April 25, 2019

Raise a Tambourine for the Song of the Sea at Passover

In last week’s Jewish Journal, I showed how to make placemats for Passover depicting the parting of the Red Sea. The follow-up to that craft activity is inspired by what happened after the waters parted and the Israelites made safe passage out of Egypt — Miriam’s musical celebration, in which she lifted her tambourine and led the people in the Song of the Sea. 

Making your own tambourine for Passover is easy. Since the tambourine is made with paper plates, I decided it would be appropriate to adorn it with the six symbolic foods of the seder plate. This creates a great opportunity to teach kids about the seder plate and what each of the elements mean.

What you’ll need:
Two paper plates
Acrylic paint
Colored markers
Graphic icons of seder plate foods (downloadable here)
Hole punch
Jingle bells
String or yarn


1. You’ll need two paper plates per tambourine. I recommend small, 7-inch paper plates as opposed to the larger ones, as they are easier to work with. (And they’re great for little hands.) The back side of a paper plate is usually white, so paint your plates in the color of your choice.


2. Draw designs on the painted side with colored markers. Have fun with the doodles. If you want to add the seder plate icons like I did, download and print them. After cutting them out, glue them to the plates.


3. Line up the two paper plates so that the painted sides are facing out. Punch six holes that are evenly spaced around the rim of the plates, punching through both plates at the same time so the holes will be aligned.


4. Thread string or yarn through the shank of a bell and tie the string around the aligned punched holes. The string not only attaches the bell, it secures the two plates together. If you’re using colored yarn, leave the ends long and loose for an extra decorative accent. Repeat for all the bells.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

‘Defiant Requiem’: They Sang to the Nazis What They Could Not Say

In 1943-44, at Terézin, a hybrid ghetto/concentration camp in the Czech Republic, 150 Jewish prisoners, led by a remarkable conductor, sang Verdi’s “Requiem” as a private act of defiance against the Nazis. 

Two separate performances of “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terézin,”— on April 16 at Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa and on April 17 at UCLA’s Royce Hall — paid homage to those prisoners and to Rafael Schächter, the man who led the choir at Terézin, where the Nazis imprisoned many Jewish cultural figures, including classical musicians. 

“Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terézin,” which has been presented nearly 50 times around the world, performs Verdi’s Christian funeral mass in its entirety. The music is intercut with film clips, narration and taped testimonies from survivors. Much more than a concert or musical event, it’s a soul-wrenching testament to the power of maintaining one’s humanity in the most inhumane circumstances. 

In a phone interview with the Journal, Murry Sidlin, 78, who created, crafted and conducted “Defiant Requiem,” said that 25 years ago, when he was conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, he wandered past a table of used books. “I walked over and pulled a book from the middle. It was sticking out, almost beckoning me,” Sidlin said. “It was called ‘Music in Terézin.’”

The book, by Joža Karas, deals with music and the Holocaust. Sidlin was drawn to it because he is a noted orchestra conductor and music educator, and his grandmother was killed during the Holocaust.

“That book is about musicians at Terézin,” Sidler said. “I opened the book at random to a chapter called ‘Rafael Schächter.’ It said he had grown up in Romania and had excelled in music. In the last paragraph, it said that [at Terézin] he put together a volunteer choir of 150 singers and taught them Verdi’s “Requiem” by rote, because there was no score other than his own, and they performed it 16 times between September 1943 and June 1944.”

“The general state of things at Terézin was just insanity and chaos. And in the midst of all this, this guy, [Schächter], put together performances of the Verdi ‘Requiem?’ ” — Murry Sidlin

Sidlin knew the “Requiem” required an orchestra, double-size choir and four operatic soloists. When he read it had been performed at Terézin, Sidlin found it hard to believe. 

Soon after finding the book, Sidlin left Minneapolis and became conductor of the Oregon Symphony in Portland. While there, he continued to pursue Schächter’s story. It soon became clear to Sidlin that Terézin’s reputation as a model concentration camp was Nazi propaganda. There was a Jewish Council of Elders that oversaw cultural events, but the council was a tool of the Nazis. Prisoners were allowed to wear civilian clothes with a Star of David insignia, as in the ghettos, but Terézin inmates faced the same conditions as prisoners in other concentration camps: little or no food, slave labor, illnesses including typhus, and constant fear of sudden violence and death. 

“The general state of things at Terézin was just insanity and chaos,” Sidlin said. “And in the midst of all this, this guy, [Schächter], put together performances of the Verdi ‘Requiem?’” 

Sidlin contacted historians and they put him in touch with Edgar Krasa, who had been Schächter’s bunkmate at Terézin. Sidlin flew to Boston, where Krasa lived, and spoke with him for hours. Krasa, as it turned out, was one of Schächter’s first recruits for the choir, and he connected Sidlin to other survivors, witnesses and singers who talked about their experiences. 

“The Council of Jewish Elders at Terézin did not want Verdi’s ‘Requiem’ performed,” Sidlin said. “They felt [that performing a Catholic funeral mass] was going to stir up a lot of trouble. There were rabbis at the camp who were very unhappy about this. … The council told Schächter in no uncertain terms that this should not be done, and he told them in no uncertain terms that this was the right thing to do: It’s inspiring, it’s beautiful music and the text is proper and right …”

Sidlin said that Krasa told him that Schächter’s choice of Verdi’s ‘Requiem’ was deliberate: It was because of the text’s coded language. The Latin liturgy talks about Judgment Day: “When therefore the Judge will sit/Whatever lies hidden will be revealed/Nothing will remain unavenged.” Even as they were facing death, the Jews in that choir sang to the Nazis that, in the end, they would be punished. But the lyrics were Latin, so it’s unlikely the Nazis understood. 

