Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Meet The Authors

This Sunday @ Congregation Albert: Published authors from the Jewish community will come together to meet with those bibliophiles fortunate to attend.

Meet The Authors
Congregation Albert
Sunday August 4 ~ 4:00 pm

Each author will spend five minutes or so doing a reading from one of his/her works or giving a bit of background about him/herself.

Then there will be different stations set up, one for each author, where participants can speak one on one with the author, and (if they wish) purchase a book.

Participating authors include:
Joanne Bodin     Jonathan Miller
Mel Eisenstadt             Pauline Eisenstadt
Pat Shapiro     Pari Taichert

And there is no cost; i.e., this presentation is FREE, compliments of the Congregation Albert Library Committee.

To register, please email Stacy Zlotkin
For questions, contact Acy DeBois or (505) 881-6625.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Western Landscapes

Changing Perceptions: Last Friday morning, Abq Jew had the all-too-infrequent opportunity to visit the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History.

Abq Jew was there to attend an Albuquerque OASIS-sponsored tour of the exhibition Changing Perceptions of the Western Landscape. Andrew Conners, the Museum's Curator of Art, was our guide.

The Museum's website tells us:
Changing Perceptions examines the revived interest in landscape by contemporary artists, demonstrating the power of the land to speak to the imagination.

Recent works in painting, photography, printmaking, and even sculpture trace the evolving image of the landscape in art of the last 40 years. Many contemporary landscape artists explore the way that humanity has laid its hands on the land. Fences, dams, highways, and billboards appear as an acknowledgement that pristine wilderness is a rarity, foreign to most peoples' experience.

Among the diverse artists showcased are Amelia Bauer, Wes Hempel, Joanne Lefrak, Jack Loeffler, Patrick Nagatani, Donald Woodman, Gus Foster, Woody Gwyn, Erika Osborne, Ed Ruscha, Mary Tsiongas and Vincent Valdez.

Their passionate visions of the landscape take viewers on vividly detailed journeys around the American West and into the challenging imaginations of modern day explorers.

The first work we viewed was The Grand Library, a sculpture by Guy Laramée. In the photo above, we see what appears to be a not-especially-interesting representation of the Grand Canyon.

How nice, we think. But take another look.

The sculpture is actually a carved-book landscape, which Laramée made by sand blasting a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. (The covers of the stacked volumes had been glued together.)

Laramée, it turns out, is known for this technique.The online art magazine Yatzer says:
The human spirit transcends the known through the work of Guy Laramée, the Montreal based artist who pushes the materiality of the common book to the limit.
About his creative process, Laramée says:
Inspiration is a very mysterious thing. It comes unexpectedly. Of course, having baked some preoccupations for more than thirty years now – questioning the ideologies of progress, being nurtured by non-western cultures, rooting myself in the existential and the meaning of suffering, questioning our fascination for the accumulation of knowledge, etc – it is normal that inspiration would come in the guise of these questionings.  
The book is a good example. It came out very casually. Whilst working on a sculpture in a metal shop, I looked over to a sandblaster cabinet that I used occasionally and thought to myself ''what would it be like to put a book in there?''
And there it was. In seconds, the whole thing bloomed. I saw the landscape and the whole line of work actually.  But many discoveries go unattended, for lack of proper ground. I think the reason why I picked up this thread so readily is that at the time, I was doing a master in anthropology. (I was actually doing two master degrees simultaneously - another one in visual arts.) 
So this discovery – sandblasting books – just gave form to my ambiguous relation to academia and to knowledge in general. For years I had been questioning this need that we have to pile things into our head.
Wisdom, I thought, must be the exact opposite: emptying one’s certitudes, instead of building them. Or rather founding another ground to certitude than sheer belief –our so-called sciences, what I call the ''religions of the objective''.
You can read (and see) more at the Yatzer website.

Another sculpture that caught Abq Jew's eye was Manifest Destiny, by Amelia Bauer and Robert de Saint Phalle, which has been acquired for the Museum's permanent collection. Bauer's website tells us:
Amelia Bauer’s oeuvre is a series of discrete investigations into our cultural conceptions of the natural world. She examines her surroundings - particularly the deserts of Northern New Mexico and the forests of Central New York - through a lens of history and mythology. Aesthetic traditions are repositioned to create spaces that exist somewhere between our fears of the uncultivated wild and our romanticism of the “virgin” landscape. In this way Bauer explores the American experience of the frontier -- the transitional landscapes at the boundaries of civilization.

Bauer’s interventions, both photographic and sculptural, are representative of a distinctly American endeavor to bend nature to will yet also address the psychological and historical motivation underlying such efforts. Whether through applying decorative themes and gestures to materials found outdoors or interfacing directly with the environment itself, the outcome is a nuanced marriage of the inherently untamable and the age-old human desire for control.
Manifest Destiny is a topographical view of a suburban desert subdivision as it might be seen from an alien spacecraft. But who or what is truly alien here?

The last work we viewed was Grange Hall, a night painting by David Hines. Hines says of his work:
Most of my work, both in photography and in painting, has focused on night images, primarily of the western Mojave Desert and California's Central Valley.  My  interest in this subject matter grew out of road trips I took as a child with my father in New Mexico. 

I find the desert and the night go well together in my art.  At night, the vast distances of the stars become obvious, a desert in itself, and the far horizon melds the two deserts into one.  In this twin desert of sky and land, I explore outposts of human habitability.  Mystery and loneliness are the themes that unite all of my night work, and they are palpable in the infinity that darkness suggests.
Now, as you all must know, Abq Jew is not an artist. But Perri Yellin (Mrs Abq Jew) most certainly is, and (lehavdil) Roselyn Yellin z"l, Abq Jew's mother, most certainly was. Thus Abq Jew may have acquired some of the artist's sensibility.

In any event - Abq Jew was most definitely captivated by this exhibition.

Changing Perceptions only runs through Sunday September 1 - so now, before school starts on Tuesday August 13, could be your best bet. Or - especially if you're a parent - after school starts on Tuesday August 13 may work out better. But you should go.

If you've been reading the Albuquerque Journal, you know that Wesley Pulkka covered Changing Perceptions in Awestruck in America's West. And abq ARTS also covered the exhibition here.

But those articles were published way back in June ... so Best Abq Blogger Candidate (see Best of Abq 2013) Abq Jew is here to remind you that there's plenty to see and do in Duke City.

Please cast your vote before Thursday August 1!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Shabbat Ekev: Lovin' You Lots and Lots

Second of Seven Sabbaths of Consolation: Following Tisha b'Av, there are seven prophetic readings of consolation - all from Isaiah - that comfort us after the Black Fast and prepare us, emotionally and spiritually, for the upcoming High Holidays.

To Abq Jew, consolation and That Thing You Do! are, of course, synonymous.

