to be is unpredictable.

7:30 p.m. $35-$75. The Forum, 3900 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood.

Bittersweet symphonies: the Pearls struggle to find life after Daniel’s death


Eight days after Yom Kippur, Judea and Ruth Pearl will commemorate what would have been the 43rd birthday of their son, Daniel. As on every Oct. 10 for the last five years, it will be a day of intensely personal reflection and remembrance by the couple and their daughters, Tamara and Michelle, intensifying their emotions of the other 364 days.
 
By contrast, the date also will be marked by public worldwide concerts celebrating the life of Daniel Pearl, an accomplished violinist, equally passionate about the classical, jazz, country and bluegrass musical idioms.
 
As of a week ago, the master calendar showed 166 different performances scheduled in 24 countries — from China to El Salvador and Kenya to Egypt — on and around Oct. 10. It is expected that the numbers will reach last year’s record of 300 concerts in 41 countries.
 
Music was Daniel Pearl’s avocation, but journalism was his profession. In pursuit of a story on Al Qaeda’s financial ties, the then-38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter was kidnapped in early 2002 in Pakistan and beheaded by Islamic extremists.
 



The life and death of Daniel Pearl on HBO
 
It has a handsome, brilliant, fun-loving reporter, who kisses his beautiful, pregnant wife goodbye as he goes off to track down an Al Qaeda financial network in Pakistan. His nemesis is Omar Sheikh, a man not unlike Pearl in background — intelligent, well educated, but who has become a fanatical terrorist.
 
Sheikh lures Pearl into a trap, where kidnappers abduct The Wall Street Journal reporter and withhold news of him for almost a month, while Pearl’s parents and wife, and much of the rest of the world, hold their breath.
 
The Pakistani police search everywhere for Pearl, while the same country’s intelligence service apparently shields the terrorist. Finally, the kidnappers release a grisly video in which Pearl is decapitated by a sword.
 
No wonder four different film projects on the case have been announced, although only one is actually ready for prime time.
 
On Oct. 10, the day on which Pearl would have celebrated his 43rd birthday, HBO will air “The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl,” a 90-minute documentary, which will be hard to beat for drama and intensity by subsequent movies.
 
The film was produced and directed by Ahmed A. Jamal, a Pakistani, and Ramesh Sharma, an Indian, with the full cooperation of Pearl’s wife, Marianne, and his parents, UCLA professor Judea Pearl and Ruth Pearl, both raised in Israel. It is narrated by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
 
What gives the film much of its emotional impact are lovely home videos of Pearl’s childhood in Encino, his passion for music, a makeshift seder conducted on a trans-Siberian railroad train, and the joyous wedding joining him to his Cuban Dutch wife.
 
The life of the secretive Omar Sheikh is, of necessity, less well documented, and at times the directors have to stretch quite a bit to force the two protagonists’ backgrounds into parallel lines.
 
There remain a number of yet unanswered questions, both in the film and in the actual investigations:

  • Did Pearl’s kidnappers sell him to an Arab gang that then murdered him?
  • What was the role of the Pakistani government?
  • Why has the death sentence, imposed on Sheikh by a Pakistani court in July 2002, never been carried out?

Until such questions are answered, the documentary serves as a riveting history of a case that has gripped the world’s attention.
 
“The Journalist and the Jihadi” airs at 8 p.m. on Oct. 10. It will be repeated on various dates in October on HBO and HBO2.

Check www.hbo.com for details.
 
— TT



Yet the wake of this tragedy is an extraordinary story of renewal in itself. Ruth and Judea Pearl are both high-achieving professionals. He is an emeritus professor of computer science at UCLA and internationally recognized for his pioneer research on artificial intelligence. She is an electrical engineer and for years was a highly paid industry consultant. Although quieter than her more exuberant husband, in the immediate days after the tragedy, “she was the captain and ran a tight ship,” her daughter wrote.
 
Both parents cherish their privacy and still shudder each time an inquiring reporter thrusts a mike in their face and asks, “Well, and how did you feel when you first heard that your son had been murdered?”
 
But on the day before Rosh Hashanah this year, sitting in the living room of their pleasant Encino home, they agreed to talk openly about their agonizing experience and how they transformed their lives by transmuting private grief into public good.
 
The story begins on the morning of Jan. 23, 2002, an ordinary day when life seemed especially good for Daniel Pearl. He was a highly respected and popular foreign correspondent for a leading American daily, married to fellow journalist Marianne, and the couple were expecting their first child.
 
That evening, Daniel went to a restaurant in the Pakistani port city of Karachi to meet a supposed source who could provide a break for his investigative story on the financing of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
 
That was the last time his family saw Daniel, except for videos released by his shadowy captors, one showing the journalist in chains with an unknown hand pointing a gun at his head.
 
It was the beginning of 28 days of hope and despair for the Pearl parents, and their six new houseguests from the FBI.
 
Repeatedly during that period, the Pearls were informed their son was dead and his body had been found, and each time the report turned out to be wrong.
 
Throughout the ordeal, Daniel’s colleagues and editors at The Wall Street Journal were in touch with the parents, lending moral support and advice. One of the editors’ main concerns was that other media might leak the fact that both parents come from an Israeli background, thus increasing the threat to Daniel’s life.
 
Judea was born in suburban Tel Aviv in the fervently Orthodox enclave of B’nai Brak, co-founded by his grandfather, and he had served in the Israeli army.
 
Ruth was born in Baghdad, when one-quarter of the Iraqi capital’s population was Jewish, and emigrated with her parents to Israel in 1951. She and Judea met as college students at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
 
In a rare display of professional solidarity in the competitive media, no one raised the Israeli angle until after Daniel’s death.
 
During the torturous waiting period, Barney Calame, a Wall Street Journal editor, phoned the Pearls daily with a situation report. “He was a slow, deliberate speaker and each time our hearts kept sinking until, at the end, he would report that there had been no new developments,” Judea recalled. “We finally taught him to open each conversation with the sentence, ‘I have no news.'”
 
In the last days before Daniel’s death, the Pearls were fairly hopeful.
 
“Danny was a careful professional, not a Don Quixote type, and he had always gotten himself out of any trouble before,” his mother said. “Besides, his goodness shone through, and we couldn’t believe that his kidnappers could live with him for weeks and not be affected by it.”
 
Adding to the hopefulness was the history of other journalists abducted in Parkistan previously, who had always been returned after a few days in exchange for enemy prisoners or ransom.
 
On the morning of Feb. 21, 2002, the last glimmer of hope was extinguished. “We were having breakfast when three FBI agents, two women and a man, walked in,” Ruth remembered. “One woman had tears in her eyes, and she asked me if I had anything cooking on the stove. Then she told us that she had bad news and that Danny had been killed.”
 
After the previous false alarms, the Pearls refused to believe the report. They phoned the American consul in Karachi, who confirmed that he had seen the gruesome video showing the decapitation of their son.
 
Pakistani police did not find Daniel’s mutilated body until May 16, and it took another three months until the remains were returned to the United States. Hours before the funeral, the FBI stopped the proceedings on the grounds that the agents needed four more days to perform an autopsy.
 
Finally, after the burial and the memorial service, the Pearls were left to ponder their loss and their future.
 
“I felt that my life was over,” Ruth said. “We would never again have a normal life. I still cannot comprehend it; I try not to comprehend it; there’s a mental mechanism blocking it.”Added Judea, “As human beings, we don’t have the software, the computational machinery, to comprehend the logical contradiction that such a beautiful person, who tried so hard to explain the Muslim world to the West, would be killed by people who elevated their grievance above all norms of civilization.”
 
But rather than the sad ending that might have happened, this is where the story takes a surprising turn. The Pearls faced three obvious options. One was to retreat into their private grief, another to resume their professional lives as best they could, and a third to do whatever they could to exact revenge on their son’s murderers.
 
They chose a fourth way. “We refused to accept the idea that Danny’s contributions to the world as a journalist, as a musician, as a gentle human being was ended forever,” Judea said.
 
“We decided on a different kind of defiance,” he added. “We would fight hatred with everything in our power, but we wouldn’t seek physical revenge — that’s what his murderers wanted.”
 
The parents found the vehicle to turn thoughts into action a few days later, as a steady stream of condolence cards, flowers and envelopes with $20 bills and other small donations arrived at the house.
 
“We didn’t know how to cope with all that,” said Ruth, so The Wall Street Journal arranged for a team of lawyers to advise the family.
 
The first decision was to set up a trust fund for Marianne and her soon-to-be-born son, Adam. As the discussions continued, all agreed that the most relevant way to honor Daniel’s life and death was to establish a foundation to perpetuate his work and ideals.
 
Exactly one week after the FBI agent reported Danny’s death, the legal papers establishing the Daniel Pearl Foundation were signed by Judea Pearl as president and Ruth Pearl as chief financial officer.

Three Generations of Pearls

Three Generations of Pearls. back row: Tosha Pearl (center) is flanked by her daughter-in-law, Ruth, and son, Judea, during a Tel Aviv family reunion. front row: Tamara Pearl and her brother, Daniel Pearl. Photo courtesy Ruth and Judea Pearl

“We wanted to fight the tsunami of hatred engulfing the world and we had a powerful weapon — the memory of Danny, respected by millions of Muslims, Christians and Jews, and through the three fields in which he excelled, journalism, music and dialogue.”
 
Working with a miniscule staff and a $400,000 annual budget, raised mainly through small contributions (“We don’t get any celebrities,” Judea said), the foundation has transformed Daniel’s legacy and the parents’ vision into reality.
 
In journalism, reporters and editors from Muslim countries annually travel to the United States for six-month working fellowships on American newspapers, including The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
 
Through the Web-based World Youth News, students at 20,000 high schools in 109 countries develop professional skills, unbiased reporting and respect for cultural differences.
 
In music, World Music Days will be celebrated this year Oct. 6-15. Among the hundreds of performers and performances will be Sir Elton John, world premiere of Steve Reich’s “Daniel Variations,” symphony orchestras in five different countries, neo-soul artist Nya Jade, Bo Diddley and Friends, Hollywood Interfaith Choir and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.
 
Judea Pearl and professor Akbar Ahmed, a leading Islamic scholar from Pakistan, have engaged in dialogues before multiethnic audiences throughout the United States and in the British House of Lords.
 
“We have only two rules,” Pearl said. “No topic is taboo and both speakers and audience must maintain civilized tone.”
 
The foundation has promoted publication of books of Daniel’s own writings and about his beliefs. Among a number of projected films, HBO will air “The Journalist and the Jihadi” on Oct. 10.
 
Somewhat to their own surprise, Judea and Ruth have become accomplished and passionate public speakers and are constantly busy promoting and running the Daniel Pearl Foundation.They have also evolved into skillful interviewees, with Judea as the more animated and gesticulating responder, while Ruth is quieter on the surface and occasionally corrects her husband’s recollections.
 
But, Judea said, “I resist the idea that I’m doing all this for therapeutic reasons. If I didn’t believe that our work makes some difference, I would quit tomorrow.”Added Ruth, “Some days we are encouraged and on other days we are down. But we are doers and we don’t quit.”
 

 
Daniel Pearl

Russian Singer Goes From Defector to Cantor


“I was born in the 1960s into a typical Soviet Jewish family,” says Svetlana Portnyansky. “We never went to synagogue, never were religious. At family events at home, we sang Jewish songs sometimes, but we’d close all the doors to make sure no one heard us.”

Given Portnyansky’s non-Jewish upbringing, it’s odd that this interview is taking place at Newport Beach’s Temple Isaiah, where she’s the cantor. How did she go from being a popular singer in the Soviet Union to a defector who had to leave her family behind, to a cantor at a shul in Orange County?

Like just about everything else in Portnyansky’s life, the answer has to do with music. Her father was “a musician at heart” who made a living as an industrial engineer in Moscow. “He taught me piano,” she says. “I grew up with music and absorbed it in my soul. I knew that I was born to be a professional singer. So I went to the Moscow Conservatory of Music, graduated with honors and became a singer who specializes in Jewish songs.”

After graduating, she was invited to sing at the Moscow Jewish Theater. This was in the late 1980s, during Perestroika, and it was the theater’s grand reopening after having been closed for 40 years.

“I sang a solo concert,” Portnyansky says, “and my musical career took off. I became a public figure, sang on nationwide radio and television. It was wonderful to be popular, but it was also dangerous: I received threatening letters saying things like, ‘Jews are supposed to be in Israel. Go home! This is our country!'”

Portnyansky felt it was time to leave. “I didn’t see any future for myself in the Soviet Union. I couldn’t see how I was going to live that way, being threatened. Besides, I’d always wanted to go to America.”

Ever since she was a little girl, she says, she dreamed of coming to the United States. “My parents used to get a magazine called Amerika. It had photos and articles about the U.S. In my mind I was already there, from the first grade.”
The opportunity came in 1991, during the last throes of the Soviet Union: She received an invitation from the U.S government to do a concert tour.

“My musicians and I got theatrical exchange visas. I knew I was going to defect. I talked it over with my family. I said to them, ‘It’s our only chance. I have to take it now.’ They understood. They blessed me.” Portnyansky was in her mid-20s then, with a 4-year-old son who stayed in Moscow with her husband and her parents.

“In the U.S. we had some very successful concerts, East Coast to West Coast. The tour lasted two months. When it was over, I told my musicians I would go back [to the Soviet Union], but not just yet. Of course, I knew I wasn’t going back.”

She defected, and during those first few months in New York it was very difficult not being with her family. But she had some money, and she had friends who let her stay in their place. “That was the hardest time of my life,” she says. “I called my family very often. It was also a period of concern, whether I would make the right choices. I was determined not to do certain things, like wash dishes or sing at a restaurant.”

After much thought, she decided to pursue a second Jewish musical track, one that paralleled her pop singing career: She would study to become a cantor at New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary.

In order to become a legal resident of the United States, she contacted the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and told them that she could not go back to the Soviet Union. She showed them the threatening letters she’d received. HIAS took up her case.

During the months she was in New York without her family, Portnyansky got word that her father had died in Moscow. She couldn’t risk going to the funeral. “I didn’t have the green card,” she says. “I was afraid I might not be permitted to come back to the United States.”

But in early 1992, Portnyansky’s family found a way to join her: Her husband, son and mother came to the United States on tourist visas. They moved to Southern California, where Portnyansky gave birth to a second son and continued her cantorial studies.

During the early 1990s, though she was not yet a legal resident, HIAS’s advocacy bore results: She was permitted to work in the U.S. She gave “jazzy, cabaret-style” concerts; and, after completing her liturgical training, she started to work as a cantor. “I was busy at that time,” she says. “My only problem was that I couldn’t leave the United States.”

Getting her green card took more than five years. She later found out that the process had been delayed because her file had been lost. After Portnyansky became a legal resident in 1996, her first trip was to Israel. Since then she’s continued her dual career: cantor in Newport Beach … and

Thirty Years of Carlebach Rock


Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s musical legacy has taken many forms, from the
dozens of minyanim whose worship uses his music to the excellent recordings
made by his daughter, Neshama. But the most enduring and unexpected
offspring from Carlebach’s folkie neo-Chasidism is the number of jam bands
performing his music. If that seems incongruous, you only need to hear the
Moshav Band to realize how natural it really is.

Moshav Band, which was founded as a direct result of Carlebach’s influence,
just released its first English only album — “Misplaced.”

Reb Shlomo and a group of his followers had created a musical moshav in
Israel in 1977 in the hills between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, a community
called Moshav Meor Modi’im. Yehuda (vocals), Dovid (guitar), Meir (guitar,
mandolin) and Yosef Solomon (bass), the sons of one of the original members
of that community, are the core of the group, joined by drummer David
Swirsky. Like Inasense and Soulfarm, two other Carlebach-spawned jam bands,
they melded his musical influence with that of the rock groups they heard as
kids — most obviously, The Dead, Dylan, Neil Young — in a splendid blend
of sacred and secular.

The Moshav Band has long been one of the most popular of Jewish-oriented
rock groups, but sometime at the end of the millennium that distinction
ceased to satisfy the group. Perhaps the band had always intended to try
hurdling the wall that generally separates openly Jewish music from rest of
the entertainment world; for Christians that wall has been more of a
semipermeable membrane, as any country-music fan will tell you. Whatever
their motivation, in 2000 the band members relocated to Los Angeles to
launch their assault on rest of the pop/rock world.

“Higher and Higher: The Best of the Moshav Band,” which the Jewish Music
Group released earlier this year, is a canny attempt to straddle the gap
between the moshav and the mosh pit. The set has more English-language songs
than its previous recordings, and it is long on anthemic rockers like
“Waiting for the Calling” that would not be out of place on an album by U2
or Pearl Jam, two bands to which it bears more than a slight resemblance.
But even the straighthead rockers and love songs can be easily read as calls
to God, rather than your usual pop invocations of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’
roll. In truth, the bands it most resembles are ones that are firmly
grounded in the soil of a homeland and its political struggles, bands like
The Levellers or The Pogues (if you sobered them up).

