November 19, 2018

The ‘Surrogate’ Elton John

Adam Chester (right) with Elton John

Most teenagers have a musical hero: an artist they listen to again and again when they are happy, when they are sad, when they just want to chill. But few ever get to meet their hero. However, San Fernando Valley resident Adam Chester went one better. He actually gets to be his musical hero —  Elton John, or rather, he fills in for him at band rehearsals.

Chester, who also works as a sales manager at the Keyboard Concepts piano store in Sherman Oaks, and is the author of a humorous book titled “S’Mother: The Story of a Man, His Mom, and the Thousands of Altogether Insane Letters She’s Mailed Him,” said he has been playing piano since he was 3 years old. Neither of his parents was a musician, but musical talent does run in his family. His grandmother was a violinist. His uncle was a concert pianist. And his aunt was a sound engineer. So it’s not altogether surprising that Chester, who grew up in a Conservative Jewish household in New Jersey, showed early promise as a piano player. He remembers neighbors setting up lawn chairs outside his family’s garden apartment to listen to him play when he was 5. His electric keyboard was positioned by a ground floor window. 

Chester continued to play piano throughout his youth. “In high school is where I really got focused,” he said. By then, he was already a fan of Elton John. But when he heard John’s opus-like “Funeral for a Friend” on the radio, he was sold. 

“I just loved his piano playing, his voice, everything about it,” he said. Elton John posters lined the walls of his room. Chester even performed “Funeral for a Friend” as part of his high school rock ensemble, emerging from a dry-ice filled coffin onstage in a white tuxedo.

 He headed west for college at USC, where he studied music theory and composition. “I wanted to write and sing and be the next Elton John or Barry Manilow or whoever was hip back then,” he said.

Chester, who is married with two sons, had some early success. He worked with Barry White and producer Jimmie Haskell. Some of his music was used in television and film. But to pay the bills, he took a job at Music Plus in Hollywood. One day, one of his regular customers came in with her husband. Chester recognized him immediately. It was Davey Johnstone, Elton John’s longtime guitar player.

Chester and Johnstone became friends. They played a few gigs together around Los Angeles. Then in 2005, Johnstone approached Chester with a proposition.

Adam Chester (right) with
Elton John

“He asked if I would sit in as Elton for all the Elton John band rehearsals,” Chester recalled. “I would sing and play piano with the band so Elton would not have to be there.”

Someone else had been filling in for John but that person didn’t sing. Chester didn’t hesitate. He was in. Shortly thereafter, he met Elton John in Boston. John was about to begin his Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy anniversary tour. It had been 30 years since the release of the album featuring such songs as “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” and “Philadelphia Freedom.” The band needed to rehearse the entire album until the musicians were tight. They did, with Chester on piano and vocals.

“I was in heaven,” Chester recalled.

“He asked if I would sit in as Elton for all the Elton John band rehearsals. I would sing and play piano with the band so Elton would not have to be there.”
— Adam Chester

Since then, Chester, who has a regular gig at Bar 1200 at Sunset Marquis, has been “Surrogate Elton John,” the title Johnstone gave him, on multiple occasions. 

“I became Sur Elton with an S.U.R. instead of Sir Elton,” Chester is fond of saying. (Elton John was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998.)

Chester also had the opportunity to sit in for John at John’s 60th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden and a gala concert in London for the BRIT Awards. Earlier this year, the Recording Academy hosted a Grammy salute to Elton John that included some of the biggest names in contemporary pop, including Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and Miley Cyrus. Chester got to accompany all of them on piano while John, along with his husband David Furnish and longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, sat in the audience. And just a few weeks ago, Chester headed to Pennsylvania to rehearse the band for John’s three-year farewell tour.

“I’m not trying to copy him,” Chester said. “I never want to do an Elton tribute band. I think that would diminish what I do … I definitely try to put a little bit of myself in there.”

It’s been a dream gig for the kid from New Jersey. “It’s never work,” he said. “I’m at the edge of my seat. I’m so excited to be with the band.”

New Album Brings Reggae to Jewish Songs and Prayers

Photo from

How about something different this year for Hanukkah? How about some reggae?

That’s what you’ll get with “Festival of Lights,” the creation of David Solid Gould, a Jewish bassist who recorded it with his own group, The Temple Rockers, as well as with three veteran Jamaican performers who sing in Hebrew and English. 

Gould, 48, told the Journal via telephone from his home near Ithaca, N.Y., that he has spent more than 20 years working on the musical fusion between Jewish and Jamaican music, and that this resolve grew out of two musical epiphanies. When he was 25 and already a professional musician, he saw a live performance of Jamaica-born singer Burning Spear.

“That’s when I first heard reggae,” Gould said. “Feeling the bass in the sound system. The groove feeding back into itself. It was like a spiritual rebirth for me. It really flipped my world.” 

Hooked on the tantalizing sounds of Jamaica, Gould became bassist for John Brown’s Body, a reggae band whose musicians dubbed him “Solid,” as much for what Gould calls his “low-end grooves” on bass as for the wordplay on his last name. 

Gould’s other musical epiphany came a couple of years later when he was touring in California with John Brown’s Body in the late 1990s. Suddenly, he sensed that the reggae music he was playing could be merged with songs and prayers he recalled from childhood. He rushed to a synagogue where he heard “Sim Shalom” chanted by a cantor and congregation. 

“I realized that I could use reggae to play the songs I’d sung at Hebrew school, at shul, at my bar mitzvah, during holidays like Passover and Hanukkah,” he said. 

This second epiphany led directly to his forming The Temple Rockers, a musical group that fuses reggae with Jewish musical traditions. In 2001 they recorded an album called “Adonai and I” — reggae versions of traditional prayers such as “Leha Dodi” and “Adon Olam.” This was followed in 2009 by the “Feast of the Passover,” seder songs and melodies, also in reggae style. 

“I realized that I could use reggae to play the songs I’d sung at Hebrew school, at shul, at my bar mitzvah, during holidays like Passover and Hanukkah.”  

— David Gould

On Oct. 19, the third album of this melding of Jewish and Jamaican musical traditions will be released: “Festival of Lights,” Gould’s reggae versions of Hanukkah songs. Gould said he found the project challenging. “For Hanukkah, I had to do research and seek out music and learn about music that was new to me and choose songs that suited the theme of the collection and also suited reggae music. So it was a fun project for me because I got to learn new music.” 

During the last 20 years, Gould has made several trips to Jamaica, where he’s stayed with reggae musicians who have helped him learn about Rastafarianism, a Jamaican religion. “They taught me about its origins, about their beliefs,” Gould said, “and I saw lots of connection to Judaism. Many of the lyrics in reggae songs refer to stories in the Bible.” 

Indeed they do. Babylon, Exodus, Zion, Egypt, and especially Jah (God). 

In Rasta belief, the late Ethiopian leader, Haile Selassie, was descended from the union between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, which is why the fence at the Kingston, Jamaica house of the late Bob Marley — a sainted figure in the reggae world — is studded with Stars of David. 

For “Festival of Lights,” Gould felt it was vital for the Jamaican singers to explore the Jewish origins of Rasta traditions, and he made sure they learned some Hebrew, at least enough to sing in the language. “Every Jamaican singer that I worked with on this has loved the music, and they love the connection between Jewish music and Jamaican music,” Gould said. 

When he first started planning “Festival of Lights,” Gould made a list of the Jamaican singers he wanted, and he snagged three who were on his wish list: Linval Thompson, Wayne Jarrett and Ansel Meditations, three singers who have been performing and recording since the 1970s. During that time Bob Marley was an international superstar, and the soundtrack of the Jamaican movie “The Harder They Come” — featuring Jimmy Cliff as well as Toots and the Maytals — became the background music of daily life, not just in Jamaica but in other places, including Israel. 

On “Festival of Lights,” as is usual in record production, the instrumentals were recorded first (at Solid Studios, near Ithaca, where Gould lives); but what is very unusual is that Gould recorded every bit of this record, vocals and instrumentals, on two-inch reel-to-reel tape.

“It’s very rare these days that people record on tape because it’s so expensive. It’s so much easier and cheaper and convenient to record on digital,” Gould said. “But there is a warmth and richness when you record on analog tape. Digital strips away that warmth and richness. It makes everything harsh.”

Having first taped the instrumentals with The Temple Rockers — a large group that includes keyboards, strings, horns, and percussion — Gould traveled to Miami to record Wayne Jarrett.

“I brought my reels with me and they’re heavy,” Gould said. “I had two reels in a bag and it was like a 40-pound bag I was lugging around.” It was the same when Gould went to Kingston to record Thompson. In Jamaica, he had to hunt around for a studio that could handle reel-to-reel tape. Fortunately he didn’t have to travel far to record Ansel Meditations, who lives in New York and recorded his songs at Gould’s house. 

From the way that Gould describes all the hoops he’s jumped through to record this music, it’s clear that it’s a labor of love: for the Jewish and Jamaican parts of his musical soul. 

Maybe because the music is often in a minor key, or maybe because it uses traditional Hanukkah and Biblical tropes, or maybe because of the high quality and professionalism of the musicians, or maybe because of all of the above, the result is an album that grows on you stealthily with each hearing, touching some deep core. Listening to “Days Long Ago” and other songs from the record, you feel you’re listening to a dreadlocked Rasta group from the ’70s and ’80s. It’s easy to get carried away by the soulful Jamaican vocalists whose voices — like Hanukkah itself — embody the unquenchable hope of a miracle in a time of darkness.

For more information on obtaining “Festival of Lights,” visit

Shalhevet Students Meet With Koolulam Founder

Photo by Ricky Rachman

Every morning, Or Taicher, one of the founders of Israel’s social flash mob-style sing-along craze Koolulam, opens his email in search of inspiration to start his day. A few months ago, a message sent by Shalhevet High School administrators did the trick. 

“That’s the reason I’m here today,” Taicher told more than 200 Shalhevet students gathered in the school’s gymnasium the day before erev Yom Kippur. An online link led Taicher to a Koolulam-inspired video of Shalhevet’s student body, aided by live instrumentation, singing Matisyahu’s “One Day” in honor of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. 

“I was truly moved by what I saw,” he said. And that’s saying something. 

Since kicking off in Tel Aviv last year, Koolulam — a play on the English word “cool,” the Hebrew words “kulam” (everyone) and “kol” (voice), and “kululu,” a festive ululation of Sephardic Jews — has soared in popularity throughout Israel. Thousands of tickets to take part in arena-filling Koolulam events are sold in minutes. Swaths of strangers come together … to sing. 

Koolulam partners with nongovernmental organizations and local municipalities to reach every sect of Israeli society. To date, more than 100,000 people from diverse backgrounds have attended to learn musical arrangements (which take about an hour) and sing well-known songs in English, Hebrew and Arabic. The videos garner millions of online views, making Koolulam an international phenomenon. 

During Taicher’s recent visit to Shalhevet, proceedings kicked off with 30 seconds of silence in honor of Ari Fuld, the American-Israeli terrorism victim who was stabbed in Gush Etzion on Sept. 16. The Shalhevet choir then sang “One Day” for Taicher before 17-year-old Lucy Fried interviewed him.

“It all started with curiosity,” Taicher said. “Two years ago, I saw a video of thousands of people praying at the Wailing Wall. I was so moved, so inspired. I asked myself, ‘How can I pass that along? How can I inspire others?’”

Taicher, a filmmaker, recalled brainstorming ways to help unify a fractured Israeli society marred by a lack of constructive political dialogue. He immediately considered the international language of music. 

“I wanted to do something that could make connections instead of separating people,” he said. “This is how it began. I feel that music has a lot of power. It can open hearts and build bridges.”

Beyond bridging ethnic and religious divides in Israel, the mass singing sensation has proven to be a diplomatic tool. Earlier this summer, Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf, the secretary general of the world’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, which is based in Indonesia and has more than 60 million members, called Taicher on his cellphone and confessed to being a Koolulam fan. 

“I wanted to do something that could make connections instead of separating people. This is how it began. I feel that music has a lot of power. It can open hearts and build bridges.” — Or Taicher

“I hung up. I thought it was a joke,” Taicher said. But it wasn’t. Taicher and his two co-founders, Ben Yefet and Michal Shahaf Shneiderman, set off to plan a truly majestic event for Staquf’s Jerusalem visit slated for mid-June. The 800 available tickets sold out in six minutes. The attendees included Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders. The crowd convened at midnight in the courtyards of the Tower of David in the Old City of Jerusalem to sing Bob Marley’s “One Love” in English, Hebrew and Arabic (the Journal reported on this story in its June 29 edition).