Last week, Abq Jew introduced (or re-introduced) you to TTYD! the movie. This week, Abq Jew will guide you through the first of the many, many great songs from TTYD!

This week's song is Lovin' You Lots and Lots.

Wikipedia tells us:
The song that plays during the film's opening credits, "Lovin' You Lots and Lots," is credited to the fictitious Norm Wooster Singers, but was actually written by [Tom] Hanks.
This song is a good-natured parody of Ray Conniff, Mitch Miller, and other practitioners of the "beautiful music" or proto-Muzak formats that were a staple of adult radio during the early '60s ....
Are there, Abq Jew hears you ask, other good-natured parodies of Mitch Miller, et al? Funny, Abq Jew responds, you should ask.

This past week, Abq Jew (amongst many) was privileged to hear Jane Ellen (see Atomic Cocktail & Uranium Rock) deliver an audio-assisted lecture about the still living and still lively comedian Stan Freberg.

Among his many, many, many political and non-political satires, Freberg did a parody of Mitch Miller's 1955 hit, The Yellow Rose of Texas, which Abq Jew is honored to bring to you right here.

What Abq Jew is trying to get across (you should forgive the expression) here is that there is, or perhaps may be, a direct, or indirect, line of descent (in all its meanings) from Stan Freberg to Tom Hanks.

And that, someplace in that line, we should reserve a spot for more cowbell.

Join us next week - same time, same place - for another edition of

Sabbaths of Consolation - That Thing You Do! 

Until then -
Shabbat Shalom, Albuquerque!
Good Shabbos, New Mexico!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Best of Abq 2013

Abq The Mag: Yes, voting is now underway for Albuquerque the Magazine's Best of City 2013 Survey. And yes, Abq Jew has three (no more, no less fewer) suggestions for you, his loyal readers, to consider.

Suggestion #1: Best Local Festival

Abq Jew strongly suggests that you cast your vote for:

As Abq Jew's friend, actor Ron Weisberg, points out:
Who else got the Redfords out here? Dalai Lama's personal musician that touched the spirit of every single listener? The list goes on. Vote now, and watch this festival just get bigger and better, transforming the center of this town! Who else?
Co-founders Ivan Wiener and Lainie "Sevante" Quirk must be commended and congratulated for their outstanding first year of AFME. And they must be enthusiastically and resoundingly encouraged to keep it going!

Suggestion #2: Best Blogger

Abq Jew strongly suggests that you cast your vote for:

As Abq Jew's friend, Rabbi Paul Citrin, points out:
The blog and website present a constantly creative and fresh look at the dynamic activities and personalities of the Albuquerque Jewish community. They are outstanding resources for Jews who reside in Albuquerque as well as for Jews who are considering relocating to our city. This unique, exciting blog / website combination well reflects the enchanting spirit of Albuquerque Jewry.
And more shameless self-promotion! Abq Jew further points out that:
  • The Abq Jew Blog gets more than 5,800 pageviews per month; almost 200 per day; more than 103,000 all-time
  • Each Abq Jew Blog post is syndicated to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Duke City Fix
  • The Alexa Traffic Rank is less than 750,000 - very competitive for the Albuquerque market
  • Google’s #1 search engine consistently produces high up on page 1
Suggestion #3: Best Whatever

Abq Jew strongly suggests that you cast your vote for Best: Humanitarian; Musician; Local Comedian;  Vegetarian Restaurant; Vegan Restaurant; Massage Therapist; Florist; Gun Shop; Pet Grooming; Car Wash; Staycation Spot - or whatever.

Please cast your vote before Thursday August 1!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jewish Education for Adults

Rabbi H's Rabbinic Journey: This is a blog post ... just right for the last days of July, as we all prepare to begin to start to think preliminary and tentative thoughts about the new APS school year, which will begin on Tuesday August 13.

As it turns out - school and education, teaching and learning are not just for the young.

And since the Jewish education of most Jewish adults ended when they were kids - there is plenty of room for these grown-ups to expand their knowledge.

But how? Abq Jew hears you ask.

Well ... first of all, take a look here at Abq Jewish Adult Education. Next - if the open-ended age bracket fits - take a look at Abq Jewish 50+ Education, right here.

And of course take a look at Abq Jew's page dedicated to Lifelong Learning at Congregation Albert. But then ... well, it gets complicated.

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld of Congregation Albert explores some basic issues facing his congregation in his blog (YES! Rabbi H has a blog!), which you can find here. Rabbi Rosenfeld's got the copyright; all rights reserved.


Jewish Education for Adults
by Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

With the reorganization of Congregation Albert's professional and administrative teams, I have taken over the responsibility for coordinating most of our educational offerings geared towards adults. I have spent much of the summer thinking about Jewish Education for Adults, and here is what I know:
  1. Most people end their Jewish education as children or at best in high school.
  2. Because we teach our children about Judaism at an age appropriate level and most people end their formal Jewish education as children their view of Judaism is frozen in time.
  3. Among other reasons, because their view of Judaism is frozen in time, many Jews have separated themselves from the organized Jewish community and synagogues in particular.
  4. Judaism is a sophisticated religion that needs to be studied at an adult level to truly understand its complexities and subtleties.
  5. We need to develop Jewish educational experiences (both formal and informal) that help Jews understand Judaism so that they are willing to engage Judaism as a part of their lives.
  6. If we do not educate our Jewish adults in a systematic, sophisticated and effective manner, their commitment to Judaism and their potential for a fulfilling Jewish life is greatly diminished.
With these as my guiding principles, I have examined the adult Jewish education programs of dozens of congregations from every branch of Judaism, and here is what I have found.
  1. Few congregations have a systematic approach to adult Jewish education.
  2. Most courses are taught because the rabbi wants to teach that particular topic or someone volunteered to teach that topic.
  3. Outside of a few Orthodox or community wide Jewish education programs geared toward adults most programs expect the people to "come to the mountain" rather than bringing the classes to the people.
  4. Adult Jewish education is the lowest priority for funding in synagogues. That is, other than endowed scholar in residence programs, congregations (including Congregation Albert) expect their adult education programs to cost the congregation very little or actually make a profit.
The questions which we have to answer are:
  1. What does it mean to have Judaism as an integral part of one's adult life?
  2. What do we want/expect adult Jews to know about Judaism?
  3. How can we proactively bring adult Jewish education to our Jewish community, rather than wait for people to come to us?
  4. What positive role can technology play in our quest to bring adult Jewish education out into the community?
  5. Who can we partner with in our community to maximize the effectiveness and reach of our adult education efforts?
What I know and what I have found
are the guides by which Congregation Albert
will be developing its adult Jewish education program -
to answer these questions over the coming years.


Rabbi Harry L. Rosenfeld became Rabbi of Congregation Albert on July 1, 2011. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio and received a Bachelor of Science degree from John Carroll University in 1976. He received a Master's degree in Hebrew Letters from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1980, was ordained in 1981, and received the Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa in 2006. 

