Thursday, December 1, 2016

1492: The Board Game

Post-Election Educational Fun: For those of you, Abq Jew's loyal readers, who have not had the opportunity to view Fractured Faiths, the exhibition at The New Mexico History Museum that deals with Spanish Judaism, The Inquisition, and New World Identities - please go!

Fractured Faiths ends on December 31!

Expulsion: Jewish Life in Spain from the Golden Age to 1492

For those of you who a) cannot make it up the hill to Santa Fe; b) cannot stand on your feet long enough (an hour at least) to view all the artifacts and read all their descriptions; or c) just want a bit of entertainment in these approaching desperate times - there is an alternative.

Abq Jew refers, of course, to

Jewish Life in Spain from the Golden Age to 1492
The Board Game

which was recently introduced on TBS's show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. Which is on way after Abq Jew's bedtime; so he only learned about the game from reading Matthew Dessem's article on
Watch Full Frontal’s Staff Relax Post-Election With a Board Game About the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain
The election threw everyone for a loop, but the staff of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee took things especially hard, and for good reason. After coming out strong for Hillary Clinton throughout the campaign—unlike milquetoasts like Saturday Night Live—Bee and her staff were thrown for a loop by the election results. 
Fortunately, as Bee reports, they have a group bonding ritual to deal with exactly this kind of stress: game night. Unfortunately, the game this week is Expulsion: Jewish Life in Spain from the Golden Age to 1492, which, the video insists, is “a 100% real board game,” though it doesn’t seem to have much of an internet presence.*

For those who would like (or need) to be introduced to Samantha Bee:
Samantha Bee (born October 25, 1969 is a Canadian-American comedian, writer, producer, political commentator, actress, media critic, and television host. Bee is the holder of both Canadian and United States citizenship after being naturalized as an American citizen. 
Bee is best known for being a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where she became the longest-serving regular correspondent. In 2015, she departed the show after 12 years to start her own show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
You can watch Full Frontal's staff relax here.

More important - you can now purchase the game here (only $29.92 + shipping)!
This game is a great way to learn about the lives of Jews in the Golden Age of Spain through 1492, when they were expelled from their own land simply for following their religious beliefs. What ancient history! Ha! 
In the highly unlikely event that history repeats itself, brush up on how things used to be with this fun and informative game. Created by noted Jewish educator [Rabbi] Cherie Koller-Fox and famous Bible scholar Everett Fox and featured on the Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, so you know it has to be good. Makes a great Hanukkah gift!

Alright ... Abq Jew must (he must! he must!) tell you. There are yet other alternatives to Expulsion: The Board Game.

The first alternative is Fractured Faiths: The Book, which can be purchased for only $75 plus shipping from the Museum of New Mexico Foundation Shop. All the artifacts and descriptions you couldn't stand for? This book's got 'em.
Fractured Faiths: Spanish Judaism, the Inquisition, and New World Identities
Roger L. Dávila - Josef Díaz - Ron D. Hart     Item # 978-1934491515
Why does the story of secret Jews fascinate us? What is crypto-Judaism? In recent decades religious practices that were preserved in hiding for centuries have become more widely known. Specifically, families of Spanish Jewish descent have retained elements of Judaism for five hundred years. What incredible religious and cultural tenacity! For many these elements represent a discovered identity that helps to explain mysteries in their lives. Is a person Jewish by genes, cultural heritage, religious practice, or by choice? What survives for a person whose ancestors were Jewish five hundred years ago? 
Fractured Faiths traces the history of the Sephardic and converso (converted) Jews from their Golden Age to the twenty-first century, in both the land they left behind and in the lands they later settled. Documents, maps, paintings, and objects illuminate the history of Sephardic Jews from Spain to Mexico to New Mexico. 

The second alternative is Fractured Faiths: The Blog Post, which can be viewed at the website of award-winning Albuquerque photojournalist Diane Joy Schmidt.
Diane Joy Schmidt is an internationally published award-winning  writer and photographer based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She covers social, ethical and environmental issues of the Southwest United States, with special coverage of the Navajo Nation and the Jewish community.
There are probably other alternatives of which Abq Jew is unaware. As Matthew says, "Seek and ye shall find." This prophecy has been fulfilled in our time by

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

La Vita è Bella! Life is Beautiful!

