Thursday, October 29, 2015

Halloween: Druish or Jewish?

Just Suppose: Suppose, Abq Jew says, suppose there were a holiday whereupon small groups of Jewish extortionists marauded through eruv-endowed neighborhoods, demanding kosher treasure and else threatening mild mayhem.

If it fell on a Sabbath Eve, what would such a holiday be called?

Challahween, of course!

This year, the ancient holiday of Halloween falls on Motzei Shabbat - which means that a) there will be no Challahween celebrations; and b) religiously observant Jewish kids are free to participate in the traditional trick-or-treat ritual with no concern about the status of the eruv.

Here in America, some Jewish kids do Halloween and some Jewish kids don't. There's a real machloket (disagreement) about doing or not. The parents can explain giving out Halloween treats as darchei noam or derech eretz. But should their kids collect?

Here is what the Jewish Virtual Library has to say about the origins of Halloween.
Halloween, also known as All Hallows' Eve or All Saints' Day, originated as a celtic holiday that was celebrated by Druids, the priests of a religious order in ancient Gaul and Britain. The celebration marked the end of summer harvest season and pumpkins, cornstalks and other similar products of the earth were used in the feasting and merrymaking. 
In the eighth century, the Catholic Church realized it was failing in efforts to keep Christians from celebrating the pagan holiday and decided to incorporate Halloween into the Christian calendar. 
The holiday would be celebrated on the first of November as a day honoring all saints, hence the name All Saints' Day. 
The night before, October 31, was called "holy [hallowed] evening," and many of the old pagan, Druid practices were retained in the Christian celebration, including the tradition to dress up as ghosts, goblins, witches, fairies, elves and other mythical creatures.
Doesn't sound too Jewish, does it? The Jewish Virtual Library proclaims participation to be prohibited - against halacha.
While many American non-Orthodox Jews do tend to celebrate the non-religious traditions of Halloween, halacha prohibits Jewish participation in the holiday. 
The reasons for the Jewish prohibition vary. Mainly, Jews are forbidden by the Torah to partake in "gentile customs," a prohibition derived from Leviticus 18:3.  
Jews are also not allowed to partake in non-Jewish or idoltorous [sic] worship, per the Ten Commandments. Halloween, having both pagan and Catholic backgrounds, is deemed a gentile festival and is therefore forbidden to Jews.
The Library goes on to say -
That being said, despite Halloween's religious origins most Americans consider the holiday to be a national tradition - much like Thanksgiving - without the attachment of any religious significance. 
Many American Jews have adopted this interpretation of the tradition with the understanding that the holiday has only a secular meaning.
However, the Library claims this interpretation is wrong.
Rabbinically speaking, however, a holiday's origins do not simply disappear over time, so Halloween would still be considered a religious holiday - gentile in nature and ultimately against Jewish law
And that, you might say, is that.

But of course it's not.

Here is an activity in which you, Abq Jew's loyal readers, can joyfully participate:

Search for "Halloween" in

You'll find a long list of articles and blogs with such titles as Can Halloween Be Made Jewish?  and A Halloween With Jewish Values? and No Trick, All Treat: Halloween Isn't Bad for the Jews.

And then there is the plethoric exuberance of Jewish Halloween / Monster Mash Dance Parties held by various Jewish social groups all over North America. Please note the instrument of torture in Franky's hands. What, no banjo?

Which brings Abq Jew (and you, his loyal readers, despite your kicking and screaming) to (of course; there is no need to "wait for it") - the Monster Mash. Wikipedia tells us:
Monster Mash is a 1962 novelty song and the best-known song by Bobby "Boris" Pickett. The song was released as a single on Gary S. Paxton's Garpax Records label in August 1962 along with a full-length LP called The Original Monster Mash, which contained several other monster-themed tunes. 
The "Monster Mash" single was #1 on the Hot 100 chart on October 20–27 of that year, just before Halloween. It has been a perennial holiday favorite ever since. It was on the top 50 in November of 2014. 
Pickett and [fellow band member Lenny ] Capizzi composed Monster Mash and recorded it with Gary S. Paxton, pianist Leon Russell, Johnny MacRae, Rickie Page, and Terry Berg, credited as "The Crypt-Kickers". 
The song is narrated by a mad scientist whose monster, late one evening, rises from a slab to perform a new dance. The dance becomes "the hit of the land" when the scientist throws a party for other monsters. 
Pickett also impersonated horror film actor Bela Lugosi as Dracula with the lyric "Whatever happened to my Transylvania Twist?"