He has also pursued course work in the Jewish Studies doctoral program at Spertus Institute of Judaica. After ordination he served as Assistant Rabbi in Memphis, Tennessee (1981-1984), Rabbi of Congregation Beth Sholom in Anchorage, Alaska (1984-2000), and Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo, New York (2000-2011).

He was honored by the Alaska State Legislature in 1994 for his community work against racism and again in 2000 for his 16 years of service to the people of Alaska. He served on the board of the Interfaith Council of Anchorage, which named their annual interfaith service award in his honor.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Secret Things

Elaine Romero, Playwright:  Camino Real Productions, LLC and Albuquerque's National Hispanic Cultural Center are honored to present the world premiere of Secret Things, by award-winning playwright Elaine Romero.

Secret Things
National Hispanic Cultural Center
Thursday July 28  ~ Sunday August 11
Teatro Paraguas in Santa Fe
Friday August 16  ~ Sunday August 25

Tickets: $18 Community. $13 Students / Seniors / NHCC Members.
Available via Vendini here.

Secret Things tells the story of Delia, a Time Magazine writer in the 1990s sent on assignment to her native New Mexico to do a story that will quash the rumors her skeptical editor has been hearing from someone in New Mexico about Crypto-Jews. 

While researching the story in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Delia starts having strange thoughts and dreams and finds herself transported to a mythical land called Sephardia, through which she comes to experience and learn about her own family’s secret past.

Camino Real Productions’ 2012 production, Paloma, was inspired by la convivencia – a period in Spanish history when Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in relative harmony in medieval Spain.

Secret Things shows what happened after that -  when, in 1492, Jews and Moors were expelled from Spain.

Many relocated to the New World to escape the Inquisition and some of their descendants ended up in New Mexico.

Playwright Romero is not from New Mexico, but her grandmother was born in Barelas, just blocks from where the National Hispanic Cultural Center is now. 

In the 1990s, while doing research on another play in the Archives in Santa Fe, she encountered State Historian Stanley Hordes, the leading expert on the subject of crypto-Jews in New Mexico.

That encounter led, eventually, to the realization that her New Mexican ancestors had been crypto-Jews. 

Secret Things is the result of that chance encounter.


Secret Things is directed by Valli Marie Rivera, whose earlier New Mexico-related productions have included Rudolfo Anaya’s plays Bless Me, Ultima and, more recently, Rosa Linda. She directed Elaine Romero’s ¡Curanderas! Serpents of the Clouds at the Santa Fe Playhouse in 2006.

The cast of well-known New Mexico actors includes Mario Moreno, Lila Hadda Martinez, Salome Martinez-Lutz, Harry Zimmerman, and Benjamin Lieberman.  Set and lighting design are by Josh Bien, and the costumer is Jaime Pardo. Casey Mraz is composing an original musical score for the production. 


Want to learn more? You can read David Steinberg's Sunday Albuquerque Journal article here. Gabby Friedman's 2005 article in the Jewish Journal is here. And you can find information about the Teatro Paraguas production here.

And about the Secret Things poster: It's by artist Pola Lopez, and YES! you can acquire your very own giclee print!:

 Camino Real Productions, LLC is an Albuquerque-based theatrical and radio theatre production company founded by Linda López McAlister in 2006. It is one of the theatre companies in residence at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Hispanic art and culture at the local, state, national, and international levels.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Shabbat Nachamu: That Thing You Do!

First of Seven Sabbaths of Consolation: Following Tisha b'Av, there are seven prophetic readings of consolation - all from Isaiah - that comfort us after the Black Fast and prepare us, emotionally and spiritually, for the upcoming High Holidays.

To Abq Jew, consolation and That Thing You Do! are, of course, synonymous.

In case you don't remember (or have never has vishalom seen the movie), TTYD! is a 1996 musical comedy that was written and directed by Tom Hanks.

IMDb enlightens us with this plot summary:
A Pennsylvania band scores a hit in 1964 and rides the star-making machinery as long as it can, with lots of help from its manager.
But Wikipedia (naturally) really helps us out:
That Thing You Do! is a 1996 musical comedy film written and directed by Tom Hanks. Set in the summer of 1964, the movie tells the story of the quick rise and fall of a one-hit wonder pop band. The film also resulted in a musical hit with the song "That Thing You Do".
Wikipedia goes on to give us a 5-paragraph-long very full plot summary, which you can read here. Or you can read Rotten Tomatoes' TTYD! review here. Or, for even more fun, you can peruse BuzzFeed's 15 Neat Facts About TTYD! here.

Or you can watch the official TTYD! trailer here.

The best part of TTYD! is ... well, the whole move is so good at evoking the innocence of youth, faded Polaroids of a time gone by, that there is no one "best" part.

Nevertheless - attention must be paid to the music, of which Wikipedia states:
The movie features original music by Tom Hanks, Adam Schlesinger, Rick Elias, Scott Rogness, Mike Piccirillo, Gary Goetzman and Howard Shore.
In the movie, The Wonders rise to brief stardom on the strength of "That Thing You Do", a song written as a wistful ballad but which becomes an uptempo rocker during the band's first performance at a talent show. Written and composed for the film by Adam Schlesinger, bassist for Fountains of Wayne and Ivy, and released on the film's soundtrack, the song became a genuine hit for The Wonders in 1996 ....
The track was nominated for a 1996 Golden Globe Award as well as a 1996 Academy Award for Best Original Song. Mike Viola of The Candy Butchers provided the distinctive lead vocals for the Wonders.

And the cast? Abq Jew will billy nader highlight them in future Sabbaths of Consolation posts. But for now - the cast (not even counting the plethora of cameos) includes, but is by no means limited to:
Abq Jew strongly encourages you to click on the musicians' and actors' links. You'll find that you've seen the actors in a hundred different roles, and you've heard the musicians' music on a thousand different soundtracks.

 Join us next week - same time, same place - for another edition of

Sabbaths of Consolation - That Thing You Do!

Until then -

Shabbat Shalom, Albuquerque!
Good Shabbos, New Mexico!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Conversos y Tacos

Truck Stops: You don't have to tell Abq Jew. He knows. Now that the fast of Tisha b'Av is behind us, now that the Three Weeks of mourning have ended, all us New MexiJews are asking:

Where can I get a kosher taco?

Funny you should ask.

Peter Svarzbein
with the generous support of the City of El Paso's 
Artist Incubator Program, B'nai Zion's Anousim Conference
and the Jewish Federation of El Paso
cordially invites you to attend

The Conversos y Tacos Experience
A Jewish-Mexican Culinary Experience
Revealed After 500 Years

The unprecedented event begins Saturday July 25 from 9:00 to 11:00 pm, as part of the 10th Annual Anousim Conference at El Paso's Congregation B'nai Zion.

