Music Review: Amythyst Kiah’s Wildebeest

Some songs just stop you in your tracks. “Wildebeest” by Amythyst Kiah is one of those songs. The tune begins with a two chord progression usually heard in flamenco music – a simple and raw meditative riff that Kiah lets play for a minute for full hypnotic effect.  When the tune shifts into a Delta blues mode, the fine finger-picking starts to have an emotional life, setting the stage for Amythyst Kiah’s original yet traditional blues lyric of spurned love, homicidal threats, bittersweet memory, and loss. The vocals are reminiscent of the smooth voiced blues singers of the 90s – like Tracy Chapman or Robert Cray – who sought inspiration from an earlier blues era – but with a little added bite. And when the blues are done, and Kiah tells the spurned lover to go find someone else to prey upon, the song shifts back into the flamenco style, ending without resolving the chord progression. All this is to say that the American blues is alive and well in Johnson City, Tennessee. Footnote: I discovered this song because I entered the NPR TIny Desk Concert Contest. A contest I have no chance of winning because of Amythyst Kiah and a dozen other crazy talented musicians. So I concede. Amythyst deserves the spotlight.


Was MLK Wrong About Non-Violence?

images-4Fifty years ago, accepting the Nobel Prize for Peace, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made a bold statement about non-violence. On that day in Stockholm, he argued that non-violence was not simply a protest tactic to overcome the oppression of his time but a new way for humans to exist together:
“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

Reading these words to a group of European dignitaries, all of whom had lived through the brutality of the Second World War, Dr. King’s message sounds spiritually uplifting, messianic and, truthfully, somewhat naive. Can humans really evolve beyond revenge, aggression, and retaliation? Are there examples when “love” built a foundation that really succeeded on a societal level? Or is his vision another fantasy? Continue reading

Free Hannukah Play – A skit for when the lights are lit

imagesFree Hannukah Play? Get your presto-instant Hannukah skit right here:

That’s right! A certified organic kosher Hannukah play for kids! 3 characters, five minutes. Just the right little shpiel for your celebration.



By Rabbi Daniel Brenner





Hi, I’m Dr. Dreidel and I’m here with my friends Latkes and apple sauce to tell you all about the Maccabees.

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Address to New York Theological Seminary: Answering the Cry in the Middle East






I begin this post with the above image of Jacob and Esau that I found on the web from the artist David Otto  It captures, artistically, one of the questions that the ancient rabbis struggled with in the Midrash – namely, “is the competition between the brothers inherent?”


New York Theological Seminary

October 29, 2014


Spiritual Lessons from Twins:

Jacob and Esau as a Paradigm for Israel and Palestine 

Seventeen years ago, when my wife was in graduate school, we lived two blocks from this building, on 121st street, the section that has now been named after one of my patron saints, the comedian George Carlin. My wife was pregnant and she was feeling a lot of kicking so we went to the hospital for an ultrasound. The physician pointed at the screen and said: Frick and Frack! And this is how we learned that we would become parents of twin boys. Not only twin boys, but identical twin boys. Which is probably why I am obsessed with biblical narratives about twins and why I have come here tonight to tell you that the answer to the question of how we might bring peace to the land of milk and honey is…twins. I speak here of “twins” as a concept, an archetype.  Envision twins in the womb for a second – these are two competing forces, each struggling to obtain nutrients for themselves to survive, and yet they float around in the same fluid and are influenced by the same thoughts, feelings, and hormones of the mother and the broader environment that she lives in. My question tonight is this: What does it mean for twins to co-exist in the womb and beyond it? And how might that spiritual metaphor guide us forward?

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The Gaza War: A Poem

The Gaza War


First the enemy dug under my heart and filled in my arteries with cement.


My mind plays back the aerial footage,


my international center for compassion

bombed into a billion bits of dust.


Every day I erect protective edges.



When the dust clears there is:

A hole.

And buried under the hole? Missiles.

And buried under the missiles?



My ears have been hit by two thousand missiles.

The missile of ‘they could have built a hospital!’

The missile of ‘they kill children!’

The missile of ‘genocide’! The missile of, ‘hey, look at the other genocide!’

And, finally, the long-range missile of ‘why are you mentioning that genocide???’


My eyes hurt from darting back and forth. All around me people are running to shelters. And when they come out they look up to the sky.

To the heavens.

To the scoreboard.

And then they run back again. But I stay up here on the roof, watching the fireworks, listening to the song of shrapnel.


In my veins I can feel the Ebola virus start to spread.

God said it was o.k. to kill them all.

Throw them into the sea.

And the worst of all: You all have to think the way we think or we will hurt you.


I feel dead.

Some vital organ has been kidnapped.

And there isn’t enough room at the morgue.

Because, really, who builds morgues for war?


My skin is on fire.

I mourn for Jerusalem. But more than that I mourn for the dead dreams.

Those dead, baklava-sweet dreams. Cardamom dreams.


And yet, I don’t let go of them.


I cling to them like a human shield.

I wrap my arms around them and crouch down to child’s pose.


O Land of Milk and Honey,

I mourn for your young people.

But most of all I mourn for the folks old enough to remember what could have been.


For in each of them is a dream, a dove ready to fly high above this iron dome.