One final (don't you wish?) Abq Jew thought.

There is a direct and distinct Jewish counterpoint to Halloween - and it's not Chanukah. Abq Jew asks:

How About Purim?

Purim is our holiday. A holiday that - like Halloween - includes masks, music, and make-believe. A holiday that promotes mishloach matanot, giving gifts to each other.

Please compare Purim to Halloween, which promotes trick-or-treat, taking gifts from each other. Which would you teach your children?

Abq Jew firmly believes that Purim does it right.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

You Don't Mess with the Zohar

Scholar in Residence Weekend: Yes, it's true! Professor Daniel C. Matt, a (if not the) leading expert in Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism) and the Zohar, its foundation text, is coming to Albuquerque!

More about Prof Matt's visit later. But first - Abq Jew begs your forgiveness, but he just couldn't help himself. In one of his all-too-rare middle-of-the-night epiphanies, Abq Jew has conjured up

Messing with the Zohar

Please allow Abq Jew to explain.

Debra Lynn Messing, Wikipedia tells us,
(born August 15, 1968) is an American actress. She is known for her television roles in Will & Grace, The Starter Wife, Smash and The Mysteries of Laura
Messing has received a total of six Emmy nominations, winning one, eight Screen Actors Guild nominations, winning one, and eight Golden Globe nominations.
More importantly:
Messing was born in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, the daughter of Sandra (née Simons; died 2014), who has worked as a professional singer, banker, travel and real estate agent, and Brian Messing, a sales executive for a costume jewelry packaging manufacturer. 
Messing is Jewish, and had a Bat Mitzvah ceremony; her ancestors emigrated from Poland and Russia. When Messing was three, she moved with her parents and her older brother, Brett, to East Greenwich, Rhode Island. 
In 1990, after graduating summa cum laude from Brandeis with a Bachelor of Arts in Theater Arts, Messing gained admission to the elite Graduate Acting Program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts which accepts approximately fifteen new students annually. She earned a Master of Fine Arts after three years.
And about the Zohar - Wikipedia tells us
The Zohar (Hebrew: זֹהַר, lit. "Splendor" or "Radiance") is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. 
It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah (the five books of Moses) and scriptural interpretations as well as material on mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology.  
The Zohar contains a discussion of the nature of God, the origin and structure of the universe, the nature of souls, redemption, the relationship of Ego to Darkness and "true self" to "The Light of God", and the relationship between the "universal energy" and man.  
The Zohar first appeared in Spain in the 13th century, and was published by a Jewish writer named Moses de Leon. 
De Leon ascribed the work to Shimon bar Yochai ("Rashbi"), a rabbi of the 2nd century during the Roman persecution who, according to Jewish legend, hid in a cave for thirteen years studying the Torah and was inspired by the Prophet Elijah to write the Zohar. 
This accords with the traditional claim by adherents that Kabbalah is the concealed part of the Oral Torah. 
While the traditional majority view in religious Judaism has been that the teachings of Kabbalah were revealed by God to Biblical figures such as Abraham and Moses and were then transmitted orally from the Biblical era until its redaction by Shimon bar Yochai, modern academic analysis of the Zohar, such as that by the 20th century religious historian Gershom Scholem, has theorized that De Leon was the actual author. 
And the Pritzker edition of the Zohar? Amazon tells us
Translated with commentary by Daniel C. Matt. 
This is the first translation ever made from a critical Aramaic text of the Zohar, which has been established by Professor Matt based on a wide range of original manuscripts. 
The extensive commentary, appearing at the bottom of each page, clarifies the kabbalistic symbolism and terminology, and cites sources and parallels from biblical, rabbinic, and kabbalistic texts. 
The translator's introduction is accompanied by a second introduction written by Arthur Green, discussing the origin and significance of the Zohar.