In an effort to discover forgotten history through delicious food, artist Peter Svarzbein brings together some of the best and brightest people from the border to ask the question "Why Kosher Tacos"? With Conversos y Tacos Kosher Gourmet Trucks and Svarzbein has crafted a language to connect Jewish and Mexican food traditions in order to spark an interaction about the often hidden Spanish Jewish presence in the Southwest and Latin America.

This innovative art installation, utilizing the language and form of a food truck company, deals with the history, culture and mythology that exists here in the borderlands between the varied citizens of the Southwest.
"Starting 8 years ago I began to work on a body of work photographing and interviewing Latino families who have made an effort to return or convert to Judaism, believing that they were descendants of forced Jewish Converts to Catholicism, (aka Conversos), “ says Svarzbein. 
“I travelled from Mexicali to Midland, Texas collecting images and stories along the way. When I found out about the City of El Paso's Artist Incubator Program, which helps to fund innovative and location based work by El Paso Artists, a light bulb went off in my head and my belly growled and I knew El Paso needed some delicious Kosher Tacos as a way to create a space to talk about this interesting and relatively unknown aspect between our shared Spanish and Jewish histories."

Visitors of all ages will get the unique opportunity to participate in a culinary experience like no other here in the Paso del Norte region:

Kosher Gourmet Tacos

Svarzbein, collaborating with Downtown El Paso's Hello Day Cafe, will be set up to sling delectable Kosher Tacos at 5 different locations throughout the city from July 20­-27.

Conversos y Tacos collaborators include:
  • Designers - Mitsu Overstreet, Tim Razo and Oscar Castenada
  • Jose Cazeres and Hello Day Cafe for powering the Conversos y Tacos Truck and recipes
  • El Paso born and raised Ari White and his Kosher brisket from Hakadosh BBQ
As part of the Kosher Taco Truck experience, singer / songwriter Chrissy Gurrola has reinterpreted classic "Ladino" songs, which were created by Sephardic (Spanish Jews) communities over 500 years ago in Spain.  Music producer Justin Leeah was involved in recording these songs, which can be heard only at and

Why kosher tacos? Fabrizio "The Fat Jew" Goldstein explains:

What a mechaya!

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Collective Scream

On Tisha b'Av: This is an essay ... especially for Tisha b'Av ... by Rabbi R. Karpov (see Preparing for Shavuot). Rabbi Karpov's got the copyright; all rights reserved.

למען קרובי ורעיי
 To All My Relations on Tisha b'Av

Tisha b'Av - the Fast of 9 Av - is, according to our teacher Greg Burton (1988):

A collective scream
that's echoed down through history:
Our People's Hiroshima Day.

On 9 Av, historically the same date that the Babylonians destroyed the first Beith HaMikdosh (Sacred House – the Temple), the Romans razed the entire sacred city to the ground and ploughed it over. On this same date in 1492, Spain drove its entire Jewish population out into another great exile from yet another home. The memory of this terrible destruction and defilement is a collective and primal scream that has echoed throughout history, for the last two millennia.

All of us who have reached the age of majority fast on 17 Tammuz and on 9 Av. We do not even rinse our mouths with water. (In case of illness, G-d forbid, consult a Rabbi.)

The three summer weeks starting with the 17th of the summer month of Tammuz, and ending with the 9th of the summer month of Av (this year 15/16 July 2013) – are a solemn mourning period.

These Three Weeks commemorate a period of grieving concerned mostly with the destruction of the Beith HaMikdosh, our Holy Temple, the focus of our collective sanctity. This time-period is the Jewish remembrance of our equivalent of the Navajo Long Walk or the Cherokee Trail of Tears; or Japanese Hiroshima Day; or the Rape of Nanking.

KhaZa”l, our Sages, say that the Temple was destroyed because of sinas chinam – gratuitous hatefulness – among the people; and for me this year, part of what I am grieving is that brokenness of social contract.

Tishah b'Av, 9 Av, is called The Great Black Fast. Like Yom Kippur, Tishah b'Av lasts from eighteen minutes before sunset on the prior evening (this year, Monday) until the appearance of three stars (as on Motzei Shabbos -- the end of Shabbat) on the day itself.

As on Yom Kippur, we would abstain from eating; drinking (if the heat is very bad, and one has to, the “out” would be taking in water in sips), bathing (except minimal washing of hands after answering a call of nature), fragrance anointing, and from sexual relations, as we fast from sunset to sunset – a little over 24 hours. We would also wear footwear only made of any material other than leather; but if we find it really impossible to walk on the street in those shoes, we may wear leather ones, then remove them as soon as we arrive home.

In my experience, one of the reasons that Jewish people have difficulty with fasting as part of our spiritual practice, is because we no longer are familiar with how to do so. Particularly in these summer fasts, and in the early autumn during Yom Kippur, it is not the lack of food that causes discomfort to the point of distraction, so much as the lack of water and the ensuing dehydration.

I learned from the Hasidim in Chicago how to fast. If we eat soup and melons before beginning a fast, the water from these passes through our systems in a time-released manner. I hope that knowing this helps you for both the fasts of 9 Av, other future fasts such as Yom Kippur, as well.

Observances specific to Tisha b’Av – 9 Av, not shared with Yom Kippur, are as follows (and additional information is available online):
  • Immediately before Tisha B’Av, marking the transition into a fast-day, we participate in a special meal called s’udah ha-mafseket. For some people, s’udah ha-mafseket consists of only bread, water, and lentils or hard-boiled eggs.
  • On the evening of Tisha B’Av, and on the following morning, we intone the book of Eichah – Lamentations – while sitting on the ground or on pillows.
  • Until the afternoon of Tisha B’Av, it is customary to sit only on the floor or on low stools, rather than on a chair, sofa, or bench.
  • There are other restrictions, as well, pertaining to Torah study, and practices within the davening (prayers).
We limit study of religious texts to those that enhance and reflect the day's mood: Lamentations and Job, and other texts referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, the Place of Holiness, beyond itself an archetype of innocence assaulted by cruelty.

(In my opinion, including a text on the Long Walk / Ghost Dance / Native Americans' exiling from their sacred places and their subsequent exile; a text chronicling the assault on the Tibetans' Holy Land and their subsequent exile, or a text or something addressing healing from Domestic Violence; that would be fine.)

Like mourners, especially during the reading of the Megillah of Eichoh (Lamentations), and Kinot (mournful poetry), we sit on the ground or on low stools. It is customary that the physical space we are in be lit more dimly than usually: With either candles, flashlights, or only sufficient light to follow the text.

