Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Jerusalem, England

A Green and Pleasant Land: These are the Nine Days - the first days of the Hebrew month of Menachem Av. This coming Shabbat we will note, and beginning on Motzei Shabbat will observe, the Fast of Tisha b'Av.

And we will remember what was Jerusalem.

And rejoice that there'll always be an England.

OK ... not really. Abq Jew will explain. But first - a story.

Once, in the late spring of 1981, when Mr & Mrs Abq Jew were living in what was only just becoming Silicon Valley, we decided to drive up to Marin County for the day. We hopped (we were younger then) into our brand new Dodge Colt (with manual transmission!) and took off.

And then it started to rain. No, not just raindrops; sheets of rain. Incessant. Rain that would have made Noah look for a bigger boat. And our Colt was no Ark.

So we changed our plans (Abq Jew was spontaneous in those days), turned around, and did what any self-respecting New Yorker would do on a suddenly rainy day.

We went to the movies.

And the movie that we saw that day was Chariots of Fire.
Chariots of Fire is a 1981 British historical drama film. It tells the fact-based story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God, and
Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice.
It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. It is ranked 19th in the British Film Institute's list of Top 100 British films. 
The film is also notable for its memorable electronic theme tune by Vangelis, who won the Academy Award for Best Original Score.
The original phrase "chariot(s) of fire" is from 2 Kings 2:11 and 6:17 in the Bible.
The movie begins at the 1978 funeral service for Harold Abrahams. Two of Harold’s teammates, now elderly men, reminisce about when they had “hope in their hearts and wings on their heels.”

And then the iconic Vangelis theme begins. And we see the team of strong, exuberant young men running on the beach.

Everyone remembers the Chariots of Fire theme. It sets the mood for the entire movie - driving, uplifting, powerful. Full of life (remember, the movie takes place right after World War I), full of youth, full of hope. Full of dreams.

It still, invariably, brings tears to Abq Jew's eyes.

Harold Abrahams wins the the Olympic Gold Medal on July 7, 1924.

End of story. But at the end of the movie, we return to Harold Abrahams' funeral service. Wikipedia tells us
The film's title was inspired by the line, "Bring me my chariot of fire," from the William Blake poem adapted into the popular British hymn Jerusalem; the hymn is heard at the end of the film. 

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.

Yep. Jerusalem, England. Wikipedia tells us
The [William Blake] poem was inspired by the apocryphal story that a young Jesus, accompanied by Joseph of Arimathea, a tin merchant, travelled to what is now England and visited Glastonbury during his unknown years.
The poem's theme is linked to the Book of Revelation ... describing a Second Coming, wherein Jesus establishes a New Jerusalem. 
Churches in general, and the English Church in particular, have long used Jerusalem as a metaphor for Heaven, a place of universal love and peace.
So here is the point that Abq Jew would like to make -

Jerusalem is not a metaphor for any other place. Not even for Heaven. 
Not for (lehavdil) England. And not for the Goldene Medina or any city therein.

And that is why we must still mourn the loss of Jerusalem, the loss of Jewish independence, the loss of Jewish freedom. Even as

We celebrate what is Jerusalem rebuilt.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Alan Johnson, Choreographer, 81

Democracy Dies in Darkness: Yes, but Comedy and Artistry Live in Limelight. Witness the timeless work of choreographer Alan Johnson.

Of whom, Abq Jew must admit (he must! he must!), he had never heard. But then, Abq Jew read the classy obituary by The Washington Post's Harrison Smith - and he realized that he and Alan Johnson were practically on speaking terms.

Choreographer Alan Johnson worked on Broadway musicals as well as Mel Brooks comedies.
(Rose Eichenbaum/Masters of Movement-Portraits of America's Great Choreographers)

Yes, Abq Jew greatly enjoys reading obituaries about once-living people who are now dead. Especially ... OK, only ... when they're not written about him.

Someday in the way, way distant future, if he is ... lucky? ... Abq Jew may have the pleasure of writing his own obituary. Knowing that it will never be as good as Art Buchwald's Hi, I'm Art Buchwald and I Just Died video self-obit.

But it will be as good as it can be, considering the circumstances. Like, the obituee.

Anyway, it turns out that Alan Johnson was Mel Brooks's choreographer.

Yes, Ken O'Hara, Mel Brooks just turned 92. Till 120!