Yes, it is this very same Professor Daniel C. Matt who will be talking Kabbalah at various Albuquerque venues next (not this!) weekend.

Here is the lineup (click here for a printable version) of his mystical appearances:

Shekinah: The Feminine Half of God
6:00pm Erev Shabbat Service, October 30, Congregation Albert

One of the boldest contributions of Kabbalah is the idea that God is equally female and male. Daniel Matt will briefly trace the development of Kabbalah and then focus on the concept of Shekhinah.

The Zohar: Mystical Masterpiece of Kabbalah
12:00 pm Torah Study, Saturday, October 31, B’nai Israel

How does the Zohar interpret and reimagine the Torah? How does its mystical approach differ from the literal approach? How can it bring the Torah alive for us today? Daniel Matt will explore these questions with us by teaching several passages from the Zohar: Pritzker Edition.

God and the Big Bang: Discovering Harmony
       Between Science & Spirituality
4:30 pm, Saturday, October 31, Nahalat Shalom

Daniel Matt will present a lecture exploring the parallels between Kabbalah and contemporary cosmology. How does the mystical understanding of Creation compare with the modern theory of the origin of the universe? Is there a way to harmonize these two approaches , the scientific and the spiritual?

Raising the Sparks: Finding God in the Material World
10:00 am Sunday, November 1, Congregation Albert

How can God be encountered in our daily life? Daniel Matt will explore this question with us by teaching from Kabbalah and Hasidism on the nature of God, the act of Creation, and the challenge of discovering God in the material world.

Who is responsible for this? Abq Jew hears you ask.

In an all-too-rare joint community effort, this Scholar in Residence Weekend is sponsored by (in strictly alphabetical order): Congregation Albert; Congregation B’nai Israel; Congregation Nahalat Shalom; the Jewish Federation of New Mexico; and the Rabbinical and Cantorial Association of Albuquerque.

Here is a forshbite (that's Yiddish for hors d'oeuvres, one of the most-looked-up words on the Internet) of what's in store for Albuquerque. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Trotsky and Frida and Diego

A Jewish Story: Who knew that Leon Trotsky and Friday Kahlo and Diego Rivera all had Jewish backstories? Abq Jew didn't. But he is now proud to announce that
The Harlen Group, in association with Camino Real Productions, presents the world premiere of Trotsky & Frida by Leonard Koel. 
It will open on Sunday, October 25 – the 98th anniversary of the start of the October Russian Revolution – and have a special, limited production at the N4th Theater .... 
The show closes Sunday, November 15, 2015 ....

The show's press release tells us the history -
When Lenin died in 1924, Joseph Stalin’s most dangerous rival was Leon Trotsky, the brilliant Marxist theorist who had led the Bolshevik army to victory and allowed Vladimir Lenin to take power. 
After Stalin had Trotsky expelled from the Communist Party, he and his wife Natalya Sedova were forced to leave the Soviet Union and seek refuge in various European countries. 
In 1937 they were given asylum in Mexico, with the help of famed artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and moved into Frida’s house La Casa Azul. 
While the lascivious result may have been predictable given Frida and Diego's well-documented sexual adventures, it is the unexpected effect of the affair on the lives of all four that makes the story compelling.  
and informs that -
Nonagenerian Albuquerque playwright Leonard Koel's historical drama blends known facts from the torrid, yet brief affair with his fictionalized account of the pillow talk between these legendary figures from the worlds of art and politics. 
Director Harry Zimmerman has assembled an outstanding cast and crew that rank as some of the best among their peers in Albuquerque.

 Now, Abq Jew did know some of this - because not too long ago he had the pleasure of reading Barbara Kingsolver's novel The Lacuna. Ms Kingsolver's website tells us
In her most accomplished novel, Barbara Kingsolver takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover. The Lacuna is a poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identities. 
Born in the United States, reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico—from a coastal island jungle to 1930s Mexico City—Harrison Shepherd finds precarious shelter but no sense of home on his thrilling odyssey. 
Life is whatever he learns from housekeepers who put him to work in the kitchen, errands he runs in the streets, and one fateful day, by mixing plaster for famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He discovers a passion for Aztec history and meets the exotic, imperious artist Frida Kahlo, who will become his lifelong friend. 
When he goes to work for Lev Trotsky, an exiled political leader fighting for his life, Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution, newspaper headlines and howling gossip, and a risk of terrible violence.
Barbara Kingsolver's book was "breathtaking" and "dazzling" - and Abq Jew is pretty sure Leonard Koel play will be, too.

