Friday, December 31, 2010

Woody Allen Shoots A Moose

Way Back When:  Woody Allen's standup moose story, via Funny Jews via YouTube.  Let's start the new (Gregorian) year laughing!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Final Tisch; No Zombies

One Big Table:  As Abq Jew stated in Torah and Talmud and Zombies:
What Traditional Judaism has in mind [when we speak of resurrection] is the righteous sitting at tisch with The Holy One, Blessed Be He, scarfing down Leviathan chunks.
How does this work?  Here's an interesting view, reported by Rabbi Rami Shapiro in his Ethics of the Sages: Pirke Avot: Annotated & Explained (available from the publisher, Jewish Lights, or from Abq Jew's Amazon Store):
Heaven and hell are a single feast, with everyone seated at a grand table overflowing with the finest food and drink.  The only rule is this: you must use the utensils provided, each being six feet in length.  Those who attempt to feed themselves with these tools starve, for they cannot maneuver the tools to reach their own mouths.  Those who learn to feed others are themselves fed in turn.  The first are in hell, the second in heaven, but the feast is common to them both.
Abq Jew finished reading Rabbi Neil Gillman's The Death of Death.  In the final chapters, Rabbi Gillman dismisses the doctrine of the immortality of the soul - it's just not enough - and makes a very strong case for the traditional Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead.  Only resurrection of the body, says Rabbi Gillman, will prove God's supreme power, solve the problem of  the misfortune of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked (tzaddik vi'ra lo, rasha vi'tov lo), and make each of our individual lives eternally meaningful.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Auld Lang Syne in Hebrew?

Adon Olam:  What happens when New Year's Eve is also Erev Shabbat?  Some New Jersey synagogues are getting creative.  Yet Auld Lang Syne is just one more tune to which Adon Olam can be sung!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Klezmer Banjo: Flatbush Waltz & Ale Brider

Now That's More Like It:  When Abq Jew thinks about playing klezmer banjo, this is what he has in mind.

Can be found on YouTube here.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Stories: Elie Wiesel & Leon Uris

Jewish True Tales:  A wonderful site that Abq Jew just discovered via the New Jersey Jewish News.  For example, these stories about Elie Wiesel and Leon Uris.

Elie Wiesel (1928-  ). A colleague at my college asked me to invite Elie Wiesel to give a speech there. When he did so, I had the chance to guide Wiesel around and sit next to him at lunch. He had begun his talk with a story about Kafka . . . .
Leon Uris (1924-2003). It's been fifty years since the film version of Exodus was released. I first read the book when I was thirteen, and, though I didn't know history well enough to grasp the full power of the words, I was entranced by the story of Israel's struggle for re-birth . . .

New Mexico Photo Tour

But In Case You're Not:  The New Mexico Photo Tour shows exactly why Abq Jew loves it here!

The Sound of (Classical) Music

Ya Gotta Be There:  Aryeh Tepper reports on the upcoming / in-progress 75th Anniversary Season of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in The Sound of (Classical) Music (from Jewish Ideas Daily).

Among the many highlights:
  • Beethoven: ("Triple") Concerto for violin, cello and piano
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto nos. 1-5
  • Beethoven: Violin Concerto
  • Bruch: Violin Concerto no.1
  • Mahler: Symphony no. 2 ("Resurrection")
  • Mahler: Symphony no. 5
  • Mozart: Violin Concerto no. 3, K. 217
  • Mozart: Violin Concerto no. 5, K. 219 ("Turkish")
  • Saint-Saëns: Symphony no. 3 ("Organ") 
You must be in Israel to hear this!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hate Signs on the Bus

Sleepless in Seattle:  Abq Jew has just learned (thanks, El!) about a major controversy that has been brewing in Seattle concerning ads that will be running on Seattle area buses beginning December 27th.  Here is (in part) what Rabbi Zari Weiss of Kol HaNeshamah, West Seattle's Progressive Synagogue Community, wrote to her congregation about this.
The ads accuse Israel of war crimes, and state that $30 billion is given to Israel each year in foreign aid. The ads have attracted local, national, and even international attention, and many people have been responding emotionally and vocally in response. I have been weighing how best to respond, particularly given the diversity of opinions in our own community. As is often the case, I wish that we had the chance to gather as a community, to come to a better understanding about the issues-both those at the forefront of this particular situation as well as those in the background-and to try to sort through them thoughtfully and respectfully before having to respond. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of that opportunity.
After careful consideration, I have come to agree with the position taken by our local Jewish Federation, which feels that these bus ads should not be run because they go against transit advertising policy, which forbids running ads that "insult specific groups to the point that a riot could be incited, vandalism could occur or public safety could be threatened." With the Federation, I believe that "this type of inflammatory campaign is destructive to the peace process and undermines efforts to build positive relationships both in the Middle East and within our local community," and that "this kind of demonization of Israel is contrary to reconciliation and does not contribute to furthering the peace process."
I do believe that all of us want to find a way for there to be peaceful coexistence between those who live in this hotly contested area. Until that happens, I hope that we here in the United States can find ways to better understand the issues, so that our discussions and our efforts help lead to peace and justice, rather than deter us further from it.
L'shalom v'tzedek Toward peace and justice),
Rabbi Zari Weiss

People of the E-Book?

