Thursday, March 23, 2017

Scarlett Johansson in Albuquerque!

Pesachshpiel @ Congregation Albert: Not nearly as well known as the Purimshpiel, the Pesachshpiel is a "newish" tradition among the Carbondale (kar-BUN-deh-leh) Hassidim.

(The Carbondales, who observe Shabbes on Tuesday and wear miners' helmets instead of shtreimels, are not nearly as well known as the Lubavitchers. Why do they do that? To honor the Carbondale Rebbe! It's a long story.)

Congregation Albert has just announced plans to bring the Pesachshpiel tradition to the Duke City, filling the gap created when Placido Domingo, apparently having a "senior moment," signed a contract to conduct the Pesach sedarim this year at Congregation B'nai Israel of Vallejo - not Albuquerque.

And guess who is going to star?

Yes! Scarlett Johansson (a nice Jewish girl), about whom Abq Jew last wrote (see Scarlett and the Three Sylvesters) in December 2015. Oy! It's been too long!

OK. So if you check your Passover Haggadah, it probably doesn't indicate when the Pesachshpiel is supposed to happen. But the Carbondale Haggadah - A Coal Miner's Midnight Lament - does.

It's right after the Afikoman is found.
Just when seder-goers have begun to hope that they will get to go home soon.

Now, a word about this year's Pesachshpiel, Bridegroom of Blood.

The title is taken from one of the most mysterious passages in the Torah - which appears in Parshat Shemot (Exodus 4:24–26). You can look it up. Or read this -

 ויהי בדרך במלון ויפגשהו ה' ויבקש המיתו׃
 ותקח צפרה צר ותכרת את־ערלת בנה ותגע לרגליו
ותאמר כי חתן־דמים אתה לי׃
וירף ממנו אז אמרה חתן דמים למולת׃ 

Moses's Journey into Egypt and the Circumcision of His Son Eliez by Pietro Perugino, c. 1482

So here is the story: Moses and Zipporah and their two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, were on their way from Midian to Egypt. Moses was in a hurry to announce the Top Ten Plagues, after which they were all going to head for Reuben's Kosher Chinese to celebrate.

They stopped off for the night at the Sands Hotel, and the LORD tried to kill [him]. But Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin, and touched [his] feet with it, and said, "Truly [you] are a bridegroom of blood to me!" So [he] fled from [him]. Then she said,

"A Bridegroom of Blood by circumcision."

The standard interpretation of the passage is that God wanted to kill Moses for neglecting the rite of circumcision of his son. Zipporah averts disaster by reacting quickly and hastily performing the rite, thus saving her husband from God's anger.

But the standard interpretation is by no means the only one. All those hes, hims, hises and yous. Who is talking? To whom? And which son got brised?

What can we learn from this?

Congregation Albert's own Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld will be playing the part of Moses the Lawgiver. The parts of Gershom and Eliezer haven't been given out yet.

Which is entirely understandable.
Abq Jew himself has played those parts, and he couldn't walk for a year!

Zipporah, of course, will be played by the inimitable Scarlett Johansson. Who seems to be comfortable with knives, as she (apparently) showed in the 2014 film Lucy.

And who we (well, Abq Jew) last saw in Saturday Night Live's advertisement for Complicit, Ivanka Trump's new scent.

So Abq Jew must tell you (he must! he must!)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Fighting Deportation

Saving Refugees, Helping Immigrants: What can we Americans do for the world's refugees and this country's immigrants? The best things - by far - would be to make the refugees' home countries safer and the immigrants home countries happier.

You know - to make the world a better place.

But these require long-term, sustained efforts on a national scale - what our State Department does best, and what small communities can rarely do at all.

In the meantime, refugees are fleeing for their lives. And America - and the West - will continue to beckon immigrants, (almost*) no matter what.

So what can we do now?