And yes, you know Alan Johnson's work. As Mr Smith explains:
Alan Johnson, a Broadway choreographer who partnered with Mel Brooks to stage some of the most delightfully farcical dance numbers ever filmed — including the goose-stepping showstopper from The Producers, Springtime for Hitler — died July 7 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 81.
Mr Johnson was highly esteemed in the business, choreographing solo shows and revues for performers including Ann-Margret, Bernadette Peters, Tommy Tune and Shirley MacLaine.
Yet Mr. Johnson remained best known for his work with Brooks, the comic mastermind behind television’s Get Smart. Following an introduction by director and lyricist Martin Charnin, Mr. Johnson served as Brooks’s choreographer beginning with “The Producers” (1967), which starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder as a pair of Broadway fraudsters. 
The film was centered on a fictional musical — Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden — designed to alienate audiences and enrich its makers, who relied on a bit of “creative accounting” to make a killing from a surefire flop. 
While Brooks came up with the idea of the show, generating lyrics like 
Don’t be stupid, be a smarty, 
come and join the Nazi party!
Mr. Johnson created the campy, Busby Berkeley-like staging. 
Seen from above, high-stepping Nazis marched in the shape of a rotating swastika; black-uniformed SS officers pranced like characters from West Side Story.

Mr Smith continues with the list of credits:
Settling in Los Angeles to work with Brooks, Mr. Johnson choreographed the burlesque number I’m Tired for the director’s 1974 western spoof Blazing Saddles; Madeline Kahn, mimicking a world-weary Marlene Dietrich, strutted across the stage as a group of infantrymen danced with their rifles.
That same year, Mr. Johnson created a soft-shoe routine for Young Frankenstein in which a cadaver, newly brought to life by a mad scientist, bursts into a white-tie-and-tails rendition of Puttin’ on the Ritz.
For History of the World: Part I (1981), he choreographed a “Spanish Inquisition” number featuring a chorus line of monks and a bevy of swimming nuns.

And if you want a serious tribute to the life and work of Alan Johnson - here is a montage of the highlights of his amazing career. (If you don't have time to view all the videos Abq Jew has thoughtfully provided for you, his loyal readers - this is a nice, short version.)

Created for his Lifetime Achievement Award at the American Choreography Awards, the short film features his choreography for Mel Brooks' films, his Emmy award winning appearances, as well as his stage and commercial work.

Your choreographic brilliance has added lustre and class
to every movie you have ever done with me.
- Mel Brooks -

And for all of you, Abq Jew's loyal readers, who called, emailed, or otherwise confronted Abq Jew with the worry that the Abq Jew Blog (or Abq Jew himself) was going away forever - and you both know who you are - 

It's only the Abq Jew App, and - if things go well - it's only a vacation.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A New Milestone: 700,550 Page Views

To Life! To Life! L'Chaim!  Sometime on July 8, 2018 - right after Shabbat Pinhas, just as we began yet another beautiful week in New Mexico - this Abq Jew Blog achieved 700,550 All Time Page Views.

We achieved 613,000 All Time Page Views
on October 2, 2017 - about 9 months ago.

That's about 310 Page Views per Day.
Plus 4,500 Facebook Likes and 2,700 Twitter Followers.
Thank you!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Abq Jew App Takes Vacation

We'll Meet Again: Due to a wide range of circumstances beyond Abq Jew's control - which includes almost an entire panoply of accidents, miscues, and others' strange behavior - the Abq Jew App has decided to take a short vacation.

The first thing Abq Jew would like to tell you about this is

The Abq Jew Website, Blog, 
and Events Calendar
will continue to be available -
but on the Web only.

Let us, for just a moment, fondly recall (see Holy Frappe! The Abq Jew App! et al) the introduction of the Abq Jew App in September 2013:
It is with great pleasure that Abq Jew announces the exciting development you've all been waiting for:
The Abq Jew App
Take Abq Jew with you - wherever you go!
Jewish Life in Albuquerque and Beyond?
There’s an app for that!
Abq Jew, the website (AbqJew.com) and blog (AbqJew.net) that have provided “a guide to Jewish life in Albuquerque and beyond” for almost three years, is launching a new way to bring the Jewish community together – the Abq Jew App
The Abq Jew App is available – for free download – from Google Play (for Android phones and devices) and from Apple iTunes (for iPhones and iPads).

What others said at the time:
Rabbi Arthur Flicker of Albuquerque’s Congregation B’nai Israel says 
The Abq Jew App  What a wonderful addition to my iPhone! Abq Jew always keeps me up to date with happenings in our Jewish community. Now I have all of that information right on my phone. Thank you, Abq Jew
Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld of Albuquerque's Congregation Albert says 
I love the Abq Jew App! It makes accessing the Albuquerque Jewish community so much easier. Keep up the good work!
And what Abq Jew himself said:
The Abq Jew App is pretty unique. Websites? Blogs? Sure, everyone’s got them. 
And the Abq Jew website and blog will always be great ways to find out what’s happening in the Jewish community of Albuquerque and beyond. 
But the Abq Jew App really takes it to the next level. This is cool.
The second thing Abq Jew would like to tell you about this is

Almost 5 years and more than 600 downloads after its September 2013 launch, the Abq Jew App's success will be remembered with great joy.