E-Books & Shabbat:  A provocative article in The Atlantic (courtesy of Jewish Ideas Daily) deals with the increasing encroachment of technology on the joys and rigors of a traditional Shabbat.
The migration of print media to the web and digital devices has stirred society to ponder many Big Questions: Is Google making us stupid? Has technology short-circuited our children's attention spans? Are we frittering away our lives gaping at smartphone screens? All this while the most obvious question goes unanswered: what will Jews read on the Sabbath?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Steve Landesberg, ‘Barney Miller’ Actor, Dies at 74

Of Blessed and Hilarious Memory:  From The New York Times:  Steve Landesberg, an actor and comedian with a friendly and often deadpan manner who was best known for his role on the long-running sitcom “Barney Miller,” died in Los Angeles on Monday. He was 74.

The Big Lie Lives On

Jews & Jaws: Is Israel's Mossad responsible for the shark attacks off Sharm-el-Sheikh? Remember Steven Spielberg's "Jaws"? Jews and sharks have teamed up before. From Gary Rosenblatt, Editor of The Jewish Week.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Arduos Community

New York Times:  David Brooks speaks with Dr Erica Brown, one of the great Jewish Adult Education teachers (and authors) of our time.
For the past few years, there has been a strange motif running through my social life. I’d go out with some writers, and they’d start gushing about someone named Erica Brown. “She has an inner light,” one of them once said. I’d be out with my wife and some of her friends, and they, too, would be raving about Erica Brown. “If she taught a course in making toast, I’d take it,” somebody remarked.
You should click here to keep reading . . . .

Monday, December 20, 2010

Torah and Talmud and Zombies

Age of the Living DeadAbq Jew has been reading Rabbi Neil Gillman's award-winning The Death of Death (available from the publisher, Jewish Lights, or from Abq Jew's Amazon Store), in which the author endeavors to trace the development of Jewish beliefs in a) the resurrection of the dead; and b) the immortality of the soul.

When it comes to the afterlife, Judaism (among many religions) found itself in a theological and theodical box:  If we believe that God is just, how do we account for evil in the world?  And how do we account for the misfortune of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked (tzaddik vi'ra lo, rasha vi'tov lo)?

It is clear to Abq Jew and most disinterested observers that there ain't much justice in this world, so it must be that God's justice is delivered somewhere else - in Olam Ha'ba, the World to Come.

But how does the World to Come actually work?  Well, you've got two ideas that compete with each other (in the sense that you only need one of them to answer the question):
  • Resurrection of the Body.  This is the high octane form of the afterlife.  Yes, God has the power to lift us up from the dead, and to enable us to . . . well, exactly what is hard to say.
  • Immortality of the Soul.  This is the unleaded afterlife.  Since we have no need for our physical components, they are jettisoned . . . well, exactly when is hard to say.
Where did these ideas come from?  Rabbi Gillman suggests that the idea of the soul and its immortality came from Plato & the Greeks.  (It did not, he says, come from within Judaism - our words nefesh, neshama, and ruach originally meant something completely different.)

As for the idea of the dead rising from their graves - well, we're not really sure.  Probably not from within Judaism; probably not from the Egyptians (whose idea of the afterlife is very, very different from the Jews').  But maybe from the Persians, whose Zoroastrianism solved our theodical problem by positing duotheism - a Good God and an Evil God - which is, theologically, easier to deal with than monotheism.

And what did Jewish religion do with these competing ideas?  Rabbi Gilman points out that Traditional Judaism refused to choose, and adopted both of them.  (Not only adopted - required their belief, and claimed them to be Biblical.)  Liberal Judaism, on the other hand, found the immortal soul easier to stomach than the idea of the Age of the Living Dead.

Here is where Abq Jew raises the specter of Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith's great work, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (available from Abq Jew's Amazon Store), a delightful book that "transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you'd actually want to read."

Is this what we have in mind when we speak of resurrection - the horribly disfigured and disgustingly dirty dead rising from their graves and sucking the brains of the unfortunate living who fall into their hands?

Thank God, no.  What Traditional Judaism has in mind is the righteous sitting at tisch with The Holy One, Blessed Be He, scarfing down Leviathan chunks.  But there is also the vision of Ezekiel:
Thus saith the L-rd GOD: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. 