Last month, the New Mexico Jewish community responded with A Community Conversation on Refugees and Immigrant Peoples: The Jewish Perspective, an evening of learning and community discussion on the Jewish case for supporting immigrants and refugees. The program noted -
As both an immigrant people and one that has, throughout our history, found itself seeking refuge from persecution, Jews have a vested interest in the challenges facing refugees and those pursuing opportunity in new lands.
Photojournalist Diane Joy Schmidt has written about (and photographed) that community meeting in the Spring 2017 issue of The New Mexico Jewish Link.
The Jewish community in Albuquerque has reacted with concern to Donald Trump’s  recent executive orders, which bring echoes of inhumane treatment to the Jewish people. 
He halted the refugee program and banned all visitors from seven countries in the Middle East (now, with Iraqis allowed in, it’s down to six).  
Newly emboldened ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents have stepped up the arrest, detention, and deportation of undocumented immigrants here, and the administration has solicited immediate bids for building a wall on the US-Mexico border. 
Trump’s first 40 days in office have been marked by an increase in hate crimes, especially a rise in anti-Semitic acts nationally.  
In February  alone, Albuquerque had two bomb  threats against the JCC, and hate mail targeting Jewish blogger Marc Yellin, of All these acts are of grave concern. 
A record crowd filled the JCC auditorium on a wintry weekday night, February 23, to hear a panel of speakers introduced by Jewish Federation Executive Director Zach Benjamin: 
Rabbi Paul Citrin; Michael Nutkiewicz, an expert on refugee resettlement and Professor of Religious Studies at UNM; Rachel LaZar, Executive Director of  El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos (The Center of Equality and Rights); and Suki Halevi, New Mexico Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

In Albuquerque, the Islamic Center of New Mexico, Congregation Albert, and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico are sponsoring (Sunday April 2) United to Support Immigrant Rights, a fundraiser benefiting the ACLU-NM in support of their work to help immigrants and refugees navigating the legal system.

This event is open to the public, and will include dinner and music. Peter Simonson, Executive Director of the ACLU, will talk about the ACLU’s commitment to protecting the rights of immigrants and refugees in our community.

In Santa Fe, Temple Beth Shalom will host (Thursday April 6) Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear: An Interfaith Panel on Finding Common Moral Ground. The program notes -
The rhetoric and actions of the current U.S. Administration have been disturbing on many levels: threats of banning entire religions from entering the country, mass deportation of others, an alarming rise in intolerance and violence against immigrants and communities of certain faiths, and an overall surge in narrow-mindedness and bigotry. 
Many of our friends and neighbors feel threatened, unsafe, and marginalized because of who they are or what they believe. Listen and participate in a discussion of how communities of faith can help us find common moral ground that unites us, protects us, and builds a powerful force for justice.

Which brings Abq Jew (and many others, he knows), to songs of protest. 

The most fitting, in this time of imminent deportations, is Woody Guthrie's Plane Wreck at Los Gatos. Which is perhaps better known as Deportee,
a protest song with lyrics by Woody Guthrie detailing the January 28, 1948 crash of a plane near Los Gatos Canyon, 20 miles (32 km) west of Coalinga in Fresno County, California. 
Guthrie was inspired to write the song by what he considered the racist mistreatment of the passengers before and after the accident.The crash resulted in the deaths of 32 people, 4 Americans and 28 migrant farm workers who were being deported from California back to Mexico.
The genesis of the song reportedly occurred when Guthrie was struck by the fact that radio and newspaper coverage of the Los Gatos plane crash did not give the victims' names, but instead referred to them merely as "deportees." 
Now, Woody was living in New York City at the time, and did not see The Fresno Bee's extensive coverage of the disaster - which did list all of the known names of the deportees. And Woody was not up on details of the Bracero Program, through which the "deportees" were contracted. 

Nevertheless - the power of the song remains for all time. "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" has been described by journalist Joe Klein as 
the last great song he [Guthrie] would write, a memorial to the nameless migrants "all scattered like dry leaves" in Los Gatos Canyon.

... (almost) no matter what. 
An alternative approach to the problem of immigrants and refugees
might be to make America a place to which no one wishes to come.
The Trump Administration is working on that.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Playing Outside the Box

Guitarist Doyle Dykes: Through the ages, Jews have been accused of and credited for thinking outside the box. While others often color within the lines, Jews have painted as if there were no lines.

This is odd, says Abq Jew, since traditional Judaism has always insisted on lines; indeed, on "fences" to protect the lines.

So on Wednesday evening last, Abq Jew went out (a rare occurrence in itself) to listen to master finger-picking guitarist Doyle Dykes perform at Grandma's Music & Sound, here on the Westside of Albuquerque. About whom more later.

But first, let's talk about this box. As in this box, the one pictured above, which is what most people think of when they hear the phrase

thinking outside the box

But that kind of box is not where the phrase comes from. (Abq Jew knows, because he was there when the phrase was invented.) The phrase actually comes from this - the 9 Dots Puzzle.

The setup is clear; the rules are easy to follow. But most people (including Abq Jew) just can't figure this puzzle out the first hundred or so times they try.

Once people are presented with the solution, however, they ask themselves why they didn't see it.

After all - it's obvious.

Why don't people see the solution to the 9 Dots Puzzle?

Because they (mentally) draw a box around the 9 dots and tell themselves that they can't draw a line beyond - outside - that box.