Shortly after the Koolulam event, Indonesia, a country with no previous diplomatic ties to Israel, opened its borders to Israeli passport-holding tourists. “This showed me that what we’re doing, our movement, it’s working,” Taicher said. 

He also noted that Koolulam receives Facebook messages from Arab fans around the world. Some even contain apologies for harboring unfounded hate of Israel. 

Koolulam’s founders will receive the 2018 Asia Game Changer Award in New York next month, which Taicher called “an unbelievable honor.” Fellow honorees include the founder of the Syrian White Helmets and the Thai rescuers who saved a dozen teenage soccer players in a flooded cave earlier this year.   

Ari Schwarzberg, Shalhevet’s dean of students, told the Journal that initiatives like Koolulam help frame conversations on Zionism divorced from politics. 

“I think that the way our school views the value of Zionism, one of the ways we deeply feel it, is demonstrating that Israel has the great potential to be a place that models the best version of the Jewish people,” he said. “It gets complicated with politics. But this seemed to be one of those initiatives that represents the best of the Jewish people and a way to show our students and our community a way of deepening the understanding of what Zionism is.” 

Taicher told the Shalhevet students it was an uphill battle to get Koolulam off the ground, saying he heard the word “no” a lot. “You can’t let it stop you,” he said. “Now we have over 100 people working for us and we’re making a change.”

He also spoke about Koolulam’s expansion plans, which he said may involve opening branches in Los Angeles, New York, South Africa and Abu Dhabi. A South African event is scheduled for November. 

“It was really cool to get a chance to talk with [Taicher],” Fried said following the discussion. “It’s really inspiring that he created something so powerful despite all the rejection he faced.” 

Many Shalhevet students expressed interest in attending a potential future Koolulam event in Los Angeles. Tobey Lee, 16, told the Journal the idea sounded fun, but it’s not the singing he’s drawn to.

“Koolulam is something bigger than just singing a song,” he said. “It’s creating something bigger than music. It’s really cool that it’s creating peace.”

Maroon 5 at the Super Bowl, KISS Farewell Tour

Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer of KISS (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC)

Maroon 5 will headline the halftime show at Super Bowl LII on Feb. 3, 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga. The Adam Levine-led rock band follows such previous superstar headliners as Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, U2, The Who, Katy Perry, Prince, the Black Eyed Peas and Janet Jackson. Levine has often that playing the Super Bowl is one of his biggest goals.

The NFL has made no official announcement about the halftime show or which other acts may perform.

KISS is hanging up their platform boots and taking off their makeup. The veteran rock band, founded more than 40 years ago by Israel-born bassist Gene Simmons (né Chaim Witz), 69, and guitarist Paul Stanley (né Stanley Eisen), 66, with former members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, announced their farewell End of the World Tour on the Sept. 19 finale of “America’s Got Talent.”

“All that we have built and all that we have conquered over the past four decades could never have happened without the millions of people worldwide who’ve filled clubs, arenas and stadiums over those years,” the band said in a statement. “This will be the ultimate celebration for those who’ve seen us and a last chance for those who haven’t. KISS Army, we’re saying goodbye on our final tour with our biggest show yet and we’ll go out the same way we came in… Unapologetic and unstoppable.”

KISS, which includes guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer, have sold more than 100 million albums.

Kenny G’s Sax Appeal

Saxophonist Kenneth Bruce Gorelick, better known by his stage name, Kenny G, rose to fame in the 1980s and ’90s, becoming one of the top-selling recording artists of all time. He won a Grammy Award in 1994 and at one point held the world record for the longest sustained note on a sax.

However, at 61, he’s more than the sum of his trademark curly locks and his reed-blowing skills. He’s also an accomplished golfer and a pilot — because, why not?

Jewish Journal: How did you get interested in music?

Kenny G: I was made to take piano lessons at 6 years of age. I hated it. And then I saw a sax player on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and that struck a chord in me and made me want to play sax.

JJ: How and why did you settle on the professional name Kenny G?

KG: My friends always called me G or Mr. G or G Man, so it was a no-brainer.

JJ: Which musicians have been your greatest influences?

KG: I really got inspired with Grover Washington Jr.’s sound. And also pretty much all the jazz greats — John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon. I’m old school. I listen to the jazz that the masters played in the ’50s and ’60s and to the great players of today, too.

“Be humble. Listen more. Don’t try to be ‘right’ but instead ask more questions when involved in confrontations.”

JJ: What part has your Jewish upbringing and heritage played in your work and life?

KG: I’m proud of my Jewish heritage and I know how to read Hebrew. I think my attention to detail and the fact that I wanted not only to play an instrument but also to get really good on the instrument was due to my Jewish mother’s quest to make sure her kids worked hard and got good grades and played music.

JJ: Any charities close to your heart?

KG: I donate each month to Food on Foot, a program in L.A. that takes people who have become homeless and helps them get back on their feet.

JJ: Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of music and show business?

KG: I play golf. I’m a 3 handicap and I am a pilot with 3,500 hours of flight time since 1989.

JJ: What do you do to maintain peak performance?

KG: I work hard at staying in the best shape I can. I work out every day for about an hour. I eat good, healthy food. No junk food, I love to cook and do that most days. Consistency is the key to it all. Just do it every day and eventually you will get into great shape. I also practice my sax three hours every day.

JJ: You’ve worked and collaborated with many amazing musicians. Do you have any favorites?

KG: I have lots of favorites. All you have to do is look at the names of those I’ve collaborated with: Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Earth Wind & Fire, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli. [They’re] all great, fun and different.

JJ: Do you have a philosophy that you live by?

KG: Be humble. Listen more. Don’t try to be “right” but instead ask more questions when involved in confrontations.

JJ: You earned a place in “Guiness World Records” in 1997 for playing the longest note ever recorded on a saxophone — 45 minutes and 47 seconds. How did you manage that?

KG: Circular breathing is a technique. In through the nose, out through the mouth simultaneously. I saw some players do a version of it when I was in high school at a concert for the group the Jazz Crusaders. I went home, figured out how they did it and then spent the next 10 years getting great at it.

Mark Miller is a humorist, stand-up comic and has written for various sitcoms. His first book is “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”

Everything you need to know about Toy- the Israeli song that is taking over the world

The Eurovision singing contest – one of the biggest annual cultural events in Europe – is will take place in Portugal this May. And for the first time in what seems to be forever, Israel seems to have a winner. With more than 5 million views on YouTube and raging reviews, side by side with a powerful message and a unique artist, Toy seems to be a worldwide phenomenon.

Toy was created by Doron Medalie together with Stav Beger, who joined forces with Netta Barzilai, the performer. Barzilai is a young singer and an up-and-coming star, who took first place at the reality singing contest – The Next Star to the Eurovision 2018, and got to become our ambassador at the event.

Barzilai had won us all over during this season of The Next Star, thanks to her unique sound and inspiring personality.

Now, she is expressing herself, as a musician and as a person, in an empowering song, which combines a little bit of quirkiness with an important message.

In an interview to ESC Today – Doron Medalie, co-creator of the song, talked about the strong message of Toy: “That’s a bingo for me. And when Netta looks and behaves the way she does, so it turns toy into ‘I’m not your toy, don’t play with me.’ Let’s use toys to say something different about the #MeToo movement.”

The song was released less than two weeks ago, and is already ranking support from all across the globe, including from the Arab world. The Foreign Ministry shared a video of the song on its Arabic-language Facebook page, which has 1.5 million followers, and it received some unexpected support (side by side with hate words for Israel, but still…). For instance, Abu Majd from Saudi Arabia wrote: “This isn’t the type of music I like, but this song has everything it takes to become an international hit.”

Netta Barzilai will perform Toy in the first half of Semi-Final 1 on Tuesday 8 May 2018, and currently, Eurovision experts are betting on Toy to win the contest. Fingers crossed!

You can watch the music video here, and let me know what you think in the comments below:


The Key to Reaching Autistic Children

Jewish autism therapy is 4 years old; Noam Korenstein, who inspired its accidental invention, is 10 years old; and the author of both, age initially irrelevant, is typical of brilliant fathers everywhere.

Reuvein Korenstein, a native of Framingham, Mass., who now lives in Los Angeles, detected a need in Noam, his first-born son, who is autistic.

Plunging into a series of trials and errors in his graduate program at Yale, he invented a Jewish concept intended to grant relief to thousands of conflicted Jewish parents.

“I created Jewish autism therapy,” Korenstein says, “to respond to the needs of parents who feel they have to choose between autism therapy and Jewish education.”

After operating a clinic for autistic children in Hartford, Conn., he brought Jewish autism therapy, thick with a traditional religious vein, to Los Angeles last summer. Korenstein debuted his program for boys ages 5 to 12, one-on-one therapy, for a week or a month or more at a time, at Beit Aaron near Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. For four hours a day, five days a week, classes seasoned by Torah and talmudic stories bring an unprecedented Jewish flavor to autism therapy.

“Our rabbis teach us that this can be understood by us when we are going through our own tribulations.” —  Reuvein Korenstein

Korenstein, 36, urges parents to try it for a week before judging.

“This program is Jewish and therapy,” he said of the pillars that frame his unique venture.

“We apply effective methods that are field tested,” he said.

While Korenstein designed his program at Yale, the spark that ignited what billowed into a blaze was purely accidental.

Or was it?

“I am a musician, and one day I started playing the piano,” he said.

Noam was in the next room.

“I started just to play music for myself. I just wanted to make myself happy. Sing Tehillim.

“All of a sudden as I began to play these Tehillim, actually even singing them in English without trying to get Noam to change at all or do any sort of therapy … Suddenly, Noam started, like, coming alive. He started talking more. He got really excited. He started playing with toys I never saw him play with.”

Six-year-old Noam came over to the piano, which shocked his father. “This is a big thing for children with autism — to initiate social interaction,” Korenstein said. “My son would play by himself with the water in the kitchen. Happy being isolated.”

The father of two believes he has gained precise insights.

“My hunch,” Korenstein said, was that isolation consoles “an inner sadness that goes like this:

“I am feeling deficient.

“I am feeling a lacking.

“Let me do something I can be good at.”

Again Korenstein thought back to the giant psychological steps Noam took toward him at the melodious piano. “It’s a big deal for a child to initiate,” he said, “to come out of that self-soothing world.”

Before that memorably happy moment, Reuvein and Leah Korenstein had trod the same exasperating, well-worn paths followed by many.

For the six years before the dramatic, life-changing, revelatory morning at the piano, Noam had been a pure loner.

“We had experimented with schools,” Korenstein said. “We went to every single type of therapist, speech therapist, physical therapist. We went to conferences.

“Noam was just not able to maintain … being in school.”

What were Leah and Reuvein Korenstein, intellectually kindred, thinking during these painful hours, weeks and years?

They had met in 2004 at the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine. They each were spending a year after college studying in Jerusalem. Their dual mission of the moment was to bring Passover to the Jews of Ukraine.

He credits his wife’s inherent belief with winging the couple and the family to safe ground.

“She said, ‘We just have to keep going. We have to keep trying. He is in there. Something is blocking him from being able to express it.’ ”

Did Korenstein see the sunshine ahead that illuminated his wife’s vision?

“I started to grow this optimism when I began to pay really close attention to his movements.

“My training, one of the things that HaShem blessed me with was attention to detail,” Korenstein said. “This is what one of my professors at Yale saw in me — really paying close attention to detail.

“I started to pay very close attention to Noam.

“At exactly 11 a.m. every day, I would sit down at the piano and begin to play these songs, as before, just for myself. Really singing. Just me and him. I was just letting it go. Special Tehillim.”

Korenstein said there are lessons in the life of King David for parents of autistic children.

He knows that King David was chased by his own son. “Our rabbis teach us that this can be understood by us when we are going through our own tribulations,” Korenstein said. “Even though it may seem despairing and bleak, there is still hope. Give hope to HaShem.’’

“In the end, [King David] turns around and says, ‘This is good. Don’t give up,’ ” said Korenstein, elevating his happy voice.

“When I read these words, I started to tear up. I thought he was talking about my life, my own struggles to help my son, my own desire that he would get better, that I could take him to synagogue with me.”

Korenstein’s passion was bursting forth again.