As members of Schächter’s 150-person choir were deported, he recruited others and the new singers also had to learn the piece by rote. On June 23, 1944, Schächter’s choir, plus its “orchestra” of a broken piano, gave its final performance: this time for the Nazi command escorting a delegation from the International Red Cross (IRC). 

After considering several options, Sidlin decided that the best way to pay homage to those inmates and to Schächter would be to create an event that blends musical and theatrical elements. In 2002, conducting the Oregon Symphony, Sidlin presented “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terézin” for the first time. 

The interspersed narration and survivor interviews tell personal and poignant stories: 

“Whenever I sang, my stomach stopped growling from hunger.” 

“Singing the ‘Requiem’ made us feel human.” 

“This music put us in another world. This was not the world of the Nazis, this was our world.”

“We sang to the Nazis what we could not say to them.”

An occasional train whistle, echoing the trains that took Jews to death camps, is a reminder that the original performance took place in a concentration camp. 

And at the end, there’s a slow, mournful rendition of Nurit Hirsch’s melody to the often-sung prayer, Oseh Shalom — a hint that even after such overwhelming tragedy, there is hope for peace.

Charlie Faye on ‘The Whole Shebang’ Album With The Fayettes, Playing SXSW

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As heard on the “Riverdale,” “Seal Team” and “Girlboss” television shows, Charlie Faye & The Fayettes make music that is both classic and forward-thinking. While heavily influenced by the “girl groups” of the 1960s, Faye and the Fayettes’ lyrics are definitely modern. In other words, expect classic harmonies and “Wall Of Sound”-style production and arrangements alongside shout-along hooks that are reflective of the ‘00s and 2010s.

“The Whole Shebang” is the latest album from Charlie Faye & The Fayettes, as released in February through Burnside Distribution. “You Gotta Give It Up (Party Song)” was notably premiered by Parade Magazine. Meanwhile, Bill Kopp of Musoscribe recently said: “If ‘That Thing You Do!’ ever gets a distaff reboot, Faye and her group should handle the music. And that’s some of the highest praise I can think of.”

I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with group-leader Charlie Faye and highlights from that interview are below.

Jewish Journal: “The Whole Shebang” is your latest album. How long did you spend making it? 

Charlie Faye: We laid down the basic tracks for the record in four days, and then over the next few months we worked on vocals, string and horn arrangements, and other overdubs. We’re lucky enough to have our own home studio so we were able to take the time we needed to put all the finishing touches on the record.  

JJ: Do you have a favorite song on “The Whole Shebang?”  

CF: Oh that’s always so hard. And it changes over time! Right now I think my favorite is “Night People.”

JJ: I believe you were down at SXSW promoting “The Whole Shebang” this year. How do you feel SXSW has changed over the years?

CF: SXSW has definitely grown in the decade that I’ve been attending it. There were a few years where it started to feel too big and too corporate, but a lot of people felt like it got smaller and a little more personal this past year, so maybe things are swinging back in the other direction. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed SXSW and felt like it provided great opportunities for me and the band. 

JJ: In support of your 2011 album, you interestingly spent a month apiece in 10 different cities. I’ve never heard of another artist doing a full residency tour before. Is that something you look back on fondly?

CF: Actually, I did that residency tour in 2010, and it was during the tour that I made my 2011 release, “Travels With Charlie.” I do look back on that tour fondly, it was an incredible life experience. I got to really get to know ten different cities and immerse myself in their local music communities. I made a lot of great friends. 

JJ: Charlie Faye & The Fayettes have had music placed on some popular television shows. How do those sorts of usages happen for the band? Is someone pitching your music to shows?

CF: Soon after I finished making the first Charlie Faye & The Fayettes album, I made it my goal to get us a licensing deal so that we could get these kinds of placements. I secured a deal with a great licensing company called Bank Robber Music, and the placements came through them. 

JJ: You recently signed a deal with Rough Trade Publishing. Does that mean that you have been doing writing for other artists? 

CF: Sometimes writing for other artists is a big part of having a publishing deal, but in my case it’s more about making more music for Charlie Faye & The Fayettes, and writing for film and TV placements! 

JJ: Songwriting aside, what’s coming up for you career-wise?

CF: Well songwriting IS what’s happening for me career-wise right now! I’m just starting to write for our next record. This week I’m flying to Nashville to do some co-writing with one of my favorites writers, Bill Demain.

JJ: I feel compelled to ask: Were you bat mitzvahed? Any memories to share from that era of your life?

CF: I was bat mitzvahed! It wasn’t forced on me, either, it was totally my choice.

My family really only went to temple on the High Holidays, and there was no expectation that I be bat mitzvahed, but when I expressed interest in Hebrew school, my parents sent me. And of course then I wanted to be bat mitzvahed like the rest of my class.

Memories from that time? I think that’s a tough age for many of us, and I was no exception! I was an awkward pre-teen. and I remember how nervous I was to get up in front of all those people to sing in Hebrew!

JJ: Finally, Charlie, any last words for the kids?

CF: Sure. I actually read some of my childhood diaries recently, as my mom was packing up my childhood home, and I had written at 8 or 9 years old that I wanted to be a singer when I grew up, like my idol Carole King. Somewhere in my teens I lost confidence that that was something I could actually do, but I found it again when I hit my 20s, and I’ve been pursuing a career in music ever since.

I guess I want to say, if you have passion for your childhood dream, you really can pursue it. If it’s a career in music  or the arts in general  it probably won’t be easy, and there will be a lot of risk involved… But if you keep at it, it might just work out!