Jews vs Pirates in the Age of Trump: We are now beginning to enter the Age of Trump, and - as so, so many have pointed out since 11/9 - we need all the help we can get. The Cabinet that Mr Trump is assembling resembles not so much a Team of Rivals as the crew of a pirate ship.

Abq Jew, surprisingly enough, has no first-hand knowledge of pirate life - Jewish (yes, there were!) or not. Thus we turn to the classic 2012 movie The Pirates! Band of Misfits, which reminds us -

The best thing about being a pirate is Ham Night!

Ham Night? Really? Well, besides the illiberal alt-right anti-Semites, that's just one more indication that we Jews may well be left off the guest list.

At least, we liberal Jews may be left off. Conservative Jews (politically, that is, not religiously) and the State of Israel may still be invited. It's very hard to tell.

While many of us are journeying through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of loss and grief (Denial and Isolation; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; Acceptance), others of us are thinking more in terms of

Run. To Canada (first choice). To any other English-speaking country. Or to Israel (last choice). The important thing is to keep our passports current (Abq Jew's expires in 2019), and to keep a modest supply of cash right next to them.

Hide. While it now appears much more likely that (again, liberal) Jews will be working to protect and if (has veshalom) necessary hide Muslims, Latinos, and other unwelcome "guests" in our country, there is a non-zero chance that all of us Jews will be looking for a place to hide.

Rabbi Harold Kushner tells this story in his seminal book To Life! A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking:
A group of us were sitting over coffee and cake in one family's living room. We were all Jewish, members of the congregation I was then serving, and we all had young children. 
In the midst of the conversation about local and national politics, one of the wives asked, 
"If a Nazi-style government were to come to power in the United States, how many of us know a Christian family we would trust to hide our children?" 
What I remember about that conversation is not that some of us had close Christian friends and others didn't, but that 
nobody in that room thought it was a ridiculous question. 
Nobody expected it to happen, but nobody considered the possibility unimaginable ....

Nathan Englander expressed the same feeling - even more pointedly and more poignantly - in his powerful short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.
“It’s the Anne Frank game,” Shoshana says. “Right?” 
Seeing how upset my wife is, I do my best to defend her. I say, “No, it’s not a game. It’s just what we talk about when we talk about Anne Frank.” 
“How do we play this non-game?” Mark says. “What do we do?” 
“It’s the Righteous Gentile game,” Shoshana says. 
“It’s Who Will Hide Me?” I say.

Fight. We will fight, Sir Paul McCartney told us right after 9/11, for the right to live in freedom. That's good; but about half the people (Abq Jew's estimate) on Facebook and Twitter will sharply disagree with the other half as to exactly what "freedom" means.

So here is Abq Jew's Modest Proposal:

Let us strive for
Common Sense and Common Decency.
Alright, maybe just Common Decency.

Which brings us to Life is Beautiful.
Life Is Beautiful (Italian: La vita è bella) is a 1997 Italian comedy-drama film directed by and starring Roberto Benigni, who co-wrote the film with Vincenzo Cerami. Benigni plays Guido Orefice, a Jewish Italian book shop owner, who employs his fertile imagination to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp. 
The film was partially inspired by the book In the End, I Beat Hitler by Rubino Romeo Salmonì and by Benigni's father ... Luigi Benigni spent two years in a Nazi labour camp, and to avoid scaring his children, told about his experiences humorously, finding this helped him cope. 
Roberto Benigni explained his philosophy, "to laugh and to cry comes from the same point of the soul, no? I'm a storyteller: the crux of the matter is to reach beauty, poetry, it doesn't matter if that is comedy or tragedy. They're the same if you reach the beauty."
When it was released, the film was criticized by many for its confluence of tragedy and comedy.
The film was a critical and financial success, despite criticisms of using the subject matter for comedic purposes. It won the Grand Prix at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, nine David di Donatello Awards, including Best Film, in Italy, and three Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Benigni.
Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half stars, stating, "At Cannes, it offended some left-wing critics with its use of humor in connection with the Holocaust. What may be most offensive to both wings is its sidestepping of politics in favor of simple human ingenuity. The film finds the right notes to negotiate its delicate subject matter." 
Michael O'Sullivan, writing for The Washington Post, called it "sad, funny and haunting." 
Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times that the film took "a colossal amount of gall" but "because Mr. Benigni can be heart-rending without a trace of the maudlin, it works.
In the film, Common Decency told us a wonderful love story that beautifully and imaginatively reinforced our firmly-held belief that

La Vita è Bella! Life is Beautiful!