“Noam, he really felt that honest, speaking out loud to God. Really. He really felt that. It touched him,” Korenstein said.

“And so I realized that Jewish autism therapy really came out of this, which is this honest speaking of the soul of the person working with the child with autism, whether it is the parent, the teacher, the therapist, the rebbe.

“This person is engaged in the kind of activity [King David] was engaged in. Basically, it is about finding the good in a situation even though it seems bleak.”

Which happens to be Korenstein’s banner at Beit Aaron, bringing hope to those tempted to bury themselves in hopelessness.

Reuvein Korenstein can be contacted at

Arise, Arise and Rock Out! – A Poem for Haftarah Beshalach by Rick Lupert

I was so pleased to come across
the story of Deborah and find out it
culminates as a musical.

Praise! Praise Deborah
Utter a song.

And she does. A lengthy one
of Don McLeanean proportions.
This is Israeli Pie or

Devorah’s Restaurant, if you prefer.
It goes on and every detail of
every victory is sung.

It’s epic.
It’s Biblical rock and roll.
It’s milk instead of water.
It’s stakes through temples.
It’s men who refuse to fight
     without women by their side.
It’s curses and blessings.
It’s chariots and swords.

It’s Deborah, our Deborah
staked out under her palm tree
on a mountain, doling out wisdom
and instruction and judgement.

It’s all of us taking the time
to sing a song, like Miriam did before
to recount our history
to take stock of what
we’ve got going on.

How much of history do
we know better thanks to
the rock operas of our day?
Give me a test on Joseph
or even the American Revolution –
I’ll rap my way to an A+.

We’ve been uttering songs since
Deborah sang of Harosheth-golim
Since Moses sang his way
to the edge of the Holy Land
Since Miriam put on the first Woodstock
on the far side of a closing sea.

Arise arise Devorah!
We’ve got the best seats
in the house.

God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Ozomatli’s Bassist Funnels His Life Into Music

Ozomatli’s Wil-Dog Abers performs in Baltimore in October. Photo by Miguel “M.i.G.” Martinez

Carved into the sidewalk outside Willy “Wil-Dog” Abers’ front door in Silver Lake is “OZO,” a large circle with a Z inside and an O on either side of the Z. It’s the abbreviated version of his band’s full name, “Ozomatli.”

Abers is the only Jewish member of the primarily Latino, six-member group, which for 22 years has fused multiple genres to create a sound reflecting the city. Take old-school hip-hop, classic rock and Latin music, mesh them together and Ozomatli is what you get.

The secret to the band’s success has been its ability to absorb its surroundings, Abers, who plays bass, said in an interview at his home recording studio, in advance of Ozomatli’s performance at the Saban Theatre on Dec. 9. His passion for music helps explain why Ozomatli continues to thrive, decades after its first concert in a building the musicians inherited in a legal agreement after attempting to unionize a group of marginalized workers.

Abers, 44, whose late father was Jewish and whose mother is not, describes himself as “half-Jewish, from the waist-down.” It’s a circumcision joke he picked up when he was young and hanging out with his paternal grandfather in Art’s and Canter’s delis.

“Years later, now I am using the joke,”
he said.

Abers has come a long way since he was a high school dropout, addicted to drugs and not always so vocal about being Jewish. Who would be, when raised in the MacArthur Park area surrounded by Catholic kids whose parents said Jews killed Jesus?

His parents, including his late Jewish father, were communists. Abers did not talk much about his Jewish roots until a formative experience at the National Conference of Christians and Jews’ Brotherhood/Sisterhood Camp. The camp tackled anti-Semitism, among other topics, and today Abers is more comfortable in his Jewish skin.

“For me it’s culture … it’s comedy … it’s the friendships I have in life,” he said.

Ozomatli’s music showcases a commitment to social and political activism. The 1998 song “Coming War” addresses wealth disparity, the military-industrial complex and health care inequalities. The 2004 song “Believe” contains a rap verse with an anti-war, environmentalist message.

During the interview, Abers wore a baseball cap, eyeglasses, a T-shirt and black pants, and was surrounded by five keyboards, a piano and two computer monitors. He played back a demo he’s been working on with session musicians, which he will bring to his Ozomatli bandmates.

He said the demo’s sound reminds him of the 1980s music of the Thompson Twins, then segued into a history lesson of music from that era — the Pretenders, English Beat, the Clash —  bands that made an impression on him.

When he was 6, Abers saw the Clash in concert. That night, he said, he decided he wanted to become a musician.

About 18 years later, Ozomatli created its self-titled debut album (1998), which featured a stew of verses from an underground rapper as well as turntable-scratching, horns, danceable rhythms and bilingual lyrics representing street culture. They’re sounds Abers heard while frequenting break-dancing clubs in his youth, back when they called him “Breakdance Willy.”

Ozomatli has since released eight albums, including its Grammy-winning 2002
record, “Embrace the Chaos,” and the family-friendly 2012 album “Ozomatli Presents OzoKidz.” The group also has toured with Carlos Santana and served as the house band for stand-up comedian Gabriel Iglesias’ television show. An Iglesias action figure sits on a shelf in Abers’ studio.

Bandmates continue to fight for the underserved, promoting music education in lower-performing schools, including Ellen Ochoa Learning Center, a public school in Cudahy.

And Abers, whose wife is from Guatemala, expressed support for immigrants in the United States as debate continues over their status in this country.

“I think immigration has been happening since humans have been on Earth, and I fully support the migration of human beings for better opportunities for themselves and survival,” he said.

The band’s progressive politics are associated with the left. It performed at Occupy L.A. a few years ago. And on the topic of Israel, Abers isn’t anti-Israel, but he sympathizes with the Palestinians. In essence, his relationship with Israel, as it is with many Jews, is complicated.

“We can yell at each other all day but what’s going to come of that?” he asked, after several minutes of arguing about Israel’s place in the world.

The conversation veered to his hobbies. When a reporter showed up to Abers’ house, he was in the middle of researching RVs for sale. He explained he would like to buy one and hit the road with his wife, veterinarian Evelyn Sagastume, who runs Petsadena Animal Hospital.

Wherever he goes, though, Los Angeles will be his and his band’s home.

Ozomatli will perform Dec. 9 at the Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. For more information, call (888) 645-5006.

Jewish pianist Mikhail Klein collapses, dies on stage

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

(JTA) — The celebrated pianist Mikhail Klein collapsed and died on stage at the age of 72 while performing his own composition in his hometown of Irkutsk.

Klein, who in 1987 was awarded the prestigious title of Honored Artist of Russia, died at the foot of a grand piano of the Irkutsk Philharmonic Orchestra on Tuesday before hundreds of people who had come to hear him play, said the municipality of the Siberian city, situated near Russia’s border with Mongolia.

“I was sitting in the front row and, seeing that Mikhail Leonidovich was ill, ran up to him,” the head of the city department of culture, Vitaly Baryshnikov, told RIA Novosti.

Two of the city’s most prominent physicians were in attendance but their attempts to reanimate him with a cardiac massage did not succeed. He died, reportedly of heart failure, just before 8:30 p.m. He had lived in Irkutsk for the past 45 years and has worked for the Irkutsk Philharmonic for all that time, the orchestra wrote in an obituary mourning his death.

With his “fanatic devotion to the arts,” the obituary said, he “brilliantly represented Russian musical art in many cultural and educational activities” locally and abroad. “His other passion was sports, loyalty to his friends — colleagues in the volleyball team, which he carried through all his creative life,” the statement also said.

Known in Russia and beyond for his renditions and interpretations of works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms and other great composers, Klein, who was Jewish, was also a prolific jazz composer and enthusiast.

He was playing “This is all Russia,” a jazz composition that he wrote featuring fragments of several famous Russian songs, before he collapsed.

15 tracks to top your High Holy Days playlist

For centuries, the blast of the shofar has jolted generations of Jews into the proper frame of mind for the introspection needed to pursue teshuvah, or repentance, during the Days of Awe.

But that doesn’t have to be the only way to get into the spirit of the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement. For a more modern musical approach, try listening to a little Justin Bieber or Nirvana. Because while “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” — as Elton John sang in 1976 — it’s still the best place to start.

Here are some other songs and lyrics to get you going.

“This Is the New Year” (2014)
A Great Big World
“Another year you made a promise
Another chance to turn it all around
And do not save this for tomorrow
Embrace the past and you can live for now”

“Sorry” (2015)
Justin Bieber
“I just need one more shot at forgiveness
I know you know that I made those mistakes maybe once or twice
By once or twice I mean maybe a couple a hundred times”

“Please Forgive Me” (2010)
Bryan Adams
“Please forgive me
I know not what I do”

“Sorry, Blame It on Me” (2006)
“As life goes on, I’m starting to learn more and more about responsibility
I realize everything I do is affecting the people around me
So I want to take this time out to apologize for things I have done
And things that have not occurred yet”

“The New Year” (2003)
Death Cab for Cutie
“So this is the new year
And I have no resolutions
For self-assigned penance
For problems with easy solutions”

“The Apologist” (1998)
“When I feel regret
I get down on my knees and pray
I’m sorry, so sorry”

“All Apologies” (1993)
“What else should I be?
All apologies”

“Man in the Mirror” (1987)
Michael Jackson
“I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change”

“Let’s Start the New Year Right” (1942)
Bing Crosby
“Let’s watch the old year die
With a fond goodbye
And our hopes as high
As a kite”

And, of course, Leonard Cohen’s riff on the Unetanah Tokef prayer from the High Holy Days liturgy:

“Who by Fire” (1974)
Leonard Cohen
“And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the nighttime
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial
Who in your merry, merry month of May
Who by very slow decay
And who shall I say is calling?”


“Sorry” (2005) by Madonna

“Oops! … I Did It Again” (2000) by Britney Spears

“New Year’s Day” (1983) by U2

“Hard to Say I’m Sorry” (1982) by Chicago

“(Just Like) Starting Over” (1980) by John Lennon

Donald Glover is Childish Gambino?!

Earlier this week I was driving to work when a song I had never heard came on the radio. I found myself moving with the music in the car and immediately fell in love with the singer, even though I had no idea who it was. The song touched me in a way I can’t really explain, other than saying it spoke to me. It made me happy and I didn’t want the song to end. I asked Siri who was singing and she told me it was Childish Gambino.

I felt like I had discovered something new and immediately called my son to let him know of my fantastic new discovery. I let him know my new favorite song was Redbone by a great new group, Childish Gambino. My son started laughing and it actually took him a minute to stop. He let me know Childish Gambino was a man not a group, and he had been listening to him and a fan of his work for several years.

He thought it was hilarious I had “discovered” someone who was so famous. He was impressed however with my taste in music. I decided to Google Childish Gambino to see if there were other songs I would like or if it was a one song kind of love. It was then I discovered Childish Bambino is also Donald Glover, who is a comedic genius I love. Am I the only person who did not know they were the same person?

Donald Glover wrote for one of my favorite shows, 30 Rock, and I knew of him as a writer first. This man is an artistic genius so it makes sense Redbone would speak to me, because Donald Glover’s work has spoken to me before. I am amazed however that loving his work the way I do, I never knew Donald Glover and Childish Gambino were the same person. This man’s talent is layered and everyone will love at least one layer.

I feel like I’m rediscovering someone I already know, and that is a wonderful feeling. I am impressed by this young man and find myself feeling proud of him, which I suppose is ridiculous, but I want good things for him. He has made me happy over the years, so I want happiness for him. Redbone is a brilliant song and I must look insane grooving to it in the car like I’m home alone in front of a mirror singing into my hairbrush.

While disappointed to not have discovered a new artist, I am thrilled to have come upon this layer of his work and have no shame in sharing I listened to Redbone 11 times on my way home last night. I feel like one of the cool kids and am looking forward to spending the weekend with Childish Gambino. Give him a listen. Redbone, Sober, or Baby Boy may help you to keep the faith.

Here’s to you, Paul Simon: Skirball showcases his ‘Words & Music’

Paul Simon 1987. By Luise Gubb, Courtesy Paul Simon Archive

In 1964, a Jewish music executive, Goddard Lieberson, then the president of Columbia Records, told his newest act, a harmonizing duo inspired by the Everly Brothers, to use their “ethnic” names.

Goodbye, Tom and Jerry. Hello, Simon and Garfunkel.