In that respect, the Moshav Band’s heart and soul are still linked tightly
to the hills outside Jerusalem and, fittingly, to the musical and spiritual
legacy of Rabbi Carlebach.

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

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday, July 1
In time for summertime, the Skirball has rekindled its weekly Café Z live music series. Take advantage today, and head down to groove to Elliott Caine Quintet’s Afro-Cuban jazz beats. According to Caine’s Web site, KCRW’s Bo Leibowitz described him as a “terrific trumpet player, bandleader and composer … deserving of wider recognition.”

Noon-2 p.m. Free. Zeidler’s Café, Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

 

Sunday, July 2
Miami City Ballet whoops it up for its 20th anniversary, with its tour of performances of signature pieces by Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine and Twyla Tharp. Included are Robbins’ classic “Fancy Free,” which was the inspiration for the musical, “On the Town,” and Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” accompanied, as you might’ve guessed, by songs by the blue-eyed crooner.

June 30-July 2. $25-$95. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500

Monday, July 3
Shaken or stirred, the martini is more than a drink today. It is a symbol. Sculptor Thomas Mann asked artists to riff on it, reinterpreting the conical glass’ shape and context. “The Martini Show” premiered in New Orleans as a benefit for Craft Emergency Relief Fund. It runs here at Altered Space Gallery, through July 24.

Contemporary art+craft+design, 1221 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. (310) 452-8121

Tuesday, July 4
What goes great with burgers and dogs? Your radio dial tuned to 89.9 KCRW-FM. Its special Independence Day programming features “a day of music by American artists who embrace the spirit of independence.” The lineup of musical patriots includes Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Roy Orbison, Patti Smith and the Dixie Chicks. The presentations feature music as well as interview clips and other materials.

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Wednesday, July 5
Collapsing just moments after a performance of his stirring trio, “In memoriam Dmitri Shostakovich,” at the Jewish Music Commission concert last month, professor Joseph Dorfman was unable to be revived. He died at age 65. In his memory, a concert will be held this evening at Valley Beth Shalom, to benefit the newly founded fund in his name.

7:30 p.m. Free (general), $15 (reserved seats). 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. R.S.V.P., (818) 788-6000.

Thursday, July 6
Gay lovers struggle to deal with their oppressive societies against the backdrop of World War II France in the case of “A Love to Hide (Un Amour à Taire),” and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the case of “Zero Degrees of Separation.” The two films are part of this year’s Outfest 24th Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which begins today.

Times, prices and screening venues vary by film. Abovementioned films screen at Directors Guild Theatre, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.

Friday, July 7
More lovers caught on opposite sides of the political fence emerge in the film, “Only Human.” Opening today, the Spanish production tells the farcical tale of Jewish Leni, who brings home her boyfriend, Rafi, to meet the folks. But madness ensues when they find out Rafi is Palestinian.

Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino. (818) 981-9811. Laemmle One Colorado, Pasadena. (626) 744-1244. www.laemmle.com” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Dad’s Gone, but His Melody Lingers On


When a person is slightly famous mostly for one thing, that thing becomes the one thing about him when he dies. So it was that Dave Blume, my father, over and over again in late March was noted as the composer of that likably odd 1966 hit, “Turn Down Day,” a pop turn on what began as one of his jazz compositions.

He used to joke that every middling musician had one good tune in him, but he wasn’t actually talking about himself, because he wrote many good songs, even if that added up to just one hit record.

But even one song, even one moment, can encapsulate a lot if you probe beneath the surface, or, in this case, beyond the catchy but saccharine arrangement by the Cyrkle. The song’s lyrics, written by Jerry Keller, portray the languorous side of the anti-war, anti-age, free-love 1960s, the part of the youth culture that wanted sometimes just to tune out instead of tuning in:

Soft summer breeze and the surf rolls in
To laughter of small children playin’.
Someone’s radio has the news tuned in,
But nobody cares what he’s sayin’.
It’s a turn-down day,
Nothin’ on my mind.
It’s a turn-down day,
And I dig it.

There was something of dad in that easygoing, live-and-let-live frame of mind. It was, in a way, a jazz sensibility set down to words. But the melody, dominated by minor chords, also hinted at something more — something a little deeper, a little melancholy.

The tune originated during dad’s Army days in Fayetteville, N.C., where the draft had dragged him, a native of Boston, and his wife, Charlotte, during the Korean War. Dad was a noted hater of needless exercise and early morning schedules, so he devised a night-owl gig for himself. He persuaded the brass and a local radio station that soldiers on the graveyard shift needed something to keep them alert. Did they really want these sleepy soldiers to be a safety hazard on duty or on their commute? How about some music?

Officers already knew of dad’s musical skills. By this time, he’d sort of conned his way into the coveted base orchestra by presenting himself as a glockenspiel player — it was the only opening. He’d given himself a crash course in the instrument and played a passable glockenspiel — but it wasn’t long before the orchestra took advantage of his jazz keyboard, arranging and conducting skills.

The overnight radio show followed. He wrote and performed, with some pals, the theme song: “680, 12 to 5.” The song got its name from the station’s place on the dial and the airtime: midnight to 5 a.m. Because of the show and his frequent performances — all on behalf of the U.S. government, of course — dad didn’t meet at least one of his commanding officers until his day of discharge.

My parents were both building a notable life in this small Southern city all the while. In the 1950s, my mother used her talents to open a dance school and start a ballet company. Her first classes outside the base had only black students, because she refused to segregate or teach only white students. Dad, meanwhile, soon opened the region’s first bowling alley, to which he attached the region’s first jazz club. And he also refused to segregate.

At one point, the city informed him of a regulation that kept blacks out of white restrooms. If his new business were not to be “whites only,” he’d have to build four restrooms. Dad responded by asking if there was a law saying that men and women had to have separate bathrooms. A city official replied that no such law was needed, because no one would ever put men and women in the same bathroom.

In that case, dad said, he would have one bathroom for black men and women and another for white men and women. The city official left in frustration, and when the business opened, dad simply had a men’s room for all men and a women’s room for all women. His key innovation, however, was in The Groove, the music club where the staff, musicians and audience all were integrated.

Neither of my parents ever got into trouble for this. One reason, of course, was that they were white — and maybe being Jewish separated them from a sort of peer pressure. It didn’t hurt that my mother could stare down a charging bull, and dad could accomplish the same with charm and a silly pun.

Dad had a fine old time in Fayetteville. He was the first public address announcer for the city high school’s football games. And his jazz band was the talk of the town and beyond. He made fast friends with the local rabbi, a Holocaust survivor who’d been a writer and radio man himself in pre-war Germany, when that was still possible. And dad had two sons, who were growing up in a white house across from an elementary school that had two sapling maple trees in the front yard.

But Fayetteville could not contain dad’s musical drive, and he’d leave home to travel long distances for gigs, especially ones that offered a chance to break through, like his “Today Show” appearance in 1962. And then came the 1966 hit “Turn Down Day” — a re-imagined pop version of his old theme: “680, 12 to 5.”

He expected his wife and two boys to follow him north when the time came. His wife expected that a man in his 30s could settle for a stable life in Fayetteville, where she’d built a formidable dance school.

The truth is, my parents never really belonged together in the first place, even though the marriage seemed so perfect when the glamorous young ballerina married her college sweetheart, the same wunderkind who wrote and conducted the college musicals in which she’d starred. In the end, neither was inclined to follow the other’s star.

I was 6 when the divorce became official in 1967. My father ruefully told me years later that it was the hardest thing to leave town at the end of his visits, when I’d start crying. David Blume wanted to be the best dad possible, which, to him, included being around. He fulfilled this ambition in his second marriage, the one that gained me a wonderful stepmother and, eventually, two delightful kid sisters. My mother never forgave him for the marriage that failed or the unsteady financial contribution, but I concluded long ago that, sometimes, even for devoted parents, leaving is the best option available.

My brother Leo and I got by with phone calls, letters and a few weeks a year with dad. Occasionally we took trips with him, but it also was fun just to be where he was, romping around New York City and later Los Angeles, after dad moved west. We’d hear a lot of music, stay up way past midnight, play with his Persian cats, discover food they didn’t have in Fayetteville and stage an annual World Series with made-up teams, a plastic bat and a ball made up of paper encased in masking tape. Leo and I played the parts of all the players. Dad was the umpire, a gravel-voiced character who took the name Gower Cahuenga, after two streets in Hollywood.

He was cool, with his long hair and leftie politics. He wore a bolo tie and a black leather cap, and tied his black locks into short ponytail in the back. And he could identify the year, make and model of virtually any car on the road — and recite chapter and verse on the world’s greatest ocean liners, its tallest buildings and the major suspension bridges.

And he never failed to do interesting things — like running Café Danssa, an Israeli folk-dancing club in West L.A., or quietly lobbying to save a majestic bunya-bunya tree that the city was going to cut down.

He never had another hit like “Turn Down Day,” but he forged a respectable career as a composer, producer and collaborator with his second wife, singer Carolyn Hester. And he eventually got that stable job, as a copy editor with the Los Angeles Times. In truth, he didn’t especially like the implied message of “Turn Down Day” if applied beyond a day or so. His lyrical essence was more rooted in another song, “I Have a Dream,” a plea for justice and family, which he wrote with Jerry Keller the night the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. died.

At the close of our visits, dad would send us home with records he’d produced or custom-made tapes of songs he liked: He didn’t want us growing up with unsophisticated musical tastes. But without his steady presence, our piano lessons lapsed.

And though he laughed with us as we told tales of mom’s unlucky second marriage to a man who turned out to have mental health issues, I’m sure he was worried. But at an elemental level, he trusted his first wife to take care of his boys.

My brother and I never felt we quite got enough of him, which, in recent years, had more to do with managing our own families and careers than him not being available. This sense of needing to catch up for lost time partly explains why my brother, the informal family archivist, started interviewing dad on videotape. Dad would complain, mostly in jest, that the process implied that his demise was impending.

I always assumed that someday there would be time to catch up properly; he’d probably felt the same way watching his boys grow up, mostly from far away. Too late, I realized that in the last year, he was slowly leaving us, as his health problems mounted. When he died, his wallet contained a list of favorite songs that he could refer to if called on to play at any moment.

My brother and I were in Fayetteville early this month, and we stopped by the old white house. Our grade school across the street has become the campus for teenage “delinquents” — information provided by the security guard who accosted us when she noticed us taking pictures.

The two sapling maple trees are giants now, dominating the yard, if not the neighborhood. I couldn’t recall whether it was dad who’d planted the maples. Leo didn’t know either. There was no doubt that dad had nurtured these trees when they were small. It was in his nature to care about such matters.

In past years, dad would ask us how the maples were doing. We’d show him pictures.

This year, so far, the maples are doing fine. Maybe they haven’t been looked after every moment, but they’re green and strong, and making it on their own.

Howard Blume is the former managing editor of The Jewish Journal.

 

Sweet Sixteen and Ready to Rise


Even though 16-year-old singer Liel Kolet was born on a kibbutz in northern Israel, she’d prefer to be called an international artist rather than an Israeli one. That largely explains why many of the younger generation of Israeli rock/pop buffs would know little about her. Nor is she routinely counted among the growing crop of Israeli pop princesses, such as Shiri Maimon, who also will be performing in Los Angeles later this month. She hasn’t released an album in Hebrew for wide distribution, and her English songs don’t get Israeli radio play.

And that’s just fine with Kolet. While the dark, curly-haired singer remains deeply connected to her Israeli roots — even while trotting the globe in America, Europe and Canada — she has her sights on the big leagues.

“From the start the idea was to build me as an international singer,” she said.

And there are parallels with her idol, Celine Dion. As young singers, both set their sights on international stardom with the backing of a dedicated manager (Kolet’s manager is Irit Ten-Hengel). Kolet, like Dion, has a clean and wholesome image, singing heartfelt songs about love, humanity and “the children.” On May 20, Kolet will represent Switzerland at the Eurovision singing contest, just as Dion, originally from Canada, did in 1988. The title of Kolet’s debut album is “Unison,” also the title of Dion’s hit debut.

“I’m not trying to be Celine Dion — we don’t have same kind of music — but what she achieved in her career and the steps she’s been through and what she represents are an example to me,” said Kolet in a very slight Israeli accent during a telephone interview. “She is an example of what an artist should be: She has an amazing voice and presence on stage that really touches to the heart of people. People come to hear her voice. That to me is what an artist is about.”

Kolet has a powerful voice and range, but Israeli-born female vocalists have notoriously failed to make a successful U.S. crossover. With the possible exception of Ofra Haza, another of Kolet’s favorites, Israeli divas usually fare better in Europe, which is generally more open to musical diversity.

Still, Ten-Hengel, Kolet’s international manager, left her prestigious career as a music executive at Sony Europe to focus solely on Kolet, because she has little doubt that Kolet will achieve her dreams.

“Mark my word: When she’s 18, she’s huge in America,” said Ten-Hengel. “She has the whole package — voice, personality, love for music, passion and angelic beauty.”

A select audience will judge for themselves when Kolet headlines the May 24 black-tie award dinner of the International Visitor’s Council. Music industry bigwigs are expected to be there for their own look, including Grammy-award winning producer David Foster, who has produced several of Dion’s hits. Ken Kragen, Kolet’s U.S.-based manager, is the dinner’s honoree for his production of humanitarian projects, including We Are the World and Hands Across America.

A veteran manager of such artists as Kenny Rogers, Lionel Richie, Olivia Newton John and the Bee Gees, Kragen came across Kolet two years ago when he saw a video of her performance at the 80th birthday celebration for former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. At the star- and diplomat-studded event, Kolet spontaneously called Bill Clinton to the stage to sing a duet with her of Lennon’s “Imagine.” It happened to be one of her best career moves.

“I realized this lady had amazing poise and ability and was a wonderful singer with an amazing voice,” Kragen said.

Two years ago, Kragen introduced the aspiring starlet to American music industry executives in Los Angeles.

With no major American record deals were in the offing, Kolet spent the last two years building up an impressive resume of performances in Europe, particularly in Germany, where she has won several awards. Her management believes that she’s now poised to conquer North America, making her upcoming visit to Los Angeles all the more significant.

“It’s not easy,” Kragen said. “The record industry today is much less inclined to sign new acts. The difference now is that there’s a track record in Europe.”

Kolet’s participation in charity events has put her onstage with artists such as Elton John, U2’s Bono and, most recently, Andrea Boccelli. She has developed a close working relationship with Klaus Meine of the legendary German rock band, the Scorpions, having performed with him last year in Israel.

Her first international album, “Unison,” is a potpourri of ethnic-tinged love ballads, upbeat pop songs and music with a “message”; it includes three duets with Meine. Their take on Naomi Shemer’s “Jerusalem of Gold” is the most Israeli song on the album, reflecting the Israeli pride she says she’ll always carry with her.

As Kolet put it: “Singing for peace and everything that I do and my charity events are because I grew-up in Israel.”

For more information on Liel Kolet, visit www.liel.net.

Darfur Seder Raises Awareness, Funds


Alula Tsadik, a lithe black man in dreds, wearing a red-and-black-striped poncholike tallit, pounded his chest and moaned, “Mama,” as he slowly circled the room at UCLA’s Hillel.

His tuneless melody, meant to capture the pain and horror of genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, was the first of many performances in last weekend’s Seder for Darfur. The Sunday pre-Passover event was held both to raise awareness and to raise money for Jewish World Watch on behalf of victims.

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child/a long way from home,” the Gwen Wyatt Chorale somberly sang, its singers dispersed throughout the standing-room-only crowd of about 300 people.

“We need for America to speak out and really do something,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, one of the many high-powered guests in attendance. “Where to start, of course, is in the faith community.”

Others on hand for the 90-minute program included actor Mare Winningham, Danny Glover, Ed Asner and Forest Whitaker, as well as Jewish community notables, such as Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Harold Schulweis, UCLA Hillel director Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller and singer Debbie Friedman. The event had few speeches; instead, the message was conveyed by readings, music and the firsthand accounts of students from Jewish World Watch who have gone to the Darfur region.

One of them, Lauren Gasparo, told of meeting a man who had just run away from his village, leaving behind his pregnant wife and his four children, ages 3 to 12.

“The Janjaweed will rape and kill my family, and there is nothing I can do,” the man said to her.

A slide show illustrated the crisis, using Ron Haviv’s photos from his “Children of Darfur” exhibit. The slides depicted displaced people, burning refugee camps and emaciated and dead victims of the genocide, which has claimed more than 300,000 people and displaced millions since 2003. Observers say most of the atrocities have been committed by Janjaweed militias, acting with the tacit approval and support of Sudan’s government.

