Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Teiman: Music of the Yemenite Jews (1992)

Teiman: Music of the Yemenite Jews

This documentary is part of The Spielberg Jewish Film Archive’s “A People and Its Music” and of the Israel Music Heritage Project. The Spielberg Archive contains archival material from 1911 to the present, more than 18,000 titles, making the largest archive of its kind in the world. It is part of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which writes
The Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive was founded in the late 1960s by Professor Moshe Davis and other historians of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The first Director was the late Dr. Geoffrey Wigoder and the Archive originally bore the name of its first donor, Iranian-Jewish businessman Abraham F. Rad, who Provided his support for a number of years. In 1987 a generous donation was received from the American filmmaker Steven Spielberg, after which the Archive was renamed after after him.
This documentary gives some insight into the Yemenite Jewish culture, including the centrality and importance of traditional music and how it fits in to greater Israeli society. One of the most famous Israeli singers, Ofra Haza [1957–2000], was born into a Yemenite Jewish family; her voice propelled her to international recognition, bringing much joy to the world.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Nellie Casman: Yosl Yosl (1923)

Yiddish Performance of the Week

Yosl Yosl, also known as “Oh, Yossel, Yossel,”  was written by Nellie Casman [born in 1896 in Proskurov, Russia–died in 1984 in New York City] and Samuel Steinberg, her husband. The song was made famous in English as “Joseph, Joseph” by the Andrew Sisters in 1938. The English lyrics were written by Sammy Kahn.
Via: Youtube

Yosl Yosl
by Samuel Steinberg
& Nellie Casman

mayn khayes geyt mir oys,
ikh fil ikh halt nit oys,
mayn harts tut mir vey gor on a shir
es iz mir heys un kalt,
un ikh ver groy un alt
un veyst ir mentshn vos es kveylt mir
di libe brent a shrek
ikh fil ikh shtarb avek
nokh mayn yoslen, mayn darling, mayn dear
a bokher a sheyner
mir zol zayn far zayne beyner,
yosl, ikh krapir nokh dir!

oy, oy, oy, yosl, yosl, yosl, yosl,
oy, oy mayn khayes geyt mir oys on dir.
oy, oy, oy, yosl, yosl, yosl, yosl,
dayn malke zitst nokh alts un vart oyf dir.
oy, oy, oy, yosl, yosl, yosl, yosl,
ikh kholem yeder nakht nor fun dir,
un git der yeytser hore
mikh a mol a tore,
yosl, ikh krapir nokh dir!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Bundists of Israel (2012)

Bunda’im (2012): An excellent documentary film on the Bund in Israel, on how they brought their ideas from Poland to Israel, living on a small island of Yiddishkayt as best as they could in the larger sea of Zionism. The Bundists were effectively social democrats, with the organization founded in 1897, the same year as Zionism, with which they differed politically. My father was a member of the Bund in Poland—officially named the General Jewish Labour Bund in Poland (Yiddish: אַלגעמײַנער ײדישער אַרבעטער בּונד אין פוילין‎; Algemeyner yidisher arbeter bund in poyln)—and spoke often about it with great fondness to me. The Bund was dissolved, along with other non-communist parties in Poland, in 1948, when single-party rule became effective. When my father came to Canada, in 1951, he joined Der Arbeter Ring (Yiddish: דער אַרבעטער־רינג; The Workmen’s Circle), an organization that held similar values. Such Jewish values of the Bund were passed down to me, most notably a concern for human welfare and for a just society; such are good, humane and righteous, as are the people who discuss them—they greatly remind me of my father.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: ‘Dad, Why Are You Here’?

“Gezen di velt vi es zol zeyn”
“A sach mentshen zeyen, nor vainik fun zai farshtai’en”
Yiddish saying

“and Pharaoh said to his courtiers, ‘Could we find another man like this, 
who clearly has the spirit of God within him?’”

My dad died the day after my 23rd birthday, almost four decades ago. A few days after the funeral, which was on a cold Sunday in early November, I had a dream. I was looking out the second-story window of our family duplex and saw my father walking on the street in front of the house. I was both confused and excited. I ran down the stairs as fast as I could.

My dad was walking slowly and deliberately, so I easily caught up with him a few doors from where we lived. I said, “Dad, why are you here?”  But, I said this in Yiddish: Tate, far vos zenen ir do? He turned around slowly; his face was blank, white and pale, without life. His eyes were stitched tight with black thread. Three ragged rows of black thread; nothing neat about it.

In my dream, I was shocked and horrified by what I saw as unnatural. He was alive, yet his eyes and his face were without life. My father walked away without speaking, without turning around and without any explanation. I never saw him again in a dream. This brief episode left me shaken and with many unanswered questions. I believe that such dreams have important, even essential, meanings.