“[Paul] Simon didn’t think people were going to buy folk songs sung by two middle-class Jewish men, but he embraced it,” said Erin Clancey, curator of “Paul Simon: Words & Music,” the Skirball Cultural Center’s latest exhibition.

“Words & Music,” which runs through Sept. 3, presents this curious piece of music industry trivia and much more, in a retrospective of his creativity that spans more than 16 albums — from Simon’s early work with Art Garfunkel to his 2016 solo album, “Stranger to Stranger.”

The exhibit is on loan from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Its chronological sections display more than 150 items  — scratchpad notes, awards, the first jacket he wore on “American Bandstand” and his first acoustic guitar, a 13th birthday gift from his father, Louis, a professional bass player.

Additional items from the early years include correspondence between Simon and Garfunkel when Simon was away at summer camp that shows the two were friends before they were collaborators. “Send my love to Marilyn and any other nice lookin’ girls up there,” Simon wrote in one letter. It also features the duo’s first recording contract with Columbia, from 1957.

One section of the exhibit, “Simon and Garfunkel,” features nearly 35 photographs, sheet music and handwritten lyrics encapsulating the duo’s brief, impactful six years together when they recorded such baby boomer hits as “Mrs. Robinson,” “Homeward Bound” and “America.”

Clancey recalled a Skirball staffer looking at a photo of Simon and saying, “Hmm, that looks like my dad.”


Paul Simon backstage at Lincoln Center in New York in 1967. Photo by Don Hunstein, courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment.

“That’s kind of who we’re pitching this to — dads,” she said. “I guess that could be described as the core audience for this, people for whom this music is the soundtrack to their youth, the soundtrack to their young adulthood.”

The treasures include a photo of Simon and Garfunkel seated on the floor of a CBS studio while recording tracks for their debut album, “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.,” which sold poorly and prompted the duo to disband. Simon moved to England and immersed himself in the folk music scene. Included in the exhibition is a diary of his performances in the U.K.

Without either of them knowing it at the time, Tom Wilson, a music producer who had worked with Tom and Jerry, provided their big breakthrough. Responding to the growing popularity of folk-rock, Wilson overdubbed electric instruments onto “The Sound of Silence,” which Simon had written in response to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The record topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Notified of his hit record, Simon returned to the United States. From 1966 to 1970, he and Garfunkel recorded blockbuster albums, including “Sounds of Silence,” “Bookends” and their last together, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

simon6Included are handwritten lyrics of “The Boxer,” from “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” that Simon scribbled onto an inflight airline magazine.

The examination of Simon’s versatile solo career shows how he has stayed relevant even as popular music has evolved. “Mother and Child Reunion” helped introduce Western audiences to reggae music; “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” showcased his love of language; and “Still Crazy After All These Years” is Simon the songwriter at what he has called his peak.

Still, creative frustration hit him in the mid-1980s before a trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, in pursuit of township sounds he’d heard on a cassette tape, led to a career rejuvenating fusion of South African and American music on his 1986 landmark record, “Graceland.”

Handwritten lyrics from the title track and from “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” the Album of the Year Grammy Award for “Graceland,” and annotated sheet music highlight the exhibition’s section on “Graceland.” On May 12, Skirball is screening “Under African Skies,” a 2012 documentary examining Simon’s bold decision to record music in South Africa in the 1980s, when the country was still under apartheid rule. In the documentary, Simon “talks about how perhaps he didn’t understand the fullness of the situation, the crisis of South Africa,” Clancey said.

One section of the exhibition, “Paul Simon in Popular Culture,” is unique to the Skirball. Included is a movie poster from “The Graduate,” which featured the song, “Mrs. Robinson,” originally “Mrs. Roosevelt” until Simon changed the lyric to match a character in the film at director Mike Nichols’ request.

“We’ve included sections that deal specifically with Paul’s popularity, his icon status, his place in our cultural consciousness, which I think was not so much the focus of the rock hall’s exhibition,” Clancey said. “They’re focused on music, of course, and the various instruments and songs, lyrics, etc. We’re interested in Paul as a cultural figure, first, and as a musician, second.”

Further distinguishing the Skirball exhibition is an interactive music lab Skirball developed in partnership with Roland Corp., an electronic music equipment manufacturer and distributor. It enables people to sing and jam with Simon.

“They have a drum circle where you can listen to songs that have a very distinctive drumbeat like, ‘50 Ways [to Leave Your Lover].’ You can harmonize along with Simon and Garfunkel to ‘Mrs. Robinson.’ I expect that to be a very, very popular attraction,” Clancey said.

Skirball and Roland previously partnered in 2008 for the Skirball exhibition “Bob Dylan’s American Journey, 1956-1966.”

Meanwhile, listening stations provide an opportunity to hear nearly 30 songs.

Simon, 75, was born in Newark, N.J., on Oct. 13, 1941. His parents were Hungarian Jews who immigrated to the U.S. at the beginning of World War II. Simon grew up in Queens, N.Y., which is where he met Garfunkel. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist and with Simon and Garfunkel. Twice previously married, including to the actress Carrie Fisher, he currently is married to folk singer Edie Brickell.

The rock hall displayed the Simon exhibition in 2015. Simon did not see it but nevertheless provided two of the museum’s officials, Karen Herman and Craig Inciardi, with an “oral history, of his life story,” Herman said. “We had a guitar next to him and said, ‘If you feel like it, go ahead and play,’ which he did a few times. We wanted to get at what makes Paul Simon Paul Simon.

“He was gracious with his story. He was gracious with his archives.”

The exhibition at the Skirball also suggests a musician’s concern for social justice is key to relevancy.

“Beyond just the fact of his Jewish identity and his pop cultural icon status, he’s also a person who fits very well with our mission, which is a sort of a dual mission of celebrating influential cultural figures but also people who have something to say with regard to social justice,” Clancey said. “His work, his lyrics, have often reflected the frustrations of the people. They have been very pointed at times with regard to social justice. We felt that was a good match.”

“Paul Simon: Words & Music” runs through Sept. 3 at the Skirball Cultural Center. For more information, go to 

Finally some good news: Britney Spears reportedly to perform Tel Aviv concert in July

Britney Spears

Britney Spears will perform in Tel Aviv in July, the Israeli media are reporting.

The one-night show by the American pop singer reportedly will take place at Yarkon Park and be part of her upcoming Asian tour. The final date and ticket sales have not been announced.

Rumors that Spears, 35, would play in Israel have circulated in the past, but the show’s producers confirmed to Haaretz that the concert would be announced officially in the coming days.

Spears has sold more than 240 million albums, DVDs and singles since her debut in 1999.

Other big names scheduled to perform in Israel in the coming months include Gun N’ Roses, Aerosmith, Justin Bieber, Radiohead and Tears for Fears.

Jewish End of Life Music by Rabbi G Rayzel Raphael

Expired And Inspired

Expired And Inspired

Jewish End of Life Music

In 2001, I had a conversation with Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi z”l after my father of blessed memory, Mitchell Robinson z”l left this world. Reb Zalman talked about having a CD of Nichum Aveilim music: songs to comfort the mourner. Although I had been singing and recording for many years, at that time I just wasn’t ready to face a whole recording of an end of life genre of music.

The Process

Several years passed and then other friends, family, and colleagues died. Sometimes their death inspired me to compose a song to honor their passing. On other occasions, a song would come to me based on a traditional teaching that I might use in my pastoral work as a rabbi. Without even realizing it, I was compiling a series of “Jewish songs of comfort”.

I once learned that in an African country when a child is born they bring forth a new song. Looking back now, I see that unfortunately over the years, death has written a number of songs for me as well. Sometimes I look upon death as a mystifying detour taking us places we never imagined we would go. I never really wanted to be called to this work of composing songs for the deathbed and grief. Yet I have to acknowledge the bittersweet edge of creativity, comfort, and memory that my collection of songs have offered me and others.

The Result

          In 2014, after my teacher and mentor Reb Zalman died, I made a commitment to working on a CD of End of Life music called, “May the Angels Carry You – Jewish Songs of Comfort for Death, Dying and Mourning. The title of this CD is the title of a song dedicated to Savina Teuval z’l, a Jewish feminist scholar, as I was privileged to write it after singing at her deathbed.

It is also the title of the book written by my life partner, Dr. Simcha P. Raphael, founding Director of The Daat Institute, for Death, Awareness, Advocacy and Training, which is a short collection of prayers and readings for the deathbed, including the lyrics to the songs on the CD.

Recently, I had the opportunity to teach about this music for a public Jewish death and dying series sponsored by the Daat Institute and The Jewish Relationship Initiative. In teaching my session “Wisdom for the End of Life Journey” I researched other songwriters with a similar type of music that could be used at various stages of the end of life journey: Dying, Death, Taharah, Funeral, Shiva, Shloshim and Yartzeit.

A Resource

I have received many recommendations from my rabbinic colleagues in the Reconstructionist and Renewal movements, and from Chevrah Kaddisha members. Many composers are listed, as this music spans the Jewish movements.

I am providing a link to the song sheet of the many heartfelt offerings from various Jewish songwriters. The list is not complete, but it’s a start. [Link to download END OF LIFE SONG SHEET] What is not listed are, of course, the various wordless niggunim that can be used at any time.

Life endings are always hard, and may be complicated and tragic, but music is the great soother. May this compilation be an assist for you at this holy time.

[Ed. Note: The list that Rabbi Raphael compiled spanned nine pages – far too long to include here. She has provided a link to download the list as a PDF file. If the link does not work, please email me at, and I will try to forward it to you. — JB]

Rabbi G Rayzel Raphael

Rabbi G Rayzel Raphael

Rabbi G. Rayzel Raphael is a Reconstructionist Rabbi in the Philadelphia area. She has a private practice, performing life cycle rituals as well as other artistic offerings of her soul. For more information see her website:



In 2017, Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute are again sponsoring a six part “Taste of Gamliel” webinar. This year’s topic is From Here to Eternity: Jewish Views on Sickness and Dying.

Each 90 minute session is presented by a different scholar. Taste of Gamliel gives participants a “Taste” of the Gamliel Institute’s web-based series of courses. The Gamliel Institute is the leadership training arm of Kavod v’Nichum. The Gamliel Institute offers five on-line core courses, each 12 weeks in length, that deal with the various aspects of Jewish ritual and actions around sickness, death, funerals, burial and mourning. Participants come from all over the United States, Canada, Central and South America, with Israelis and British students joining us on occasion.

Taste of Gamliel Webinars for this year are scheduled on January 22, February 19, March 19, April 23, May 21, and June 25. Learn from the comfort of your own home or office.

The Taste sessions are done in a webinar format, where the teacher and students can see each other’s live video feeds. The sessions are moderated, participants raise their virtual hands to ask questions, and the moderator calls on and unmutes participants when appropriate. We’ve been teaching using this model for seven years (more than 250 session). We use Zoom, a particularly friendly and easy to use platform.

This series of Webinar sessions is free, with a suggested minimum donation of $36 for all six sessions. Online sessions begin at 5 PM PSST; 8 PM EDST.

Those registered will be sent the information on how to connect to the sessions, and will also receive information on how to access the recordings of all six sessions.

The link to register is:

On registration, you will receive an automated acknowledgment. Information and technology assistance is available after you register. Those who are registered are sent an email ahead of each webinar with log on instructions and information for the upcoming session, and also receive a message on how to view a recording of each of the sessions.

You can view a recording of the sessions, uploaded after each session, so even if you need to miss one (or more), you can still hear the presentation.

More info – Call us at 410-733-3700

Attend as many of these presentations as are of interest to you. Each session is about 90 minutes in duration. As always, we plan to hold time for questions and discussions at the end of each program.

Again, the entire series is free, but we ask that you consider a donation to help us defray the costs of providing this series. The suggested $36 amount works out to $6 for each session – truly a bargain for the valuable information and extraordinary teachers that present it.

Click the link to register and for more information. We’ll send you the directions to join the webinar no less than 12 hours before the session.

Suggestions for future topics are welcome.





Gamliel Institute will be offering course 4, Nechama [Comfort], online, evenings in the Spring on Tuesdays (and three Thursdays – the day of the week will change in those weeks with Jewish holidays during this course). The date of classes will be from March 28 to June 13 2017. Please note: due to holidays, classes will meet on Thursdays on April 13th, April 20th, and June 1st. There will be an orientation session on Monday, March 27th, 2017.