According to Rabbi Jacob Goldberg, who taught Structured Bereavement Counseling for the specific kind of grieving that happens in the face of sudden, unforeseen, traumatic death, said in 1991 when I took his course, “People need to grieve; and the Kennedy funeral’s making ‘salute your daddy’ the U.S. role-model, did the American people untold damage.” Rabbi Goldberg was called in to help the surviving relatives after the horror of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Moshiach is not yet here, and the assault on innocence is, and should be, an ongoing concern, not something we can callously brush aside with an attitude that people who are sensitive to human suffering are somehow “less evolved.” At the same time, Isaiah 66:10 assures us that “One who mourns Jerusalem will merit to see her happiness.”

My sense is that -

The continuing spirits of Those of Generations Past 
for whom you have made a place in your lives
honor you and shower you with their blessings.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Sabbath of Vision

Shabbat Hazon 2013: The Talmud tells us: 

He who has not seen Jerusalem in her splendor
has never seen a desirable city in his life.
He who has not seen the Temple in its full construction
has never seen a glorious building in his life.

This Sabbath is called the Sabbath of Vision because of its Haforah - the third in the series of three Haftorot of Affliction - which begins:
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the LORD hath spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me. 
The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider. 
Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that deal corruptly; they have forsaken the Lord, they have contemned the Holy One of Israel, they are turned away backward.
Much of the Haftorah is sung to the tune of Eicha (Lamentations), which we will - unless the Messiah comes while we wait! - sing mournfully when the Black Fast of Tisha b'Av begins this coming Monday evening.

Isaiah spoke of the Babylonian destruction; Simon Sebag Montefiore writes of the Roman destruction in his Jerusalem: A Biography:
On the 8th of the Jewish month of Ab, in late July AD 70, Titus, the Roman Emperor Vespasian's son, who was in command of the four-month siege of Jerusalem, ordered his entire army to prepare to storm the Temple at dawn.
The next day happened to be the very day on which Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem over 500 years before.
Now, Titus commanded an army of four legions - a total og 60,000 Roman legionaries and local auxiliaries who were eager to deliver the final blow to the defiant but broken city.
Within the wall, perhaps half a million starving Jews survived in diabolical conditions: some were fanatical religious zealots, some were freebooting bandits, but most were innocent families with no escape from this magnificent death-trap.,
The Psalmist reminds us:
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not;
if I forget thee, O Jerusalem. if I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy!

May we be comforted among the mourners
of Zion and Jerusalem.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

David Wolpe Takes A Stand

Gay Marriage and the Conservative Movement: If you have never heard - or heard of - Rabbi David Wolpe, Abq Jew thinks that this is the issue, and this is the moment.

Rabbi Wolpe's Sinai Temple (Los Angeles) website bio states:
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post. David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.

He previously taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, Hunter College, and UCLA.
Rabbi Wolpe’s work has been profiled in the New York Times, and he regularly writes for many publications, including The LA Times, the Washington Post’s On Faith website, The Huffington Post, New York Jewish Week, and many others.

He has been on television numerous times, including the Today Show, Face the Nation, ABC this Morning, and CBS This Morning. In addition Rabbi Wolpe has been featured in series on PBS, A&E, the History channel, and the Discovery channel.

Rabbi Wolpe is the author of seven books, including the national bestseller Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times. Rabbi Wolpe’s new book is titled, Why Faith Matters.
As noted above, Rabbi Wolpe writes regularly for The Jewish Week. A recent "Musing," The Success of Failure, caught Abq Jew's eye. Here it is, in its entirety. (You can also find it here.)
The Success of Failure
by Rabbi David Wolpe

There is no achievement without obstacles and no triumph without reversals. Failure, said Churchill, is not fatal. He would know: Although we reckon Churchill an astounding success, he was voted out of office and despondent in the years before becoming Prime Minister of England. When in the hospital he lost his place in Parliament, writing later: "In the twinkling of an eye, I found myself without an office, without a seat, without a party, and without an appendix."

Every great leader from Pericles to Lincoln was thought a failure by many who surrounded him or her. Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel — all suffered setbacks. Korach rebelled because he thought Moses a failure, a view that was shared by many in Israel.

The measure of human character is our reaction to dark times and not the frequency of failure itself. No one can sidestep darkness. Rabbi Aharon of Apt taught that darkness is the throne upon which the light sits. If a soul has not known sadness and struggle there is no chance of overcoming, no cherishing the dawn.

Churchill once explained that, "success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." Life is filled with losses, rupture, wreckage; but also with lessons and hard won wisdom. Blessed are the failures that help us grow. 

Abq Jew is sure that Rabbi Wolpe is thinking a lot about the paths toward success and away from failure these days. Why? Because Rabbi Wolpe has taken a strong stand in favor of consecrating gay marriages within the Conservative movement of Judaism.

The New York Times reports:
Sinai Temple is a Conservative Jewish congregation perched on a hill in Westwood, famous for its wealth, its sizable population of Persians, many of whom fled Iran after the fall of the shah, and a well-known and outspoken rabbi who has at times pushed his congregation on ideologically adventurous paths.

So it was that three weeks before the Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California, the rabbi, David Wolpe, announced in a letter to the synagogue that gay marriages would be performed in this 107-year-old congregation, as soon as the court ruling he anticipated was handed down.
Celebrating same-sex marriages is hardly a new stand for Conservative Jewish congregations. But the decision in this distinctive synagogue has set off a storm of protests in recent days, particularly from Persian Jews, reflecting not only the unusual makeup of the congregation but also the generational and cultural divisions among some Jews over how to respond to changing civil views of homosexuality.
The article continues:
The synagogue is an anchor of the Los Angeles Jewish community, and Rabbi Wolpe himself is such an entrenched figure there that there seems little chance that its existence, or his tenure, is endangered. Still, the argument within the congregation offered a striking contrast to the images of gay couples across this state rushing to be married, reflected in smiling faces in newspapers and on evening television.
Many of the Persian families have decided to
either leave the synagogue or withdraw their children from its school, to protest a policy they denounced as a violation of Jewish teachings and the traditions they had brought here when they fled the Iranian revolution of 1979.
But Rabbi Wolpe says
"I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. I was doing it on my internal timetable in the synagogue, which was to try to bring people along slowly because I knew this would be very difficult for many people."
"I think it’s the most controversial thing I’ve ever done or will do."
In laying the groundwork for the new policy over the past months, the Times reports, Rabbi Wolpe led a series of classes and workshops.
"This is an important and fraught topic — people have very passionate feelings about it,” he said, opening the final one of the meetings. Moments later, the rabbi was challenged by a young Persian man asking why the synagogue should not simply refer to gay marriage as “a sodomy contract.”

To fully comprehend Rabbi Wolpe's reasoning - and conviction - Sinai Temple has posted the audio of that final meeting. The recording (including the Q&A) goes on for over an hour, and Abq Jew was able to listen to the full range of Rabbi Wolpe's arguments.