I do not completely understand this dream: I am in no way like the biblical Joseph of the Torah (Yosef ben Yaakov ben Yitzchak ben Avraham), an interpreter of dreams. His spiritural gift of interpreting dreams got him initially in trouble with his brothers, but his correct interpretation (see Genesis 41) so impressed the Pharaoh that Joseph was immediately raised into a position of authority in ancient Egypt. Such is a rare case and stands out for a reason.

My dream was more personal with less far-reaching economic and political implications. So, when I visited a psychologist afterward and asked him about it, he dismissed it as “only a dream.” He was no believer in Freud and dream interpretation. So I can only hazard an educated guess, based on some combination of rationalization, emotion and life experience.

In my dream, I was happy to see my father, but realized later that he was no longer physically present; his lack of sight and his lack of speech showing me this. Or, perhaps, I was projecting my feelings of uncertainty as to the future onto my father. Many would say that I am making too much of this dream, but here it is almost 40 years later, and I can still recall it as it were yesterday. Clearly, this must mean something to me.

This coincides with my belief that some dreams have a purpose. Perhaps this dream meant that my father could no longer guide me, at least not in the same sense as his physical presence could. The loss was great.

Gut Shabbes
Peretz J. Greenbaum,
November 17, 2017

This week’s Torah portion or parshah is Toldot (תּוֹלְדֹת; Hebrew for “generations”) found in Genesis 25:19–28:9); it begins with the birth of twin boys, Esau born first and Jacob second (Esav and Yaakov in Hebrew). In a reversal of tradition, the younger receives the blessing from his father, Isaac, which, although achieved by deception with the help of his mother, Rebecca, is nevertheless viewed as God’s will, chiefly because Jacob is more suited for the role. This parshah is ultimately about many things that are important and instructive, including on how the struggle between brothers for their father’s favour and blessings plays out today.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1: ‘Jeremiah’

Lamentation: The third movement of Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1, Jeremiah, with Nan Merriman [1920–2012], mezzo-soprano and Bernstein [1918–1990] conducting the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. This was recorded in 1945, a few years after Bernstein completed it. “The work was finished on 31 December 1942, and is dedicated to my father,” a 24-year-old Bernstein writes. No doubt, horrific events in Europe and in particular the massacre of Jews—the People of the Book—inspired the completion of this work. Those familiar with the tenor of the prophetic books of the Jewish Bible will understand this music’s descent into sadness, speaking of the unconscionable loss and an appeal to the Heavens to remember the promises made. Can one understand (and accept) the incomprehensible and yet remain faithful? It does not seem humanly possible, but many do. One reviewer writes: “The symphony concludes with a Lamentation delivered in words as well as music. The musical sources here are identified by Mr. Gottlieb as ‘the Ashkenazic cantillation of Lamentations 1:1, the liturgical penitential mode used on S'lichoth (Service of Forgiveness) and from a High Holy Day mode, and finally, free cantorial improvisation. Thematic allusions to the first movement indicate that the Prophecy has been fulfilled . . . ’ The Hebrew text sung by the mezzo-soprano is from the Book of Lamentations, Chapter 1, verses 1-4; Chapter 4, verses 14-15; and Chapter 5, verses 20-21; the text given here in English is from the King James Version.” The Jews identity the Book as Eicha (אֵיכָה; Hebrew for “How”); the Hebrew text can be found here.
Via: Youtube


Book of Lamentations

How doth the city sit solitary,
That was full of people!
How is she become as a widow?
She that was great among the nations.
And princess among the provinces.
How is she become tributary!

She weepeth sore in the night,
And her tears are on her cheeks;
She hath none to comfort her
Among all her lovers;
All her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
They are become her enemies.

Judah is gone into exile because of affliction.
And because of great servitude;
she dwelleth among the nations,
she findeth no rest.
all her pursuers overtook her
Within the narrow passes.

Jerusalem hath grievously sinned...
How doth the city sit solitary
...a widow.

CHAPTER 4.14-15
They wander as blind men in the streets,
they are polluted with blood,
so that men cannot
touch their garments.

Depart, ye unclean! they cried unto them,
Depart, depart! touch us not...

CHAPTER 5.20-21
Wherefore dost thou forget us forever,
and forsake us so long time?...
Turn thou us unto thee, o lord...

Wikipedia writes: “The work was premiered on January 28, 1944, at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh with the composer conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The soloist was Jennie Tourel. It was premiered in New York City on March 29, 1944, at Carnegie Hall, again with Tourel as soloist.”

Monday, November 13, 2017

Di Shvue

Yiddish Performance of the Week

Di Shvue (“The Oath”) was a poem written by S. An-sky in 1902, which became the anthem of The Bund. I will write more about “the Bund” later. An-sky is the pseudonym of Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport [1863–1920], a Russian-Jewish intellectual who wrote in Yiddish such works as  The Dybbuk (1920), a play and Hurbn Galitsye (1920)about the destruction of Galicia during the First World War. The Bund anthem is here sung by Zahava Seewald.