More on Charlie Faye & The Fayettes can be found online at www.charliefayeandthefayettes.com.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Josh Klinghoffer on new Record Store Day single with Chad Smith

New Album cover

As the lead guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers — arguably the most popular band ever come out of Los Angeles — Josh Klinghoffer has played on many of the world’s most important stages. Klinghoffer is also reportedly the youngest-ever living inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.

Prior to joining the Chili Peppers, Klinghoffer was a steadily-working musician. His touring and/or studio credits included Gnarls Barkley, Ataxia (alongside RHCP guitarist John Frusciante), Vincent Gallo, P.J. Harvey, and Beck. The multi-instrumentalist has also kept busy over the years with his own band, Dot Hacker.

The latest release from Klinghoffer is the Record Store Day release “Jeepster” b/w “Monolith,” a pair of T. Rex covers recorded by Klinghoffer alongside Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. The two-piece’s tracks will be out on April 13th – Record Store Day – via ORG Music, as limited to 3,000 copies on 7” vinyl.

I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Josh Klinghoffer on behalf of the Jewish Journal and highlights from such are below.

Jewish Journal: Where did the idea for a “Record Store Day 7” come from? Was it something you had already recorded?

 Josh Klinghoffer: I believe it started with Zak Starkey asking Chad to be a part of a T. Rex tribute record he was putting together. We did the songs in a couple of days and sent them along. I think about a year went by and we never heard about that tribute coming together, so we figured we’d throw them out ourselves, with the gracious help of ORG! 

JJ: How long did it take from recording it, to mixing and mastering, to having the artwork done?

JK: They were recorded over a two-day period. “Jeepster” was the initial focus but “Monolith” has always been my favorite T. Rex song, so my idea was to end “Jeepster” by doing the “Monolith” count-off.  Chad had Laker tickets the day we tracked, but I got him to lay down a take or two of drums and did the rest the next day. It was a lot of fun. 

JJ: Will there be other releases from you and Chad?

JK: Perhaps. We’ve talked about doing an annual covers series. Record Store Day is a wonderful thing!

JJ: Record Store Day release aside, what is coming up for you career-wise? More from Dot Hacker?

JK: No Dots at the moment, though I suppose we did finish off an old relic from the first album called “Neon Arrow.” It was meant to be a part of Cassette Store Day, but roadblocks arose. So I suppose that will slide out sometime soon. I’ve been making a record mostly on my own, which I suppose with see the light of day sometime soon. Perhaps.

JJ: If I’ve done my research correctly, you’ve always lived in Los Angeles. What is it that keeps you so loyal to L.A.?

JK: Trust me, I wasn’t always loyal to it. I wanted to leave my whole childhood, and very nearly did in my early 20’s. My whole family is from New York and New Jersey, so I spent a lot of time there visiting as a kid. I suppose music always seemed to be here for me. That last time that I was inches away from leaving L.A., rather than doing that, I went on tour with Sparks in early ’06 and that’s sort of been one continuous ride that made stops in Gnarls Barkley and eventually the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

JJ: Do you have a favorite venue to play live at in L.A.?

JK: Venue in L.A.? I haven’t played them all so it’d be hard to answer. I have love of The Palladium and even more for the old Palace, which is now something entirely different. Name and purpose.  

JJ: Finally, Josh, any last words for the kids?

JK: Yikes, I’m at a loss. Go back in! Runaway! I don’t know… Read… A lot. Don’t have kids.

More on Josh Klinghoffer and Chad Smith’s Jeepster” b/w “Monolith” and other ORG Music releases can be found online at www.orgmusic.com.

Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz on 2019 Underwater Sunshine Festival and Bar Mitzvah Memories

Danny Clinch; Courtesy of Danny Clinch's team.

Adam Duritz is arguably best known as the frontman of the band Counting Crows, which has sold more than 20 million albums worldwide. Yet not everyone realizes the impact that Duritz has made on other artists for 20-something years. Beyond introducing a new generation to the genius of Alex Chilton and Big Star, Duritz has run record labels and curated music festivals.

Underwater Sunshine  also the name of Counting Crows’ 2012 album, which debuted at no. 3 on the Billboard Top Rock chart  is name of the music festival run by him and co-founder Barbara Rappaport. The Underwater Sunshine Festival launched last October with a two-day event, and will be returning to New York City’s Bowery Electric for two more days of programming on April 5th and 6th. Among the participating artists for the April 2019 edition are Jordan Klassen, Eric Hutchinson, Red Wanting Blue, Amy Vachal, Maria Taylor and Roan Yellowthorn.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Adam Duritz by phone about Underwater Sunshine Fest – which also the name of his podcast with author and music journalist James Campion – his preference of New York over California, his bar mitzvah, and more. Highlights from the chat are below, while the full interview will be part of an upcoming episode of the “Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz” podcast.

Jewish Journal: Underwater Sunshine is both the name of your podcast and the upcoming festival and both of those promote new music you like. So would you look at that as your new outlet in lieu of having a record label?

Adam Duritz: Yeah, it’s the same kind of stuff in a lot of ways…

JJ: So what is it that draws you to the Bowery Electric?

AD: The people running it. Diane [Gentile] and Jesse Malin… I love the place, I love the people working there… It’s a small venue. The sound is fantastic but it’s small. I would like to eventually move out of there to someplace bigger. But they’ve been so good to us for so long… They love music and they run a really cool great club and have multiple rooms, more than one stage…

This has been running pretty efficient. We are pretty happy with it… What’s nice about the clubs here… New York has a lot of clubs that sound great… They’ve done the work, they’ve figured out how to make that room sound good and they bring bands on and off stage with like 15-minute changeovers, which is incredible to me. And that was never the way when I was coming up…

JJ: Are you a full-time New Yorker these days?