To be clear - Rabbi Wolpe demonstrates, quite forcefully and openly, the strengths of the Conservative movement's doctrine of Tradition and Change.

In his presentation, Rabbi Wolpe identifies five major Jewish positions on gay marriage (this is Abq Jew's interpretation):
  1. The Torah means what it says. Homosexuality is evil. The action is evil, and the person who engages in it is evil.
  2. The Torah means what it says. Homosexuality is evil. But while the action is evil, the person who engages in it is not evil.
  3. The Torah doesn't mean what it says. The prohibition of homosexuality must be re-interpreted. (Rabbi Wolpe describes this as a minority opinion.)
  4. The Torah means what it says. But in our time, we have learned that a) sexual urges are not chosen; and b) the possibility of loving, long-term, same-sex relationships exists. Our times are different from the Torah's (and Talmud's) times. Change, with respect for the tradition, is in order.
  5. The Torah means what it says. But there is no obligation to obey its dictates.
Rabbi Wolpe - and the entire clergy team at Sinai Temple - come down very strongly for Position 4. In doing so, these brave clergy reiterate and reinforce the Conservative movement's support for Tradition and Change.

To the Orthodox, there is only Tradition. This is an intellectually whole and consistent point of view. But to the Conservative movement, Tradition has always been coupled with Change; witness Hillel's Prozbul and the many rulings of Rabbenu Gershom.

There is no achievement without obstacles and no triumph without reversals.

Abq Jew, a graduate of the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary, strongly believes in Tradition and Change.

Abq Jew strongly supports Rabbi David Wolpe and his stand for Conservative Judaism, Human Rights, and Tradition and Change - and wishes him unbounded success.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A New Milestone: 100,000

To Life! To Life! L'Chaim!  On July 9, 2013, at 5:27 pm New Mexico (Mountain) Time, this Abq Jew Blog achieved 100,000 All Time Page Views.

We achieved 86,486 All Time Page Views
on May 3 - just over 9 weeks ago.
That's about 201 Page Views per Day.
Thank you!

Monday, July 8, 2013

May The Father Find Comfort

May The Father Give Comfort: This past Shabbat was a Shabbat Mevarkhim HaHodesh - a Sabbath on which we announced, with blessing, the coming New Month that begins today.

As Abq Jew wrote in Consoling the Father:
It is the custom in most synagogues to announce the month of Av as "Menachem Av" - literally, "Consoling The Father."

The Talmud says, "When the month of Av begins, we reduce our joy."  During the Nine Days we observe a greater level of mourning than during the Three Weeks.  We don't eat meat or drink wine (except for Shabbat).  We don't wear new clothes that require the Sh’he'cheyanu blessing - we are not happy to "reach this season."  We don't play or listen to music.

But the Talmud also states that all who mourn the destruction of Jerusalem will merit to rejoice in its rebuilding.  The Sages also teach that the Jewish Messiah was born on Tisha b'Av.  It is that promise of redemption which makes this period one of hope and anticipation. 
This past week has been full of terrible events, truly fitting for the Three Weeks between Shiva Asar b'Tammuz and Tisha b'Av; Bein HaMetzarim (Between the Straits).

Starting with the murder of Andrew Pochter by a mob in Egypt; then the death of Annais Rittenberg, hit by a falling tree at Camp Tawonga in California.

And the crash of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco. And the deaths of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots at Yarnell Hill (see Young Men and Fire for historical reference).

And the three URJ campers injured by lightning in Indiana. And the deadly runaway train explosion in Quebec.

May the Holy One, Blessed Be He, give us comfort during these Nine Days that lead up to the fast of Tisha b'Av. And may the Holy One, Blessed Be He, find comfort, too.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Introduction to Judaism 2013

Congregation Albert Offers an Intro: Is Judaism a religion, a culture, an ethnicity, a family? How and why do we celebrate the seasons of the year and of our lives? Why do Jews continuously argue about God? What does Judaism say about the issues being debated in society today?

Whether you are interested in conversion, learning more about Judaism, or want a “Sunday School” refresher, join Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld and some guest teachers for Introduction to Judaism.

Introduction to Judaism
Tuesdays ~ 5:30 - 7:00 pm
July 9 - October 29 
$54 CA Members     $108 Community

Schedule & Cost:  The class meets on Tuesday evenings from 5:30 to 7:00 pm.  The first class is on July 9, and the final class is on October 29.  $54 CA members.  $108 community.

Info & Registration:  Via or (505) 883-1818.

Required Reading:  Please purchase a copy of Jewish Literacy by Joseph Telushkin and Settings of Silver by Stephen M Wylen prior to the first day of class.

In this insightful and completely updated tome, esteemed rabbi and bestselling author Joseph Telushkin helps answer the question of what it means to be a Jew, in the largest sense.

Widely recognized as one of the most respected and indispensable reference books on Jewish life, culture, tradition, and religion, Jewish Literacy covers every essential aspect of the Jewish people and Judaism.

Rabbi Telushkin's expert knowledge of Judaism makes the updated and revised edition of Jewish Literacy an invaluable reference.

A comprehensive yet thoroughly accessible resource for anyone interested in learning the fundamentals of Judaism, Jewish Literacy is a must for every Jewish home.

Originally published in 1989, this comprehensive survey of Judaism has become a popular text in universities, religious colleges and seminaries, and adult education classes.

Now, its author, Stephen Wylen, performs a genuine service by updating his critically acclaimed text for the 21st century. Settings of Silver, Second Edition, reflects the changes in the political structure of Eastern Europe and other recent events, while retaining its accessibility, easy-to-understand language, and compactness.

Engaging, timely, and appropriate for persons of all religious backgrounds, this enduring work belongs in the library of anyone (Jews included) who wants to understand Judaism and the Jewish people.


Shabbat Shalom, Albuquerque!
Good Shabbos, New Mexico!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

In Cuba ... (Part 3 of 3)

Jewish Life Survives: This is an essay ... just right for the week of Independence Day ... by Sam Sokolove, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico. Sam's got the copyright; all rights reserved.

In Cuba, Jewish Life Survives
by Sam Sokolove
The revolution didn’t quite work out as planned.
That’s the first lesson one learns while visiting Cuba.

Traveling last February with a group of Jewish Federation directors
under the aegis of Jewish Cuba Connection, a nonprofit founded by retired California real estate investor Stanley Falkenstein to engage
American Jewish interest in the Judios of the storied, beleaguered Caribbean island, our purpose was to see how a small, vulnerable Jewish community functions – or doesn’t – under particularly difficult circumstances, and then determine if anything we observe could be applicable to our own communities.

