When Hava Nagila: The Movie played the Boston Jewish Film Festival last year, I rolled my eyes and opted out of what I assumed would be a twee, cloying tribute to the ubiquitous anthem to American Jewish vapidity.
But when, three weeks into my relocation to New York City, a friend asked me if I wanted to take his second ticket to see it at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, I tried to stifle my skepticism in favor of a night out in my new home.
I was prepared for a nostalgic campfest, and while there was an element of that, the film was also surprisingly moving and educational. I even got a little teary-eyed during the segment with Harry Belafonte. I was surprised to learn the film was created by the team behind the excellent Hannah Szenes documentary, Blessed Is The Match. Director Roberta Grossman and producer Marta Kauffman said that after they completed their Szenes film, both women’s daughters asked them to work on a happier project – hence “Hava Nagila.” And while this is a happier film, it doesn’t shy away from a number of challenging questions about Jewish engagement, the Israel/Diaspora relationship, and the blooming and wilting of various strains of Jewish culture.
The movie begins a national roll-out this week. If it’s playing near you, check it out.
I know what you’re thinking – you want to refer to the 4 worlds in your Tu Bishvat seder but they’re confusing and…oh, if there were only a song that allowed you to sing through the four worlds (like we sing the order of the Passover seder) so folks could remember the order of the Tu Bishvat seder.
This is a guest post by Aryeh Bernstein. Aryeh comes from Chicago, lives in Jerusalem, and works for NY’s Mechon Hadar; in 2011, under the moniker The Branding Iron, he independently released his debut hip-hop album, “A Roomful of Ottomans” with DJ OFn TISh (aka Ori Salzberg).
Oh, word, you like hip-hop, punk, and funk?
Oh, word, you’re looking for fresh Jewish and Arab voices about Israeli/Palestinian life?
Oh, word, you believe that music can be a tool of resistance?
Oh, word, you like hip-hop collectives? Live bands? Crossing gender barriers? Ethnic barriers? Language barriers?
Oh, word, your sweet spot is when the music that makes you dance is also the music that makes you believe?
Word, then you need to check out System Ali.
System Ali breaks it down like this:
Jaffa-based Hip-hop/Punk/Funk band with 10 members: women & men, Jews & Arabs. They rap and sing in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, & English. They are bursting with humor, anger, irreverence, social commentary, political satire, smart lyrics, edginess, and the music is bangin’. And probably the first hip-hop band ever with an accordion in the line-up. Their remarkable diversity is not just in their ethnic identities, but also in the personalities of the crew. Each member is a unique character, filling his or her own space on the canvass with different energy, like a movie cast. Imagine the Wu-Tang Clan if they also played instruments, skewered exploitative Israeli-Palestinian power structures, and were co-ed.
I love this band aesthetically and I believe in them, to whatever extent I can believe that art matters in building cultures of solidarity, empathy, truth, and celebration, and tearing down systems of discrimination, cynicism, deception, and alienation. System Ali is it and it’s now.
A year ago, Ha’aretz music critic Ben Shalev penned this review, expressing his stunned enthusiasm at having discovered System Ali, praising their energy, character, and message. He closed by expressing disappointment that they did not yet have an album and asserting that “they need to come out with one”.
Well, they’re almost at the finished line on that long-awaited debut album, which I have been eagerly awaiting for quite some time. Music for the people needs help from the people to make it to the people. System Ali’s music does not serve the interests pursued by pop record corporations. The band puts its time into building community centers to mentor young, budding Arab and Jewish musicians, not into kissing up to rich record labels. So they have opened this campaign to crowdsource the last NIS 30,000 (~$7,500) to finish their album.
Jewschoolers — please support System Ali as they take the Middle East back to school musically and culturally. The investment will return to you and then some. Check out their music and their pledge here and buy in.
I recall chatting with one of my favorite singer-songwriters, composer, musician and poet Alicia Jo Rabins in a Mexican joint in Chicago after a Golem show a few years back, right after the big market crash. I asked what else she was working on, and she started talking about a project revolving around Bernie Madoff. I (and I’m sure many others) suggested she apply to the 6 Points Fellowship, which happily saw the merit in her and her work. The resulting project has finally reached its debut moment. Rabins’ new full-length song cycle, A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff, at Joe’s Pub in New York City on Thursday, November 8th and again on the 15th. Details after the jump. More »
Tomorrow night is to be the first of many Jewish events unlike anything ever seen before.