AD: Oh yes, for 15, 16, 17 years. I moved here in 2003, I’ve been in New York for a long time.

JJ: What is it that makes you loyal to New York rather than Los Angeles? Because I know that you did write some of your greatest work in Los Angeles.

AD: You know, L.A. was great… I grew up in a really cool struggling artist community in the Bay Area with Berkeley and Oakland and San Francisco. But it was really hard when I was a working artist. I felt like there was a lot of resentment towards that, whereas when I came to L.A. and it’s not that way for me at home back in the Bay Area, but it was at first… L.A. was really welcoming and started being a real person artist town and whatnot especially… Everybody was there to work…

But I think New York is a great city to be a grownup. Anything you might be interested in, anything in the world, whether that’s the ballet or the opera or a bookstore. Whatever it is they have it here and they have some of the best in the world here. You can really, as an adult, you can find anything you want and there’s a world-class version of it here. And I find that fascinating… There’s 50,000 art galleries and 10 of the best museums in the world… They’ve got the best [ballet and opera] companies in the world here… There’s big and small venues… Everybody in the world comes to play here. Same thing with food. It’s just, everything you might be interested in is here and I’ve really found that to be an amazing, generous thing to live around.

Also I really love the [New York City] subway. The idea that someone built a train like 100 years ago, underground. It will take me anywhere I want to go 24 hours a day for a couple of bucks. I don’t even know how to express that. Of all the things in New York that’s maybe the best. I mean, it’s an incredible traffic-free thing that carries us all everywhere… I’m in love with the subway…

JJ: Here’s a question out of nowhere because part of this interview is going up on the Jewish Journal website. Can you tell me something about your bar mitzvah? Any memories about it?

AD: I’m trying to think… I remember after the party I went upstairs to change and my mother told me get the f**k back into my suit. (laughs) I don’t remember it very well. I remember I wrote a speech, which means the rabbi wrote a speech. I could always sing pretty well… I remember other people’s bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs more than my own because I had a band that played a lot of friends’ bar mitzvahs, so I have a lot of memories of that.

I don’t really remember my own very well, though. It was such a long time ago. I remember studying in Jerusalem a bit a few years later when I was 17, 18, I was over there. I got really interested in that for a little while. But my bar mitzvah, I don’t really remember a whole lot about it. It was pretty easy… (pauses)

My girlfriend is reminding me that I performed my bar mitzvah speech a couple of months ago, but it wasn’t my bar mitzvah speech, it was my confirmation speech. They refuse to understand that Jews can get confirmed but it’s not the same as Christian confirmation. But yeah, we did it in the Bay Area. (laughs)

JJ: In closing, any last words for the kids?

AD: Listen to music and go see it. There’s more good music now than there ever was before. It’s just a matter of finding it, there’s more of it out there than there ever was. Music is in better shape that way than it ever was before but it does need support from people. It’s easy to be lazy about it because we’ve got everything delivered to our doorstep… But bands need real people to come see them in real places… It’s important.

More on Adam Duritz and the Underwater Sunshine Fest can be found online.

New Age Band Opium Moon Scores Grammy Nomination

Opium Moon, Photo by Michele Mattei

Los Angeles-based Opium Moon had just finished an all-day video shoot for BBC Persian service when three-quarters of the band — violinist Lili Haydn, her husband, bassist Itai Disraeli, and percussionist MB Gordy (Hamid Saeidi, who plays the santoor, had another gig) — met with the Journal at a local restaurant to discuss their work and their Grammy Award nomination for Best New Age Album for their self-titled debut record. 

The Dec. 5 announcement was something of a surprise for the band. Haydn was up early and ran into their bedroom screaming, “We got nominated!” Gordy had no idea the nominations had been announced and was initially puzzled when congratulatory texts popped up on his phone. Two days before the nomination, Saeidi told Disraeli he was experiencing a crisis of confidence. After the nomination, “he realized that what we’re doing is right. The universe was telling him to go on,” Disraeli said, adding that a band of Americans and Iranians, gentiles and Jews being nominated for a Grammy shows “that music done in freedom and peace has value and is recognized.” 

Opium Moon’s music sounds very much in the moment. It’s hypnotic but alert. Touches of jazz, rock, Middle Eastern and African sounds flit about, but it never settles on a specific sound.

Haydn, 43, said the band, which formed about three years ago, “came together to create something that had no form, that had no particular destination. It was very important to all of us that it feels like we’re discovering something in the process.” 

It’s a sound she called “world music from another world,” but it has found some high-profile fans on this planet. Bob Boilen of NPR called their album “a rare pleasure,” while Tom Schnabel, host of KCRW’s “Rhythm Planet,” described it as “enchanting music that sounds contemporary but has ancient roots.” 

Opium Moon’s distinctive sound is a melding of the members’ diverse backgrounds. Haydn, who has been performing since she was a child, is the Canadian-born daughter of Lotus Weinstock, a comedian and singer who wrote a best-selling memoir, “The Lotus Position.” An in-demand session player, Haydn has collaborated or toured with, among others, P-Funk, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Cyndi Lauper, Herbie Hancock and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She has released five solo albums and also scores for films. She turned her recovery from neurological damage after being exposed to the pesticide Chlordane into a popular TED Talk.

“For a band of Americans and Iranians, gentiles and Jews to be nominated for a Grammy sends a message that music done in freedom and peace has value and is recognized.” 

— Itai Disraeli

Disraeli, 58, was born on Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek in Israel, where music was a family affair. He played traditional songs but was influenced by the blues and Indian music. Since moving to the United States in the late 1990s, he’s played in many projects, most notably with his brothers in the trio Maetar. 