If you are not sure if the Nechama course is for you, plan to attend the Free one-time online PREVIEW of Nechama session planned for Monday evening March 6th, 2017 at 8-9:30 pm EST (5 PST/6 MST/7 CST/9 AST). The instructors will offer highlights from the material that the course covers, and let you know what the course includes. You can RSVP to


You can register for any Gamliel Institute courses online at A full description of all of the courses is found there.


For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or look at information on the Gamliel Institute at the Kavod v’Nichum website or on the Gamliel.Institute website. Please contact us for information or assistance. or, or call 410-733-3700, or 925-272-8563.



Plan ahead, hold June 18-20, 2017 for the 15th annual Kavod v’Nchum Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference. Register now, and reserve your hotel room!

15th Annual North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference

At Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, California June 18-20, 2017


Registration is now open. Advance prices are good through the end of February. Group discounts are available.
The conference program will include plenaries and workshops focused on Taharah, Shmirah, Chevrah Kadisha organizing, community education, gender issues, cemeteries, text study, and more.


The conference is on Sunday from noon until 10pm, on Monday from 7am to 10pm, and on Tuesday from 7am to 1pm. In addition to the Sunday brunch, we provide six Kosher meals as part of your full conference registration. There are many direct flights to San Francisco and Oakland, with numerous options for ground transportation to the conference site.


We have negotiated a great hotel rate with Embassy Suites by Hilton. Please don’t wait to make your reservations. We also have home hospitality options. Contact us for information or to request home hospitality. 410-733-3700,


Donations are always needed and most welcome. Donations support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organizations, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (



If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at

You can also be sent an email link to the Expired And Inspired blog each week by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at, and for information on the Gamliel Institute and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.



Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

To find a list of other blogs and resources we think you, our reader, may find of interest, click on “About” on the right side of the page.There is a link at the end of that section to read more about us.

Past blog entries can be searched online at the L.A. Jewish Journal. Point your browser to, and scroll down. Along the left of the page you will see a list of ‘Recent Posts” with a “More Posts” link. You can also see the list by month of Expired and Inspired Archives below that, going back to 2014 when the blog started.



If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, Shomrim, funeral providers, funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.





Klezmatics bringing a healthy dose of heresy on tour

Grab your children and your grandparents! A band of Yiddish heretics are zingen their way to Southern California!

Not that you should worry. These heretics, the Klezmatics, are happy and coming to share their zest for Eastern European Ashkenazi-inspired music.

What is so heretical about a long-established Grammy-winning group setting out on its 30th anniversary tour with December stops in Los Angeles and Costa Mesa? Along with the usual Yiddishe party music — which also includes songs by Woodie Guthrie — the band will perform songs from its new album, provocatively titled “Apikorsim/Heretics.”

For many Jews, the Yiddish word apikorsim — used as a cutting term by one Jewish denomination to describe the perceived religious deficits of another — is mostly familiar through its use in Chaim Potok’s best-seller from the mid-1960s, “The Chosen.” But Lorin Sklamberg, the Klezmatics’ longtime lead vocalist and accordion, guitar and piano player, doesn’t see it that way. For him, the word’s meaning moves beyond a Jewish showing of disrespect to representing one of the joys of the Jewish world.

“It’s not unusual for us to take things that have a stereotypically negative connotation and turn them around,” Sklamberg said in a recent phone interview the morning after he had flown to New York following a Klezmatics performance in Poland. 

As Sklamberg explained, the band likes to find a “positive aspect of something that might be somewhat controversial.” For instance, the title track of the new album, “Apikorsim,” represents the coming together of a traditional Yiddish dance tune by Klezmatics co-founder, vocalist, and horn and saxophone player Frank London with lyrics by contemporary Yiddish linguist Yuri Vedenyapin, who the band asked to write on the topic. “They just completely went to town on it,” Sklamberg said. And with lyrics like “Happy heretics don’t think about God … Happy heretics have no rabbi … Happy heretics don’t get circumcised,” it’s clear the writers not only had “gone to town,” they had left the shtetl

“You could take it literally or you could take it metaphorically,” Sklamberg said when asked about the song’s provocative lyrics. For him, the song invokes the thoughts that “you don’t need to have all those strictures in your life to enjoy life” and that “you don’t have to abide by Orthodoxy,” he said. 

“One of the nice things about the Jewish world,” he added, “is that there is a tacit acceptance that people allow everyone else to be Jewish in their own way.”

Sklamberg described the band’s following as comprising “everything from religious Jews with yarmulkes and beards to hipsters with tattoos and beards.”

“All of these Jewish worlds have been allowed to co-exist. I think that’s one of the delights of being Jewish,” said the musician, who had a Conservative upbringing at Temple Beth Torah in Alhambra.

Another song on the “Apikorsim/Heretics” album shows the group’s knack for turning around meaning. “Ver Firt Di Ale Shifn?” (Who Guides the Ships?) — with Yiddish lyrics by Zishe Landau (1889-1937) and music by Chava Alberstein — asks, in the form of a riddle, “Who plays with the children, and takes some of them away?”

Sklamberg said initially he was puzzled by the song’s lyrics. “As it turns out, Landau had lost a child, an infant when he was young,” and the poem “was kind of a lullaby for the child,” Sklamberg explained. But he sings the song with a broader meaning. It’s “for all parents who have had the tragedy of losing a child,” he said. “It’s one of the most well-received songs in our concerts.”

Growing up in Monterey Park, Sklamberg was in high school when he began playing accordion in a band called Rimonim that performed Israeli folk-dance music at weddings and bar and bat mitzvah parties.

“I didn’t know how the music was connected to my heritage and how the music I was hearing in shul was related to what we were playing,” he recalled. “There were people around I could have asked, but I didn’t think to do it.

“When I moved to New York and started studying Yiddish and getting involved with the Klezmatics, I started to see how all these things that I had grown up with were interconnected,” said Sklamberg, who as an original member has been with the band for 30 years.

His experience with listening to Chasidic music in shul and studying Hebrew at his synagogue’s school and Los Angeles
Hebrew High School helped ease his evolution to klezmer. “All these tools were really helpful in becoming proficient in Yiddish instrumental and vocal music,” he said, voicing a conclusion he laughingly acknowledged would make his Hebrew school teachers happy.

One of the ways the Klezmatics keep their audiences happy is when they conclude each show with “Mazel Tov,” a “little lullaby waltz” written by Yiddish singer, actor and impresario Boris Thomashefsky. The group plays it at the end to “wish everyone well and off into the night,” said Sklamberg, who sings it sweetly and innocently — without a heretical note.

“Every star that shines above us,” it begins, “should always shine on our future.” 

The Klezmatics will perform Dec. 19 at the Pico Union Project in Los Angeles and Dec. 22 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. For more information, visit Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa or Pico Union Project.

Hawaiian coffee shop singer to perform with Matisyahu in concert

After some legal maneuvering, the Hawaiian musician who was seen in a video performing the Matisyahu song “One Day” in a Maui coffee shop unknowingly with the ex-Orthodox reggae star can perform an encore in California.

Matisyahu in a video posted Friday to his Facebook page invited Kekoa Alama to perform with him on Aug. 12 at the Hollywood Palladium in California. Alama responds to the call that he has violated his probation and is “on the run” from police, which would prevent him from leaving Hawaii.

Matisyahu says he will help Alama, a ukulele player and singer, to perform in the show since Alama is “trying to create love and light for the world.”

In a video posted Monday on the Facebook page of Matisyahu's manager, Stu Brooks, and the singer's Twitter feed, Matisyahu announced that following a conference call with the judge in the case, Alama's probation officer, the public defender and district prosecutor, Alama has permission to sing “One Day” at the concert.

In a video from late July that went viral, Alama did not know he was singing with Matisyahu, who was sporting a red and black checkered shirt and long blonde locks.

At the end of the song, Matisyahu asked Alama, “You know who wrote this song?” and pointed to himself, leading to expressions of disbelief from Alama. The singer put Alama and his wife on the guest list for the Maui concert that evening.

Paul Simon says he’s may be nearing end of career, considering retirement

Paul Simon is still touring at the age of 74, but he might soon hang up his guitar for good.

In an interview with The New York Times published Tuesday, the Grammy-winning Jewish singer-songwriter said he might be “coming towards the end” of his nearly six-decade career.

“Showbiz doesn’t hold any interest for me,” Simon said. “None.”

His latest album, “Stranger to Stranger,” debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart earlier this month. It was the highest charting of any of his 12 solo albums.

Simon is set to finish up the American leg of a world tour in Queens, New York, on Friday — he grew up there and met his former musical partner, Art Garfunkel — before playing several dates in Europe through the rest of this year.

However, the Times story noted that Simon’s age was finally catching up with him.

“At 74, he often needs 15 hours of sleep at a stretch,” it said. “The other day, performing in Philadelphia, he looked out from the stage and was surprised to see four mountains on the horizon. When he put on his glasses, he realized the mountains were actually big white tents.”

Simon, who spoke of exploring “spirituality and neuroscience,” said he doesn’t “have any fear” of retiring from music.

“It’s an act of courage to let go,” he said. “I am going to see what happens if I let go. Then I’m going to see, who am I?”

Morrissey of Smiths fame returning to Israel in August

Morrissey, the British singer-songwriter best known for his involvement in The Smiths, will perform two concerts in Israel this summer.

The 57-year-old solo musician will play Tel Aviv on Aug. 22 and Caesarea two days later, The Times of Israel reported Tuesday.

Morrissey sold out his most recent concerts in Israel, in 2012. His latest album, released in 2014, is “World Peace is None of Your Business.”

He is an outspoken advocate for animal rights and vegetarianism.

Bob Dylan’s forgotten pro-Israel song, revisited

“I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now,” Bob Dylan sang in 1964’s “My Back Pages.”

Reverse-aging or no, the legendary Jewish folk singer turns 75 on Tuesday.

While Dylan’s Jewishness has been examined and reexamined over the years, relatively little attention has been paid to his 1983 song “Neighborhood Bully” — a rare declaration of full-throated Israel support by a mainstream American rocker.

The lyrics (posted in full here) equate Israel with an “exiled man,” who is unjustly labeled a bully for fending off constant attacks by his neighbors.

Dylan released the song on his twenty-second studio album, “Infidels,” in the wake of his brief born-again Christian phase during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Some of the lyrics sound like they could have been taken from speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who often portrays Israel as besieged.

Well, the neighborhood bully, he’s just one man
His enemies say he’s on their land
They got him outnumbered about a million to one
He got no place to escape to, no place to run
He’s the neighborhood bully

Others are reminiscent of the 2015 campaign ads for religious Zionist political party Yisrael Beiteinu, in which Education Minister Naftali Bennett urges Israelis to “stop apologizing.”

Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized
Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.
Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad
The bombs were meant for him. He was supposed to feel bad
He’s the neighborhood bully

“Neighborhood Bully” came after Israel’s controversial 1982 Lebanon War, at a time when even Israelis were questioning their government.

Born Robert Allen Zimmerman and raised Jewish in Wisconsin, Dylan has maintained Israel ties throughout his life. He visited the country several times in the late 1960s and 1970s and even took steps toward joining a kibbutz. He played three shows in Israel in 1987, 1993 and 2011. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement pressed him to cancel his most recent performance — to no avail.

Even more recently, Israelis can thank Dylan for the 2014 Rolling Stones concert in Tel Aviv, the band’s first visit to the country. According to Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, Dylan gave them the idea.

“He was coming off stage and said, ‘We’re going to Tel Aviv,’” Wood told Israel’s Channel 2 at the time. “He had a big smile on his face and said he loved it there.”

Prince died without a will, sister lists six siblings as heirs

Music superstar Prince left no will when he died last week, his sister said in court documents filed on Tuesday.

The sister, Tyka Nelson, asked in documents filed in a state court in Carver County, Minnesota that a special administrator be appointed to handle his affairs and that she be appointed to probate the singer and musician's estate.

She listed herself and five other siblings or half-siblings as Prince's heirs but gave no value of his assets or debts. Prince, born Prince Rogers Nelson, was married and divorced twice and had a son who died shortly after birth in 1996.

The value of his existing music catalog alone has been estimated at over $500 million, according to the musician's first manager, Owen Husney. That included potential licensing rights to film, TV, commercials and videogames that Prince rarely exploited, Husney said in an interview last week.

The eclectic, influential songwriter and performer behind hits like “Purple Rain” was found dead on Thursday at age 57 in an elevator at his Paisley Park Studios compound in Chanhassen, a Minneapolis suburb. The cause of death was not yet known.