Which brings us (lehavdil) to the performance that shall forevermore be known as

Holocaust On Ice

Jewniverse's Leah Falk tells us
‘Holocaust On Ice’ Breaks Records For Russian Tackiness 
The Internet shines a spotlight on a lot of “seemed like a good idea at the time” schemes, but rarely have we seen something that deserved to be killed in the drawing room as much as this: a Holocaust-themed ice-dancing performance on Saturday night’s episode of the Russian celebrity competition show, Ice Age.
To make matters worse, the star, former Olympian Tatiana Navka, is the wife of Putin aide Dmitry Peskov ... Navka and her skating partner Andrey Burkovsky, allegedly inspired by the film Life is Beautiful, don concentration-camp stripes and yellow stars (though without the label Jood or Juif). 
The Producers or some other high satire, this ain’t. 
Want to watch the performance before you make up your mind?

Love the music but can't stand to watch? Here are Israeli singer Noa (Achinoam Nini) and guitarist Gil Dor performing.

In 2000, Noa recorded the theme song "La vita è bella" of the film "Life Is Beautiful", Roberto Benigni's Oscar award-winning film. Noa also wrote the lyrics to the song now titled "Beautiful That Way", together with lyricist Gil Dor. 
The song was recorded and released with the album Blue Touches Blue, and also appears on the soundtrack to the film as well as on her album Noa Gold in two versions.

Which brings us (who said 'finally'?) to Rebbe Nachman (see Na Nach Nachma and Burnt Books) and one of his fabled tales, The Tainted Grain, which somehow seems especially appropriate just now.
The king’s star gazer saw that the grain harvested that year was tainted. Anyone who would eat from it would became insane. 
“What can we do?” said the king. “It is not possible to destroy the crop, for we do not have enough grain stored to feed the entire population.” 
“Perhaps,” said the star gazer, “we should set aside enough grain for ourselves. At least that way we could maintain our sanity.” 
The king replied, “If we do that, we’ll be considered crazy. If everyone behaves one way and we behave differently, we’ll be considered the not normal ones. 
“Rather,” said the king, “I suggest that we too eat from the crop, like everyone else. However, to remind ourselves that we are not normal, we will make a mark on our foreheads. 
Even if we are insane, whenever we look at each other, we will remember that we are insane!”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Oy [Chaim] Tannenbaum!

Who the Heck: As we prepare for the holiday of Thanksgiving, Abq Jew reminds you, his loyal readers, of the guy playing harmonica on Dink's Song: Fare The Well.

The guy, of course, is Chaim Tannenbum. 

Whose first name reminds us of our life-affirming Jewish tradition, even in the face of unexpected, calamitous, and extreme election results.

And whose last name (German for "fir tree") reminds us of the holiday that comes after Thanksgiving in the Christian tradition. Which brings to mind last year's

La Cueva Bear Tree Imbroglio

which Abq Jew reported on in his now classic All Ye Faithful. Which included the unforgettable Your Holiday Favorites Performed By Goats.

But Abq Jew digresses (big surprise). And once again Abq Jew hears you ask -

Who the heck is Chaim Tannenbaum?

Here is what you need to know.

At 68, Chaim Tannenbaum is a new folk hero.
With his first solo album, released in May.

The Spaced-Out Scientist tells the story.
The first time I heard Chaim Tannenbaum’s extraordinary singing was on Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s album The McGarrigle Hour, which was recorded at a gathering of friends and family in 1998. In particular, I was struck by the poignancy and luminance of Tannenbaum’s vocals on the traditional song, Dig my Grave
I thought, “Who is this guy?!”