Sixty-something percussionist Gordy is not Jewish but considers himself a “Jew by osmosis.” He is married to a Jewish woman and estimates he’s played “every temple in town.” His wife, he said, jokingly calls him “the drummer to the Jews.” 

Iranian-born Saeidi is considered a master of the santoor. He has composed scores for over 30 films and has toured the world leading his own ensemble.  

Haydn said what makes Opium Moon special “is that we all listen. There’s no map or destination. Rather, it’s like a magic potion. It just comes together. You let it go anywhere it needs to go.” 

Gordy concurred, adding, “Everybody in the band is a producer, a composer — we know how to do that other stuff.” Disraeli finished the thought, calling Opium Moon “a conversation between four people talking and listening at the same time.”  

Disraeli said the first time the band played together, “we didn’t even have to talk to each other. We don’t tell each other what we’re going to play, we just feel it. If it goes somewhere, it’s just natural. When we listen, we become the center of the universe. When we listen, everything comes to us.” 

The band members admit they sound as though they’re speaking about a religious experience and that they also connect with spiritual elements and the Jewish concept of tikkun olam. However, Haydn said she didn’t really connect with her Jewish background until she was an adult caring for her dying mother. She said she fell in love with “the process of inquiry and wrestling with God.” 

Disraeli said he grew up in area of Israel that is “all about peace. As children, we learned how to speak Arabic, we’d visit Arab villages, Arab kids would come visit us. It’s a whole, idealistic view of how the country could be. We came here to live in peace. You don’t really hear a lot about that in America.”

Gordy, who usually can be found Friday nights playing at Shabbat services, has come to appreciate the tradition of Shabbat. “It’s about taking the week and putting everything aside and honoring the day,” he said.

Disraeli believes Opium Moon’s music can serve a similar function. “We’re so scheduled and tied to technology,” he said. “Our music gives you a chance to catch your breath and be with each other.”  

The Grammy Awards will take place Feb. 10 at Staples Center and will air on CBS at 5 p.m.

Iranian-Israeli Singer Carves Her Own Path

Iranian-Israeli singer and songwriter Maureen Nehedar recently made her solo debut in New York at Temple Israel of Great Neck. It was an unadorned yet extraordinary performance. Given her authentic voice and her impact on the audience, she seems poised for global acclaim.

Sitting on the center platform of the synagogue, Nehedar, 41, embraced the maxim “less is more.” There were no electric instruments. It was just Nehedar, modestly dressed in a long, floral tunic, with an acoustic guitar and a stringed instrument called a cümbüs.  

Performing solo (her accompanist reportedly was refused a visa), Nehedar had no problems enthralling the crowd. Her voice was delicate and pure and showed off her tremendous range, honed from years of rigorous training with revered musical masters. She opened her performance with an original composition called “A Prayer for Peace,” a meditative song in Hebrew, and followed up with well-known Iranian folk songs. 

Nehedar has dedicated herself to preserving Iranian folk music and its rapidly disappearing Judeo-Persian variant. Her authenticity is powerful and was beautifully showcased in an introduction she gave to a traditional Iranian lullaby. These lullabies (or lalaee) are among the saddest in Persian tradition. Many depict lonesome mothers lamenting their traveling or working spouses and babies who refuse to give their mothers respite. 

Nehedar spoke of these tragic figures as young mothers, perhaps 12 or 13 years of age, raising children. She characterized lullabies as possible moments of solace and self-expression, when these adolescent mothers could grieve their vanished hopes and interrupted lives. 

“Nehedar’s music is more about introspection than entertainment. Its message is a reminder that our cultural heritage is not a thing of the past but a timeless treasure to inspire the future.”

The crowd listened with silent reverence. Nehedar continued, talking about her beloved grandmother, Homayoon, a quiet and traditional lady who had been taught never to sing in public despite her beautiful voice. She talked about how she recorded her grandmother’s voice on one of her albums and then delivered her own rendition of the lullaby, in what she described as “the soundtrack of our lives.” It was emotional, powerful and profoundly tragic. As she sang, Nehedar unlocked coffers of emotions that had been lodged in the subconscious of so many in the room. Tears streamed down faces of women and men. And yet, it wasn’t all nostalgia, but rather a cathartic release of pent-up sorrow that had been held in the hearts of mothers and their sons and daughters for generations. 

Despite her love of Persian music, Nehedar did not spend her formative years in Iran. The descendant of Iranian-Jews from Esfahan, she discovered Persian music as an immigrant child living in Israel. Her path has not been easy. At a private gathering of local women the day following the concert, Nehedar opened up about her struggles with infertility. Raised by a single mother and now a mother herself, Nehedar spoke of her strong belief in a woman’s financial independence and path for self-determination. 

In her journey to discovering and reinterpreting Iranian folk music, Nehedar said she increasingly scrutinized the lyrics. She recited the lyrics of a wedding song: the bride’s neck is white as crystal, the groom wants to visit her, 40 camels are carrying her dowry, she’s walking delicately. Nehedar said underneath these beautiful words lies a “cruel culture. Everyone sings about how beautiful the bride is, but has “anyone sung about her soul? How old is this bride?” Nehedar asked.

It’s personal with her, because, Nehedar revealed, her own mother was married off at 15 and her grandmother at 9. These revelations unleashed a wave of confessions from women at the gathering. 

Nehedar’s powerful message of advocacy for women is one she has applied to her own career. She spoke of how she embarked on field research, going door-to-door, asking older Iranian Jews to sing her old songs. She also refused to sign contracts with several recording companies because, she said, she had her own standards about how her music should sound. Instead, she saved her own money to pay for the recording of her three albums. And it’s paying off. 