The reason: it’s explicitly secular, and therefore explicitly Jewish.
Let me explain.
Tomorrow night is the premier event of Oholiav (oh-HO-lee-AV), a “meeting place” where the secular art and pop worlds come into contact with Jewish values, philosophies and narratives.
That’s abstract. Let me break it down.
Jewish culture and secular Western culture share some basic values: don’t murder people, stand up for what is right, be a good person.
When you look into some of those deeper details though, the wide range of Jewish views on gender roles, on human rights, on politics, on the importance of spirituality, are very likely to differ from that which we have to come to know in the secular world.
So, where are these points of tension, and where are those moments of harmony?
Oholiav examines secular culture through the pop culture—films, YouTube videos, singles, albums, TV shows, Broadway musicals, plays—and the world of art—literature, art galleries, dance. In pinpointing those moments when values are espoused in the secular world, or stories are told or beliefs are “preached” in the secular world, Oholiav compares these moments with their Jewish counterparts.
Does Dinner For Schmucks parallel the Jewish value of hospitality towards guests (hakhnasat orehim) or slam the door on the face of the ideal? Does Francisco Goya’s “The Disasters of War” series serve as a reprimand of oppression, unconsciously echoing Jewish discomfort with militarism? Do these elements perhaps meet somewhere in the middle? Perhaps the twain shall never meet? (Not to mention, the Jewish people rarely hold similarly with only one point of view on anything.)
At 7 PM, in celebration of the art openings, we’ll gather together on the 5th floor of the Kraft Center for special performances by OMG Poetry, Ezra Benus, Lori Leifer and ChEckiT!Dance; followed at 8 PM by a Q&A Talkback with questions from the audience, in conversation with Ellen Alt and with ChEckiT!Dance about both artistic and Jewish elements of their biographies and bodies of work.
Asked whether Tel Aviv had any “personal significance” to him as a choice of venue for Lollapalooza, Ferrell gazed as he struggled to give a non-committal response, “Let’s just say that I think that it’s a place that needs good music. It deserves it, it demands it, and so it shall be.” Elsewhere he has cited Tel Aviv’s geography, lack of an international festival or a curfew… Very nice, but is that all?
Indie Rocker and Jewish Day School Alumna Regina Spektor
As those of you who have been following this season’s America’s Got Talent and/or have read my previous post know, one of the most promising contenders in the show is a religious Jew who is a singer. Not only that, but he is an incoming freshman at the Jewish high school I attended. Curious if any ICJA alumni before have ever enjoyed success and fame as popular musicians, I did some searching but could not find anything. To my knowledge, the only music icon to have graduated from ICJA was Disturbed front man David Draiman (who first spent some time at the Wisconsin Institute of Torah Study, WITS, and Torah Valley High in California).
I then expanded my search to include alumni rockers from any major Jewish day school in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia. (Incidentally, this search revealed volumes about the institutional identities of the individual schools. While some schools mention Nobel Prize winners and Rhodes Scholars among their graduates, others mention only male ‘notable alumni,’ and some only rabbis, major Jewish community leaders, and mega-machers. And some even mention convicted murderers. I’m looking at you, Charles E Smith Jewish Day School.) Interestingly, the rock star Jew-school grads hail disproportionately from Orthodox day schools. Care to interpret?
Anyway, on to the challenge (answers after the ‘more,’ but no peeking!):
which of these famous musicians attended which of these Jewish Day Schools? Hint: two or more may have attended the same school
Lest there be any doubt in your minds, Skokie, IL is the bastion of cool these days. Jewschool’s very own Adam Davis just moved there, I grew up there, and…oh yeah, the likely winner of this season’s America’s Got Talent hails from there too.