“At every seder it’s our tradition to call, ‘Let all those who are hungry come and eat’ … in Darfur, their voices call out and remind us that in every generation we must see ourselves as if we left Egypt,” Seidler-Feller said. “Why is this seder different from all other seders? What has changed this year? Why are we gathering? Why do we care? Egypt is not a place and slavery is not a condition of the past.”

“Some nations are still ruled by present-day pharaohs,” he said. “Are you a freedom fighter? Then you believe in the Exodus. Today we are all freedom fighters.”

Seder participants were encouraged to use their own Passover seder to motivate their guests to help victims of oppression in Darfur. Inside orange “gift bags” were green postcards to mail to President Bush and contribution envelopes made out to Jewish World Watch, with the address line “Do Not Stand Idly By.”

The L.A.-based Jewish World Watch was formed in 2003 to educate and activate the community to decry genocide, as well as to bring humanitarian relief to victims in the form of water wells, medical clinics and sanitation. The organization has raised some $300,000 since its inception.

The gift bag also contained instructions for making the Passover seder different by adding a fourth matzah to the traditional three: “The Matzah of Hope.”

“We raise this fourth Matzah to remind ourselves that slavery and genocide still exist,” states the accompanying reading, “that people are being bought and sold as property, that ethnic people are being persecuted and slaughtered, that the Divine image within them is yet being denied….”

“We have suffered much for daring to be different. But we do not own suffering,” Asner read. “We live our lives in pursuit of justice…. We must not stand idly by….”

People were encouraged to attend an April 23 rally at the Federal Building in West Los Angeles. On April 30, Jewish World Watch is sponsoring a march on Washington and one in San Francisco, as well.

“It is easy to feel discouraged and say, what can I do?” director Robert Townsend said. “It is not helpless. By joining us today you are making a difference.”

The musical interludes used both traditional seder music — with saxophonist Dave Koz playing “Let My People Go” and Todd Herzog playing the Elijah song — and nonseder music — with Debbie Friedman singing, ” I still believe in people/and I still believe in you…” and Winningham on guitar, singing, “Hard times come again no more.”

Whitaker and Ahavat Shalom’s Cantor Patti Linksy mixed the two forms, as she read the closing “Chad Gad Ya” from the haggadah and the actor-director interspersed readings.

“What has changed? I have changed,” he read. “When will this circle of terror continue? When will this madness stop?”

“Our struggle must not stop,” said the seder’s executive producer, Janice Kaminer-Resnick. Just before the event, she announced, a donor had offered an $18,000 matching grant to the day’s contributions.

Craig Taubman, the writer of the seder, and producer of “Let My People Sing,” the nine-day Passover festival of which this was a part, ended the show on a jaunty note, playing with his band and Laurence Juber.

“Dayeinu,” they sang. Enough!

As people streamed out the door, Kaminer-Resnick announced that she had just received another check for $18,000, bringing the day’s pledges to $100,000.

 

A Young Violinist With a Lot of Pluck


Her name is Camilla Tsiperovich. But, growing up in Azerbaijan, there were times she wasn’t allowed to use it. As a 9-year-old violinist performing for world-renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, she was told to call herself Camilla Gadjieva. Her headmaster at the Azerbaijan Conservatory considered this a more suitable name, one that reflected the Muslim heritage of her country. While representing Azerbaijan in international music competitions and spending her first year of high school at the famed Moscow Conservatory, she always understood that “there was something wrong because you were Jewish.”

Tsiperovich no longer needs to hide who she is. A year ago, her talent was noticed by Anita Hirsh, whose work with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has given her a deep commitment to the Jews of the former Soviet Union. Hirsh, the widow of The Jewish Journal’s late publisher, Stanley Hirsh, sponsored Tsiperovich’s entrance into the Idyllwild Arts Academy. Now, at age 17, Tsiperovich is flourishing as a full-time student who divides her days between academic subjects and an intense focus on her chosen instrument.

Idyllwild Arts Academy, a boarding school nestled in the mountains above Palm Springs, is home to 270 high school students who are preparing for careers as artists, dancers, actors, filmmakers and musicians. The atmosphere is international, with about one-third of the student body hailing from Europe, Asia and Latin America. As an entering student with shaky English skills, Tsiperovich is enrolled in a basic course in English as a Second Language. She introduced herself to her classmates by saying, “I’m from Azerbaijan. None of you know where that is.”

The course has required her to write and speak often about the homeland she’s left behind. Todd Bucklin, the school’s ESL teacher, commends her for being frank and responsive: “It’s great having her strong presence in the class.”

He also admires her social progress. In her dormitory she’s been spotted watching Korean-language movies with her new Asian pals, reading the subtitles to understand what’s going on.

At Idyllwild, all academic classes are held in the morning, to leave afternoons free for lessons, rehearsals and practice sessions. Life is so busy that Tsiperovich finds time to practice her violin only five or six hours a day. Back home, her passion for the instrument led her to practice 12 hours daily. Such devotion had its downside: she was prone to developing injuries in her hands, wrists and feet.

Her family, though always supportive, is not especially musical. In fact, a career in music was completely Tsiperovich’s idea. She was only 3 when she saw a televised concert of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G and became obsessed with learning the violin. She began lessons before she turned 4, and it wasn’t long before she was winning competitions and presenting public recitals. She is also a gifted visual artist, who received her current instrument from an American oil company after it used one of her paintings in an advertising campaign.

Tsiperovich admits that in Azerbaijan it’s almost impossible to follow the rules of religious Judaism (her family’s tiny synagogue is now defunct). Nonetheless, she learned from an early age to respect Jewish tradition. She was active in her local chapter of the World Jewish Agency, also known as Sochnut, an organization that encourages Diaspora Jews to feel connected with the State of Israel. It was Sochnut that paved the way for her to participate in an Israeli music festival, where her violin performance won first prize. Because her stay in Israel coincided with her 13th birthday, she was able to celebrate an impromptu bat mitzvah in a local synagogue. Though her parents were far away, she was by no means lonely.

In Israel, Tsiperovich says in her careful, accented English, “I felt like I am at home. I felt so warm. People were so close to me.”

Now she’s learning to feel at home in the United States. She says Hirsh often acts as “my parent in America” and sees her during holidays. Hirsh took Tsiperovich to Utah over winter break for her first attempt at skiing. Still, it’s hard for her not to miss all that she has left behind. When her school took its spring break in late March, she flew to her home city of Baku, on the Caspian Sea, to reunite with her family for the first time in five months. As luck would have it, she was able to share in the festivities of her favorite holiday, Azerbaijan New Year.

Tsiperovich is determined to follow high school with four years at a major American music conservatory. Because her long-range goal is to forge a career as a soloist, it’s likely she won’t be spending many more New Years in her native land. The life of a professional musician can be heartbreakingly tough, but it offers one great reward.

“When you play music,” Tsiperovich says, “you feel really free.”

 

Passover Fest Offers Many Paths to Fun


At a time when hundreds of thousands of protesters crowded downtown chanting “Let My People Stay,” Passover may be resonating more acutely across all racial and ethnic groups than it has in recent years.

It is not only illegal immigrants for whom the Passover tale holds appeal. The story of the Exodus can be easily updated for any of the numerous people in the Third World seeking freedom from oppression. That is why Craig Taubman, who has produced events like Sunday Funday at the Ford Theater, has broadened the scope of Let My People Sing, his inaugural Passover festival, to include a seder on behalf of those suffering in Darfur. That is also why he has included musicians like Ani, a Malaysian Muslim, and Joshua Nelson, an African American who says he descends from the Jews of Senegal.

Every program is free, except for the seders, the profits of which go to building medical and water facilities in Darfur, said Taubman, who adds that at all the events people will receive gifts.

The eight-day festival actually takes place over 12 days. It kicked off on April 4 with a Clippers basketball game. Some of the festival participants sang the “National Anthem” at the Staples Center; others will play in basketball tournaments on the last day of the fest, April 16, at Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, a recreational property that Genie Benson, one of the organizers, refers to as “the best kept secret in L.A.”

Benson, executive director of Keshet Chaim, an Israeli folk ballet dance ensemble, is spearheading Let My People Rock, a full-day finale at Brandeis-Bardin. While some kids play hoops, others will replicate the Exodus by going on a trek through the 3,000-acre hilly property, led by an individual resembling Moses. Benson says that there will be a number of surprises along the way. That’s not including the different “culture” tents, such as a Moroccan tent and a Persian tent that simulate a Middle Eastern village. Or the giant sand sculpture being carved by Kirk Rademaker, an interactive environmental artist. Or the performances by the Israeli rap group, Hadag Nachash, and singers Rick Recht and Nelson.

Nelson may hail most recently from East Orange, N.J., but he traces his Jewish ancestry back to the West Coast of Africa. The 29-year-old singer, who sings and composes what he calls kosher gospel, soul music with Jewish liturgy, has been performing since his bar mitzvah. He was 18 when he released his first CD.

Nelson says that Jews of African descent, by which he means not only Falash Mura from Ethiopia but also Ugandan Jews, Nigerian Jews and Lemba Jews from Southern Africa, view Passover as the New Year because it celebrates aviv, or the spring. Because of the obvious parallels to black slavery, Nelson says that African Americans, irrespective of their religion, identify with the Jews in the Passover story.

So do many Muslims of different racial backgrounds. Ani, who will be singing passages from the Quran with the backing of the A.M.E. Church Gospel Choir at the Islamic Center of Southern California, said that, “Islam is very inclusive of all faiths, especially of the Abrahamic faiths.”

Ani has performed at many interfaith gatherings in the past, including a Muslim-Jewish seder at Wilshire Boulevard Temple; she points out that all faiths have a version of the Passover story, a story about struggling for freedom. In a phone interview, she reads a passage from the Quran in which the Israelites flee Pharaoh so that they can worship Allah.

Beyond the inclusion of non-Jews in the program, Taubman has also planned events all around Los Angeles, whether it’s Koreatown, the locale of the Islamic Center for Ani’s event, UCLA Hillel for the Darfur seder, Pasadena for a Raise the Roof performance by Rick Recht’s band, or the West Valley for the Let My People Rock freedom walk.

Nor is he limiting the entertainment to song, dance and basketball. There will also be comedy. Comedian Joel Chasnoff will perform on Friday and Saturday, April 14 and 15.

Chasnoff, 31, hopes that attendees “come out with a different view on Judaism” than they had before the show. For Chasnoff, the humor, even absurdity, of Judaism is in its “strange details.” For instance, he likes to talk about the hilarity of keeping kosher in the modern era. Boiling calves and milk may have been routine in 1906, but these practices sound almost alien in 2006.

If these kind of observations remind one of Jerry Seinfeld’s brand of humor, that is not surprising because Chasnoff admires Seinfeld’s dedication to writing. Chasnoff, who once opened for Jon Stewart and cites the “Daily Show” host as another comic influence, will also regale audience members with tales of Jewish guilt. One favorite line of his mother’s: “If my son worked just a little bit harder, I, too, could have an honor roll student.”

Like Chasnoff, many of the organizers and performers cite family as the common theme to Passover. Benson, the organizer of the finale at Brandeis, points out that Passover is uniquely participatory for everyone, children, adults, even strangers. She remembers how her father “always rented a room and invited everyone. No one had to pay. Just like now.”

Everyone may have participated, but she says that her father, in not charging anyone, was not being altruistic so much as trying to control the nature of the seder.

As her father would say, “When everyone contributes, everyone has an opinion.”

Let My People Sing, which opened with a Clippers game on April 4, continues through April 16. For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.jewishjournal.com/home/preview.php?id=15273

 

Kosher Gospel — a Joyful Noise at Shul


Joshua Nelson is resting his voice. That’s a tall order for Nelson, the 29-year-old African American Jewish singer who has blended black style and Jewish prayers and folksongs into a new, foot-stomping, synagogue-shaking praise music he has dubbed “kosher gospel.”

Though he’s been spreading his unique gospel for years, lately it’s been catching on like wildfire; an appearance on “Oprah” last fall solidified it as a hot commodity in crossover music, and Nelson as its inventor and chief spokesman. So Nelson has been speaking — and singing — a lot lately, which is why he is doing his best to do as little as possible of both between dates of his current tour (he and his band arrive at University Synagogue in Irvine on Jan. 22).

But once he gets started, once a certain spirit moves him and a passion for the subject matter takes hold, it’s hard for him to stop.

One subject he never seems to tire talking about is how he was moved to create kosher gospel, which for all its appeal strikes many people (Jewish and non-Jewish) as a contradiction of terms. Nelson is African American in the truest sense of the word: his Orthodox mother (his father is also Jewish) is from West Africa, and he grew up in South Orange, N.J. He is a third-generation Jew who grew up around predominantly black synagogues in Harlem and in his hometown. But his original inspiration for kosher gospel came from a traditional rabbi in Jersey who cornered him when he was a teenager honing his singing style. Rabbi Sky saw not only potential in Nelson as a performer, but also in his performance style–the potential to attract new generations of Jews.

“Rabbi Sky was strict, and I thought he was going to scorn me and the way I sang,” recalls Nelson. “But he didn’t. He said, ‘You should put that sound to Jewish music. You can encourage young people to come to temple!'”

Nelson has done that, and then some. His widening audience includes not just reinvigorated Jews, but non-Jews drawn to the undeniable spirit of the music, especially African Americans who were raised on this music in churches and who have always been steeped in it culturally. The fact that Nelson sings Jewish liturgy and prayer — often in Hebrew and not about Jesus — matters not to folks like Oprah, who respond primarily to Nelson’s soaring voice, his infectious rhythms and his conviction, all of which look and sound awfully familiar.

And the fact that Jewish and Christian themes and theology overlap, especially in the black church — the story of Moses and the divinely aided deliverance of his people from slavery comes to mind — makes Nelson resonate that much more. All of which is fine by him.

“Blacks have always put soul into something, wherever they are in the world,” he says.

A scholar of gospel, he stresses that despite the synonymity of the music with church, gospel originated in the fields where black slaves toiled for centuries in the American South.

“When slaves were introduced to Christianity, their moans and groans were wedded to hymns — that was syncopation. That was how gospel really came to be,” explains Nelson, who in addition to being a singer is a Hebrew teacher at his longtime temple, Shari-Tefilo Israel in South Orange. “Gospel wasn’t really accepted by churches, which thought it was too bluesy. Ultimately, it was too black.”

Nelson says his idol, gospel great Mahalia Jackson (whom he closely resembles in voice), encountered the same kind of disapproval early in her career in her adopted hometown of Chicago, which was populated by middle-class blacks seeking to distance themselves from black folk traditions and all things Southern. The power of gospel won out, of course, and Jackson went on to become a superstar and a catalyst for the music’s popularity.

Nelson says there’s a parallel between that dynamic and one unfolding today in Christianity: “You have a euphoric element in all denominations now.”

As for Judaism, he believes that gospel at temple is an idea whose time has come.

“In Jewish tradition, there were songs that [blacks) always sung with soul,” he muses. “We always did at our temple. It wasn’t exactly gospel, but it was different. We brought our traditions to it, like Jews all over the world brought their own traditions to the faith.”

It’s irresistible to speculate that kosher gospel is just the sort of entertaining, listener-friendly thing needed to help bridge the divide between blacks and Jews that developed after the 1960s and that conscientious folks in both camps have wrung their hands about ever since. Though he has no problem with multiculturalism or with coalition-building — his own Reform temple is notably diverse — Nelson cautions against equating race with religion, or implying it, in any discussions of blacks and Jews, or of Jews and any other ethnic group.

“Jewishness is not a race,” he says emphatically. “We tend to think in this country that all Jews are European or Ashkenazi. That’s how the immigration went. But that’s not the case.” Ironically, Nelson says that he encounters skepticism most frequently not from Jews or whites, but from blacks. “They’ve just never met a black Jew before,” he says, particularly one singing gospel. He adds, with a laugh: “They get a little confused.”

Joshua Nelson and his Kosher Gospel Singers will be in concert Jan. 22, 6:45 p.m., at University Synagogue, 3400 Michelson Drive, Irvine. For tickets, call (949) 553-3535.

Erin Aubry Kaplan is a regular Op-Ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

 

Vienna Glories in Past and Present


Sixty years after the end of World War II, Vienna has reclaimed its roots as a city of culture. Not the culture of stoic monuments to faded glory or landmarks illuminated by historical plaques, but in a living, breathing, heart-still-pumping way. Grand-yet-graceful music, art and architecture are the lifeblood of this city and those fortunate enough to live here.

Strolling along the wide pedestrian mall of the Kartnerstrasse, you cannot help but feel swept up in the art and culture of this elegant city. The impressive architecture rises up and surrounds you as the beauty of the city embraces you.