Di Shvue
by S. An-sky Brider un shvester fun arbet un neyt Ale vus zaynen tsezeyt un tseshpreyt, Tsuzamen, tsuzamen, di fon iz greyt, Zi flatert fun tsorn, fun blut iz zi reyt! A shvue, a shvue, af lebn un teyt. Himl un erd veln undz oyshern Eydes veln zayn di likhtike shtern A shvue fun blut un a shvue fun trern, Mir shvern, mir shvern, mir shvern! Mir shvern a trayhayt on grenetsn tsum bund. Nor er ken di shklafn bafrayen atsind. Di fon di reyte iz heykh un breyt. Zi flatert fun tsorn, fun blut iz zi reyt! A shvue, a shvue, af lebn un teyt.
****************************** The Oath Brothers and sisters in toil and struggle All who are dispersed far and wide Come together, the flag is ready It waves in anger, it is red with blood! Swear an oath of life and death! Heaven and earth will hear us, The light stars will bear witness. An oath of blood, an oath of tears, We swear, we swear, we swear! We swear an endless loyalty to the Bund. Only it can free the slaves now. The red flag is high and wide. It waves in anger, it is red with blood! Swear an oath of life and death!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Jewish Partisan Returns

Jewish Resistance

“Whoever destroys a single life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved the whole world.”
—Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5

A Partisan Returns: The Legacy of Two Sisters

Narrated by Tovah Feldshuh [born in 1952 in New York City], this film was released by the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation (JPEF), which is based in San Francisco, California. It writes the following short blurb about this documentary: “Former Bielski partisan Lisa Reibel journeys back to her home in Belarus for the first time after nearly 65 years. Experience how her story of escape, struggle and success affects her family [of] three generations.” This non-profit organization has made a dozen excellent documentaries about Jewish courage and survival in the face of evil.

There was Jewish resistance; there were Jewish heroes; and their story needs to be heard to counter a misinformation campaign and to correct wrong perceptions. Here is what JPEF writes: “Most people have never heard of the 20,000-30,000 Jews who fought back against the Nazis as Jewish partisans. These Jews were responsible for blowing up thousands of armored convoys and thwarting the Nazi war machine in countless ways, including rescuing people from the ghettos, procuring food and medicine, tending to wounded soldiers, sabotaging German communications and supply lines, punishing collaborators, sheltering civilians and saving thousands of Jewish lives.”

The Bielski Partisans organized the largest Jewish resistance during the war, and thus saved 1,236 lives. These men, viewed as Jewish heroes, have their story told in the popular film, Defiance (2008). The reason why they did what they did is simple enough to understand, says the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: “After the Germans killed their parents and two brothers in the Nowogrodek ghetto in December 1941, three surviving brothers of the Bielski family—Tuvia (1906–1987), Asael (1908–1945), and Zus (1910–1995)—established a partisan group. Initially, the Bielski brothers attempted only to save their own lives and those of their family members. They fled to the nearby Zabielovo and Perelaz forests, where they formed the nucleus of a partisan detachment consisting at first of about 30 family members and friends.”A fourth and much younger brother, Aharon [1927–], also joined the group.

While the Talmudic injunction cited above is related to someone standing trial before a judicial body for capital crimes, there is a religious/spiritual element found within its thinking: that life is sacred and the taking of someone’s life should never be done easily and thoughtlessly and without justified moral reasons. Killing your enemies, those that declare that they want to kill you, falls under such a justified moral reason, as does the defeat of evil and the use of collective self-defense. There are times, sadly, that evil has to be used to ward off a greater evil. But this should never make us “evil.”

Moreover, even then, this should never be done with happiness, but with much sadness—that this was the only real and possible choice. Martin Buber[1878–1965], a Jewish existentialist philosopher,  elucidates this thought in an essay, “Hebrew Humanism” (1941), found in The Martin Buber Reader (ed by Asher D. Biemann, p. 162) about this necessary balance imposed on the Jewish People:
It is true that we are not able to live in perfect justice, and in order to preserve the community of man, we are often compelled to accept wrongs in decisions concerning the community. But what matters is that in every hour of decision we are aware of our responsibility and summon our conscience to weigh exactly how much is necessary to preserve the community, and accept just so much and no more; that we not interpret the demands of a will-to-power as a demand made by life itself; that we do not make a practice of setting aside a certain sphere in which God’s command does not hold, but regard those actions as against his command, forced on us by the exigencies of the hour as painful sacrifices; that we do not salve, or let others salve our conscience when we make decisions concerning public life.
Good words, indeed.