Nehedar’s music is more about introspection than entertainment. It’s music that reminds us who we are and where we come from. Its message is a reminder that our cultural heritage is not a thing of the past but a timeless treasure to inspire the future.

Marjan Keypour Greenblatt, who was born and raised in Iran, is a human rights advocate and an amateur musician.

Anna Shternshis: A Grammy Nomination for ‘Yiddish Glory’

Photo courtesy of Roman Boldyrev

Included in this year’s Grammy Award nominations for World Music is “Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of WWII” (Six Degrees Records). It’s a collection of songs that haven’t been heard since 1947. By turns mournful, angry, defiant, brutal, tender, lovelorn and mocking, all the songs are written and sung in Yiddish with an unvarnished directness and honesty. 

The Journal caught up with Anna Shternshis, the Al and Malka Green Associate Professor in Yiddish Language and Literature and the Director of the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, who discovered the songs and, with musician Psoy Korolenko and producer Dan Rosenberg, compiled and created the album. 

Jewish Journal: How did the album come about? 

Anna Shternshis: It started as an academic project. I was working, and [am] still working, on a book on Yiddish culture in the Soviet Union during the Holocaust and [World War II], and I came across this document about a collection that ethnomusicologist Moisei Beregovski put together during the war of songs by refugees, soldiers and Soviet Jewish evacuees singing in Yiddish about the war, during the war. 

None of the songs were actually known in the world of Jewish music. We didn’t know that Soviet Jews and Polish Jews in the Soviet Union at the time sang in Yiddish. It was very different from what we associate from Holocaust music. For example, they’re very pro-Stalin and very graphically anti-Hitler. They’re also amateur; just everyday people singing these kinds of songs. I thought it would be really interesting to bring a musician in to help me with at least presenting this material in an academic context. I invited Psoy Korolenko, who is Russian-born and performs in Russian and Yiddish and who I knew was familiar with Soviet culture of the time. With the help of Dan Rosenberg, the producer, we got together a band. It was meant to be an educational tool but it grew into an album. 

JJ: Before you came across them, did you have any idea the songs existed?

AS: Beregovski was an important ethnomusicologist. When he was arrested by Stalin in 1950, they confiscated this archive and when Beregovski came out of jail in 1956, it did not come back to him. The consensus was this: During the war, these songs were collected. After the war, they were destroyed when they arrested Beregovski. 

In the late ’90s, a librarian in the Ukrainian national library started looking through material that was uncatalogued. In the ’40s, a lot of people were arrested by Stalin’s government, a lot of documents were confiscated. They had to put them somewhere. We think now they first put them in a secret police archive or secret police basement and then there was not enough space, so they quietly moved them to the Ukrainian national library in the ’70s.  At the end of the ’90s, the librarians were allowed to open them. I only came across them because I was looking for stuff in Kiev. 

JJ: What surprised you most as you went through them?

AS: That I didn’t recognize a single one. I kept thinking, “How come I don’t know any of them?” I expected them to be either just Yiddish versions of Soviet songs or songs lamenting Jewish life. These songs were talking about politics. There’s one song that talks about how Hitler wants to invade the Soviet Union because he wants to get his hands on the resources of Ukraine — on coal and oil. I did not expect that. And the crazy thing is, the area they’re singing about? It’s still in the news today. And, ironically, similar sides are fighting. 

Another thing I didn’t expect was how much humor was in this music. It was very crude, very physical — toilet humor about Hitler. A lot of songs compared Hitler to Haman. There’s one song called “Purim Gifts For Hitler.” For people more familiar with Holocaust music of the ghettos, that’s not a big deal. But Soviet Jews were quite divorced from their Jewish traditions and Purim was not celebrated in the Soviet Union since the ’20s, so why would it come back? Finally, there were a lot of songs written by children. It’s so rare that we get to hear the genuine voices of people living through a war. We rely on journalists or historians or advocates to tell their stories, but here it’s from 10-year-olds or 5-year-olds. That was very moving.

JJ: I think many people will be surprised at the defiance heard in these songs. 

AS: The songs are very adamant about not being led like sheep to slaughter. They even used that language. 

JJ: What do the songs have to say to modern audiences?

AS: Unfortunately, wars and violence and genocide continue today. The most vulnerable are young kids and the elderly. What people can learn from this project is children, who are not educated, or women, who are not educated, how they make sense of suffering, how they suffer so deeply, and how they use music in order to tell us a story they hope we’ll remember. 

These songs did not end up in memory. People say, ‘During the war, there was no Yiddish. We didn’t sing in Yiddish.’ This material is a miracle that survived that did not end up in memory. History and memory tell different stories. 

JJ: Why didn’t people remember?

AS: You go through this war. Then, 1945 comes. Stalin’s policy says if a Jew survived the war and the German occupation it was because they collaborated with the German army so they’re traitors and they need to go to jail. These poor survivors, they’re worried about jail. So what do they do? They lied. Then comes Stalinist anti-Semitism. [Nikita] Khrushchev was not a friend of the Jews, exactly. Then comes [Leonid] Brezhnev and all the tsuris there. So they start to think about what you want to share, what you want to talk about. The Yiddish songs you sang in the war are not going to be very high on your list. We all make choices.  

JJ: What can we learn from these songs?

AS: I’m a university professor. My goal is always to educate. This is my way of telling the story of what happened to Soviet Jews during WWII. When people listen to this album, I want them to want learn more about what happened to Jews during the Holocaust. I want them to think more about what happens to people during a war. I also want them to enjoy this beautiful music.