As the sun sets on the Kartnerstrasse, Viennese girls window shop Euro chain stores for platform shoes and designer scruff denim, shadowed by elegant palaces that line the cobbled street. A girl plays Strauss on a grand piano. Down the street, a man plays a symphony on crystal glasses of water, as students in black tie and spiked hair saunter past with cellos. The street comes to life with people who seem to not be in a hurry to go anywhere in particular.

Music is at the heart of Vienna, and since 2006 is being celebrated as the Mozart Year in Austria, the most rewarding Mozart experience is the city that inspired him. By all means, visit Mozart’s statue and the house he lived in, but to really experience Mozart’s Vienna, wander the cobbled lanes like the Blutgasse, where Mozart lived and worked. While away a morning by lingering over café and strudel in a plush coffee house (complete with charmingly polite tuxedoed waiters).

The best way to discover Mozart here might be a night at the Vienna Opera. I was lucky enough to attend a performance of “The Magic Flute” during my visit, which was sponsored by Austria Tourism. This was classical Mozart through and through in terms of the music, but the performance was strikingly modern.

A minimalist industrial set was the backdrop for bearded ladies painted blue and dressed in 18th-century industrial corsetry, while the priests of Sarastro were done up in white, minimalist hazmat suits. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I’ll concede, but that completely sums up a city that glories in its past but revels in its modernity.

Lets remember that Mozart was cutting-edge cool in his day. It’s fitting that this city still pushes the artistic envelope while embracing its artistic history. Vienna is a place where the elegant Hofburg Palace can stand alongside stunning Hundertwasser House.

Vienna’s influence as a cultural center also drew such Jewish composers as Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg and Alexander Zelimsky, in addition to numerous Jewish writers, actors, artists and doctors. And while the city’s Jewish history has been a tumultuous one — only 2,000 of the city’s pre-World War II population of 183,000 Jews survived the Shoah — Vienna today boasts a very active community of about 7,000 Jews.

The city features 15 synagogues (including a Sephardic congregation), a yeshiva, a Jewish museum and an office of Jewish Welcome Service. Most of Vienna’s Jews live in the city’s Second District, where you’ll find kosher supermarkets, butchers and restaurants.

The other must-see on any Austrian Mozart tour is the quaint city of his birth, Salzburg, where the Hohensalzberg fortress looms over the Salzach River, and the pastel shades of the shops in the Aldstadt are undeniably photogenic.

In Salzburg, you’ll have the opportunity to see the house where Mozart was born and visit the Mozart museum, which struggles to understand the composer’s genius. Both are worth a look, but the truly hot ticket in Salzburg is the Marionetten Theater, which regularly stages Mozart’s operas.

Appreciating the preservation of a centuries-old art is the key to enjoying Salzburg, a town that seems content to linger in its past. And provided that a look into a time capsule is all you expect, you may not be disappointed.

Jewishly speaking, Salzburg never fully recovered following the Holocaust. Only about 100 Jews inhabit the city, which features a single synagogue at Lasserstrasse 8. But despite its anti-Semitic reputation, the city was host to such Jewish luminaries as dramatists Max Reinhardt and Carl Zuckmayer, who were drawn to its Salzburg Festival and its cultural scene.

However, Mozart himself preferred the energy and vibrancy of cosmopolitan Vienna. Like a deep breath of fresh air, it’s a city that will make you sigh.

 

Cantor Glickman Returns to Israel


Cantor Binyamin Glickman, who taught generations of Los Angeles children to love God through music, is returning home to his beloved Jerusalem.

Ask him what he will see from his flat there and the 70-year-old smiles.

“The cemetery of Mount Olive, where grandparents are buried and my [first] wife is buried and I will be buried,” he said.” His view also includes the building that housed the old British Mandate offices, a place he walked by as a child in Palestine.

Glickman is not going back to retire but to direct the Jerusalem Center for Jewish Music. Aside from that, his grandfatherly wisdom is sought.

“‘The family needs you,'” Glickman said, repeating what his grown children have told him. Thirty-five of his 44 grandchildren live in Israel.

Glickman will leave behind a Los Angeles community of Jews he has known and taught since 1960, when he began a 22-year stretch as cantor at Beth Jacob Congregation, an Orthodox shul on Olympic Boulevard in Beverly Hills. He returned to Israel in the early 1980s, but by 2001 he was back in Los Angeles at Congregation Mogen David, the Pico-Robertson Orthodox shul that sits across the street from the Museum of Tolerance.

“Generations of bar mitzvah students were taught by him,” said Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, dean of the rabbinical school at the Academy of Jewish Religion, where Glickman also teaches. “Cantors in shuls in Pico-Robertson were all taught by Cantor Glickman at some point.”

“Everybody loves this guy,” said Cantor Nathan Lam of Bel Air’s Reform synagogue, Stephen S. Wise Temple, and dean of the Jewish academy’s cantorial school. “He’s a special human being. He makes a room feel good. If you’re sick, he’s the guy you want to come and cheer you up.”

On Nov. 30, Glickman’s synagogue will stage a community farewell concert in his honor hosted by longtime TV producer Sol Turtletaub of “Sanford & Son” fame. Glickman sang at Turtletaub’s son’s bar mitzvah — one of thousands of religious events graced by his tenor.

“I have [taught] hundreds of kids who know how to sing, know how to pray,” Glickman said.

Expected to attend are old friends, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who knew Glickman decades ago when both were active in the movement to help Soviet Jews.

Glickman’s late wife also was involved in that movement and demonstrated repeatedly at the Soviet consulate in San Francisco. “Hundreds and hundreds of Jews came out of Russia because of my wife,” he said.

A fifth-generation Jerusalemite, the gregarious Glickman got behind a microphone early. As a boy in Palestine during World War II, he won an audition to sing the jingle that introduced the BBC’s daily Hebrew-language broadcast. After finishing his musical studies in 1955, he conducted choirs before moving to Los Angeles in 1960.

He interrupted his career in Los Angeles to return to Israel to fight in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Glickman left Congregation Beth Jacob in 1982 to live in Israel. During his 10 years there, he set up the Jerusalem Center for Jewish Music and served as director of the separate Jewish music center at the Gush Etzion settlement near Jerusalem. He twice visited Russian Jews in the 1990s and compiled a 1991 Hebrew-Russian songbook.

With his children grown, Glickman returned to the United States in 1992.

Cantors, he said, are paid poorly in Israel, but they can make a living in America.

Glickman worked in Connecticut from 1992 to 2001 as cantor at Congregation Agudath Shalom in Stamford; his wife died in 1994. In 2001, he accepted his position at Mogen David.

Come December, he’ll reside in Israel with his second wife Shifra, 62, who will take Ulpan courses to learn Hebrew.

He is proud of his work with Soviet Jews and proud that he fought for Israel, but his work as a conductor and cantor are what will stay with him.

“I transmitted the Jewish musical experience to a whole generation here,” he said, “to bring them closer to God.”

 

Shticking It to the Classics


My 5-year-old thinks “My Yiddishe Mama,” the soulful ballad immortalized by Sophie Tucker in 1928, is a rock anthem. The version he learned didn’t come from a dusty old record, but from a CD released in 2004 by the group, Yiddishe Cup, called “Meshugeneh Mambo.”

This is not your grandmother’s Jewish music. Like other recent Jewish parody CDs, “Meshugeneh Mambo” carries on the tradition of Jewish humor popularized by such forbearers as Mickey Katz and Allan Sherman. Although the lounge acts of the Catskills have all but vanished, a few intrepid souls are bringing a modern brand of Borscht Belt humor to a whole new generation.

Yiddishe Cup’s album combines soulful klezmer ballads, doo-wop and, of course, Latin flair. The title track sets the tone, promising “No frailech [joyful] hora can compare/ to shaking your Yiddishe dierriere/ to the lovely Mesugheneh Mambo.”

The group’s rendition of “My Yiddishe Mama” throws in homage to James Bond’s “Goldfinger” and the theme song to “The Patty Duke Show.” Listen closely and you will hear spoofs of “Star Trek,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Outer Limits” scattered about in the traditional melodies and remakes of comedy routines created in the 1950s.

Newer artists like Yiddishe Cup have learned from the old comedic masters that classic Jewish humor relies on cleverness rather than anger. The best comics “tell a story that is visual and makes you think,” said Simon Rutberg of Hatikvah International on Fairfax Avenue. “Using the word ‘shmuck’ doesn’t make it Jewish.”

Instead, skilled artists allow listeners to recognize themselves and the universal truths behind the tales and tunes.

One artist who stresses ruach (spirit) over raunch is Michael Lange. The director, whose credits include “Life Goes On” and “The X-Files,” has released several titles under his Silly Music label. In November, Lange will release “A Kosher Christmas,” a collection of popular yuletide melodies coupled with decidedly Jewish-themed lyrics. It’s a strange experience indeed to hear the traditional orchestrations — think bells, trumpets and choral harmonies — as singers croon about litigation, food, guilt and family (categories that Lange refers to as “the four cornerstones of the Jewish experience.”)

In “Such a Loyal Son Am I,” a take-off on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” a mother and son alternate kvetching about one another: (Him:) Not so easy with this mother/Still a loyal son am I. (Her:) Not a doctor like his brother/Such a shanda [shame] I should cry. “Greensleeves” is re-imagined as “Greenstein,” an ode to the singer’s childhood crush, Tiffany Greenstein.

And, of course, food plays a significant role, as in “Harvey Weisenberg” (to the tune of “Good King Wenceslas”): “[which] Soup would he pick, wondered he:/Lentil, borscht or chicken/As he ate he thought with glee:/This is finger lickin’….

Lange previously created two Broadway musical parodies. “Goys and Dolls,” released in 2002, uses the original melodies of “Guys and Dolls” to tell the story of a young man who begins dating a non-Jewish woman, while “Say Oy Vey” re-imagines “Cabaret” as the story of two seniors who find romance at synagogue bridge night.

Musicals are also the targets of spoofs created by the group Shlock Rock, whose founder, Lenny Solomon, hails from a long line of cantors. Their 2003 release, “Almost on Broadway,” transforms “Maria” from “West Side Story” to “Tekia”: “Tekia! I’ve just heard the sound called Tekia!”

Shlock Rock boasts 23 albums to its credit, ranging from original compositions to children’s music to parody. The group’s nine other parody CD’s display an impressive range of musical styles, Judaic knowledge and humor. In one, for example, Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” becomes “49 Days to Count the Omer,” while in another, “Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin morphs into “Learning to Do the Hora.” And you’ve got to wonder what kind of mind would think of transforming the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” into “Rabbi Akiva”: “Rabbi Akiva had straw for a bed/Love thy neighbor like thyself is what he said.”

While they’re amusing to listen to, be forewarned: The lyrics stick with you. So when the time comes for my son to join his kindergarten classmates for the annual holiday assembly in December, he’ll be easy to pick out. He’ll be the one singing “Goys Rule the World.”

 

Sacred Sounds All Over Town


There’s an inescapable irony in vocalist Vanessa Paloma performing Ladino songs at the San Gabriel Mission, which was founded by Spanish Catholics. It was, of course, Spanish Roman Catholics who expelled Ladino-speaking Jews from Spain in 1492. Paloma called the venue “emotionally charged,” but she hopes the music and ambiance will prove to be healing as well as musically appealing.

“Just the fact of sitting in that room and listening to that music will be an interesting experience, and hopefully a powerful one,” she said.

Paloma’s performance at the 200-year-old mission is one highlight of the 2005 World Festival of Sacred Music, which will be spread out among many Los Angeles locations over a two-week period beginning Saturday.

The festival, directed by Judy Mitoma, will show Angelenos how cultures from around the world find spiritual sustenance through music. Jewish cultures of the Iberian peninsula, Eastern Europe and the Middle East are well represented. Here are some of the notable events:

Wed., Sept. 21 — Yuval Ron Ensemble. 7 p.m., Alfred Newman Recital Hall at USC; $20. For tickets, call (213) 740-2167 or visit www.usc.edu/spectrum

Ron, an Israeli composer and record producer, pulls together traditions of Judaism, Islam, and the Armenian Church in music and dance. In this program, Ron’s troupe, which includes artists from Israel, Lebanon, Armenia, Iran, France, and the United States, explore the mystical teachings of different Middle Eastern cultures and the deep connections among them.

Thurs., Sept. 22 — Flor de Serena, with vocalist Vanessa Paloma and guitarist Jordan Charnofsky. Noon, San Fernando Mission, 15151 San Fernando Mission Blvd., Mission Hills; free. For tickets, call (818) 361-0186 or visit www.flordeserena.com.

The ensemble, which includes percussion and bass, will play music composed and performed by Sephardim after arriving in the Americas as well as tunes originating in Spain and Portugal. Historian Arthur Benveniste will narrate the musical journey of Spanish Jews after their expulsion from Iberia in the 1490s.

Paloma, who grew up in Colombia, traces her Sephardic heritage to the north of Spain. She formed Flor de Serena with Charnofsky after a trip to Israel, where she discovered music for many obscure Ladino songs.

Sephardic music, she told The Journal, “integrates the Spanish-speaking and Jewish aspects of my life.”

Charnofsky, who began playing with klezmer bands in the early 1990s, isn’t Sephardic but describes Sephardic music as a natural bridge between his instrument, the guitar, which was developed on the Iberian peninsula, and his growing involvement with Jewish music.

Sun., Sept. 25 — Cantori Domino. 7:30 p.m., John Anson Ford Amphitheater, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood; $25. For tickets, call (323) 461-3673 or visit www.fordamphitheater.org.

This 50-voice choir, will sing Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” accompanied by musicians on harp, timpani and two pianos. The selection of psalms encompass themes of joy, innocence, war, trust, hope and unity.

Conductor Maurita Phillips-Thornburgh, though not Jewish, has been music director for the High Holidays at Stephen S. Wise Temple for 14 years.

“I don’t know of a time when this [work] wouldn’t be timely, but it seems particularly timely now,” she said.

Mon., Sept. 26 — The Psalms of Ra. 6 p.m., 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., Alchemy Building, 5209 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; $25. For tickets: (323) 769-5069 or visit www.psalmsofra.com

Jim Berenholtz, who has traveled widely in the Middle East, uses his “neo-ancient” music to illustrate the creative and spiritual cross-fertilization he says existed between the New Kingdom Egyptians and the Jews who lived in Egypt for centuries. He sets ancient Egyptian and Hebrew texts to contemporary sacred music, according to the billing. Some of his works interweave mystical Hebrew incantations with Egyptian mantras; his settings of Hebrew texts include Psalm 116, which speaks of being lifted up after hitting life’s bottom.

Oct. 1 — World Jewish Music Fest. Noon, 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica; free. Information: (310) 434-3431 or www.smc.edu/madison.

Westsider Stefani Valadez will perform Ladino songs from Spain and North Africa, and Russian clarinetist Leo Chelyapov will appear with his Hollywood Klezmer Trio. The family-oriented afternoon will also feature Israeli dancing.

The Moscow-born Chelyapov, who first heard klezmer music when his grandfather took him to Jewish weddings in Kiev, had made playing it his “calling” by the time he arrived in Los Angeles in 1992.

“It touches my Jewishness, and it feels natural to me,” he told The Journal. Not only is klezmer music historically identified with weddings, which Chelyapov called “a mystical point of life,” but it often employs liturgical texts and, most importantly, he said, “it’s supposed to elevate your spirit.”

For a complete schedule, visit www.festivalofsacredmusic.org or call (310) 825-0507.

 

Calendar



The Jewish Journal is no longer accepting mailed or

faxed event listing information. Please e-mail event listings at least three

weeks in advance to:
calendar@jewishjournal.com
.

By Keren Engelberg

Calendar

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EVENTS

Lev Eisha: 7:30 p.m. Andy Hill, former UCLA basketball player and inspirational speaker, discusses “Miracles Do Happen: How You Can Be Touched by an Angel.” $25. Adat Shalom, 3030 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles.(310) 475-4985.

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The Hermosa Beach Playhouse:
2 p.m. and 7 p.m. “Ethel Merman’s Broadway.” $45. Pier Avenue at Pacific Coast Highway. (310) 372-4477.

OPEN HOUSES

he New JCC at Milken: 10 a.m.-
4 p.m. Open house for new and old members. Also, 1:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Koreh L.A. teen literacy corps training session for eighth-12th graders. 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3390.

EVENTS

Temple Akiba: 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. American Red Cross blood drive.
5429 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City.
(310) 398-5783.

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LECTURES

UCLA Israel Studies Program and International Institute: 4-5:30 p.m. “Arafat’s Legacy … and How It Spins Out Now” with Kenneth W. Stein. Free. UCLA Law School Room 1357, enter campus at Hilgard and Wyton. (310) 825-0604.