The third thing Abq Jew would like to tell you about this is

We'll meet again!
We'll Meet Again is a 1939 British song made famous by singer Vera Lynn with music and lyrics composed and written by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles. 
The song is one of the most famous of the Second World War era, and resonated with soldiers going off to fight and their families and sweethearts.
On 7 November 2009, Hayley Westenra performed again at the Festival of Remembrance, singing We'll Meet Again, made famous by Dame Vera Lynn during WWII, at the Royal Albert Hall. 
During the performance, an old recording of Lynn performing the song was played behind on the big screen. Lynn was present, as well as Her Majesty the Queen

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Little Red Hen

Songs Are Dangerous: Renowned and beloved music instructor (and award-winning composer and recording artist) Jane Ellen began her recent OASIS Albuquerque class Ronnie, Lee, Fred, & Pete: The Weavers by quoting Ronnie Gilbert:

Songs are dangerous.

The OASIS Albuquerque course description tells us
The Weavers, one of the most significant popular music groups of the postwar era, was formed in 1948 by Ronnie Gilbert (1926-2015), Lee Hays (1914-81), Fred Hellerman (1927-2016), and Pete Seeger (1919-2014). 
After securing a steady gig at New York's Village Vanguard, the group was discovered by Gordon Jenkins who put them on the charts with original arrangements of "Goodnight, Irene" and "Tzena, Tzena, Tzena." 
The Weavers saw their career nearly destroyed during the Red Scare of the early 1950s.
And Abq Jew's dear relative Ronnie Gilbert (see Starting With Aunt Bea) explains exactly what was going on in the first words of her memoir.

Songs are dangerous. So said HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee) in the1950s, and its anti-communist investigators did their best to prevent us from being un-American in public. Nevertheless, the Weavers endured ....
Which brings us to ...

The Little Red Hen. You know - the old folk fable that (ostensibly) teaches children the virtues of work ethic and personal initiative.

Red Hens, Little or not, have certainly been in the news lately. Especially this one -

The Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington, Virginia

About which Abq Jew will have more to say a bit later on.

But first - let's talk about Malvina Reynolds. Who, as Abq Jew has said (see Morningtown Ride), was, God bless her, a real piece of work. 
Malvina Reynolds (August 23, 1900 – March 17, 1978) was an American folk/blues singer-songwriter and political activist, best known for her song-writing, particularly the songs Little Boxes and Morningtown Ride
Malvina Milder was born in San Francisco to David and Abagail Milder, Jewish and socialist immigrants, who opposed involvement in World War I. 
She married William ("Bud") Reynolds, a carpenter and labor organizer, in 1934. They had one child, Nancy Reynolds Schimmel (a songwriter and performer in her own right), in 1935. She had earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and later earned a doctorate there, finishing her dissertation in 1938. 
Though she played violin in a dance band in her twenties, she began her songwriting career late in life. She was in her late 40s when she met Earl Robinson, Pete Seeger, and other folk singers and songwriters. She returned to school at UC Berkeley, where she studied music theory. 
She went on to write several popular songs, including "Little Boxes," "What Have They Done to the Rain," recorded by The Searchers and Joan Baez (about nuclear fallout), "It Isn't Nice" (a civil rights anthem), "Turn Around" (about children growing up, later sung by Harry Belafonte), and "There's a Bottom Below" (about depression). 
Reynolds was also a noted composer of children's songs, including "Magic Penny" (a traditional London folk song during the 1940s) and "Morningtown Ride," a top five UK single (December 1966) recorded by The Seekers.

Remember - Songs are dangerous. One of Malvina's songs (amazingly, not mentioned in her Wikipedia entry) is The Little Red Hen.

Which starts out sorta regular - just like the nursery rhyme.
The Little Red Hen found a grain of wheat,
Said "This looks good enough to eat,
But I'll plant it instead, make me some bread,"
Said to the other guys down the street,
"Who will help me plant this wheat?"
And has an understandable, repeatable chorus:
"Not I!" said the dog and the cat.
"Not I!" said the mouse and the rat.
"I will then," said the Little Red Hen,
And she did.
But which ends as sort of an anti-nursery rhyme.
The bread looked good and smelled so fine
The gang came running and fell in line;
"We'll do our part with all our heart
To help you eat this chow!"
She said, "I do not need you now." 
"I planted and hoed this grain of wheat,
Them that works not, shall not eat,
That's my credo," the little bird said,
And that's why they called her Red.
Which brings us back to ...


The problem with incivility is ... It Isn't Nice. Yes, Malvina wrote a song about that, too. Here sung by Judy Collins, because - why not?

It isn't nice to block the doorway, 
It isn't nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn't nice, it isn't nice, 
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom's price,
We don't mind.

Yes, the song is from another era of fighters and martyrs.
But it still rings true, doesn't it?