So it is with traditional Judaism - and so it is with guitars.

When Abq Jew plays his guitar - a beautiful Larivee OM-03 purchased from Stan Burg of Guitar Vista in the heart of Nob Hill - he sees the fretboard as a box. Inside that box - a defined space - Abq Jew places traditional chords and chord progressions to make a song.

Doyle Dykes doesn't play his guitar (he used a Godin Spectrum and several other Godin and Seagull models - which he was promoting - during his Grandma's performance) anything like that.

For Doyle, there are no boxes.  His fretboard is an open field.

So play!

Here, for your enjoyment and amazement, is a video of Doyle Dykes playing his own mashup of Classical Gas and 25 or 6 to 4.

What, Abq Jew hears you ask, did Abq Jew personally take away from all this?
  1. Abq Jew should play his guitar more.
  2. Abq Jew should buy a Godin or Seagull guitar. (He's never giving up his Larivee ... but a person can own more than one guitar at a time.)
  3. Abq Jew should give it up and sell all his instruments. Every musician knows that's the only way to make money from music. And besides, what's the use?
There is another takeaway, however. And it shows up (for those who can see it) in the URL of Godin's What's New page.

Some will parse this URL (as the webmaster surely intended) as

Godin: What's New

Abq Jew, however, prefers to see it as

Larivee L-10FM AY Jackson    Built for the McMichael Canadian Art Collection
50th Anniversary "The Group of Seven Guitar Project"

God [is] In What's New

How's that for a guitar-based theology?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Irish and The Jews

If It Wasn't For: The Irish writer Brendan Behan once remarked, “Others have a nationality. The Irish and the Jews have a psychosis.”

Rory Fitzgerald wrote in the Jerusalem Post in 2010 -
That may be putting matters a little harshly, but [Brendan Behan] was on to something: These two ancient peoples were destined to wander the world as outsiders, knowing suspicion and derision wherever they went. Through it all, both maintained tight and close bonds with their own kin, even in the farthest corners of the earth.
So here we are, getting ready for St Patrick's Day (March 17, as Abq Jew is not sure we in New Mexico all know) and the celebration of everything Irish. 

The shamrock - a young sprig of clover - is, as we all know, a symbol of Ireland.
Saint Patrick, Ireland's patron saint, is said to have used it as a metaphor for the Christian Holy Trinity. 
The name shamrock comes from Irish seamróg [ˈʃamˠɾˠoːɡ], which is the diminutive of the Irish word for clover (seamair) and means simply "little clover" or "young clover".
A metaphor for the Christian Holy Trinity.

How about us Jews? Don't we get a Holy Trinity, too?

Yes, we do!

We Jews have our own set of Trinities! There are, in fact, lots of threes in Judaism -
  • Noah had three sons: Ham, Shem and Japheth
  • The Three Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
  • The prophet Balaam beat his donkey three times.
  • The prophet Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of a large fish
  • Three divisions of the Written Torah: Torah (Five Book of Moses), Nevi'im (Prophets), Ketuvim (Writings)
  • Three divisions of the Jewish people: Kohen, Levite, Yisrael
  • Three daily prayers: Shacharit, Mincha, Maariv
  • Three Shabbat meals
  • Shabbat ends when three stars are visible in the night sky
  • Three Pilgrimage Festivals: Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot
  • Three matzos on the Passover Seder table
  • The Three Weeks, a period of mourning bridging the fast days of Seventeenth of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av
  • Three cardinal sins for which a Jew must die rather than transgress: idolatry, murder, sexual immorality
  • A Beth Din is composed of three members
Many more sets of threes appear in Pirkei Avot, a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims of Mishnaic-period Rabbis.

The first verse of Pirkei Avot tells us
Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: 
Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah.
Plenty of the following verses also tell us "three things," But it is the second verse to which Abq Jew wishes to draw your attention.
Shimon the Righteous was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly. He used to say: 
On three things the world is sustained: on the Torah, on worship, and on deeds of lovingkindness.
Here is how Abq Jew interprets Shimon HaTzaddik's three things.

Torah provides a framework for how to live in society.
In the Five Books of Moses, in the Talmud, and in the later Codes,
we see not only ritual laws - between Man and God -
but civil laws - between Man and Man.

Worship brings faith (and not the other way around).
Faith leads to stability, to confidence, and to hope -
that, together, we can build a world based upon justice.

Lovingkindness is absolutely necessary,
because justice alone is both too much and too little.
In a world of pure justice, who would live?

Any one of these three things - Torah, worship, or lovingkindness - would not be enough. Indeed, any two of these things would not be enough. But these three things together enable us to build a sturdy structure for living in the world.