Jewish World Watch: 7:30-9 p.m. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) on community response to the Darfur refugees. Valley Beth Shalom, Encino. (818) 784-5224.

ARTS &
ENTERTAINMENT

University of Judaism: 11 a.m. Cellist Tina Guo performs as part of the Young Artist Concert Series. Luncheon follows. $12-25. Bel Air. (310) 440-1283.

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ARTS &
ENTERTAINMENT

Adat Ari El: 7:30-9:30 p.m. “Bedtime Stories for Grownups” with Donna Rifkind. Wynn Meeting Room, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.

Temple Ner Tamid: 9:30 a.m. Tea and Torah four-part “Tradition” lecture series meets Wednesdays. $10-$15. Fellowship Hall, 10629 Lakewood Blvd., Downey. (562) 861-9276.

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Skirball Cultural Center: Opening of the exhibit “Driven Into Paradise: L.A.’s European Jewish Emigres of the 1930s and 1940s.” Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., LosAngeles. (310) 440-4500.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Colburn School of Performing Arts:
7:30 p.m. Concert composed by Menachem Wiesenberg. Free. 200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 621-2200.

SHABBAT

Nashuva: 6:45 p.m. Nashuva community service-oriented Kabbalat Shabbat. Westwood Hills Congregational Church, 1989 Westwood Blvd., Westwood.” width=”1″ height=”30″ alt=””>

Tu B’Shevat

Saturday, Jan. 29

Congregation Mishkon Tephilo:

12:30 p.m. Seder celebrating the New Year of Trees. PETA’s Aaron Gross speaks on “Kashrut, Religious Values and the Ethical Treatment of Animals.” 206 Main St., Venice. (310) 392-3029.

Sunday, Jan. 30

B’nai B’rith, The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life of Southern California, Jewish Historical Society, JQ International, Nashuva and Temple Beth Israel: 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. A morning of planting and revitalization. Plant trees and shrubs at Temple Beth Israel. 5711 Monte Vista St., Highland Park. (310) 841-2970.

Congregation Kol HaNeshama: Noon-3 p.m. Tree planting at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. All ages. (949) 551-2737.

Westside Jewish Community Center: Noon-4 p.m. Community festival themed, “Old Roots, New Growth.” Games, art, tree planting and live music. Free.

5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles.

(310) 938-2531, ext. 2250.

Beth Shir Sholom: 12:30 p.m. Community Tu B’Shevat celebration.

1827 California Ave., Santa Monica.

(310) 453-3361.

Singles

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Singles Helping Others: 9 a.m.-noon. Walk rescued dogs with the Amanda Foundation in Beverly Hills.

(818) 907-2427.

Nessah Synagogue: 1 p.m. Tu B’Shevat celebration for young professionals and college students. $26. 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 247-1226.

G.E.E. Super Singles (20s-40s):

5:30 p.m. Drinks and progressive dinner. $35. Sportsmen’s Lodge, 12833 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (818) 501-0165.

Conversations at Leon’s: 7:30 p.m. Saturday Night Mixer. $15-$20.

639 26th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P.,

(310) 393-4616.

Temple Ramat Zion and North Valley JCC: 7:30 p.m. After New Year’s Bash with live music by “Nightlife” and dancing. $15-$20. 17655 Devonshire Street at Zelzah Ave., Northridge. (818) 366-4801.

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Jewish Outdoor Adventures:
9:45 a.m. Intermediate hike to Strawberry Peak from Red Box. Carpools from West Los Angeles, the Valley and Angeles Crest Highway.” width=”1″ height=”30″ alt=””>

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Israeli Folk Dancing: 8 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Classes by Israel Yakove meet Mondays and Thursdays. $7. 2244 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 839-2550.

Project Next Step: 8 p.m. Coffee Talk with coffee and pastries. $7. R.S.V.P., 1399 S. Roxbury Drive, third floor, Beverly Hills. (310) 772-2466.

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Westwood Jewish Singles (45+):
7:30 p.m. Therapist Maxine Gellar leads a discussion on “Involvement With the Unavailable.” $10. West Los Angeles area. R.S.V.P., (310) 444-8986.

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Wilshire Boulevard Temple:
7:30 p.m.-midnight. David Dassa’s weekly dance lessons with beginner lessons at 7:30 p.m., regular class at 8 p.m. and open dancing at 9:15 p.m. $7. 2112 S. Barrington Ave., Los Angeles. ddassa@att.net.

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Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California (20s-30s): 8 a.m. Monthly meeting open to all members for planning and discussing membership development, programs, conferences and award dinners. University of Judaism,

15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. R.S.V.P., skorin@uj.edu.

Conversations at Leon’s: 7 p.m. Discussion about “What Women Really Want, a Woman’s Perspective.” $15-$17.

639 26 St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 393-4616.

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New Age Singles (55+): 6 p.m. No-host dinner at Nibblers followed by a creative arts Shabbat service at Temple Beth Am. Nibblers, 8383 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Temple Beth Am, 1039 La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 838-7459.

Nashuva: 6:45 p.m. Nashuva community service-oriented Kabbalat Shabbat. Westwood Hills Congregational Church, 1989 Westwood Blvd., Westwood.” width=”1″ height=”30″ alt=””>

Upcoming Singles

Elite Jewish Theatre Singles:
6:30 p.m. Attende a no-host dinner social followed by the musical “Chicago” at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. $42.50. R.S.V.P.,
(310) 203-1312.

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Elite Jewish Theatre Singles:
8 p.m. No-host dinner social and
“2-Across” in the Santa Monica area. $19 (prepaid). R.S.V.P.,
(310) 203-1312.

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J-Ski (20s-40s): Taos Ski Trip. $759. R.S.V.P.,
JskiLa@aol.com
.

A Boutique With Benefits

Shop for relief this Tuesday, Feb. 1. Beverly Hills boutique outlet Treasure Depot invites Jewish Journal readers to a Shopping Party and Tsunami Relief Fundraiser that offers a 10 percent discount off already 70 percent marked-down high-end shoes, clothes and accessories by Jill Stewart, Marc Jacobs, Sergio Rossi and others. In addition, 10 percent of all sales for the week of Feb. 1-8 will go to American Jewish World Service’s Asia tsunami relief effort.

5:30-8:30 p.m. 9921 Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 552-3301.

Circuit


 

Jokes, Lights and Songs

The Israel advocacy group StandWithUs filled the University of Judaism’s main auditorium for its Dec. 5 Festival of Lights concert. Actor-comedian Larry Miller hosted the event on crutches, and provided a light comic stream amid the tributes and music. He reminded the overflow crowd that expecting terrorists to have a change of heart is like holding out hope for sour milk: “The milk is sour; maybe it’ll be fresh tomorrow.”

Musicians Sam Glaser and Peter Himmelman, cantors Alison Wissot and Chayim Frankel and Israeli singer Hedva Amrani Miller all performed.

“Too bad the tourists don’t come; Israel needs our help,” Amrani said. “I have two hearts; one heart in Israel and one here.”

StandWithUs began in 2001 as a sort of informational guerrilla unit working among larger, entrenched Jewish institutions trying to grasp the extent of current anti-Semitism, especially on college campuses. Despite the Festival of Lights’ naturally festive mood, a video captured the gravity of what StandWithUs monitors, showing a Muslim cleric on Palestinian television saying, “Jews are dogs. Jews are pigs.”

Two of the group’s main backers, Newton Becker and Mark Karlan, were honored at the Festival of Lights with menorah trophies that almost dominated the stage podium.

“In Europe, Israel is perceived as Nazi Germany,” Becker said. “We’ve lost the war of ideas in Europe. The Jews in Europe have not countered the lies. They need our help and they’re not used to doing it themselves.”

Karlan praised StandWithUs for using donations effectively, saying, “I like the fact that they deliver more bang for our tzedakah buck.” – David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

ORT Support

The Jewish vocational organization ORT honored Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Chief William Bratton at its Dec. 5 Chanukah brunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Jewish community philanthropist Jona Goldrich pledged $10,000 to the ORT’s $500,000 annual budget goal.

The LAPD chief, who attended the brunch with his wife, Court TV personality and legal analyst Ricki Kleiman, was named the L.A. ORT chapter’s Man of the Year. Bratton told the 200 ORT supporters that police officers and ORT instructors are in similar roles because they try to “make a difference.”

KNX 1070 reporter and L.A. ORT advisory council member Laura Ornest was the emcee for the brunch, which was coordinated by third-generation ORT supporter Deena Eberly, while Rabbi David Baron of Temple Shalom for the Arts gave the invocation.

Goldrich was not the only donor pledging big bucks to the organization. ORT’s L.A. chapter founder Stanley Black – whose name graces the L.A. ORT Technical Institute building on Wilshire Boulevard – started the brunch’s fundraising by pledging $18,000, and then Black’s 10-year-old grandson donated $10.

ORT’s global budget of $300 million supports schools in 60 countries.

“College prepared me for the advertising business, but ORT prepared me for the world,” said a young Argentine immigrant who studied at an ORT school. – DF

Hopes and ‘Dreams’

Domestic violence blights even wonderful communities, which is why organizations like the Jewish Family Service’s Family Violence Project (JFSFVP) are working to stop it. On Oct. 27, the mid-Wilshire Domestic Violence Prevention Collaborative – a joint venture of JFSFVP and 14 other organizations – honored eight individuals and two groups for their efforts to raise awareness of domestic violence in Los Angeles, especially in underserved communities where information on the issue has been largely unavailable.

The ceremony was held at the West Hollywood Community Center on Santa Monica Boulevard, and was hosted by West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tem Abbe Land. Other dignitaries in attendance included state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles), Beverly Hills City Councilman Jimmy Delshad and Paul S. Castro, executive director of Jewish Family Service.

Honored at the ceremony was the cast and crew of the NBC TV series “American Dreams.” Sarah Ramos, 13, who plays Patty Pryor in the show, spearheaded an effort on the set to help victims of domestic violence, and since the show’s debut two years ago the cast and crew have collected donations for domestic violence victims.

Other honorees were the Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation (Asian community); Dr. Gerry Rosen (African immigrant community); Esther Batres (Latino community); Sattareh Farman Farmaian (Iranian community); Matthew Pulling (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community); Cori Jones (Jewish Orthodox community); Maya Segal (Russian community); Julieana Tores (youth community); and officer Chris Curry, of the LAPD Wilshire Division (law enforcement).

Safire at Sinai

The Adult Education Committee at Sinai Temple, chaired by Rosa Berman Ruder, hosted award-winning New York Times columnist William Safire as its Rabbi Jacob Kohn scholar-in-residence on Nov. 20 and 21. Safire spoke twice over the weekend – once on Shabbat, where he discussed the book of Job, and then again at a breakfast on Sunday, where he spoke about his ardent support for Israel and U.S. politics. In his Sunday speech, Safire analyzed the 2004 presidential race with warmth and humor saying that the difference between President Bush and Sen. Kerry was that Bush was playing to win, whereas Kerry was playing to not lose.

“That’s why you had Bush’s certainty and Kerry’s nuances,” he said.

Safire said that he expected the 2008 democratic ticket to be headlined by Sen. Hillary Clinton and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He also said that he supported an amendment to the constitution that would allow foreign-born citizens to run for president.

After his speech, Safire sat down for a Q-and-A session with Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe.

Safire will soon retire from his New York Times Op-Ed column, but will continue writing the On Language column published in the New York Times Magazine.

Spiritual Relaxation

N’Shei Chabad of Los Angeles held its annual Rest and Ruchnius retreat – ruchnius is Hebrew for spirituality – at the Oxnard Marriott Oct. 29-31. The retreat was for women only – although they were allowed to bring along nursing babies – and its purpose was to provide some respite from the pressures of careers and home life by ensconcing the women in a nice hotel, with good food and great speakers. This year, the featured speaker was New York-based teacher and author Shimona Tzukernik, who spoke about chasidut (piety) and the spiritual lessons she learned on a recent safari trip through her native South Africa. Other speakers at the retreat included Devorie Kreiman and the Chai Center’s Olivia Schwartz.

Appointment Time

In August, Na’amat USA, an organization that raises funds to support the social service of Na’amat Israel, appointed its first president to hail from the West Coast – Alice Howard of Encino. Howard, who has taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 28 years, previously served the national organization as coordinator for the Western Area, financial secretary and chair of the Golda Meir Child Development Fund. She is a second-generation Na’amat USA member– her mother, Sarah Bocarsky, is a life member and was president of California’s Lake Elsimore club for 10 years.

Na’amat, which is Israel’s largest women’s movement, supports the largest network of day care centers in Israel, as well as technological high schools, women centers, legal aid services for women, centers for the treatment and prevention of violence in families and many other services.

Dori Sher, who serves as director of after-school children’s services for Valley Cities Jewish Community Center in Sherman Oaks, was recently accepted in the Teen Professional Mentor Program with JCCA of North America. Sher was the only person selected from the Western Region for this prestigious program.

The Teen Professional Mentor Program is a nationally recognized curriculum that invests $18,000 worth of training, in-service and conferences/trips into each participant. The program has achieved numerous honors over the years for their work with teens throughout the United States.

For more information on the program, call (818) 786-6310.

Planet Partners

On an unusually chilly autumn night under the stars, The Coalition of the Environment and Jewish Life of Southern California (COEJL/SC) presented its fifth annual Environmentalist of the Year awards. A far cry from its first awards, the elaborate party at the home of Richard and Daphne Ziman drew hundreds of Los Angeles’ Jews, environmentalists, businesspeople and politicians, like former Gov. Gray Davis, mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg and Michelle Kleinert, deputy director of community affairs for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“When you think about the environment and Jewish life in Southern California, you think Ed Begley,” said the lanky blond actor, who served as the master of ceremonies for the evening.Begley said he believes in COEJL/SC because it is sounding the clarion call to save the planet: “God gave us this planet, it’s our responsibility to preserve it.”

“Together, as a community, we can make real changes,” said Jewish Environmentalist of the Year Marlene Grossman, the executive director of Pacoima Beautiful. She pointed to TreePeople for its outstanding conservation work. “Tonight is the night we teach that to our children, and tonight is the night we bequeath it to us all,” she said.

Interfaith Environmentalist of the Year went to Terry Tamminen, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency; Business Environmentalist of the Year went to Toyota, which manufactures the hybrid Prius.

The lifetime achievement award was presented to Dorothy Green, the founding president of Heal the Bay. Green said she was honored and privileged to be able to work to restore habitat and that she was glad people of different religions were coming together to work on the environment.

“To bring together communities of faith – that is the future of the environment,” she said.

“Throughout all religions, teachings and moral commandments it is clear that we must care for creation to protect future generations,” said Lee Wallach, president of COEJL/SC. “Only in coming together we can do that.” – DF

 

Hip-Hop’s Jew Crew Takes Center Stage


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Jews have been part of hip-hop since its beginning,” said Josh Noreck of the Hip Hop Hoodios, a Latino Jewish rap group based out of Los Angeles and New York. “Rick Rubin founded Def Jam records. Lyor Cohen started working for it right after. The Beastie Boys and 3rd Bass were huge old-school rappers. Way before Eminem, pretty much the only white rappers were Jewish. When I was growing up, I was conscious of that.”

And yet, hip-hop video producer Jeremy Goldscheider said, “Nobody realizes there is a Jewish hip-hop scene spread out in different parts of the world.” Eager to educate hip-hop fans about international Jewish rappers, Goldscheider recently joined forces with local Jewish singer, songwriter and music producer Craig Taubman, co-producing a new album, “Celebrate Hip Hop: Jewish Artists From Around the Globe” — the latest in Taubman’s “Celebrate” series.

From Israeli MC Sagol 59 to American MC Remedy, and from British group Antithesis to Russian group iSQUAD, the CD brings together mainstream and underground artists with diverse approaches to hip-hop. Canadian group Solomon & Socalled rap in Yiddish to a classic sthetl groove; Israeli artist Mook E raps in Jamaican-style dancehall; and American group Blood of Abraham raps in classic inner-city style.

Despite these marked differences, Goldscheider said, there are several factors uniting all the songs: “Every song on [the album] has a very strong point of view and a lot of heart, whether addressing political or personal topics. There were a number of artists I didn’t put on here because they had typical rap songs about women, partying, bling-bling. To me, they didn’t have anything unique to say about a Jewish experience. Every song on here has something Jewish about it, something positive, something that has some meaning.”

Goldscheider’s ultimate goal is to provide youth a new avenue for expressing Jewish identity: “I’m interested in how young people connect to Judaism. I don’t think there are a lot of interesting, unique, cool ways of doing it. I wanted to create a product that would help make young people proud of being Jewish…[This CD] is about being part of a larger hip-hop community, being proud of a Jewish voice in it. I felt this music would create new interest for a 15-year-old Jewish kid who doesn’t care about Judaism.”