Part 3 of 3

Hovering over our meeting with Dworin was the fate of Alan Gross, the Jewish U.S. government contractor arrested for espionage in 2009 while helping Jewish community groups, including the Patronado, with their internet accessibility. Announcing that she had visited Gross at the notorious Villa Marista prison, Dworin produced a photo of herself next to a strikingly thin Gross, a lit menorah to their left. Her visit aside, Dworkin offered no particular insights into his case. “What happened with him, you know better than I,” she shrugged before hurrying us out of the room so that she could meet with the Canadian Ambassador.

From an American viewpoint, Gross’s situation is a sad by-product of Cuba’s passive-aggressive relations with the United States; at a tourist-friendly restaurant featuring roaming musicians and English-speaking waiters, the most conspicuous wall decoration was a billboard castigating the U.S. over the fate of the “Cuban Five,” a group of Cuban intelligence officers arrested in Miami on, like Gross, espionage charges, their cause now a populist rallying cry against western imperialism (although with the April release of Rene Gonzalez, the Cuban Five is now down to cuatro). Still, Americans aren’t viewed with disdain by Cubans; we were treated warmly throughout our visit, with some Havanans inquiring with certain wistfulness about Chicago and Nuevo York.

A popular joke around a Havana statue of Jose Marti cradling Elian Gonzales while pointing west perfectly underscores this dichotomy: “Look over there,” the locals have Marti saying. “That’s where the money is, my boy!”

While life is undeniably hard for the average Cuban, there is a languid feel to life in Cuba that meets a romantic’s expectation. Chomping on a Montecristo at the Hotel Nacional satiated my need to pay homage to Meyer Lansky, and strolling along the Malecón at midnight on Valentine’s Day saw hundreds of young and not-so-young lovers serenading one another with acoustic guitars under a full Havana moon.  Other visits to Havana’s Miramar district and the wooded San Francisco de Paula area showed the quiet loveliness of “The Pearl of the Antilles.”

Here’s my takeaway: what the Cuban Jewish community has managed to do is successfully tell their story throughout the organized Jewish world, which has been  compelling enough to catalyze the interest of funders and advocates who see their vulnerability as a cause worth supporting. Also, there is undeniably an exotic status assigned to Cuban Jewry which is ironic, given the relative normalcy of their network of congregations, social services and general outreach. Over the years, the community has produced admirable leaders like Adela Dworin, William Miller and Yacob Brezniak who have both the sophistication to appeal to donors (“I have a PhD in shnooring,” Dworin proudly informed our group) and a heartfelt commitment to the community that keeps them there, despite enticements elsewhere.

In Jewish New Mexico, we are viewed with a similar exoticism by our brethren on the Coasts. “There are Jews in New Mexico?” I am asked incredulously whenever I return to my Philly homeland.  Yes, we’re a normal community, I insist with agitated defensiveness, and mechanically recite the list of our institutional assets.

But no, I’ve come to realize: we’re really not. There are unique, endemic challenges – challenges of economy, of affiliation, of core issues related to Jewish identity and commitment – that makes Jewish life in New Mexico both so invigorating and frustrating.

Visiting Cuba while still reeling from the sudden closure of Jewish Family Service of New Mexico, I was impressed with how the Cuban Jews stayed unwaveringly, unapologetically anchored to kol yisrael arayvim zeh lazeh. True, there were internal tensions; we were told that the community has been unable to convene a nationwide governing body due to personality conflicts and conflicting agendas, which in the organized Jewish world should be surprising to no one, but their level of functionality was on par with any fully developed western community.  Unafraid to summon assistance, yet devoid of entitlement, these were Jews willing to roll up their sleeves.

If they can do it in Cuba, I thought, we have no excuse for not being able to do it here.

Christine Gilmore (left) with Ida Gutstadt

On the last day of our visit, my partner Christine Gilmore arranged a meeting for us with Ida Gutstadt, a sixty-five year old Havanan who attended the same school, the Colegio Hebreo del Centro Israelita, as Christine’s aunt. The daughter of Polish émigrés who arrived in 1948 – her father survived Auschwitz, her mother the Warsaw Ghetto – Ida grew up in a veritable shetl that seemed to disappear soon after January 1, 1959.

With her friends and their families fleeing to avoid having their possessions nationalized, it seemed that only those without the capital – or in the case of Ida’s already exhausted father, the will – to depart resigned themselves to lives in a suddenly strange country. In her twenties and without a Jewish boy available for marriage, Ida chose a non-Jewish partner and a career as an economist and computer instructor. Long divorced, Ida’s two grown daughters now live in the Dominican Republic and claim no Jewish identity.

The Gutstadt Family

Scraping by on a tiny pension, Ida keeps busy with the Patranado, helping oversee its Tzedaka Project which helps more than one hundred and twenty senior and special needs cases throughout the island, and despite it all remains optimistic for the future of Jewish Cuba. When we attempted to offer her some food and Cuban Convertible Pesos, she firmly refused our attempted tzedakah; I have what I need, she insisted.

“It’s not the same as when I was eight years old, but I love the Jewish community here. It’s my life,” she said.

Part 1     Part 2


Sam Sokolove was named Executive Director of the Jewish Federation in August of 2005.

Prior to this, he was Executive Director of the San Diego Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish community’s leading human relations organization.

This essay appears in the June/July 2013 issue of The New Mexico Jewish Link. For more information about Jewish life in Cuba and the work of Jewish Cuba Connection, visit

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

In Cuba ... (Part 2 of 3)

Jewish Life Survives: This is an essay ... just right for the week of Independence Day ... by Sam Sokolove, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico. Sam's got the copyright; all rights reserved.

In Cuba, Jewish Life Survives
by Sam Sokolove
The revolution didn’t quite work out as planned.
That’s the first lesson one learns while visiting Cuba.

Traveling last February with a group of Jewish Federation directors
under the aegis of Jewish Cuba Connection, a nonprofit founded by retired California real estate investor Stanley Falkenstein to engage
American Jewish interest in the Judios of the storied, beleaguered Caribbean island, our purpose was to see how a small, vulnerable Jewish community functions – or doesn’t – under particularly difficult circumstances, and then determine if anything we observe could be applicable to our own communities.

Part 2 of 3

At the Centro Hebreo we received a tour of their landmark “El Holocausto” pictorial exhibit, funded by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Shoah Foundation and Jewish Cuba Connection. According to Miller, an agreement had been signed by the Centro with Havana’s two universities to bring their students to the center to learn not only about the Shoah, but also about the rudiments of Judaism and Cuba’s admirable legacy of providing refuge to the Jews of Poland and Germany who managed to escape Hitler’s rise.

William Miller (center)

Like Havana’s other synagogues, the Centro functions as far more than just a house of worship; weekly, nearly seventy senior citizens subsisting on a monthly government allowance of $250 pesos – or less than $10.00 a month -- come to the Centro to be fed, receive medications from the pharmacy, and get some needed companionship.  A Shabbat meal offers the almost impossible luxury of pollo (pork, alas is far less expensive), and a modest desert which fills the Centro’s social hall with hungry worshipers.

