Growing up in the Carolinas, I was lucky to hear plenty of Black gospel sounds. There were songs played at family picnics in the park near my house (Freedom Park in Charlotte, North Carolina), church organ grooves on Sunday morning on WPEG FM 98, and the occasional opportunity to go with my family to visit a Black church for an event or concert. I always wanted to sing along. Driving around town with my daughter this evening, this tune came on WBGO 88.3, our local jazz station here in New Jersey. We couldn’t help but sing along. This tune is not just music – it is soul music. To quote Reb Nachman of Braslav:
It is a great thing to hear music from a holy person playing on an instrument for the sake of heaven. Because through this, false fantasies are dismissed, the spirit of depression is dispelled, and the person merits happiness. (Likutei Moharan 54)
Cory Henry, thank you for the happiness. From the album The Revival 2016
Why did I join nineteen rabbis in making a public statement in defense of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan and his vision for Jewish life?
In part, it is to offer a dissenting opinion on a hot-button boundary issue ruled on by two arms of the reconstructionist organizational world. Continue reading “Defending Kaplan”
Last year, Daniel Brenner had a dream. As he slept, he heard the Klezmorim’s album Streets of Gold, the 1978 classic that helped launch an American klezmer revival. The next day Brenner went to his local YMCA and put on the album to pump him up while he exercised.
“People were streaming by me, coming out of Zumba class,” he said, “and the thought that came to me was: it is time for Klezmer Aerobics.”
So Brenner, a rabbi and Jewish educator who has also worked as a musician and performer since the late ’80s, decided to create Klezmer Aerobics, a mashup of 1980s-style aerobics classes and traditional Yiddish performance; or, and he puts it, a “family-friendly interactive dance/storytelling workout.” more
In Jewish life, where a typical birthday wish is “Ad meah v’esrim” – “May you live to 120!” it is a little early for me to have a mid-life crisis. So I’m not sure what to call my latest artistic project, 80s Klezmer Aerobics. It is part storytelling/part dance performance/part aerobics class/part Jewish wedding/part theater show/and one hundred percent messhugah. Thankfully the Midnight Nosh team is supporting me musically and spiritually, and my family is supporting me emotionally (by ridiculing me, of course) and the good people of Limmud NY are giving me a stage to turn this dream into a reality. Broadway here we come. But first, the Hilton Hotel in Stamford, Connecticut.
I visited the Rolings Kosher Bakery in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania on a rugelach run. Managed to take this photo of the back wall of the bakery while the clerk was making change. A visual slice of a bubbe-run business. The rugelach, by the way, were absolutely perfect. Delicious and moist – you could taste the love.
The Battle Within: What a Story of Twins Tells Us About the Human Psyche
Delivered November 21, 2015
Simone and Martin Lipman Scholar in Residence
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Eighteen years ago my wife was pregnant and she was feeling a lot of kicking so we went to the hospital for an ultrasound. We did not want to know the gender of our expected child and we told this to our physician. But our physician’s mind lacked stickiness, because when he looked at the ultrasound, he yelled out: “Look! Frick and Frack!” And we turned to each other with a look of “WTF”? This is how we learned that we would become parents of twins. And not only twins, but identical twin boys. Continue reading “Address to Kehillah Synagogue”
The video above is a little tune from my band Midnight Nosh about the holiday season. It reflects, in some way, my childhood desire as a Jewish boy growing up in the Bible Belt to celebrate Christmas – and the unavoidable comparison of two winter holidays that have very little to do with each other (historically speaking.) On a more serious note, the Xmas season always brings with it questions from neighbors and friends about what Jewish people think and feel about the Christmas story and celebration. Here’s a piece that I wrote in response to one such question:
Last year before Christmas I got a Facebook message from my church-going high school sweetheart. (We still write, yes, and don’t worry folks, my wife knows about it.)
“My sister has just converted to Judaism. My children are very interested in this. They’d all learned the dreidel song and dance in their elementary school. My eldest daughter “schooled” them on what she knows about Judaism. She reminded them that Jesus was a Jew. Anyway, she also asked a poignant question: “Do Jewish people still believe in the Christmas story?” She said,” I know they believe he was a great Prophet, but not the son of God. However, do they believe in the manger story?” I thought about what you might say, especially to children, and I replied, “Yes.”Whereas, my sister at dinner last night, replied with an emphatic, “No!” Could you answer these questions for them?”
Every once and a while a group of wildly talented musicians will travel back in time and grasp a very old poem and an old tune and spin them into the current moment with a magical new spirit. This song is one of those once and a whiles.
Bazaar Ensemble are L.A. based folks who are adding some full throttle soul to a tune that I, admittedly, associate with both a choice Eric B. & Rakim sample and the late great Yemenite-Israeli superstar Ofra Haza. This new version of the 17th century Hebrew poem by Rabbi Shalom Shabazi is simply off-the-hook.
When I think of the classic Ofra Haza version, I imagine her beautiful high pitched tone. Here, lead singer Asher Shasho-Levy brings a grounded energy to the song and when the drums kick in and the energy picks up this tracks takes flight. And it doesn’t hurt that this video is shot with cinematic grace. Give it a listen!
The folks over at Ask Big Questions asked me to write something about Jewish ritual – and ritual in general. I start off with a reflection from the summers of my high school years…you can check it out here.