“I think Jewish hip-hop is really important to Jewish identity today,” said Noreck, whose group is on the album singing “Ocho Kandelikas” — a rock/salsa/rap version of the traditional Ladino Chanukah song (see box). “Music like klezmer is for an older generation. You have to bring Jewish music up to date, and the most youth-driven genre today is hip-hop. To me, it makes perfect sense that someone does a compilation like this…. I think [it’s] long overdue.”

For some, however, hip-hop and Jewish music seem as far removed from each other as can be: Shortly after Goldscheider approached Taubman with the idea for this album, Taubman saw a “Jewish hip-hop” posting on the Jewish music listserv to which he subscribes. “One hundred people responded to the posting,” Taubman recalled, “saying that [Jewish hip-hop] is a joke, that if it does exist it shouldn’t.” That reaction made up Taubman’s mind to go ahead with the project. “I e-mailed back,” Taubman said. “I never e-mail in response to postings, but I was so incensed that I wrote and said I’m doing a compilation CD of Jewish hip-hop music.”

“The opposition is only within the Jewish community,” said L.A. rapper Etan G., whose song, “South Side of the Synagogue,” appears on the compilation. “With the exception of the Beastie Boys, there has never been a prominent Jewish hip-hop act that wasn’t about bagels and lox and dreidels and shmaltz and gelt and every other idiotic Yiddish word you can throw into a song…. Jews have no respect for Jewish hip-hop. They all listen to mainstream hip-hop, but when you come out as a Jewish rapper, they are not as into it, because it’s generally not as good. There is seemingly nothing authentic in Jewish rap; nothing that captures anything.”

“A lot of Jewish rap up to now has been about parody,” Noreck said. “I can’t stand it. If Jewish rap music wants a place of its own and wants to be taken seriously, it can’t be parody all the time.”

Goldscheider steered clear of such acts in this compilation CD. “First and foremost,” he said, “I tried to choose artists that were serious about their music…. I stayed away from Jewish hip-hop artists that do a shtick. I chose music that had something to say — musically or lyrically.”

Through songs like “Remember Ben” by Israeli rappers Sagol 59 and A7, the album does come through in addressing significant and timely topics: “I’ve seen many rappers come and go/I’ve seen many DJs with inflated egos/But I’ve never seen anyone quite like you/One hand on the turntables/One hand flipping through the Torah/You didn’t care if it was in a small club in front of three people/Or if in a huge festival in front of three thousand/You played Cube and Snoop, Common and Cyprus/I remember you always said, ‘I don’t spin on Shabbos’/But now you’re not here/You’ve fallen victim to the stupid war of small-minded people.”

“DJ Benny the B was an Orthodox Jewish guy from Pennsylvania,” said Sagol 59, who raps in Hebrew. “He came to study Torah in Jerusalem. He was a hip-hop DJ by night, with his kippah and tzitzit and four earrings in each ear, spinning Snoop Doggy Dog. The day before he was supposed to go back to America, he went to say goodbye to some friends at Hebrew University. He actually had the plane ticket in his pocket when he was blown up by a suicide bomber in the school cafeteria. He was one of nine people killed…. It was really difficult to record this song, and I still get choked up when I perform it.”

A7 freestyled his part of the song in English, taking his opening line from the words on a poster in the recording studio, “Eternal reflections: All things are destined to go back to the creator.” Growing up in the inner city of Baltimore, immersed in East Coast hip-hop, A7 began freestyling in first grade — going on to rap with Baltimore’s local group Triad and local crew Testament. At 21, however, he left his fellow musicians, family and friends, in pursuit of a new spiritual path — Judaism. “I started to read the Torah,” he said, “and it spoke to me…. I decided these are my beliefs, and I’m really serious about it. So there was only one place for me to be: here in Israel.”

Israeli hip-hop artists, A7 asserts, have something to teach hip-hop artists in America: “Because hip-hop is so international right now, rappers need to pay attention to the messages they are putting out there. As black rappers in America, we can get rich making albums about killing white people. For this reason, American rappers are not cognizant of the image we portray globally. But it’s more than our block now, more than our neighborhood, our side of town, our state, America. It goes around the world. So we have to be cognizant not to look like fools.

“One thing that the rest of the world has an understanding of, which American musicians don’t, is that what you say affects other people. In America, people can say anything they want, and whatever happens so be it. Here in Israel, you have to be cognizant of the words coming out of your mouth, because they can incite something negative. And you don’t want to do that in a place like this, where things are extremely sensitive and tense. As a Jew, I can’t make an album talking about killing Palestinians. If I’m a Palestinian, I can’t make an album talking about killing Jews. Only one message needs to come out in Israel — and that is peace.”

Peace is the message on Remedy’s track with RZA and Cliva Ringz, “Muslim and a Jew” — which encourages Jews and Arabs to remember that we come from the same blood line; and it also is the message in Antithesis’s track, “Just Peace,” chronicling the struggles of Israel since 1948. Goldscheider hopes these and other songs will get Jews talking — even more than usual: “There is discussion to be had from the songs, whether formally or informally, backstage among artists, or among listeners in classrooms and camps,” he said. “There are opportunities for discussion about Israel and about being Jewish and about working or playing in the secular world and also being very proud of your Jewishness.”

Among other topics, Goldscheider hopes this album will spur conversations about Jewish diversity: “Another intention of the record, from an educational point of view, is to make people understand there are Jews in Mexico, that there are Jewish rappers who sing in Russian. That’s an important thing to know about Jewish music and the scene: It’s global.”

Featuring rappers who are white and people of color, from Ashkenazi and Sephardi backgrounds, the album definitely takes a step towards representing the global Jewish experience. Nonetheless, with no female rappers, and none of the prominent hip-hop artists from Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jewish communities, the album falls short of offering a complete Jewish hip-hop experience.

The artists who are on this album nonetheless make a strong case for Jewish hip-hop, and open the door for additional exploration of the scene’s thriving diversity. Whether the album’s message will make into the mainstream market, however, remains to be seen. A few factors are in favor of this possibility: As part of the popular Wu Tang clan, MC Remedy already has enjoyed mainstream success, with his single, “Never Again,” — about his family’s experience in the Holocaust — selling 250,000 copies since its release two years ago. In addition, the Hip Hop Hoodios have a strong cross-over appeal in the Latino market — as evidenced by the appearance of their videos on MTV Espanol.

As album sales get under way, Taubman is actively targeting the mainstream market, promoting it at Walgreens, Costco, and Ralphs, as well as at Jewish organizations — an endeavor made possible by the fact that there is very little cursing on the album. “It’s a very clean record, a family record,” Goldscheider said. Despite opening up numerous markets, there were some drawbacks in making the CD family friendly: “That caused limitations — some artists couldn’t get on, because the intention was to make it something palatable to schools and camps,” Goldscheider said. But the trade-off, he concludes, was ultimately worth it: “I want it to get into those places. I want it used by Jewish organizations, youth organizations, Hillels on college campuses…. It’s just edgy enough but clean enough. The intention was to find that balance.”

Taubman reports that Jewish high schools already have begun ordering copies of the CD, and that a curriculum program will be available to schools in early January. Meanwhile, Goldscheider is hoping to embark on an additional complementary project — creating a college campus tour and music documentary that follows artists on the album as they tour around the world. “What I hope the record does is create more interest in the music,” Goldscheider said, “and I want to document this interest.”

“Celebrate Hip Hop” is available at (800) 627-2448 or ” target=”_blank”>amazon.com or Ameoba Records in Hollywood.

“Celebrate Chanukah,” featuring the release party for “Celebrate Hip Hop” and MC Hyim, Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m. at the Knitting Factory, 7021 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 463-0204. www.knittingfactory.com. $10.

Loolwa Khazzoom is a freelance writer, editor of “The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage” and author of “Consequence: Beyond Resisting Rape.” Visit her on the Web site at

“Ocho Kandelikas”


“Eight Little Candles”

Circuit


Music for hope

Tziona Maman came into Ohr Meir and Bracha Center in Jerusalem crying and very depressed. Her husband Tzion had both his legs badly injured in the Machane Yehuda bombing in 1997, and became addicted to pain killers. Before the bombing he had been a sculptor and was able to support his family through his art, but after the bombing he spent most of his time in a drug-induced stupor.

Ohr Meir and Bracha enrolled Tzion in a drug rehab program that successfully enabled him to be drug-free, and now he has started making sculptures again. His family is on surer footing financially, and Tziona is much happier.

On Sunday, Nov. 14, Ohr Meir and Bracha will be holding a fundraising concert to raise money for terror victims in Israel. In addition to providing counseling and referral services for the victims, Ohr Meir and Bracha, which translates to the light of Meir and Bracha, also gives weekly food baskets to victims in precarious financial situations. They also sponsor a summer retreat for terror victims.

The concert will feature the Moshav Band and will take place at 7:30 p.m. at Congregation Magen David, 9717 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. $15 minimum donation. For more information, call Sam Saidian at (310) 922-3010.

Jocelyn’s Honor

Jocelyn Tetel, the vice president of advancement at the Skirball Cultural Center, was awarded a commendation from the City of Culver City on Oct. 25 for her contributions to the disabled community.

For more than 12 years, Tetel has served on the board of directors of the Kayne Eras Center, an organization that serves children with various disabilities and operates two group homes for adults with developmental disabilities.

She also introduced art by L.A. GOAL to the general community by installing two exhibits at Skirball’s Ruby Gallery. L.A. GOAL is an organization that empowers adults with disabilities to become independent and productive members of society by helping them to provide “passive education” (i.e., art works) to the community that will enable the community to relate to them and see not just their disabilities, but their abilities.

UJ’s Ugandan Connection

The University of Judaism (UJ) had a special visitor in October – Dr. Gilbert Balikaseka Bukenya, the vice president of Uganda. Bukenya spoke to the students about Uganda’s desire to emerge from the third world, an effort that is hampered by Uganda’s lack of infrastructure. Bukenya also spoke about Uganda’s relationship with Israel, and how Uganda is exploring the use of the kibbutz as a model for collective living and pooling resources for Ugandan farmers.

While at the UJ, Bukenya met with Gershom Sizomu, a rabbinic student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and a native of Uganda. Sizomu is the spiritual leader of the Abuyadaya – the Ugandan Jews. Sizomu plans on returning to Uganda as that country’s first ordained rabbi. Bukenya and Sizomu spoke about Sizomu’s community and its need for fresh water.

At the end of the meeting, Bukenya raised the possibility of student exchange programs between the UJ and Uganda, and the possibility of training Ugandans in the UJ’s Graduate Programs in Nonprofit Management.

Gindlin Sings at Sinai

Cantor Mariana Gindlin was recently appointed to lead the religious service at Temple Sinai of Glendale. Gindlin was raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and her father sang in a professional synagogue choir for more than 30 years. Although she grew up singing, it was unthinkable in Argentina at the time for a woman to be a member of the clergy, so Gindlin decided to study psychology while taking voice lessons privately. Times eventually changed and Gindlin enrolled in the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, where she studied to be a cantor.

“The first time I stepped into Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, I realized I was at home,” she said.

In the upcoming year, Gindlin plans to add a junior choir and build an orchestra to enhance services and other events. She also wants to spread her passion for Jewish music and create a stronger sense of community and a greater joy in congregational worship.

Temple Sinai is located at 1212 N. Pacific Avenue in Glendale. For more information, call (818) 246-8101.

Peter’s New Place

In other UJ news, Peter Lowy was officially named chair of the University of Judaism’s board of directors on Oct. 11 at a ceremony held at the university’s Colen Conference Hall. Lowy is the CEO of Westfield Group, a global real estate investment trust with interest in 124 shopping centers around the world. The Westfield Group was the original sponsor of the UJ’s Department of Continuing Education’s Public Lecture Series.

Lowy, who until recently served as board treasurer, succeeds Dena Schechter, who led the board for five years.

“Building on the work done by my predecessor, Dena Schechter, and others, I want to see the UJ reach its fullest potential,” Lowy said. “The UJ must always strive to provide the highest quality education and to positively influence Jewish life in our community.”

New in Northridge

Two Northridge communities got new leadership over the summer. The Sephardic Congregation of Northridge recently hired Rabbi Moshe Abady to be its new spiritual leader. In 2001, Abady and his wife, Leora, moved to Los Angeles from Israel, where he directed the Sephardic Halacha Program at Yeshiva Darchei Noam Shappell’s, to accept a teaching position at Maimonides Academy. Abady also directed the Youth Minyan at Congregation Torah Ohr and offers bar mitzvah lessons.

Rabbi Eli Rivkin and his wife Tzippi, and their three small children moved to Northridge from Brooklyn, New York to head up Chabad at Northridge. The Rivkins will not only focus on building up the already existing Northridge community, but they are also going to be doing outreach to the 7,000 Jewish students at CSUN.

For more information visit www.chabadnorthridge.com.

A Cop for a Cop

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) held a special lunch on Oct. 20 at the Luxe Summit Hotel to honor Jona Goldrich, who sponsored JINSA’s Law Enforcement Exchange Program (LEEP) Conference in California.

The LEEP conferences, which also took place in Minnesota and Florida, were the largest counterterrorism cooperative training enterprises between the U.S. and Israel. The California conference took place Oct. 18-19 in Garden Grove, where policeman heard from six counterterrorism professionals from the Israeli National Police, the General Security Service, the Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces. The speakers discussed the best counterterrorism practice procedures with an emphasis on preventing and responding to suicide bombings.

The lunch honoring Goldrich was chaired by Lawrence Field and David Justman, and guests heard presentations from Gideon Avrahami, the director of Jerusalem Mall; Yoram Hessel, a retired senior officer of the Mossad; Gen. Shaike Horowitz, a commander of the bomb squad unit of the Israeli National Police; Brig. Gen. Amichai Shai, the commander of the crime investigation unit; Maj. Gen. Mickey Levy, the former commander of the Jerusalem Police Department; Brig. Gen. Shimon Perry, police and law enforcement attachÃ(c) of the Embassy of Israel; Steven Pomerantz, former assistant director of the FBI; and Cmdr. Shmuel Zoltak of Israel National Police’s crisis negotiation unit.

For more information on LEEP and JINSA, visit www.jinsa.org.

This Bud’s For You

Anheuser Busch, the company behind Budweiser beer, donated $100,000 to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in October. The donation will go to support a wide variety of education, social welfare and human services provided by The Federation. This is the 12th year that Anheuser-Busch has provided funds to benefit the Los Angeles-area community; they have donated more than $1 million to the Federation since 1994.

Stand with students

About 85 students from 32 universities spent most of Halloween weekend attending Israel in Focus at Ojai’s Camp Ramah, where they developed skills to speak for the Jewish state when encountering college campus hostilities.

“There are a lot of students in the same boat as my school,” said Tal Zavlodaver, 21, president of USC’s Hillel-based group SC Students for Israel.

The event, co-sponsored by StandWithUs and the Israel Consulate, included lectures from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Israeli consulate staffers plus pollster Frank Luntz; Gary Ratner, executive director of the American Jewish Congress; Maya Zutler of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Los Angeles office; and Aryeh Greene, an adviser to Israel’s Diaspora Minister Natan Sharansky. A Saturday night concert featured hip-hop’s Remedy.

The students, most involved with campus Hillel groups, came from Cal State branches in Northridge, Long Beach and Fullerton plus UC campuses in San Diego, Irvine, Davis and Santa Barbara. Other students came from Ohio, Arizona, New York, Canada and Australia.

While USC has more from campus indifference than antagonism towards Israel, 19-year-old Aaren Alpert said that on her UCSB campus, “Students are mainly apathetic; however the faculty tends to be more of a problem.”

“There is a fight on campus and these are the leaders who go back to their campuses and promote Israel,” said public affairs consul Yariv Ovadia of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

“I certainly wish that I had been a student at this conference,” said Ovadia’s colleague, Justin Levi, the consulate’s academic affairs director and a UCLA class of 2003 alumnus. – David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Mizrahi Music Travels West


Eitan Salman is at the far end of his store, leaning against a shelf lined with the new CD by Sarit Hadad, one of Israel’s more popular Mizrahi, or Eastern, singers.

Business at Salman’s music store has fallen 80 percent over the last decade, but it’s not altogether a bad thing: Mizrahi music has grown so popular in Israel that it no longer is the exclusive domain of mom-and-pop shops like Salman’s but is sold even at Israel’s Tower Records outlets.

"Mizrahi music is now available across the country, in all the stores," laments Salman, whose shop is located across the street from where Tel Aviv’s old central bus station used to stand.

Indeed, with the superstar status of singers like Hadad, Zahava Ben and Moshik Afia, Mizrahi music now tops the charts in Israel and its popularity crosses ethnic lines.

Salman and neighboring store owners remember the "cassette music" heyday, a time when Mizrahi music was the exclusive domain of Mizrahi-run stores like Salman’s, near bus stations and in souks.