In her petition for the appointment of a special administrator, Nelson said, “I do not know of the existence of a will and have no reason to believe that the Decedent executed testamentary documents in any form.”

She added that an administrator was needed “because no personal representative has been appointed in Minnesota or elsewhere.” Nelson proposed the Bremer Bank in Minnesota for the administrator role, saying it had done business for years with Prince, a Minneapolis native.

Prince's remains were cremated and on Saturday he was given a private family ceremony.

Since his death, sales of his albums have soared, with more than 2.3 million songs and some 580,000 albums sold since Thursday, according to Nielsen Music, taking Prince to the top of the Billboard album charts [nL2N17S1QA}

Aside from royalties from his more than 30 albums, Prince regained ownership of his master recordings after a well-documented dispute with his Warner Bros. music label.

He was also said to have a cache of unheard recordings, including an album recorded with the late jazz trumpet great Miles Davis.

Minnesota-based attorney Stephen Hopkins said it was unusual for a person of Prince's stature and wealth to die without a will. In such cases, assets are split evenly between the heirs, Hopkins said.

“This (case) is going to be open for some time, probably for some years,” Hopkins, of the Minneapolis firm Henson & Efron, said in an interview.

He said the administrator's first job would be to ascertain all of Prince’s assets, paying any debts he owed and paying taxes.

Volunteer musicians enrich lives at Cedars-Sinai

In a place filled with highly trained medical professionals, there is another dedicated group that contributes to the healing process: musicians.

Every week, 25 to 30 volunteers play for patients, visitors and staff at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center through its Music for Healing program, creating an environment intended to help restore patients to health and improve quality of life.

There are 13 pianists who play two- to four-hour shifts in the plaza level lobby of the hospital’s South Tower every weekday, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Add to that guitarists, a flutist, a harpist and vocalists who visit patients’ rooms to bring them musical cheer.

Music for Healing was orchestrated at Cedars-Sinai about 14 years ago by Barbara Leanse, director of volunteer services. 

“One of our nurses had attended a convention where he learned about a music and healing program, and he told me about it,” she said. 

After the hospital was gifted a Yamaha baby grand piano, the program was launched and quickly struck a chord with patients and staff. “The music changes the environment of the hospital lobby,” Leanse said.

Tammi Weinstein, the program’s coordinator for the past nine years, is responsible for the recruitment, selection and scheduling of the musicians. She said the hospital is always looking for volunteer musicians, and the summer months are typically appealing to teens and students.

The end result is an atmosphere that helps anyone within earshot. She recalled some patients who went to the lobby to play the piano shortly before they died, as well as the boost the music gives to employees.

“This program gives the staff a place they can go in the hospital and close their minds for a short time and not think whether a patient is going to live or die by enjoying the music,” Weinstein said.

Alan Ascher, 64, of West Los Angeles, has been tickling the ivories at Cedars-Sinai for six years. Every Wednesday from 9 to 11 a.m., Ascher, a self-employed freelance pianist, can be heard playing music that entertains, relaxes and stirs the memory bank for listeners.

Alan Ascher’s talent on the piano has been enriching lives at Cedars-Sinai for six years. 

Ascher became involved in Music for Healing at the encouragement of a friend. 

“My best friend’s wife was a nurse at Cedars-Sinai and she suggested I inquire about the Music for Healing program. I met with Tammi and signed up for every Wednesday morning,” Ascher said. 

He enjoys his weekly dose of tikkun olam (repairing the world). 

“It is hard not to get emotional each week as I meet the patients coming in for care, as well as providing a little rest and relaxation for the staff, who are very generous with their comments letting me know we are appreciated,” he said.

There was one patient who left a particularly strong impression.

“A rabbi introduced himself to me after six months of being a patient. He had various brain surgeries requiring constant hospitalization. The rabbi came down every Wednesday and sat unnoticed in the corner, listening to my music. He said the weekly dose of relaxing music helped him get through the ordeal,” Ascher said. “We both had tears as he told me the story.”

Ascher, who has played piano since he was a child, said he has a repertoire of 600 to 700 songs — including “The Way We Were” and “Memory” — but cannot read a note of sheet music. 

“I knew at age 10 I could play by ear. I listened to what has grown into a large LP collection and was able to learn the tunes and chords by listening to the albums over and over. Learning to create your own arrangements is just one benefit of having to play by ear,” he explained.

Maybe he was meant to hang out in a hospital — before settling on a career in music, Ascher wanted to be a doctor and studied chemistry. 

“My chemistry degree came about because I was pre-med at the time and needed so much chemistry and biology to apply to med school that I just went ahead and got a double major,” he said. “I ended up not getting accepted to med school, but I was a chemist for four years back in Chicago, and I feel to this day the healing I sought to provide by a career in medicine is being done through my music.”

Ascher is often recognized outside of the hospital for his piano playing by those who have heard him at Cedars-Sinai. 

“You never know who’s listening,” he said. “I’ve been approached and thanked at bus stops, in line at Ralphs, waiting in line at a coffee shop and playing pickup basketball on the court. It is a blessing to be able to provide even a little comfort to the human experience of going to a hospital. More than one doctor plays my CD in the background during surgeries.”

Officials at Cedars-Sinai appreciate Ascher’s contribution. “There is so much I can say about Alan. He’s loyal, talented, caring and compassionate,” Weinstein said.

And Ascher’s not alone. For three months, Amity Eliaz, of Brentwood, has been bringing her guitar and vocals directly to Cedars-Sinai patients. She said the volunteer program lets her combine her two passions — medicine and music. The 25-year-old, both of whose parents are from Israel, recently was accepted to the UC San Francisco School of Medicine.

She plays at the hospital from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays, and said she feels she is making a contribution to the community. 

“This is an amazing experience. The patients are so grateful,” she said. “People are in different places. The music inspires changes. For some patients, our music is all they have.”

For those who need a little more spiritual help, Ascher said that’s easy to find, too.

“The chapel is located directly across the lobby from the piano. In case the piano music doesn’t provide enough comfort and peace, one can always step across the hall and appeal to a higher source.”

‘Anthracite Fields’: an oratorio in a miner key

Composers seldom find themselves underground looking for inspiration, but for “Anthracite Fields,” an oratorio for chorus and sextet about miners around the turn of the 20th century, Julia Wolfe literally immersed herself in the feel and history of coal miners’ lives.

“My obliviousness helped me through, because I was so taken up with the moment,” Wolfe said by phone from Manhattan. “I’m, like, 300 feet underground, and there’s a lot of black stuff around. The guide took a moment to turn all the exit lights off, and it was complete darkness. I found that fascinating. Wow, we’re in a black hole, and it’s kind of mysterious. For them, of course, it was life.”

On March 6, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, led by artistic director Grant Gershon, and the New York contemporary music collective Bang on a Can All-Stars, will give the West Coast premiere in Walt Disney Concert Hall of “Anthracite Fields,” which won the Pulitzer Prize last year. Projections by visual artist Jeff Sugg promise to add another dimension to the event.  

In addition, the first half of the Master Chorale’s program, “Music of the Coal Miner,” includes selections from the Sacred Harp Anthology and American spirituals.

Discovered in 1790, anthracite became a chief source of clean-burning fuel, driving the Industrial Revolution. “The miners were grossly underpaid at many stages of the industry,” said Wolfe, who has an interest in issues relating to American workers. “I was also studying this population and trying to understand their lives and how it affected our history. But I had to find a way to relate this story, because I didn’t want a piece that was heavy-handed.”

The five-movement, 45-minute score presents a vocal and musical tapestry of what miners’ lives were like, employing oral histories, interviews and accident reports. Wolfe even adapts an excerpt of a speech by John L. Lewis, who served as president of the United Mine Workers of America. The last movement, “Appliances,” connects past and present — coal is still a major source powering electricity around the world.

For Wolfe, performing “Anthracite Fields” in Disney Hall offers exciting possibilities. “It may be the ideal hall for this piece,” Wolfe said. “We’re going to play around with the physical setup — where to place the singers. They will still be behind the band, but we’re trying to maximize our relationship to the sound, allowing a little more distance between the singers and the band, and where they are in relationship to the projections.”

Gershon said the singers will be amplified with vocal effects including whistles that would not otherwise be audible. “The main challenge for all the performers,” he said, “is to sustain the molten level of intensity, precision and honesty that Julia and the subject matter demands.”

Wolfe said she can’t imagine the piece without the multimedia backdrop. Even the “Anthracite Fields” album on the Cantaloupe Music label comes with carefully selected and arranged photos. In Disney Hall, Wolfe said, video projections will create a larger-than-life environment, with the faces of the miners filling the stage’s entire backdrop as one face morphs into another. 

“There’s found footage, maps and diagrams,” Wolfe added. “There are funny little animations [Sugg] has found — things that go directly with what’s going on in the piece. Words from the text morph [on screen] and bend like a river.” 

Wolfe, along with composers Michael Gordon (who is also her husband) and David Lang, founded Bang on a Can All-Stars in 1987. She grew up in Montgomeryville, a small Pennsylvania town, where her father was an obstetrician. “We went to a small synagogue,” she said. “My Hebrew class was probably six kids, including my twin brother, who is [now] also an obstetrician. My parents were not observant. I’m more connected to the tradition than my parents. I’ve gone back to embrace that part of me.

“Someone wouldn’t say I’m a Jewish composer in the sense that all my work is concerned with that part of my life,” she said. “Especially in some of my thematic pieces, I’m very interested in personal history as well as the larger national history. That consideration for each other, trying to keep that thoughtfulness in our lives as well as we can, it comes through in the synagogue and community context, and also in music.”

Wolfe said she didn’t start composing seriously until her first year of college at the University of Michigan. Minimalists Steve Reich and Louis Andriessen were important influences, as was rock music. Both genres combine in her work in fascinating ways, such as in “Speech,” the third movement of “Anthracite Fields,” where Wolfe adapts words of Lewis, the miners’ leader. 

Wolfe, who teaches composition at New York University, said she never worried about falling into a minimalist mode of composing. “I’m actually a bad imitator,” she said. “It’s one of my lucky things. I never thought I could ever be them. It would have been amazing if I could have written [Steve Reich’s] ‘Different Trains,’ or something like that. It’s an incredible piece. I’m a lot messier. My music is more hectic and hyper and noisy, more distorted and grainy.”

Wolfe’s latest, a work-in-progress commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, is an hourlong score for orchestra and women’s choir based on the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Manhattan in 1911. 

“After writing two guy-heavy pieces,” Wolfe said, referring to “Anthracite Fields” and her 2009 Pulitzer finalist, “Steel Hammer,” based on the ballad of John Henry, “I thought it was time to take a look at the community of women — garment workers at the turn of the century. 

“The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory building is a block away from where I teach,” she said. “Like ‘Anthracite Fields,’ the subject also relates to labor and labor history. I don’t know what I’ll find. I’m hoping it all comes to me the same way other pieces do.” 

For tickets or information about the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s performance of “Anthracite Fields,”


6,000 Bob Dylan artifacts going to University of Tulsa

A collection of more than 6,000 Bob Dylan artifacts, including a notebook with handwritten lyrics and his first music contract, is headed for the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.

The university announced Wednesday that The Bob Dylan Archive was acquired by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and the university, and would be housed permanently at the school’s Helmerich Center for American Research.

The New York Times estimated the cost of the deal to purchase the collection of the iconic Jewish rock star at $15 million to $20 million.

According to the university’s statement, the archive includes six decades of never-before-seen handwritten manuscripts, notebooks and correspondence; films, videos, photographs and artwork; memorabilia and ephemera; personal documents and effects; unreleased studio and concert recordings; musical instruments, and other items.

The collection will be available to scholars and will be exhibited at the center. Nearly 1,000 of the items are being digitized and preserved by a digital curation team.

The process of physically acquiring the complete archive will take about two years, as the individual components are gathered from their numerous locations, inventoried and shipped to Tulsa, the university said.

“I’m glad that my archives, which have been collected all these years, have finally found a home and are to be included with the works of Woody Guthrie and especially alongside all the valuable artifacts from the Native American Nations,” Dylan said in the statement. “To me it makes a lot of sense and it’s a great honor.”

The Helmerich Center is located on the grounds of the Gilcrease Museum, the site of the Woody Guthrie Center. Guthrie, an American folk singer and Oklahoma native, was one of Dylan’s most significant early influences, even inspiring one of Dylan’s first tracks, “Song to Woody,” on his 1962 self-titled album.