With immigration laws continuously loosening, Aliyah is leaving a largely elderly population behind. Still, Myra Levy, the Centro’s president and a retired physician announces proudly that the community saw seven weddings this past year, a function of JDC’s groundwork. “We have a living community,” she says proudly, but explains that it takes work – lots of hard work – to maintain it. With the possibility of a fulltime rabbi (“Who’s going to pay for it?” she scoffs) out of the question, the community members are responsible for their own spiritual needs  Besides, what Rabbi could bridge the Ashkenazi-Sephardic divide and travel the length of the country on a regular basis, Levy asks.

“Our priority is feeding people,” she says, with the first anniversary of the Centro’s Mitrani Jewish Senior Center a particularly gratifying occasion for Levy; to see people in their eighties, laughing and dancing was for her confirmation that the Center would survive.
Having recently represented Cuba at a World Jewish Congress conclave, Levy was relieved to learn that Cuba’s Jews seemed to be faring better than at neighboring Latin American nations; “Venezuela? Oh my God,” she gasped. Her community’s problems, she explained, were largely economic rather than political, although the food shortages, crumbling infrastructure and blackouts were no walk in the park.

In the Old City stands Adath Israel, Cuba’s sole Orthodox congregation founded in 1925 by Eastern European Jews awaiting visas to the United States. Overseen today by Yacob Brezniak, a towering, bearded third generation Turkish-Jew, Brezniak is the only one in the congregation that can read Hebrew; his late father was a synagogue president so completely devoted to his duties that while dying he asked to be brought to the shul rather than to the hospital.
Serving not only as the kosher butcher (“my father was a shochet, I am a shochet,” he proudly announced), the thirty-something also fulfills roles as cantor, director and curator of the shul’s surprisingly extensive DVD library.
As expected, most of the Adath Israel congregation is elderly and poor. Gifts from tourists keeps things operating, as does the sale of the Judaic arts and crafts the seniors make on an ancient, foot-pumped Singer.  A doctor visits twice a week, dispensing meds from the makeshift pharmacy, and Cuba’s only Mikveh - is also on site.

Despite uncertain finances, the shul had managed to purchase two busses for their senior transportation program and offer a host of other resources for their increasingly frail members. And here was a young Jew seemingly there to stay: aside from a period during which he studied with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin in Efrat (which is where he met his wife, the mother of their infant daughter), Brezniak remained as tightly tied to Havana as the braids on the Magen David-decorated doll I purchased there for my nine year-old daughter.

“I believe in miracles, he professed in halting English. “You have to believe that there will be a change in Cuba, and that the young people will come back.”

Meeting later with Professor Maritza Corrales, arguably the leading expert on the Cuban Jewish Community, we learned that Jews have never been excluded or discriminated against in Cuba. “From the time of Columbus, when Cuba was a stopping ground for Conversos, she said, “Cuba has been regarded as a paradise for Jews.”
During his fifteen year exile in New York, Cuban national hero José Martí found Jews to bankroll his revolt against Spanish colonialism, including Joseph Steinberg, Marti’s “Honorary Captain of the Revolution Army.” Roosevelt’s Rough Riders brought in more Jews as suppliers and upper-class Jews enticed by the tobacco and agricultural interest followed.  By the 1930’s, Polacos   -- Jews from Poland, Russia and Hungary -- started arriving, although generally not by choice; the quota restrictions in the U.S. made it necessary to check into what became known as “Hotel Cuba,” a temporary stop en route to the Golden Medina.

During this period, books on Cuban subjects were authored in Yiddish, and a Havana saw a confluence of both Orthodox Jews and socialist yiddishists who venerated Marti and began publishing a Yiddish-language newspaper, Habaner Lebn. After Kristallnacht came the arrival of German Jews who didn’t care to mix with the polacos, and who built their own synagogues, theatres, and even a diamond factory.

After the revolution, Castro demonstrated a particular empathy towards the Jewish community; The kosher butcher shop in the Old City is believed to be the only business not nationalized after 1959, and despite his government’s lack of diplomatic relations with the Jewish State, Castro rationalized that Aliyah couldn’t be betrayal of the revolution as the Jews were simply returning to their homeland (in a fascinating 2010 interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Castro actually affirmed his belief in Israel’s right to exist).

Meeting later with the leaders from Guantanamo and Santiago Jewish Communities who traveled across the country to meet with us, we were given presentation after presentation of their community activities: Enma Felice Levy, President of the Santiago community, screened a video showing community members lighting a menorah, celebrating Tu’beshavat and Purim and performing Israeli dances; all activities one would find at any U.S. Jewish Community Center,  with the notable difference  this is a community where Santa Efigenia Cemetery graves are regularly raided by practitioners of Santería who believe that the bones of Jews have special ceremonial powers.

With many leaders of these communities recently converted Jews, the learning curve in navigating communal life was steep, the pressures overwhelming. Rodolfo Mizrahi, president of the Guantanamo community complained through an interpreter, “I want to step down as President, but nobody wants to take it over.”

This understandable frustration aside, there are young Cubans willing to step forward. Kabbalat Shabbat services at the Centro Sefardi were conducted by a young volunteer who chanted Lekha Dodi with Turkish inflections, his wife – a recent JDC-supervised convert, we learned – following along in transliterated Hebrew with their pre-teenaged son.

Adela Dworin
If there is one de facto leader of Cuba’s Jewish community, it’s Adela Dworin, President of Havana’s Casa de la Comunidad Hebrea de Cuba El Patronato, known more simply as “the Patronado.” Dworkin, a smartly dressed woman in her seventies, knows how to charm her Diaspora benefactors with a practiced speech heralding the Patranado’s social services, Sunday school, and extensive senior activities that even include weekly Tai Chi instruction.

An honorary member of the Jewish Federation of North America’s Lion of Judah Society, and lifetime Hadassah member, Dworkin is the public face of Cuba’s Jewry to the machers; when Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998, his itinerary included a visit to the Patronado, and it was Dworkin who personally invited Castro to stop by the center for a Chanukah party.

Admitting that he had never heard of the Festival of Lights, Castro seemed reluctant to visit. After Dworkin explained that Chanukah was all about revolution, Castro brightened quickly. “I’ll come,” he promised, and a photo of the octogenarian in deep conversation with Dworkin decorates one wall.  According to Dworkin, Castro was floored to learn how few Jews actually lived in his country; “But you make so much noise!” El Comandante declared.

Part 1     Part 3


Sam Sokolove was named Executive Director of the Jewish Federation in August of 2005.

Prior to this, he was Executive Director of the San Diego Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish community’s leading human relations organization.

This essay appears in the June/July 2013 issue of The New Mexico Jewish Link. For more information about Jewish life in Cuba and the work of Jewish Cuba Connection, visit