"In the 1980s, Mizrahi music was not sold in record stores," explained Barak Itzkovitz, musical editor of Galgalatz, Israel’s popular army music radio station. "Today, there is a lot of consciousness about this music, and it’s one of the most popular musical genres."

The roots of Mizrahi music in Israel date back to the 1950s and the mass influx of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. Every community arrived with its distinct religious music, commonly known as piyutim, as well as its favorite Arabic music.

As Iraqis, Moroccans, Egyptians and Persians mixed, they exchanged musical sounds as well.

"They found out they had commonalities in their music," said Shoshana Gabay, co-creator of "Yam Shel Dmaot," or "Sea of Tears," a 1998 documentary on the development of Mizrahi music in Israel.

Children born in Israel in the 1950s grew up with other influences as well: American rock music, Indian movie music, French and Italian pop music and Russian-inspired Israeli music. The result was fusion music far ahead of its time.

"Years later there was this world music combination in other countries," Gabay said. "But in Israel it started very early, with the Asian Jews."

By the 1960s, Tel Aviv’s Yemenite quarter was home to a brand new sound.

"They had all these parties, and at those parties they took what they had learned in school — Russian-inspired Israeli songs, some Chasidic songs — and made them Oriental sounding," Gabay said. "They blended these songs with popular Arabic songs and traditional Yemenite songs and made a mix out of them. They were making an interpretation, their own interpretation."

Musicians blended not only musical styles but instruments: electric guitar and oud, synthesizer and kanoun — a classical string instrument from the Middle East and North Africa — drum kits and darbuka, a Middle Eastern and North African hand drum.

Despite the ingenuity of this new groove, Israeli fusion music stayed in Mizrahi neighborhoods until the invention of the cassette recorder, when recording suddenly became economically viable to a community with meager financial resources.

The first Mizrahi music became available on cassette in 1974, and the hit bands Lahakat Haoud and Lahakat Tslelei Hakerem couldn’t produce recordings fast enough. Tapes flew off the shelves and into the hands of Mizrahi Israelis hungry for more.

But mainstream Israeli radio stations played few Mizrahi songs.

"The people in radio were mostly from Europe," said Yoni Rohe, author of the newly published "Silsul Yisrael," which documents the development of Mizrahi music in Israel over the past 50 years. "They didn’t like the Mizrahi sound. It was not easy for them to relate to."

"The popularity of Mizrahi music was a process that happened over 15 years," Itzkovitz said. "Like hip-hop in the United States, it came from the hood, from the bottom up. It just couldn’t be stopped."

Following the success of the first recorded Mizrahi music bands, Mizrahi pop stars suddenly began to appear around the country: Avner Gadasi of Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah neighborhood, Shimmy Tavori from Rishon Le-Zion, Nissim Sarousi from Ramle.

Despite the dearth of Mizrahi music on mainstream radio stations, the Mizrahi music industry blossomed.

Zohar Argov, the poster boy for Mizrahi music, came onto the scene in 1978. Argov created Israeli country music, Ron Cahlili, film director of "Yam Shel Dmaot," told the Jerusalem Post in 1998.

"His subjects were the pain of love, betrayal, loss and sorrow," Cahlili said. "Argov was hard core, unafraid to sing about his reality and his life as he saw it."

At times compared to Elvis Presley, Argov lived on the edge: He died at 33 from a drug overdose. His albums continue to be best-sellers, however.

"Nancy Brandes did production for Zohar Argov," Rohe recounted. "Brandes came from Romania, and his connection with Zohar Argov made a new blend of music — a blend of big band and Mizrahi. This was a historical turning point. From there, in the 1980s, Mediterranean Israeli music went professional."

Meanwhile, other Mizrahi musicians developed new fusion sounds.

Ahouva Ozeri, a Yemenite-Ethiopian Israeli singer who became popular in the 1970s, mastered an Indian string instrument called bulbul tarang and gained a reputation as a world beat musician. She also helped pave the way for women in Mizrahi music.

Machismo was not the only obstacle to female Mizrahi musicians: In traditional Mizrahi households, a music career was equated with prostitution, and many families forbade their daughters from performing.

Hadad’s defiance of her parents is legendary in Israel. As a girl, she would climb out of her window at night to perform at local clubs. Her father, who died in 1997, refused to attend even a single concert of his superstar daughter.

Gabay and Rohe say the turning point for Mizrahi music was the development of commercial television and radio in the 1990s, which opened up new avenues for national broadcast of Mizrahi music, as well as other alternative sounds.

Today, Itzkovitz said, Hadad is hands-down the most popular Mizrahi musician in Israel. Afia and Itzik Kala are runners-up, and each puts out at least one platinum album per year.

"Mizrahi music is very, very popular on Israeli radio today," Itzkovitz said. "On major stations like Galgalatz, we pick only the songs that sell the best, the most popular ones that people love. Today, about 40 percent of what we play is straight-up Mizrahi music."

In addition, Itzkovitz noted, Mizrahi music has influenced musicians closely associated with the Ashkenazi kibbutznik movement. Among them is David Broza, who combines his style with the Mizrahi genre, and bands like Ethnix and Tea Packs, which combine rock and Mizrahi music.

Today’s hottest new sound is the fusion of Mizrahi music and hip-hop, Itzkovitz said. Indeed, Mizrahi musicians have blazed the trail for Israeli hip-hop, and children of immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Morocco and Yemen are at the cutting edge of Israeli music today.

Somehow, it seems, the music of the streets has became the music of choice.

"In the last years," Rohe said, "this mix of the new generations, the blend of music that came from Ashkenazi and Mizrahi homes, has brought a new sound to the ear that is as Israeli as you can get."

Article reprinted courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Loolwa Khazzoom (

Uniting Among the Rabbis of Tomorrow


Pigs and roosters, oxen and bulls, horses and dogs (and more dogs), a skunk and perhaps a possum — someone says a monkey — and children everywhere, and all the noises which thereunto pertain, plus a sun that is as glaring and hot as the Negev sun. This is Ciudad Romero in El Salvador.

Yes, El Salvador. Not exactly (or even approximately) a tourist mecca, but a mecca of sorts to delegations organized by American Jewish World Service (AJWS), a rapidly growing and growingly effective organization devoted to connecting Jews and Judaism to the developing world. Working in partnership with local nongovernmental organizations, AJWS engages in developing transitional education opportunities for former child laborers in India; family planning, nutrition and HIV/AIDS education in nine Ghanaian villages; development of sustainable agriculture in Honduras; microcredit and microenterprise projects in Zimbabwe, Nicaragua and Gaza that give rural women access to credit, enabling them to launch small businesses and become self-sufficient; other projects in Peru, sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.

"Elsewhere" includes El Salvador, where I somewhat improbably found myself back in January in the company of 26 North American rabbinical students and two AJWS staff people. They have come here for a week of work, study and prayer, and I to do some teaching and to get a sense of who among tomorrow’s rabbis choose to come to this impoverished land and why, and also of how Conservative and Reform and Orthodox and Reconstructionist rabbinical students will get along and, more particularly, how they will (if they will) pray together.

Ciudad Romero is a very poor farming village in the southeast of El Salvador, an hour’s drive from the capital, San Salvador, and a two-day walk from Honduras, a measure of some importance since that was how the family with whom I take my meals made their way out of the country and then on to Panama, where they remained during the 12 terrible years of war, the very uncivil civil war that finally ended just 12 years ago. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated much of the country, and then in 2001, two major earthquakes added injury to injury. Many of the homes here are makeshift, cinder block and corrugated iron, a shed for the wood-burning stove in the rear. Basic needs — shelter, food (rice and beans are the staple and our typical meal here), clothing, education — are by and large adequately met, though not without the resources provided by the roughly one out of every four villagers now working in America. Women and children are everywhere here, and teenage boys and old men, too — but as throughout El Salvador, there’s a dearth of men in their prime working years. It’s estimated that 1 million of El Salvador’s 6 million or 7 million people have made their difficult way to the United States, where they live in a different kind of squalor, always fearful that they will be found out — they have come to the United States illegally — but managing somehow to send money to their families back home.

The putative rabbis, as might be expected, have come to their calling by very different paths, some meandering, some straightforward, some abrupt in their shifting directions. Here a former civil rights lawyer, there the survivor of a clinical depression, several the children of uneducated Jews, some raised in the religious tradition and some come late to it. Three are students at the remarkable new Orthodox seminary Yeshivat Hovevei Torah, founded just four years ago by Rabbis Avi Weiss, Dov Linzer and Saul Berman; four students at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Seminary in Philadelphia; eight from Reform’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; and 11 from the Jewish Theological Seminary or the University of Judaism, Conservative Judaism’s two rabbinical seminaries. The denominational diversity lead not only to a great deal of conversation, but also to considerable negotiation. How, most urgently, to accommodate the egalitarian orientation and commitment of both women and men while not excluding the Orthodox or otherwise offending them? The three Orthodox men made their own quiet adjustments, stood some steps away from the others during prayer or without fanfare absented themselves, joining whenever their theology permitted.

Prayer (tefilot) was the constant rhythm and most substantial melody of the group. It was distinguished by the competence the participants brought to it, by its assertiveness — surely because neither as individuals nor as representatives of their denominational movements does anyone want to be thought less devoted than the others — and, to my unpracticed liturgical ear, by new melodies and spontaneous harmonies that now and then transform the collection of individuals into a choir.

The music they so expertly sing is post-Carlebach; they know the melodies that were new for me 10 and 15 years ago and that I so much enjoy, but those are old and tired melodies to their ears. Their unfamiliar music is altogether lovely — and their praying to that music was very nearly interminable. We were awakened at 6 a.m., morning prayers began at 6:20 a.m. and did not end until an hour later, the liturgy interspersed with commentary is sometimes learned, sometimes heartfelt, and then there were the afternoon prayers and then the evening prayers, each again a musical experience, each also an opportunity for these rabbis-to-be to offer insight to the words of the prayer, to the purpose of the prayer, or to the immediate purpose that brought them here, to this dusty corner of this distant land.

The wealthy who own so much of this country live quite well. We drove one day through neighborhoods of San Salvador that are marked by homes that would not be at all out of place in parts of Beverly Hills. Their owners shop in Miami, vacation where they will, conduct their business affairs with skills learned in MBA programs in America’s best universities, all this less than an hour’s drive from the squalid — and graciously welcoming — place that was our host community for the week. There, oxen and cows lumber along the dusty roads — there are no paved streets — and somehow know to move aside when a car comes along.

There was work, physical labor to be done, and that was part of the program for our delegation. It was real work — clearing fields, digging furrows — the work of an agricultural community. There was some of that on three of our days in Ciudad Romero, and one day there was little else. The uncalloused hands worked with hoes under an unrelenting sun for four hours in the morning and then again after lunch, until it was time for mincha, the afternoon prayers. Some sat slumped in the field, exhausted; most joined in the prayers, leaving nothing out — but this time, racing through. At the conclusion the AJWS staffer announced that the yellow school bus that had brought them to this field had arrived to take them back. It was 4 p.m., there would be no shame at all in leaving now. But no, the furrows were not quite done, and with renewed energy and their bare hands, people knelt on the ground and only an hour later finished what they started. I thought of A.D. Gordon, the storied worker of a Jewish settlement in Palestine during the early years of the last century, whose way it was to insist that the ditches he dug be works of art — and I wondered, inevitably, how many of these imminent teachers and leaders of our community have heard Gordon’s name. And I thought, more generously, of the moving example of avodah, the word our language offers that means both labor and religious service.

The purpose of our visit to San Salvador was in part to visit the synagogue that serves the 75 Jewish families who live here. They are a tight-knit and proud community, prosperous and very much at home. We were greeted in the sanctuary — the entire large and rambling structure was once, incredibly, a private home — by the young rabbi, come here from the Seminario Rabinico in Buenos Aires, founded more than 30 years ago by the late and quite extraordinary Rabbi Marshall Meyer and for years now the principal institution for the training of South and Central American rabbis, and also by the elegant president of the synagogue’s sisterhood. As many Jews, she lived outside El Salvador during the time of the civil war, but she makes it very clear that her home is here and not in the Atlanta where she stayed for 10 years. Her El Salvadoran patriotism reminds me of Jews I met in Puerto Rico some years ago, Cuban expatriates who, in the 30 or so years their families had lived in Cuba, sank roots so deep that our evening together in San Juan concluded with their singing of the Cuban national anthem. Our parched people apparently sink roots wherever there’s a hint of water. Here, we’re told, almost in the same breath and with only a hint of awareness of the irony, that Jews are welcome everywhere, at any club on any board, and that they’ve learned to keep "a low profile." And we are reminded, with evident pride, that El Salvador is one of only two countries whose embassy in Israel is located in Jerusalem, not, as are all others, in Tel Aviv.

We’ve also come to San Salvador to pay our respects to the late Archbishop Oscar Romero, by all accounts a humble conservative who was murdered in 1980 while celebrating Mass in the chapel of the Divine Providence Hospital for terminally ill cancer patients. In what was to prove his final homily, Romero — by now radicalized in the face of the escalating repression in El Salvador — spoke these words: "In the name of God and in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise up to heaven more loudly every day, I ask you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!"

Those words and the courage of the man who uttered them are of particular significance to this group of rabbinic students, because the theme that unites them across denominational divides and that has brought them to this place is the theme of tikkun olam, of social justice. They are, all of them, seized of the more than intimate, of the organic relationship between the Jewish tradition — our texts, our history — and the pursuit of justice. And they are aware, with pain and shame, of the particular burden of responsibility the United States bears for the grim events that so recently took place here. The killing of Romero was plotted by Maj. Roberto D’Aubuisson, an especially savage ultraright leader of the kind that with American complicity and sometimes active partnership have with disturbing frequency played a central role in Central American history.

Today, there is peace of sorts here. In Ciudad Romero and the other 85 villages of the region, which together compose La Coorinadoro del Bajo Lempa, former members of the Salvadoran Armed Forces and former guerillas of the FMLN live near one another and seek, with modest success, to develop a sustainable and environmentally responsible economy. The founder and guiding spirit of the effort is a former priest, Jose "Chencho" Alas, who also manages the Foundation for Self Sufficiency in Central America. Chencho spends considerable time with our group; he is its principal teacher, and painstakingly presents his theories of development and community organization. As a longtime champion of liberation theology, of land reform and of the peasants in general, of a free and just and democratic El Salvador, as a man who was hunted and persecuted for those beliefs, and as the founder of La Coorinadoro, he is immensely and appropriately admired by the group, his teaching received with attention.

But the more or less formal teaching, Chencho’s and mine and even by the students themselves, each of whom has selected a brief text to share with the group, is almost incidental to the main themes of our week. The fact of El Salvador, of this place and of its people, provides the setting for the venture but is mainly its subtext. Vastly more central, even urgent, is the easy cross-denominational interaction and, again and again, tefilot, prayer. In off times, too — the breaks between lectures, the spare moments here and there — there’s singing, and the singing is almost invariably liturgical, Carlebach and post-Carlebach songs of devotion. For me, this is the sharpest evidence of generational change. In my younger days, when social justice advocates gathered, it was "Solidarity Forever" or "There Once Was a Union Maid" we’d sing, or songs of the Spanish Civil War, and then, for relaxation, the songs of Pete Seeger and the Weavers, later of Peter, Paul and Mary, and always, of course, the songs of the Second Aliyah and of Israel’s early years. Years ago, when it dawned on me that my own children would know very few of "my" songs, I feared for the future of the Jewish people. Then one day, fresh from summer camp or from the day school they attended, they began to teach me new songs, their music, and I relaxed: there was renewed hope for our future. Here in El Salvador, with mostly 20-somethings listening to the still-newer songs, confidence in our prospects borders on headiness, even as I remain bemused by the unrelenting liturgical content of the songs, wonder what, if anything, that says about the state of the Jewish people as distinguished from the state of Judaism.

One of the classic and enduring tensions in the history of the Jewish people is between the rabbinic tradition and the prophetic tradition. The rabbis taught that societal order is a prerequisite to social justice; the prophets taught that social justice is a prerequisite to societal order. Both were right, each a matter of emphasis rather than a single-minded insistence on the one at the expense of the other. In the course of time, however, the healthy tension between the two perspectives became a break, each claiming exclusive priority. Here, among these mostly young people, the break is healed, the tension relaxed. The best of them reflect, represent, defend and extend both traditions.

But that, too, is a footnote. Here, finally, is the text: On Friday evening, as we gather to welcome the Shabbat on the patio outside our dormitories, the children of Ciudad Romero drift in. Three or four, then 10, soon 20, the young ones, the ones in their single-digit years, and they know somehow to sit quietly and listen to the music of our prayers. When some members of the group break into dance, they encourage the children to join the circle. When the dancing’s done, three or four members choose to stay with the children, amusing them, involving them, a different way of affirming the Sabbath peace, a different boundary breached. These becoming rabbis, who know a great deal, whose citations from sacred text come trippingly off their tongues, know some other things, too. They know about embracing the stranger, and about hugging little children.