Why this Rabbi likes The Boss

A rabbi friend in the States knows a priest in Philly who says that Bruce Springsteen is the most important Catholic theologian today. I wouldn't know, but as a rabbi I do know something about theology and religion, and I've little doubt about the Boss's power as a galvanizing spiritual personality. I'll go further: I don't know a figure, religious or otherwise, who preaches and prances, dances and sings about redemption and hope as well as Bruce Springsteen. Indeed, I can't think of anybody else who has inspired hope in so many hearts for so long and so well. Not another performer, preacher, nor president or prime minister. I'm ready to so testify.

I'm not a long-time member of the Springsteen faithful. About six or seven years ago, while brooding one day about the complications of sibling bonds, I heard Bruce Springsteen sing of two brothers of divided fate — yet who were nothing less than “blood on blood”, bound together and ultimately responsible for one another. That zing to the heart swung my head around to the Boss. Soon I'd listened closely to his entire repertoire. By now I've read probably every book on Springsteen and I've watched his concert videos more than I'd care to admit. Well, actually, I don't mind saying so; after all, I learn from Bruce Springsteen in all his iterations, as I do from good books or good teachers: like them, he's become close to indispensable.

I love this uniquely American Jersey shore guy, this part rocker, part poet-philosopher. His music inspires his fans to think about life's serious matters, all the while making us want to dance.  Springsteen neither shies away from irreverence nor religion; he knows that each has its place and purpose.

Often he puts the two together.  In “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”, one of his signature songs, Springsteen gyrates across the stage while regaling his incessantly jazzed up audience of how he went from lonely boy to fulfilled rocker “when the Big Man (Clarence Clemons of course, his late soul-brother sidekick) joined the band”.  Evangelical style, he proclaims, “Take me to the river, wash me in the water…I want to throw a Rock and Roll Baptism, a Rock and Roll Bar Mitzvah…I want to go to that river of life and hope and faith and transformation.”   And then his kicker, another zing to the heart, in case you weren't paying attention: “I want to go there with you because I can't get there by myself.”

Who else but the Boss could bring us together as if we were still in the church or synagogue most of us walked out of long ago? Reminding us all the while of our yearnings, religious and irreligious both — to say nothing of our desire to be better and do better. Who in this highly disaffected time doesn't want what the Boss seems to offer?  He grew up lonely and alienated, his guitar his only friend, and somehow figured out, like nobody else, how to use the music made of his yearning soul to bring people together.

Which is precisely what his remarkable concerts — three hours and more of frenzy, fun, friendship, and, dare I say, meaning and redemption — are about. It's not just that Bruce (you just want to call him that) brings the energy of the old time preacher to every concert; he fills his songs with religious imagery and language, and suffuses them with an understanding that life's a tough road to travel, but hope is real, and redemption is available for everybody. He gets loneliness and love, his own included, among other polarities of the human condition. When he sings, we feel the Boss knows what's in our hearts. And we feel more tied to one another: the guy in the row in front of us begins as a stranger and leaves a friend. It's what his saxophonist Jake Clemons (Clarence's nephew) calls “the churchiness of it”. Which means, Jake explains, the sense of the audience coming together “to make the experience bigger and stronger”.

Finally, this confession, embarrassing though it is: Until this past week, I'd never been to a Springsteen concert.  But there I was, finally among the faithful at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, joining the Boss (and the rocking E Street Band, the spectacular Jake — “Jakie” as his Boss calls him –in particular) down by that River of Hope and Transformation, most grateful to testify to the power of the experience!

John Moscowitz is rabbi emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, and the author of “Evolution of An Unorthodox Rabbi” (Dundurn Press 2015)

The Eagles guitarist Glenn Frey dead at 67

Glenn Frey, the prolific guitarist, singer, songwriter and founding member of the Eagles, died on Monday at age 67, the American rock band known for “Hotel California” and dozens of other hits said on its website.

Frey died in New York City of complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia, the band said.

The Eagles, whose album, “Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975,” is the second-best-selling record of all time in the United States, helped create the freewheeling soundtrack of 1970s America and remain ubiquitous on rock radio nearly half a century later.

Their blend of rock with country music influences fueled their success with hit songs such as “Desperado,” “Already Gone” and “Take It to the Limit.”

Frey collaborated with drummer Don Henley to co-write many of the band's biggest hits. While Henley most often sang lead vocals for the band, Frey played guitar and piano, was key to the band's harmony as a back-up vocalist, and at times sang lead.

His performances on “Take It Easy” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” on the band's debut album in 1972 helped rocket the Eagles to fame, and he later sang lead on hits “Lyin' Eyes” and “Already Gone.”

Frey died a little more than a week after another rock great, David Bowie, died at age 69 in New York, apparently of liver cancer.

Detroit-born Frey and Henley co-founded the Eagles in 1971 in Los Angeles after playing backup for rock singer Linda Ronstadt.

Henley in a statement praised Frey as the “one who started it all” for the Eagles.

“He was the spark plug, the man with the plan,” Henley said. “He had an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music and a work ethic that wouldn’t quit. He was funny, bullheaded, mercurial, generous, deeply talented and driven.”

The band's original members also included Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner. Several other musicians, including Joe Walsh, joined in the 1970s.


After the Eagles disbanded in 1980, Frey had a successful solo career, recording the songs “The One You Love” and “The Heat Is On.” Several of his compositions were for films or TV shows, and Frey took on a side career as an actor, including a small part in 1996 film “Jerry Maguire.”

In 1994, the Eagles reunited and released an album titled “Hell Freezes Over.” The name jokingly referred to Henley's previous statement that the band would only get back together when “hell freezes over.”

Henley said he viewed Frey as a kind of brother, but acknowledged that, like in many families, “there was some dysfunction” in the relationship.

The Eagles, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and have played many sold-out shows since their reunion, most recently completed a two-year tour last July.

Frey, in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times in 2012, credited his band members' physical health as one reason for their success. “We managed to get off the party train pretty early,” he told the paper.

But last year, Frey's health took a bad turn, as he suffered from intestinal problems.

The Eagles had been slated to join songwriter Carole King, “Star Wars” director George Lucas and others in receiving the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors in Washington last month. But in November, the center announced the Eagles could not participate because of Frey's health, and said the award would be presented in 2016.

“Thank you for the music that paved the way for so many others,” country star Brad Paisley said in praising Frey on Twitter.

Frey is survived by his wife, Cindy, and their three children.

Yiddish Art Trio brings a collection of influences to Klezmer outfit

Clarinetist Michael Winograd, accordionist Patrick Farrell and bassist Benjy Fox-Rosen have carved out a unique niche in the larger klezmer shtetl as the Yiddish Art Trio. It’s a concert ensemble that plays original, forward-looking compositions but also is deeply immersed in the multi-ethnic roots of klezmer. 

Lest you think that puts the band out on an esoteric limb, Fox-Rosen readily assures: “We can play great dance and wedding sets, too.”

The clarinet’s liquid phrasing slides like butter across a hot grill as its timbres constrict and inflate, moving from a laugh to a sob in a heartbeat. The accordion bellows imply Old World histories as well as Latin American, Caribbean and Azerbaijan cultures. The contrabass carries a pulse rooted in Macedonia, Romania, Vienna, Transylvania and America. 

It’s common at Yiddish Art Trio recitals to see a room full of people dancing in their seats — so get ready for what has become the group’s regular January appearance in Los Angeles, this time at the Skirball Cultural Center on Jan. 24.

Fox-Rosen grew up in the Pico-La Cienega neighborhood and went to Jewish schools: Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy and what is now known as Milken Community Schools. He played in the jazz band and sang in the choir, and he credits Russell Steinberg, Milken’s music teacher, for being transformative and inspiring. 

“He started the music department there,” Fox-Rosen said from his in-laws’ home in Austin. “He made a chamber group out of a ragtag instrumentation and wrote a new Hayden arrangement for us each year.”

At The New School in New York City, he studied with the great jazz bassist Mark Dresser, also from SoCal. “Mark has a very scientific mind and curiosity to understand the bass,” Fox-Rosen said. “He plays at the highest possible level and he’s someone to be emulated.”

Fox-Rosen received a Fulbright grant for 2012-2013, which sent him to Moldova to study Romanian folk music and to do some ethnographic research on vocal music. Unfortunately, he said, “I got there 20 years too late. Most of the older singers had left or died off.” 

He delved into native forms like doina, the Romanian improvised music that was incorporated into klezmer. “The word ‘hora’ is a Romanian word,” Fox-Rosen said. 

The bassist met Farrell in Serbia in 2006 when Fox-Rosen was on tour and his future colleague was a tourist. Farrell, speaking from his New York home, said he grew up “all over the place, but mostly Ann Arbor, Mich; I was an Army kid.”

He was trained in the piano classics, and Bela Bartok was his gateway to Eastern European music. He studied with Macedonian accordionist Goran Alachki and recently with Margit Kern in Germany, adding: “They were very helpful but I’m mostly self-taught.” 

For a non-Jew, Farrell’s dedication to the genre is impressive. “Klezmer and Yiddish music speak to me,” he said. “I love the improvisation and how the melodies lay over the chords.”

Fox-Rosen praised his band mate, describing him as having “incredible intuition” and “quick ears.” 

“He really understands the dance and the rhythms,” Fox-Rosen said. “We both know exactly where we want the beat at all times.” 

Could this be due to the bassist’s jazz background? “I think it’s in spite of that,” Farrell said. “It’s more a byproduct of his grasp of Hungarian and Romanian music.”

Winograd entered the picture when Fox-Rosen met him at KlezKamp, the yearly Catskills conflagration of traditional musicians (convened in 2014 for the 30th and final time). Winograd has an abiding love for the work of two master clarinetists: Dave Tarras (1897-1989) and Naftule Brandwein (1884-1963).

“Michael is one of the premier contemporary klezmer clarinetists,” Farrell said of Winograd. “He’s always expanding the vocabulary of ornamentation, but never excessively.” 

The trio began as the Michael Winograd Trio but as ideas and collaborations ricocheted, it morphed into Yiddish Art Trio. When it’s pointed out that the name could denote stuffy art music or function as a put-on, Fox-Rosen smiles. 

“It’s a little of both,” he said. “We’re trying to create serious concert music of our own compositions. We don’t play the klezmer hits, but if we do, we’ll do it in a different way.” 

Farrell added: “We’ve all learned from the older players of the 1940s and ’50s who have passed. The klezmer revival is secure now, so we don’t feel the need to mix it with rock or fusion. We want to play our own music that ties in to the traditional klezmer but pushes it forward.”

The yearly winter sojourn to Los Angeles is something they look forward to. “Tex-Mex tacos in Austin are all right,” Fox-Rosen said, “but they can’t hold a candle to the traditional Oaxacan food we can get in L.A.”

Click here for more information about the Yiddish Art Trio’s Jan. 24 performance at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Itzhak Perlman named winner of 2016 Genesis Prize

Itzhak Perlman, the Israeli-born violin virtuoso, was named the third winner of the Genesis Prize.

Perlman was named the winner on Monday of the annual $1 million prize that has been dubbed the “Jewish Nobel.” He joins former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the actor-director Michael Douglas as recipients.

“I was totally dumbfounded,” Perlman told JTA about learning he had been selected as this year’s winner. “I’m a musician. I play the fiddle. So I was so totally taken aback and I was obviously so incredibly honored they would even consider me. It was very exciting.”

Perlman, 70, said he was mostly unfamiliar with the prize when he first learned he was being considered. Established in 2012 by a consortium of Russian Jewish philanthropists, the prize is presented annually to someone who has achieved international renown in their professional field and serves as a role model through their commitment to Jewish values.

“I just know who I am,” Perlman said. “In other words, in our family, we are traditional Jews. My entire family is involved in one way or another, whether we go to shul, celebrate Shabbos or whatever it is. We are always in touch … That’s one of the things this prize will bring forth. I don’t have a problem with who I am. I live it. And my family lives it.”

Past winners have taken an ecumenical approach to disbursing the prize money. Douglas, the son of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, pledged to use the funds to promote outreach to the intermarried. Bloomberg initially said he wanted to promote Israeli-Palestinian business cooperation, but later backed away from that at the urging of the prize committee, instead funding nine projects “guided by Jewish values to address the world’s pressing issues.” More than half the recipients were nonprofit organizations based outside the United States and Israel.