AGT Contestant and Skokie native Edon Pinchot, 14
Singing sensation AGT finalist Edon Pinchot is 14 years old and about to start high school at Chicago’s Ida Crown Jewish Academy this coming fall. He and his family live just blocks from my parents (who are long-time friends of his grandparents), and his parents are pillars of the orthodox Jewish community there. I remember his mother, Laurie—an exquisitely refined, thoughtful woman, from the Skokie Women’s Tefilla Group which I regularly attended in my pre-adolescent years. The rest of the family are also substantial folks who excel at what they do. More »
The other day Frum Satire shared some pictures from Matisyahu’s Instagram under the heading “Matisyahu posts pictures of himself without a kippah,” lamenting the potential loss of a famous frum role model. There’s been a fair amount of back-channel chatter about what it might mean for Matisyahu — who’s already had to issue statements about shaving his beard and dropping his customary 17th Century Polish garb back in December — to be “off the derech” (moving away from Orthodox practice). Unfortunately, most of that search for meaning has been focused around “what does it mean for us” — with a bunch of different people putting themselves in that “us” category — and not enough thinking about what it might mean for him.
Many of us (and here, I mean “us” the writers and readers of Jewschool) have struggled with what we want our own Jewish observance to look and feel like, and many of us have had to do that in some kind of public sphere as leaders in our own tiny corners of the Jewish world. We know how much that sucks, and therefore how much more that sucks for Matis. Whatever you think about his music and whether or not his religious presentation helped his career, going through this kind of searching sucks even when you’re not a public figure and therefore all the much more so when you are.
If we really must find a way to make meaning for ourselves out of Matisyahu’s own personal journey, we can affirm what we all know, that Jewish living is, well, a life-long pursuit and not a static destination. And perhaps Matisyahu can be a positive role model in that way. And when he has another single or album to review, we can deal with whether or not his music is any good, regardless of the costume.
(ed note: Aryeh Bernstein comes from Chicago, lives in Jerusalem, and works for NY’s Mechon Hadar; last summer, under the moniker The Branding Iron, he independently released his debut hip-hop album, “A Roomful of Ottomans” with DJ OFn TISh (aka Ori Salzberg). He’s a friend of the blog and I loved this piece and he offered to share it with us- Ruby K)
I’m a teacher. In both formal and informal settings, I’ve always had a soft spot for “problem kids”. Well, a certain kind of problem kids, anyway – kids who considered rules optional, who showed up at what they wanted to show up at, whose laughter became more rambunctious and free the more their teachers emphasized the seriousness of the rules. I’ve had several students who were written off by all the other teachers as impossible, but with whom I actually developed my most meaningful relationships – kids who have a lot to say, kids whose clowning in boring or conformist contexts is an expression of the same curiosity and creativity as is their engaged participation in contexts that challenge them. These kids are so threatening to us teachers because they expose the weaknesses, fallacies, and mysteries we gloss over. They expose the ways in which we cover up our limits of imagination and our intellectual laziness with assertions of power and authority. When they do that, we, so steeped in our vulnerability and shame, or in our power trip, mistake their mockery of our chimerical power for disinterest in ideas or knowledge. We couldn’t be further from the truth. Sometimes the class clowns have the most to say. More »
THIS looks awesome. Finally, an event that appeals to Jews who speak Ladino, Jews who speak Yiddish and Jews who speak neither. Its inclusive of all, and even caters to, literally, the kosher set with delicious dainties from the kitchen of Leah Koenig.
Yes, whether you like baklava or babka, this 1st Non-Annual Festival of Pan-Judeo Music and Pastries has something for you. It features the three major streams of Jewish culture and geography- the Mediterranean Sephardi, the Eastern European Ashkenazi and the ubiquitous New York Indie.
In addition to her own distinguished career, Achinoam Nini (aka Noa) has a history of working on behalf of peace and reconciliation. Notably, she has partnered with Israeli-Arab singer Mira Awad, a Christian and resident of Haifa, on a concert tour and as the country’s entrants 2009 entrants into the Eurovision contest. This creative collaboration brought them wide attention around the world, mostly of the positive sort.
On Yom Hazikaron, the acclaimed international Israeli musical artist performed for a gathering of Combatants for Peace, an organization of former fighters and their families on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This recent performance brought on attention of a much uglier, vile sort from extremist corners in Israeli and North American Jewish corners.
Calling her “Garbage” and “Rat” and far worse. They’ve taken to facebook calling for a boycott of Noa’s performances, and Noa has responded.