After ‘Delete Airbnb,’ PORTNOY Has No Complaints

PORTNOY Music. Photo from Facebook.

Don’t let Sruli and Mendy Portnoy, the eponymous duo behind Jerusalem-based band PORTNOY, fool you with their boy-band good looks and feel-good melodies.

Acerbic lyrics such as those in their recent viral hit, “Delete Airbnb” — “I’m gonna take you off of my phone/Until you stop discriminating on my home” — belie their dulcet tunes and velvety voices.

Yet the England-born brothers are loath to be thought of as political commentators. They want to be valued as musicians — period. Last week, they practiced their accidental anthem lambasting the vacation rental giant while in a taxi on their way to an interview with pro-Israel group StandWithUs, which shared the song to its Facebook page and received 128,000 views. As tends to happen in Israel, they got to chatting with the taxi driver, an Egyptian Arab.

“So there we are at the traffic lights, singing this song about Airbnb’s anti-Israel policy and playing the ukulele, and suddenly the Arab driver pulls a flute from the glove compartment and starts jamming with us,” Sruli said. “It was this absolutely brilliant scene that you can’t make up, and I’m thinking this is what it’s all about. Playing arenas is definitely on the to-do list, but I really cherish those intimate, one-on-one moments you have with other human beings sharing in the music.”

That’s not to say the Portnoys haven’t had a taste of the big time. They’ve opened for Israeli superstar Idan Raichel in 3,000-person gigs, were included in the list of 100 most influential olim in Britain’s Jewish News, and have released viral covers ranging from the pop anthem “Angels” to the Israeli classic “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav,” as well as an homage to George Harrison that was included in a website playlist alongside Harrison covers by Eric Clapton and Santana.

Yet, they haven’t let those accomplishments go to their heads. Their modesty may be the result of growing up with nine other musical siblings and a conductor-cum-rabbi father. At the age of 7, Sruli performed at a wedding; and a year later he was leading Kabbalat Shabbat services at his father’s synagogue.

“I was never going to do anything else — I couldn’t really do anything else,” Sruli said. “I was either going to hate or embrace the performing-monkey side of being the rabbi’s kid.”

The Portnoys’ music always contained a strong element of altruism. At 12, Sruli released his first single honoring victims of terror. In later years, the brothers played for Israel Defense Forces soldiers along the Gaza border during Operation Pillar of Defense. For six years, PORTNOY was also the in-house band at Camp Simcha, a summer camp for children battling cancer.

“I know it sounds corny, but we’ve been given this gift,” Sruli said. “It doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to humankind. It’s not mine any more than it is the listeners’.”

That sentiment is nice but it doesn’t bring home the (kosher) bacon.

Mendy, the younger and markedly more sarcastic of the two, quipped: “My 1-year-old son wakes up every morning and runs straight to the piano. I’m still trying to convince him he should pursue a more stable career, but I feel like he just doesn’t understand me.”

PORTNOY’s main earnings come from playing private functions around the world — from weddings in Ibiza to evangelical churches in America’s Deep South.

In the Spotify generation, when 10 dollars a month buys access to unlimited music, they’ve had to turn to other means to support their music. PORTNOY recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for their second album, “No Complaints” — a nod to Philip Roth’s simmering novel, “Portnoy’s Complaint” — and are set to mark the release of their first single, the aptly named “Spotified,” at an event at New York City’s Highline Ballroom later this month.

Safeguarding their autonomy and artistic independence has also meant the brothers have chosen to eschew TV talent shows such as Israel’s version of the The Voice, despite being hounded by scouts.

“There’s so much noise and the industry is so saturated that even the record labels don’t know what the correct path is,” Sruli said. “It’s like this mass confusion. So we just figured, instead of having someone else guess in the dark, we might as well guess in the dark for ourselves because at least we know who we are and who our fans are.”

Get The Gift Of Music From Nashuva for Chanukah


Buy the Nashuva Band CD: Heaven on EarthBring the Nashuva band into your home with their new album, “Heaven on Earth – Songs of the Soul!” Click here to purchase a copy for yourself and one as a Chanukah gift!

Nashuva’s new album is produced by Don Was. The music is full of light to lift your soul! This is a special limited edition of 500 copies —
Make sure to get yours now!


Sing With The Nashuva Band: Heaven On Earth Songs Of The Soul

Thank you to the amazing band including: Jared Stein, Justin Stein, Jamie Papish, Ed Lemus, Fino Roverato, Bernadette Mauban, Andrea Kay and Alula Tzadik.
At Nashuva, we believe that prayer can heal our souls and help us find personal peace. But it also leads us to action. It reminds us that we are here to heal this broken world.
Celebrate with the Nashuva Band

“Music has the power to elevate one to prophetic inspiration.

With song, we can open the gates of heaven.”

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liady

More from Rabbi Naomi and Nashuva:

I wrote about Rabbi Naomi’s book for my 50th birthday: Click here to read From Terrified to Blessed (about when I went sky diving!) Buy her book: “Einstein and the Rabbi

Celebrate with the Nashuva Band 3

I wrote about another book by Rabbi Naomi in this article, Spirit of Adventure in 2010:

As Rabbi Naomi Levy says in Hope will Find You, “By far the most human condition I learned to guide people through is this: an overwhelming feeling that life hasn’t begun yet. They would say to me, “My life will begin when…when I lose weight, when I fall in love, when I get a job, when I get married, when I have a baby, when I buy a home, when I get divorced, when I quit my job.”

Video: Join Nashuva at Santa Monica Beach for Tashlich

Tashlich on the Beach with Nashuva 5777

Join in Shabbat services once a month: “Our Shabbat services offer an opportunity to take a break from the daily stresses of life.  Come nourish your soul, connect with community and experience the beauty and joy of Shabbat.  All are welcome, no tickets, membership or advanced reservations required.   We look forward to seeing your there!”