So there is also the issue of national (as opposed to individual) resurrection that must be resolved.  But Abq Jew must point out: those who know what awaits us in the World to Come don't tell us, and those who tell us don't know.  Who can say how this will all work out?  As Ecclesiastes concludes:
The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole man. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

This is the Story of Jacob: Joseph . . . .

What Not To Wear:  This Shabbat, we will finish reading the Book of Genesis and conclude the Joseph story, by far (IMHO) the most fascinating story in the Torah. 

Although I knew the basics of the story (I was Bar Mitzvahed, after all), it was not until I studied with Bible scholar Professor Y T Radai at the Technion in 1970-1971 that I began to understand what it means to truly study a Jewish text.  Forty years ago. 

Except for his manner of explication, I remember little about Dr Radai's attempts to teach us (mostly "secular") students - except for his emphasis on the title of this post.  "This is the story of Jacob" (says the Torah), but the very next word is "Joseph".  And I did not fully comprehend the depth of Dr Radai's point until I had a child, a son.

As we've been reading the Joseph story over the past few weeks, I've been taking mental notes.  Here is a sampling of what I wonder about:
  • Joseph Gets a Makeover.  Did you notice, as I did, that at every important point in the story, we know exactly what Joseph was wearing?  Did you think, as I did, think this was very odd, for a tradition that supposedly rejects outward appearance in favor of innermost character? 
  • Joseph Remembers to Forget.  Did you notice, as several commentators do, that Joseph names his firstborn Menashe, for God 'has made me forget all of my toil, and all of my father's house"?  Yes, and every time he calls out from his living room "Menashe, stop that!" - he'll remember.
  • Judah Gets a Do-over.  Did you see, as most commentators do, that, when put in the same position with Benjamin as he had been with Joseph, Judah rises to the challenge and offers himself up in Benjamin's place?  Did you wonder, as I did, what Judah's repentance really means?
On this last point, Rabbi Arthur Flicker of Congregation Bnai Israel offered an insight this past Shabbos.  Rabbi Flicker asked:  Whose character really grew during the Joseph story, and how? 

His answer: Judah's, but not for the reasons people usually think.  Judah, at last, came to realize that Jacob would always love Benjamin, and Joseph, more than Judah and the nine other brothers, because they were the children of his beloved wife Rachel.

And - here is the insight - Judah was, at last, OK with that.  Judah accepted and loved Jacob the way his father was - a true sign of character growth and maturity.

There is way more here than meets the eye.  Thank you, Professor Radai, for introducing me to the process of learning Torah.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Laugh With AJWS

This Just In:  The New York Times ran an article on December 10th (Abq Jew reads the NYT every day; how did he miss this?) regarding the American Jewish World Service's Jewish Humor For A Good Cause public service announcement. 

Abq Jew discovered this in the JustASC posting TrickyDickyLeaks.  (JustASC is written by Andrew Silow-Carroll, Editor-in-Chief of the New Jersey Jewish News.)  The Jewish world out there is hopping!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rabbi Brin Brings People to Torah

Being Mikarev (Bringing People Closer):  When Abq Jew performed with the Nahalat Shalom Community Klezmer Band at Nahalat Shalom's Funky Khanikeh Freylekh last erev Shabbos (Friday night), he watched as Rabbi Deborah J. Brin did something absolutely amazing: 

She removed a Sefer Torah from the ark, placed it on the reading stand, unrolled it, and invited everyone present (there were a lot of us) to come up to the bimah, look into the scroll, and see what words of Torah look like.

Why was this amazing?  Because, according to the tradition, you're not supposed to do this.  We don't remove the Sefer Torah from the ark unless we intend to read from it.  And we don't read from the Sefer Torah on erev Shabbos - the Torah reading is for Shabbos (Saturday) morning and afternoon.

But then, Abq Jew thought - What is the purpose of Judaism?  Why did God put us here?  To move people toward God and bring them closer to Torah.  As it says in Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), Chapter 1, Mishna 12:

Hillel says: Be from among the students of Aharon; one who loves peace, one who pursues peace, one who loves others and brings them closer to Torah.
That's exactly, literally, what Rabbi Brin was doing.  Abq Jew is a big fan of tradition.  But sometimes, you've got to set tradition aside to achieve a greater good.  Rabbi Brin got God's priorities right.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Rare Footage: Abq Jew Plays Klezmer

Chanikeh Freylech:  Here is a video from the Nahalat Shalom Community Klezmer Band's Chanukah (OK, it was Thanksgiving Sunday) performance at the Albuquerque JCC.  Abq Jew (Man With Hat) may be seen in the distance, plunking his banjo and swaying with the music.