Perlman said he is unsure how he plans to use the funds, though he indicated it would likely have some connection to music and helping those with disabilities. Perlman was diagnosed with polio at age 4 and gets around with a motorized cart.

“As far as I’m concerned, that’s what this prize is all about — the opportunity to do good in the world, to do good as a Jew, to do as they say tikkun olam – to make things better for people,” Perlman said. “My involvement obviously, first, is as a musician, and second, or even first, as a person who has a disability. So these two aspects of what I’m interested in is something that I’m thinking about.”

Born in Tel Aviv in 1945, Perlman has achieved a level of celebrity rarely seen in the classical music world. Identified as a musical prodigy from a young age, he appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” as a teenager in 1958, and went on to study at New York’s Juilliard School. He has won 16 Grammy Awards, played for multiple heads of state and appeared in commercials and television shows.

Perlman also performed the haunting violin solo on the “Schindler’s List” soundtrack, which won both a Grammy and an Oscar. Less heralded is his violin solo in the Billy Joel hit “Downeaster Alexa,” which went uncredited on the 1989 album “Storm Front” and only came to light earlier this year. The two performed the song together at Madison Square Garden in March after Perlman wheeled himself onstage and was greeted with a kiss from Joel.

In November, Perlman received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.

In addition to maintaining a global performance schedule, Perlman teaches young musicians through the Perlman Music Program, an initiative founded by his wife, Toby, to provide instruction and community for players of rare talent. The Perlmans have five children.

“Itzhak Perlman is the embodiment of everything an ideal Genesis Prize Laureate should be,” said Stan Polovets, the chairman and co-founder of the Genesis Prize, in a statement. “Itzhak has achieved unparalleled professional success, and through his music brings joy to millions of people around the world. He has been an incredible source of inspiration for individuals with special needs by overcoming tremendous personal challenges after having been severely disabled by polio at age four. And he has given back to society by dedicating virtually all of his free time and significant resources to teaching young talented musicians and to serving as an advocate for individuals with disabilities.”

Perlman will received the prize at a ceremony in Jerusalem in June. The prize is endowed by the Genesis Philanthropy Group, which endeavors to build Jewish identity among Russian-speaking Jews worldwide.

Melissa Manchester is loving the life

“You Gotta Love the Life” is the title track of Melissa Manchester’s latest album and a kind of personal and spiritual mantra. It’s the essence of what she conveys to students at USC’s Thornton School of Music, where Manchester teaches master classes, and at Citrus College in Glendora, where the Grammy-winning pop star is an honorary artist-in-residence.

The philosophy has come in handy for family discussions as well.

“My daughter, who is a very talented singer, was considering walking the artistic walk,” Manchester said. “I said to her — as I say to all my students — ‘Your talent is just your focal point that piques your curiosity.’ But the truth is, this version of normal for most people is so unsettling that you have to be willing to reinvent yourself at least once a week to stoke the fire and keep your hunger going.

“For me, this version of normal is a very good fit. I’m comfortable with the unsteadiness and the insecurity of it,” she continued. “If you’re going to do this, you have got to love it.”

The 64-year-old Manchester — who will give a holiday concert Dec. 16 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills as part of the Cabaret @ the Wallis series — not only loves “the life,” she continues to learn how to work it and make it evolve. “You Gotta Love” is her 20th album, funded by an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign managed by one of her USC students and entirely self-made. 

It is Manchester’s first album of original music in nearly a decade and was recorded largely in the state-of-the-art recording studio at Citrus. Not only did Manchester include songs that are highly personal, she produced the album in such a way that her students could observe it being brought to life and learn from the experience. 

“I really wanted to return to how I made albums in the first place,” said Manchester, who launched her career with 1973’s “Home to Myself.” “I wanted to bring in live musicians, bring new ideas to light or revisit old ideas. A lot of these students had never seen that collaboration. Most of them have worked with tracks, and the only person who comes into the studio is the pizza delivery guy.”

Robert Slack, Citrus’ dean of fine and performing arts, has watched Manchester with students on campus and during summer 2014, when she accompanied the orchestra and singers to perform in Waikiki, Hawaii. Slack said Manchester has been “incredibly gracious” in helping them find their way.

“I think the album speaks volumes about the kind of artist she is,” Slack said. “She has never sold out. She has always been who she is, and she will always do it her way.”

Manchester will be on the move this holiday season. After her performance at the Wallis, the singer has a five-performance engagement at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colo. In 2016, she has scheduled performances in Oklahoma and across Florida. The world premiere of the musical “The Sweet Potato Queens,” which Manchester wrote with lyricist Sharon Vaughn and Rupert Holmes, will open in March at Theater Under the Stars in Houston.

For her holiday shows, Manchester’s set list will include selections from her new album, as well as seasonal favorites and hits from her more than 40 years of music making. She also plans to include the Chanukah song “Let There Be More Light,” which she wrote in response to the death of a rabbi in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Manchester had visited a Conservative temple shortly afterward, and she listened to a rabbi who had said, “How shall we combat this darkness? With more light!” Manchester wrote the song “Let There Be More Light” later that day.

A native of the Bronx in New York, Manchester had a bat mitzvah as an adult and describes her upbringing as “beyond Reform.” The daughter of a bassoonist with the Metropolitan Opera and a mother who worked in the fashion industry, she studied songwriting with Paul Simon at New York University and was subsequently discovered by Bette Midler and Barry Manilow. She received her first Grammy nomination in 1979 for “Don’t Cry Out Loud” and won the Grammy for best female pop vocal performance for “You Should Hear How She Talks About You” for the year 1982. Two songs that she recorded for films — “Through the Eyes of Love” from “Ice Castles” and the theme from “The Promise” — were nominated for Oscars in 1980. She has composed for films and spent some time acting on the small screen and onstage. 

Considering the who’s who of recording stars with whom Manchester has worked over the years, it is hardly surprising that her phone would start to light up when word spread of the development of her new album. “You Gotta Love” includes guest appearances by Dionne Warwick, Al Jarreau, Dave Koz, Keb’ Mo’ and the late Joe Sample. 

While touring in Florida in 2014, Manchester received a phone call in the middle of the night from someone interested in being part of the project.

“I pick up the phone and it’s Stevie Wonder, who doesn’t know about night or day. He just knows about time in his own way,” Manchester recalled. “I hear, ‘Melissa! It’s Stevie Wonder! I’d love to play harmonica on your album!’ Sure. OK!”

As Manchester tells it, Wonder arrived at Citrus to record his harmonica work on the track “Your Love Is Where I Live.” Students were on spring break and the campus was largely empty except for a student band that was practicing in a rehearsal room not far from the location where Manchester and Wonder were recording.

His “You Gotta Love” duties at an end, Wonder was preparing to leave the campus when he heard the student musicians and went off to find them. He entered the room, and the students, after getting over their shock, invited him to sing with them. As it happened, the Citrus musicians had been preparing “Superstition,” and with Wonder taking the microphone, they launched into a rendition of Wonder’s hit that Manchester said had “the paint peeling off the walls.”

After Wonder departed, Manchester debriefed the still amped-up students.

“They’re all screaming and crying and thanking me,” Manchester said. “And I said, ‘Listen to me. When you get home, find something to write on and write everything you remember about this day — everything you ate, whatever you wore, what he wore, what happened up until this moment and now your reaction to this moment. Because 20 years from now, how you thought about this will blow your mind.’ ”

For more information about Melissa Manchester’s Dec. 16 performance at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, click here.

Lisa Loeb lights up the Skirball Cultural Center

A year after writing her first Chanukah song, Lisa Loeb returns to the Skirball Cultural Center to help celebrate the season. 

The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter takes the stage at 1 p.m. Dec. 13 for a family-friendly set as part of the Skirball’s Chanukah Family Festival and will perform again at 3:15 p.m. during the festival’s finale, sharing the stage with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. The festival itself runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The event and the venue are ideal, Loeb said, for introducing young concert-goers to a musical experience in which they can participate. The sets will be short, which Loeb — the mother of a 3- and 6-year-old — said parents should appreciate.

“It will be a spirited time for families to get to see a show and participate,” Loeb said. “The theater there is just beautiful. I feel kids and grownups are able to focus and be engaged in a concert. I also feel like it’s so important for kids to be able to come to the center and engage and connect.” 

For both sets, Loeb will perform “Light,” the Chanukah song she wrote with Cliff Goldmacher, as well as a couple of holiday favorites such as “The Dreidel Song” and “Sevivon Sov Sov Sov.” Loeb said she can envision a day when she creates an album from all Jewish holidays, but such an endeavor would require her to study and locate the spiritual essence in all those celebrations.

“It would be a great challenge,” Loeb said. “With the song ‘Light,’ I was trying to find the meaning and the metaphor of Chanukah through the classic story, and the miracle of the light and the oil. I would like to be able to find that metaphor for all of the holidays that I can express in a way that I think is relatable. Not something that’s a joke, something that has a lot of heart.”

In her search for meaning and metaphor within Chanukah, Loeb studied with Rabbi Mordecai Finley at Ohr HaTorah. She immersed herself in research after someone floated the ideaof writing a short information book on the subject of Chanukah that people could purchase. Loeb never completed the book, but she enhanced her already-considerable holiday knowledge.

“I read a lot of different books about the history of Chanukah and some technical books written by rabbis, and I started learning about some of the specific things about the holiday, a couple of things that I tried to incorporate into the song,” said Loeb, who celebrated her bat mitzvah and belonged to Temple Emanu-El while growing up in Dallas. “It’s not one of the more important Jewish holidays, but it was one that we celebrated. It was a little tough to find as many things as I could about it.”

Featuring guest vocalist Renee Stahl, “Light” is a sprightly, up-tempo number. “Let the light shine,” Loeb sings. “When you think it’s almost gone, there is still hope.”

“Light” was released shortly after the Skirball held its 2014 Chanukah festival. After hearing the song, Jen Maxcy, who heads the family programming department, began laying the groundwork for Loeb to join the festivities this year.

“We read about how she was looking for some really deeper meaning in the holiday and also [to] convey a more universal theme, and she was talking about hope,” Maxcy said. “That’s exactly how we approach Chanukah here at the Skirball. The holiday is about courage and resilience and hope and light.”

Within Loeb’s family — which includes her husband, Roey Hershkovitz, and children Lyla Rose Loeb Hershkovitz, 6, and Emet Kuli Loeb Hershkovitz, 3 — Chanukah traditions are plentiful. Candles are lit and the menorah glows in the window. Gifts are exchanged and latkes are devoured. 

“Last year, we celebrated with a huge group of cousins at a big party that had a very competitive game of dreidel,” she said.  

Hearing Loeb talk of dreidel matches and participating in her niece’s bat mitzvah — no, she didn’t sing — may surprise Gen Xers who remember the Ivy League-educated Loeb from her indie-rocking days with the band Nine Stories. In 1994, Loeb’s single with Nine Stories, “Stay (I Missed You),” was released on the soundtrack of the film “Reality Bites.” The number subsequently rocketed the then-unknown Dallas native to the top of the charts before she had even signed a recording contract.

“Tails,” her debut album, was released in 1995, followed by the Grammy-nominated “Firecracker” in 1997. Loeb, recognizable for her signature cat-eye glasses, later carved out a niche in children’s music, releasing several CDs and books. Her latest album — “Nursery Rhyme Parade!” — features more than 30 classic nursery rhymes and songs, and Loeb’s next project will also be a children’s album.  

Loeb has done TV acting and voiceover work, as well. She was part of the Food Network show “Dweezil and Lisa” in 2004 with former boyfriend Dweezil Zappa, and documented her efforts to try to find true love — hopefully with a Jewish partner — on the E! series “No. 1 Single.” 

She entered the world of philanthropy through the creation of the Camp Lisa Foundation, which sends underprivileged children to summer camp. The foundation and her album “Camp Lisa” served as the inspiration for the new musical “Camp Kappawanna,” featuring music and lyrics by Loeb, which had its New York premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company this past March.

Loeb is also constantly developing new ideas and designs for her eyewear line. The specs have become such a signature part of her appearance that she says even her own family does not recognize her if she is not wearing glasses.

To escape public recognition, maybe she could leave them behind? 

“Exactly,” Loeb said. “Clark Kent.”

For information about the Chanukah Family Festival at the Skirball Cultural Center, click here