Happy Reading! Happy Singing, Happy Chanukah and Happy Shabbanica!


Celebrate with the Nashuva Band group photo

Blondie’s Chris Stein on His New Book, the Future of the Group and Why He Wasn’t Bar Mitzvahed

Blondie members (from left) Chris Stein, Debbie Harry and Clem Burke.

Few bands have had the staying of Blondie. The New York-based band first hit it big in the late 1970s, ultimately scoring hit after hit – “Heart Of Glass,” “Dreaming,” “The Tide Is High,” “Rapture,” “Hanging On The Telephone,” “Sunday Girl,” “One Way Or Another,” “Call Me”… Last year’s “Pollinator” album featured collaborations with Sia, The Smiths’ Johnny Marr, Joan Jett, Charli XCX, TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek and The Strokes’ Nick Valensi and was named one of Rolling Stone’s “20 Best Pop Albums of 2017.”

Blondie co-founder, guitarist and songwriter Chris Stein has also found success as an artist outside of Blondie. His latest book is “Point of View: Me, New York City, & The Punk Scene,” a collection of photographs taken by Stein. Stein and Blondie frontman Debbie Harry will be part of an event at New York City’s Cooper Union on November 30 in which “Point of View” will be discussed alongside Rob Roth, Blondie’s creative director; the event is free and open to the public, but an RSVP is recommended.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Chris Stein by phone. We chatted about his Jewish roots before talking about “Point o View” and his other endeavors.

Jewish Journal: Were you bar mitzvahed?

Chris Stein: No, my parents were “reds.” (laughs) So we never really practiced, but we did have a big birthday party when I was 13.

JJ: Did being Jewish ever come up when you were with Joey Ramone or other punk rock scene people who of The Tribe?

CS: Nah, I don’t think so. It was always kind of unsaid. I was close to Joey but I don’t think we talked about it specifically that I can remember.

JJ: How long did you spend putting together your new book?

CS: The book was put together over the course of a year, pretty much, dealing with film. I suppose if we had digital cameras back then it might have been a lot faster. But I had a good editor on the book, I enjoy the process.

JJ: Did you have all the film readily available? Or was a lot of it in storage?

CS: I have it all here where I live. It’s not a huge amount of stuff, it’s all in binders. It’s just a huge pain in the ass looking for individual images because there’s really no way to mark the stuff. There’s really no way to categorize it when you think about it. It’s just there… Most of the original film containers are gone, it’s just pages and binders. So that’s a time-consuming process.

JJ: What was your entry into the art world beyond music?

CS: My mom was a painter and a window designer. She knew [Willem] de Kooning and all this stuff, so I was always exposed to it.

JJ: But in the case of collaborations over the years with Warhol, Basquiat and all that, how did your entry into that world happen?

CS: I went to art school, the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, so there was always that crossover. I was always doing photography.

JJ: Beyond that, you always had a lot of interesting projects going on, like TV Party. When did you first start to diversify beyond just being a guy in a band?

CS: Everyone just kind of multitasking back then. It was just what we did. Some people were strictly musicians, but [David] Byrne was always doing photography…

JJ: Is that still the case today? Do you have projects going on beyond Blondie, your photography and your books?

CS: We’re always doing other things. For Blondie, we’re always being approached about films and TV.

JJ: The album Pollinator was interesting in that you used outside writers for a lot of the songwriting. Was that something you would do again?

CS: Yeah, sure. Actually, we got another great song from Johnny Marr that we’ll definitely do, we’ll record it. I don’t know if we’ll do as much on the next album, but for sure. It’s nice to make connections with younger artists that are out there working.

JJ: So there is another Blondie album planned right now?

CS: Yeah. I haven’t yet finished dealing with the book, so I haven’t really been into songwriting mode. I’ve got to start doing that pretty soon. But we’ll do another one with [producer] John Congleton because he was so much fun to work with.

JJ: Being more than 40 years into a successful career, is there anything you are still hoping to accomplish?

CS: Yeah, of course, I can always think of stuff. (laughs) A long list of things, for sure.

JJ: Let me phrase that a different way. Is there a career accomplishment you are most proud of? Or is it simply a proud accomplishment to still be doing it over 40 years later at a high level?

CS: Yeah, we’re getting a lot of love these days. We kind of have complete acceptance now that we didn’t have 20 years ago. That’s a nice thing.


JJ: Ultimately is there something you wish more people knew about you, beyond you being someone that wrote a lot of hit songs?

CS: I don’t know. I just would like more Twitter followers. (laughs)

JJ: Not Instagram, but Twitter specifically?

CS: Twitter is for the political aspect of it, so I’m always on there complaining about things.

JJ: So in closing, any last words for the kids?

CS: I don’t know, I think things are good [now]. It’s an interesting period we came up in but things are also exciting now. It’s not terrible to be in the moment.

More on Chris Stein and Blondie can be found online at www.blondie.net.

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 davidsolidgould.com

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 www.templerockers.com.

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 www.reuvein.korenstein@gmail.com.

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 skirball.org. 

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 j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, 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: www.shechinah.com



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: http://jewish-funerals.givezooks.com/events/taste-of-gamliel-2017.

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 info@Jewish-Funerals.org.


You can register for any Gamliel Institute courses online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. 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. info@jewish-funerals.org or j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, 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, info@jewish-funerals.org.


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 http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support 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 (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).



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 info@jewish-funerals.org.

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 j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, 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 http://www.jewishjournal.com/expiredandinspired/, 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 J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. 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.