And while we're talking about threes - remember, if you catch a leprechaun and set him free, the leprechaun will grant you three wishes!

Which brings us back to the Irish and the Jews. Specifically - to William Jerome, Jean Schwartz, and Billy Murray. Look - another Trinity!

This Trinity wrote (Jerome, Schwartz, in 1912) and performed (Murray) the classic tune If It Wasn't For the Irish and The Jews.
William Jerome (William Jerome Flannery, September 30, 1865 – June 25, 1932) was an American songwriter, born in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York of Irish immigrant parents, Mary Donnellan and Patrick Flannery. He collaborated with numerous well-known composers and performers of the era, but is best-remembered for his decade-long association with Jean Schwartz with whom he created many popular songs and musical shows in the 1900s and early 1910s.
Jean Schwartz (November 4, 1878 – November 30, 1956) was a Hungarian-born American songwriter. Schwartz was born in Budapest, Hungary. His family moved to New York City when he was 13 years old. He took various music-related jobs including demonstrating and selling sheet music in department stores before being hired as a staff pianist and song-plugger by the Shapiro-Bernstein Publishing House of Tin Pan Alley. He published his first composition, a cakewalk, in 1899. He became known as an accomplished lyricist, although he also continued to write music. In 1901, he began a successful collaboration with William Jerome.
William Thomas "Billy" Murray (May 25, 1877 – August 17, 1954) was one of the most popular singers in the United States in the early decades of the 20th century. While he received star billing in Vaudeville, he was best known for his prolific work in the recording studio, making records for almost every record label of the era. Billy Murray was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Patrick and Julia (Kelleher) Murray, immigrants from County Kerry, Ireland. 

One immigrant and two immigrants' sons!
Making good in America!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Purimshpiel at The White House

The Actors and the Roles: As many of us here in Albuquerque are aware, Purim is coming! Shushan Purim will be observed in the Capital (Jerusalem) and at the Capitol (Washington, DC) on Monday March 13.

But first, Purim For the Rest of Us will be celebrated on Sunday March 12.

And all of us will observe the Fast of Esther on Thursday March 9 - because we Jews are forbidden to fast on Shabbat (except on Yom Kippur) or on Erev Shabbat.

This year too, the DC Purimshpiel will not be presented as a separate performance. Instead, the traditional Purim parody will occur as a series of seemingly random events, with "real" people playing the parts first recorded in Megillat Esther.

The roles of King Ahasuerus and Queen Vashti will be "played" (of course!) by President Donald John Trump and his lovely wife Melania Knauss Trump.

Of the role, the small-handed, small-minded Mr Trump said
I've got really like the biggest golden scepter in the world. It's yuge. As king, this role will come to me naturally. I won't even bother to read the script.
Mrs Trump, already banished to the poorer quarters where the ragged people go, looking for the places only they would know, could not be reached for comment.

None other than Stephen Kevin "Steve" Bannon will have the opportunity to "play" the evil Haman. The blonde but nevertheless evil Kellyanne Elizabeth Fitzgerald Conway will "play" Haman's cunning and prescient wife, Zeresh.
Although it could have been the other way around. And there are rumors that Mr Bannon was offered, but declined, the role of King Ahasuerus.

And how, Abq Jew hears you ask, about the important but obscure roles of Big Thana and Teresh? Michael Thomas "Mike" Flynn and Jefferson Beauregard "Jeff" Sessions III had been confirmed to "play" these roles.
But the availability of this ignoble pair has recently come into question, with Herbert Raymond "H. R." McMaster already stepping in to replace Mr Flynn. 

There was initially great suspense over the parts of Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai and Vaizatha - the ten sons of Haman - for which there was, alas, no shortage of applicants.

Too many applicants, in fact. All of whom together gave "living" testimony to Benjamin Franklin's famous words -
We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.

Which brings us to Esther and Mordecai.

There are no applicants for what, in ordinary years,
would be the Purimshpiel's starring roles

Everyone, by which Abq Jew means everyone, was looking forward to these pivotal roles being "played" by Ivanka Marie Trump and Jared Corey Kushner.
But they will not. Indeed, the magical couple has rarely been seen or heard since the First Banquet.

Who will take their place?

As many commentators have noted through the centuries, nowhere in Megillat Esther is the name of God mentioned. But God's presence is alluded to in the verse
For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there arise respite and deliverance to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed. And who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
Who will "play" the parts of Esther and Mordecai? Who has recently "come to the kingdom" - perhaps for such a time as this?
Who will save the Jews?

Just saying. You never know.