Nutcracker On The Rocks

Snowflakes in Wheelchairs:  This post from Duke City Fix says it all.  The dancing snowflakes in wheelchairs brought tears to my eyes. Beautifully choreographed!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Father's Yahrzeit

Three Years:  As my family and I celebrated Thanksgiving, we also observed the third yahrzeit of my father, Richard Yellin, of blessed memory.  Although much has changed in these three years, many things haven't.  The way my father lived his life continues to guide me, and his many friends continue to comfort me.  I still miss him.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Passing of a Maven

Old Enough:  Yes, I have achieved an age where I am comfortable reading obituaries, especially those in The New York Times. Today, I was saddened and intrigued to read the obituary of Sol Steinmetz:
Sol Steinmetz, a lexicographer, author and tenured member of Olbom (n., abbrev., On Language’s Board of Octogenarian Mentors), whose opinions on matters semantical, grammatical and etymological were widely sought by the news media, died on Oct. 13 in Manhattan. He was 80 and lived in New Rochelle, N.Y.
I haved never read any of Mr. Steinmetz's writing - but I will now.  Of how many can it be said:
“He never had a bad word to say about anyone,” said Jesse Sheidlower, the editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary and a former protégé. “And he knew a lot of bad words.”
May his memory be for a blessing.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I'm With The Band!

Yes! Sat in with the Nahalat Shalom Community Klezmer Band for the first time Sunday. What a hoot! Great music, great people!  ‎No, the 5-string banjo is not a traditional klezmer instrument, although tenor banjo sort of is. Nevertheless, I think I fit right in, mostly playing the "chuck" part of "boom-chuck" (that is, rhythm, not melody).  You can watch and listen to Sirba, one of the tunes we newbies learned, on this clipBefore you click: turn your volume way up, and make room to dance!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Freylekhe Simchas Toyreh!

Lomir Alle Tantzen!  Happy is the only way to describe Simchas Torah at Nahalat Shalom.  The Nahalat Shalom Community Klezmer Band played, members and not-yet members of the congregation danced . . . what a marvelous evening!

The Band first began in 1995 as accompaniment to a Hanukkah service. Some musicians are members of Nahalat Shalom and some are not, some are Jewish and some are not: there are no special requirements to play in the Band, but the love that its members have for klezmer music reverberates throughout every performance.
Band members are drawn to klezmer music for a variety of reasons: its beauty, its exotic sounding scales and modes, its technical challenges, its emotional and joyous nature, the connection it makes to Jewish roots and ancient traditions, and the opportunities it gives them to play for dancers, concerts and simchas.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

High Holidays 5771 / 2010

Parking Available:  Yes, that's the first thing we noticed.  When my wife and I showed up on Rosh HaShanah morning, at around 9:45 - there were still plenty of open parking spaces in the Congregation Bnai Israel parking lot.  Coming from Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, New Jersey, we're just not used to that.

Part of it, I'm sure, is the size of the parking lot.  But the more important parts are the size of the congregation and the size of the communitiy.  There are just fewer Yidden in Albuquerque than there are in Livingston.

This doesn't make one community "better" than the other - at least, after you've achieved a certain critical mass.  It's just different, and it will take some getting used to.

There were more available parking spaces on Rosh HaShanah Day 2.  But that didn't surprise us - it's the same everywhere we've been. 

What did surprise us was how easily we found a parking space for Yom Kippur, (we showed up a minute before Kol Nidre) and then for Neilah.  Back in New Jersey, those were the times when the synagogue was packed.

But the food was good (more about ABQ kashrut later); the prayers themselves were warm, meaningful, heartfelt.  I had the opportunity to read Torah and Haftorah, and (hopefully) contribute to the overall gestalt.  Which is what the High Holidays are all about.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Arrived in Albuquerque!

Finally: My wife flew in from our former home in Livingston, New Jersey on Thursday, July 1st. My son, Henry our greyhound, and I arrived in the Land of Enchantment on Saturday, July 3rd, after driving 600 miles on I-40 straight through from Shawnee, Oklahoma.

We don't usually do this much travelling on Shabbat, but we considered this a case of near-pikuach nefesh; the three of us had been on the road for six days, and although we were still speaking to each other, we'd had just about enough. It was raining cats and dogs (you should forgive the expression) in Amarillo; we'd arrived there too early to check in to our hotel; and the call of home was just too powerful.

And besides, we'd left the narrow religious confines of the East to explore and grow in the open spaces of the West. Our new home in Albuquerque's Upper West Side is about a dozen miles from our new spiritual home, Congregation Bnai Israel. We're going to be driving to shul on Shabbat and Yontif; we should just get used to it.

Back in New Jersey, we would drive the less-than-one-mile to Temple Beth Shalom in the winter. That, too was a case of near-pikuach nefesh - the roads were just too dangerous to walk. We also drove in spring, fall, and summer. But sometimes we walked . . . like for Kol Nidre, when you couldn't find a parking place anyway.

And what of our daughter? She stayed with friends in New Jersey in July, visited us at her new New Mexico home in August, then flew back to Boston University. If you don't count Henry, we're empty-nesters!