Leonard Fein is the author of “Against the Dying of the Light: A Father’s Story of Love, Loss and Hope” (Jewish Lights, 2001).

Clarinetist Finds His Klezmer Voice


"I came to klezmer quite by accident," said virtuoso clarinetist David Krakauer.

He was a noted classical musician around 1987 when a chance encounter on a Manhattan bus changed the direction of his career.

Seated nearby was the accordionist from a klezmer band that played in front of Zabar’s, across the street from Krakauer’s 10th-floor apartment on the Upper West Side.

"The music used to waft up through my windows," he said. "Suddenly, I realized it had made an impression."

The son of a psychiatrist and a violinist, Krakauer had known little about Jewish music or culture growing up in an assimilated home in Manhattan. Yiddish was the language his grandparents had used when they did not want younger relatives to understand their conversation. At Juilliard, Krakauer assumed he would embark on a career of playing Brahms and Mahler with perhaps some jazz on the side. He did so while making a name for himself as a member of the Aspen Wind Quintet, by performing with new music groups such as Continuum and teaching at Vassar and the Manhattan School.

But Jewish music crept up on Krakauer, 42, who’ll perform his unique brand of nouveau klezmer at the Skirball Cultural Center March 21. Around 1978, he said, he attended a concert by the then-elderly clarinetist, David Tarras, who had merged klezmer and swing in the 1920s.

"He didn’t play so well anymore … but there was just something about his sound that gave me the shivers," Krakauer said. "[It] was the rhythm, the cadence, the way the sounds went up and down. It reminded me of my Belorussian grandmother’s voice, when she said things like ‘David, so nu?’"

Krakauer’s own gravely voice crackled with excitement as he recalled meeting that klezmer accordionist on the 104 bus headed uptown in the late 1980s.

"She asked me to recommend a clarinetist who could play with her band, and I think she assumed I’d name a student," he said. "Instead, the words spontaneously flew out of my mouth: ‘I’ll do it.’ It was as if I instinctively realized, ‘I know nothing about being Jewish, but I want to connect.’ I felt like klezmer could be my connection, through sounds, notes and music."

So Krakauer began studying old recordings, learning the proper ornaments and the lilting or frenetic technique required to perform traditional dances such as the doina or freylach. He played weddings and bar mitzvahs, assuming the endeavor would become a musical hobby, not a career.

But then he was invited to play with The Klezmatics, an American band spurring the exuberant klezmer revival of the 1980s. When he traveled to Germany with that group around 1989, he performed in front of thousands of dancing, cheering non-Jews. The same thing happened throughout Eastern Europe and especially in Poland, where Krakauer returned more than seven times to teach and perform. While coaching a group of young musicians in a ramshackle barn off a dirt road in Sejny, he recalled, even a dour farmer paused to tap his feet in the adjacent field.

Of the continuing non-Jewish obsession with klezmer, Krakauer said, "I think enough time has passed, since the Holocaust, for Europeans to wonder, ‘What Jewish culture have we been missing?’ We klezmorim are viewed as representatives of that part of the Eastern European soul that was destroyed in the Shoah."

But Krakauer, like The Klezmatics, wasn’t content just to perform traditional pieces in a straightforward style. In the mid-1990s, he formed his own band, Klezmer Madness!, which weds classic Jewish music with contemporary forms such as jazz, rock and hip-hop. Today, he is part of a wave of musicians who are continuing to push the klezmer envelope, according to Yale Strom, author of 2003’s "The Book of Klezmer." Such bands include the world fusion-infused Flying Bulgars and Strom’s Afro-Cuban Klazzj.

Krakauer’s latest forward-thinking CD is "Live in Krakow," which he recorded last year in the city that bears his name. The energetic album features samples and beatbox by DJ Socalled; it also includes Krakauer’s original composition, "Klezmer a la Bechet," based on an imaginary 1920s meeting between black New Orleans jazz clarinetist Sidney Bechet and the Ukrainian Jewish clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. Another track, "Love Song for Lemberg/Lvov," combines a waltzy melody with atonal sounds mimicking "screams of the Jewish dead," said Krakauer, who is still prominent in classical music circles.

But even as he stretches the genre, he still wants klezmer to sound like klezmer. It has to remind Krakauer of the music he heard wafting in through his windows back in 1987: "It has to suggest my grandmother’s voice," he said.

For information about the Skirball concert, call (310) 440-4500. For tickets, call (323) 655-8587.

Pearl’s Life, Articles Inspire Jam Session


The idea for the Daniel Pearl Music Day began about six months after terrorists murdered the Jewish Wall Street Journal reporter in Pakistan last year.

When his decapitated body was discovered in a shallow grave in Karachi, his family was finally able to bury him at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in August 2002. But after the funeral, they faced another unpleasant milestone: commemorating what would have been Pearl’s 39th birthday on Oct. 10.

“We dreaded it,” said his father, Judea Pearl, a UCLA computer science professor. “We didn’t know how we would cope.”

Enter Pearl’s old Paris neighbor, conductor George Pehlivanian, who described how he had dedicated an Israel Philharmonic concert to the slain journalist. The family began considering a birthday concert for Daniel, who had been an avid violinist, fiddler and mandolin player.

“Danny’s sister, Michelle, asked, ‘What would Danny have liked for his birthday?” his father said. “And the answer came naturally; he would have liked a jam session with all his friends. And where were all his friends? They were all over the world. So we began making phone calls.”

The result was the first Daniel Pearl Music Day, an international series of concerts intended to promote world peace in his memory. Organized around his birthday, the festival reprises this year with more than 120 concerts in at least 20 countries, including Muslim states such as Pakistan. An honorary committee includes Barbra Streisand, Ravi Shankar, Zubin Mehta and Elton John, who appears in a TV spot promoting the event.

“The message of tolerance symbolizes Danny’s victory over his killers, and over the ideology of hatred that brought about his death,” Judea Pearl said.

In Southern California, approximately 10 programs will commemorate the late journalist; they include a performance by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, an American Youth Symphony concert and the premiere of Russell Steinberg’s “Stories From My Favorite Planet,” inspired by Pearl’s life.

The Daniel Pearl Foundation commissioned the 45-minute piece after a friend of Steinberg’s, on a hunch, suggested he telephone the journalist’s parents last spring.

“I think they were wary at first because they thought I was a reporter,” said the conductor-pianist-composer, founder of the Stephen S. Wise Music Academy.

They relaxed when they learned Harvard-educated Steinberg, 44, was in fact a musician; like Daniel Pearl, he attended Birmingham High and studied classical music as a child in Encino.

During a meeting at their home, Judea and Ruth Pearl regaled the composer with poignant and hilarious stories about their son, who was known for his quirky, insightful journalism. Steinberg especially liked the one about how Pearl secured a Los Angeles assignment about a Stradivarius violin that fell off a car (while based back East, he argued the piece should be his because he covered transportation).

His parents gave the composer a copy of Pearl’s “At Home in the World: Collected Stories From the Wall Street Journal,” which inspired Steinberg’s composition. “I was fascinated by how this Valley boy, through his curiosity and journalistic excellence, propelled himself into the nexus of world politics,” he said. “Because I wanted to write about Danny’s life, not his death, I realized his words were key.”

In his ensuing violin-and-piano piece, music accompanies excerpts from five articles evoking Pearl’s journey, enacted by a reader. A goofy tango sets up the outlandish Stradivarius story; a madcap tarantella precedes an eerily prophetic piece about Osama bin Laden’s gem smuggling trade, which describes the call to kill Americans. Immediately after that excerpt, the tango returns in a minor key, sounding ghostlike and haunting.

“It’s the only time the music becomes mournful, because I want people to come away knowing who Danny was, not just what happened to him,” Steinberg said.

Pearl’s parents, who have been too grief-stricken to erect his tombstone, appreciate the uplifting approach.

“The piece isn’t a eulogy,” Judea Pearl said. “It captures Daniel’s character, his humor, his quirkiness, his optimism and his humanity…. Through the music day, we’re hoping to use his unique spirit as an initiative for tikkun olam, repairing the world.”

“Stories From My Favorite Planet,” performed by pianist Russell Steinberg, Los Angeles Philharmonic violinist Mitchell Newman and reader Mark Totty, will debut Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Milken Community High School, followed by performances Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. at Brand Library in Glendale and Nov. 9, 7 p.m. at Pierson Playhouse in Pacific Palisades. For tickets and information, call (310) 440-3500, ext. 3344. The program will also include excerpts from Steinberg’s new CD of solo piano and classical guitar music, “Desert Stars.”

For more information about the Daniel Pearl Music Day,launched by the Daniel Pearl Foundation, visit www.danielpearl.org .

For Love of the Dance


Or Nili Azulay often gazes at the faded photograph of her late grandmother, who was widowed in her 20s. “Her huge, expressive eyes are filled with strength and struggle,” the Israeli dancer-actress said. “She looks like Bizet’s ‘Carmen,’ although she is wearing nothing fancy, only a simple white dress and a white flower in her hand.”

Azulay, renown for her flamenco work, excels at portraying characters who are equally strong and passionate. In her spin on Edvard Greig’s “Peer Gynt Suite,” she plays a feisty Bedouin princess and other heroines from the plays of Henrik Ibsen. In her version of the Bizet opera, “Carmen,” she depicts the defiant gypsy as a feminist, not a prostitute.

Azulay will bring a similar range of emotions to Noam Sheriff’s “Israel Suite” and the world premiere of Yuval Ron’s “Canciones Sephardi” when she performs with the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony (LAJS) on Sunday.

“The kind of happiness I recall in my grandmother’s way of being is the same as in flamenco,” she said. “It’s never 100 percent happiness; it’s always tinged with melancholy.”

If it seems unlikely that a nice Jewish girl would become a flamenco dancer, consider her early role models. Azulay’s Syrian-born grandmother, Nona, defied her parents to wed the man she loved, then refused to remarry after he died several years later. Azulay’s mother, Chaya, became one of Israel’s first female barristers; her father died when she was a small child. “The sadness of not having a father was tempered by growing up with these strong, independent women,” she said.

No wonder Azulay was riveted by Bizet’s fiercely independent gypsy — and the art of flamenco — when she saw Carlos Saura’s film “Carmen” at age 14. The ballet student was so “stunned” by the dance numbers that she returned to see the movie a dozen times. “In ballet, the body is an instrument in service of the overall piece, while in flamenco, the protagonist is the dancer’s personality,” she said.

As Azulay began intense studies with famed teacher Sylvia Duran, she learned that “People who become huge in flamenco have huge personalities. They don’t have to do much to burn up the stage.”

The poised, five-foot-nine Azulay — who is also an award-winning poet — displayed similar charisma when she studied in Spain in 1995-96. She went on to establish a career emphasizing flamenco and classical Spanish dance performed with orchestras around the world. Azulay — who also appears in films such as 2003’s “The Brothel” — considers herself part of the flamenco revival spurred by Saura’s “Carmen.”

But her grandmother remains an important artistic inspiration. Azulay was drawn to the “Canciones Sephardi,” in part, because it reminds her of the tunes Nona used to sing in Ladino and Arabic. “That really struck a chord in Or Nili, and she brings that passion to the stage,” said Noreen Green, founder and artistic director of the LAJS.

The complex emotions of the “Israel Suite” also remind Azulay of her grandmother. In the dreamy first movement, she flies onstage with a white lace mantilla, reminiscent of a bridal veil. In a section based on a 15th century Ladino song, she uses constricted movements to suggest the pain of exile.

“The piece conveys the pathos of being an Israeli, of living in a state of half-dream, half-war,” she said.

The concert Sept. 14, 7 p.m. at the International Cultural Center (formerly Scottish Rite Auditorium), 4357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, also features internationally renown musicians such as flamenco guitarist Adam Del Monte and music by David Eaton. For information, call (310) 478-9311, where you can buy tickets through 1 p.m. Friday; or purchase them at the door.

Mojdeh Sionit contributed to this story.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, perfect timing for Marc Maron and Roy Zimmerman. The comedians wax patriotic tonight with their show, “Homeland Security.” But flag-wavers be warned — these guys are not in the warm and fuzzy, “God Bless America” camp. Maron, with his biting, neurotic, New York Jewish stand-up, and Zimmerman, with his satirical songs, each honor one of the oldest and most American of traditions — social and political commentary (and criticism).7:30 p.m. (A late show might be added if the first show sells out.) $15. McCabe’s, 3101 W. Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 828-4497.

Sunday

For a more meaningful Memorial Day, hold off firing up the grill till dinner time, and spend the morning at Home of Peace Memorial Park. They, along with Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel and the Jewish War Veterans, honor fallen soldiers in a special ceremony in front of the cemetery’s Jewish War Veterans Memorial. Speakers will include retired USMC Col. Joseph Smith, director of military and veterans affairs, Los Angeles County; Dr. Edward Feldman, vice-chair of the California Veterans Board of the Department of Veteran Affairs; and Darin Selnick, special assistant to secretary of Veteran Affairs, Washington, D.C.11 a.m. Garden of Maimonides, 4334 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 261-6135.

Monday

Take out a few hours to honor the day with “The Pianist,” now available on DVD. Holocaust survivor Roman Polanski’s film about an acclaimed Polish Jewish composer and pianist’s struggle to survive in the Warsaw Ghetto was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won three. And while Adrien Brody/Halle Berry smooch footage is, unfortunately, not included, DVD bonus features do include “A Story of Survival,” a 40-minute documentary about the production of the film and Polanski’s personal survival story.$19.98, www.amazon.com.

Tuesday

Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy’s decision to tackle big things after winning acclaim for her debut novel, “The God of Small Things,” becomes the centerpoint for Aradhana Seth’s documentary about the campaign against the Narmada dam project in Northern India. “DAM/AGE” follows the controversial fight that started out political, but became personal, as Roy was sentenced to a symbolic one-day prison term and fined 2,000 rupees ($42) for contempt of court. The documentary screens tonight at Royce Hall and a Q & A with Roy follows.7 p.m. Free (admission), $7 (parking). Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood. R.S.V.P., (310) 825-2101.

Wednesday

Argentine artist Gustavo López Armentia’s mixed-media works suggest a long history, gray-brown and worn around the edges. Using found objects and a muted palette, he explores the theme of migrants around the world. The world, in turn, has taken note. He has been chosen numerous times to represent Argentina as the country’s official entry in international forums. His art has now arrived in Los Angeles, at galerie yoramgil — a good number straight from the National Arts Museum of Buenos Aires’ recent López Armentia retrospective.10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tuesday-Saturday), 11 a.m.-4 p.m. (Sunday). Runs through June 12. 319 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 275-8130.

Thursday

Albert Brooks playing a Jewish podiatrist? Not much of astretch, we realize. True, some of the Jewishy lines have been cut from theoriginal script for “The In-Laws,” in which Brooks plays Jerry Peyser. (Notably:Of Peyser’s invitation list for his daughter’s wedding, his daughter says, “Dad,I don’t know any of these people.” His response: “Sure you do, sweetheart.They’re the same people you didn’t know at your bat mitzvah.”) But we’re told ithasn’t been entirely whitewashed. For those in the mood for some oddcouple-style hijinks, the film (co-starring Michael Douglas as an internationalsmuggler, and Brooks’ foil) may still be a good bet. You can also catch Brooksas a neurotic fish named Marlin and Brad Garrett as temperamental puffer fishBloat in Disney/Pixar’s latest, “Finding Nemo.” Both this week in wide release.www.thein-laws.warnerbros.com;www.findingnemo.com

Friday

Woodland Hills welcomes an activist to the regular Shabbat service, as Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt lectures at Kol Tikvah tonight. With her new anthology and memoir, “Behind Every Choice is a Story,” Feldt has brought together first-person accounts by people from every walk of life. Mothers, fathers, daughters, doctors, clergy, politicians and Feldt tell their stories in a collection that promotes the belief in a woman’s fundamental human right to control her own body.7 p.m. 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.In what may be one of Santa Monica Playhouse’s last shows, Henrietta Komras performs her one-woman comedic piece, “Henrietta: Born Funny,” tonight only. Part of the “Save the Playhouse” campaign (under the auspices of their Jewish Heritage Program), Komras’ “coming of middle-age story” tells her autobiographical tale of growing up a child of Holocaust survivors and her midlife quest for fame in Hollywood. The Playhouse’s May 31 fundraising deadline to purchase its space gives patrons just enough time to catch Komras’ act and pitch in to help save the theater.8 p.m. $10 (in advance), $12 (at the door). 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. (310) 394-9779.