Jewschool founder Mobius aka Dan Sieradski is part of the panel at this very interesting event at the 14th Street Y on “The Future of Jewish Culture.” A full press kit is here. A quick look at the panel shows it covers not only various sectors but geographies and aims to address a significant amount of ground in an evening:
“After a decade of flourishing Jewish creativity, major Jewish cultural enterprises are being forced to scale
back operations or close entirely. Using recent funding cuts as a springboard to examine the most pressing
issues facing new Jewish arts and culture, “Now What?” addresses:
New perspectives on American Jewish identity
Waning support for quality Jewish art and culture
Strategies for cultivating Jewish art and culture in the future”
May 15, 2012 7pm, 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street (between 1st and 2nd Ave.), New York, NY 10003
If you’re in the area and are interested, sign up here. Naturally, this is a subject that deserves and requires significantly more time than a single evening. The need to advocate for, plan and implement a national Jewish Cultural Policy could be the focus of a week long conference with representatives from major communal institutions and umbrella organizations, local presenting arms and various elements from artists and performers to independent organizations. It could also be a great panel to recreate at the General Assembly because the message points need to be heard by people who hold the purse strings and those who put the money in that purse
As someone who runs a Jewish cultural initiative, I’m very interested in this and am excited that its taking place. I’d be interested to know who’s attending and if any funders or folks from the institutional community will be within earshot. And of course, as a non-New Yorker, I’m glad to see there’s three other regional centers represented on the panel.
Half Jewish Beastie Boy Adam Nathaniel Yauch (aka MCA, aka Nathaniel Hornblower) has passed away after a three year battle with cancer. He was 47. He was a practicing Bhuddist and active in many Tibetan causes. His passing comes a moth after the seminal hip hop act was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Share your Beastie Boys thoughts in the comments.
I have to admit musician Gotye’s hit “Somebody That I Used to Know” has been stuck in my head for a week. And it’s inspired a host of covers and parodies. Below is a tongue in cheek cover of a cover in Hebrew. In it, Roi Lavi and the Good Guys reproduce a six-on-one-guitar cover of the song by Walk Off the Earth. Original videos below the fold.
Hey, y’all. It’s been a while. I’ve been busy having a real job instead of blogging here or at my personal blog. Anyway, this has been crossposted to my new blog at davidamwilensky.com, which you should all go check out.
I tip my hat to Philologos, the pseudonymous author of the Forward’s language column, for two reasons:
In a recent column, he cited a column he wrote in 1998 about an incident in which an Arab Israeli member of the national soccer team declined to sing “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem. In ’98, he wrote that it sucks for Arab Israelis and that he understood their reluctance to sing it. But in ’98 he concluded that there was no way around it. In this more recent column, he admits that he was wrong and….
In this one he reacts to the recent silence of Salim Joubran during the singing of the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” by going further than the other commentaries I’ve read on the incident; Philologos went so far as to make specific suggestions about how the song could be changed.
So bravo to you, Philologos for admitting you were wrong and for making some nicely conceived suggestions for rectifying the problem of “Hatikvah.”
And with that, let me explain why he’s still wrong this time. As identified by Philologos, the basic problem with “Hatikvah” is contained in this rhetorical: “How, really, can one expect an Israeli Arab to sing about a Jew’s soul stirring for his country?” But I’d go one step further: How can one expect a group with an equally valid claim on the land to sing a national anthem that is a clearly not just an Israeli song, but a Jewish song?
He concludes that “Hativkah” should not “be abandoned for another anthem, or sung to the same tune with new words” because “there’s not point in accommodating the feelings of Arabs by trampling on the feelings of Jews.” Again, I’d go even further, but we’ll come back to that. First, Philologos’ specific problems with “Hatikvah”: More »
Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider will team up with Tony winners Patti LuPone and Bebe Neuwirth, in addition to Broadway veterans Cyndi Lauper, Clay Aiken and more on his new album Dee Does Broadway. The heavy metal singer’s forthcoming album will feature a selection of classic Broadway hits. Dee Does Broadway is set for release on May 8 on the record label Razor & Tie. Snider himself appeared in Broadway’s Rock of Ages, which features music from his band, in the fall of 2010.