And TSOS continues -
This Montreal-born multi-instrumentalist, singer and producer has spent more than 50 years on the musical scene, contributing to over 20 albums. Yet, he has never released an album of his own – until now at the age of 68 years old.   
In his defense, Tannenbaum was also busy teaching philosophy at Dawson College in Montreal for 40 years, and music was more of a sideline. Now retired from teaching, Chaim is living in New York City. 
Tannenbaum explains, “I was leading a very agreeable life teaching here in Montreal at Dawson and playing both with Kate and Anna, and with Loudon Wainwright. The desire to make an album never occurred to me of my own with any force. But I retired from teaching two years ago and moved to New York where there’s a bit more time.” 
You can listen to Chaim telling his own story - singing his own Ballad of Chaim Tannenbaum - here. (It's a bit long, but worth every second.)

Just don't have the time? Abq Jew understands. So here instead is Chaim playing mandolin and singing Elvis's Blue Christmas (really).

And speaking of the holiday that comes after Thanksgiving in the Christian tradition ... Abq Jew is excited to announce (you can look it up) that this year Albuquerque and New Mexico will join the world in celebrating Chrismukkah.

Which is to say

The first night of Hanukkah will fall on Christmas Eve.

Get ready! Until then ...

Happy Thanksgiving, America!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Another Disaster, Another Memorial

The Staten Island Ferry Octopus Disaster: Yes, Abq Jew reminds you, it was only two weeks ago that the Chicago Cubs, on Rosh Hodesh MarHeshvan (the "bitter" holiday-free month of Heshvan), won the 2016 World Series.

Oh, those were happy days (unless you were a Cleveland fan.) As we all know -

It's been straight downhill since then.

Before we get to Thanksgiving - when we are obligated to be thankful for the many blessings we have, as Americans, indeed received - we memorialize two events that occurred on November 22, 1963.

The first event - we of a certain age will never forget.

The second event - we of a certain age may not even remember, since its tragedy was drowned in the tragedy of the first event.

Abq Jew speaks, of course, of

The Staten Island Ferry Octopus Disaster

Don't remember? Here is the story:
It was close to 4am on the quiet morning of November 22, 1963 when the Steam Ferry Cornelius G. Kolff vanished without a trace. 
On its way with nearly 400 hundred people, mostly on their way to work, the disappearance of the Cornelius G. Kolff remains both one of New York’s most horrific maritime tragedies and perhaps its most intriguing mystery. 
Eye witness accounts describe “large tentacles” which “pulled” the ferry beneath the surface only a short distance from its destination at Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan. Nobody on board survived and only small pieces of wreckage have been found … strangely, with large “suction cup-shaped” marks on them. 
The only logical conclusion scientists and officials could point to was that the boat had been attacked by a massive octopus, roughly half the size of the ship. 
Adding to the tragedy, is that this disaster went almost completely unnoticed by the public as later that day another, more “newsworthy” tragedy would befall the nation when beloved President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated. 
Artist Joe Reginella has taken it upon himself to spread awareness of this maritime tragedy - via a website, a Facebook page, a documentary, and the Staten Island Ferry Octopus Disaster Memorial Museum.

The Staten Island Ferry Disaster Museum
hopes to preserve the memory of those lost
in this tragedy, and to educate the public
about the only known giant octopus-ferry
attack in the NY-NJ-CT tri-state area.

You can learn more about the Staten Island Ferry Octopus Disaster here and here.

Let us never forget.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Leonard Cohen, Poet, Dies at 82

Baruch Dayan Emet: The music world, the literary world, the Jewish world - we were all saddened to learn of the death, this week, of Leonard Cohen.

Abq Jew wrote about Leonard Cohen (see Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah) in 2012. And now, of course, come the obituaries and tributes: The New York Times; JTA; Forward; and Tablet - among many others.

Here is Abq Jew's modest tribute to Leonard Cohen: a collection of three important renderings of his (perhaps) most famous work - Hallelujah.

1. Leonard Cohen in Concert

2. Rufus Wainwright & Choir! Choir! Choir!

3. Daniel Kahn (in Yiddish)

Abq Jew wrote about klezmer musician Daniel Kahn (see Labor Day & The Painted Bird) in 2012. This video has only been on the Internet for a couple of days.

May Leonard Cohen's memory and music continue to be a blessing forever.