The imagined story of the very real love affair
between two larger-than-life figures. 

And how about those Jewish backstories?

About Leon Trotsky, Wikipedia tells us
Leon Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein (Russian: Лев Давидович Бронштейн) on 7 November 1879, in Yanovka (Russian: Яновка) or Yanivka (Ukrainian: Янівка), in the Kherson guberniya of the Russian Empire (today's Bereslavka (Ukrainian: Береславка) in the Bobrynets Raion, Kirovohrad Oblast, Ukraine), a small village 15 miles (24 km) from the nearest post office. 
He was the fifth child of eight of well-to-do farmers, David Leontyevich Bronshtein (1847–1922) and his wife Anna Bronshtein (1850–1910). The family was of Jewish origin but reportedly not religious. The language spoken at home was a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian (known as Surzhyk).
When Trotsky was nine, his father sent him to Odessa to be educated.
 About Frida Kahlo, Wikipedia tells us
Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907, in her parents' house known as La Casa Azul (The Blue House), in Coyoacán. At the time, Coyoacán was a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City. 
Kahlo's father, Guillermo Kahlo (1871–1941), was born Carl Wilhelm Kahlo in 1871, in Pforzheim, Germany, the son of Jakob Heinrich Kahlo and Henriette Kaufmann. 
During Kahlo's lifetime and subsequently, media reports stated that her father was Jewish. However, genealogical research indicates that her father was not of Jewish heritage, but was from a Lutheran family. 
Wilhelm Kahlo traveled to Mexico in 1891, at the age of nineteen, and upon his arrival, changed his German forename, Wilhelm, to its Spanish equivalent, Guillermo.
Kahlo's mother, Matilde Calderón y González, was a devout Roman Catholic of mixed Spanish and indigenous Mexican ancestry. 
And about Diego Rivera, Wikipedia tells us
Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez, known as Diego Rivera (December 8, 1886 – November 24, 1957) was a prominent Mexican painter and the husband of Frida Kahlo. His large wall works in fresco helped establish the Mexican Mural Movement in Mexican art.  
Rivera was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, to a well-to-do family, the son of María del Pilar Barrientos and Diego Rivera Acosta. Diego had a twin brother named Carlos, who died two years after they were born. Rivera was said to have Converso ancestry (having ancestors who were forced to convert from Judaism to Catholicism). Speaking about himself, Rivera wrote in 1935: 
"My Jewishness is the dominant element in my life."
The story (or stories) of Trotsky and Frida and Diego did not end in a happy way - certainly not as shown in this video.

In fact, Wikipedia tells us
On 20 August 1940, in his study Trotsky was attacked by Ramón Mercader who used a mountaineers' ice-axe as a weapon. 
The blow to his head was bungled and failed to kill Trotsky instantly, as Mercader had intended. Witnesses stated that Trotsky spat on Mercader and began struggling fiercely with him. 
Hearing the commotion, Trotsky's bodyguards burst into the room and nearly killed Mercader, but Trotsky stopped them, laboriously stating that the assassin should be made to answer questions. 
Trotsky was taken to a hospital, operated on, and survived for more than a day, dying at the age of 60 on 21 August 1940 as a result of loss of blood and shock. Mercader later testified at his trial: 
I laid my raincoat on the table in such a way as to be able to remove the ice axe which was in the pocket. I decided not to miss the wonderful opportunity that presented itself. 
The moment Trotsky began reading the article, he gave me my chance; I took out the ice axe from the raincoat, gripped it in my hand and, with my eyes closed, dealt him a terrible blow on the head.
According to James P. Cannon, the secretary of the Socialist Workers Party (USA), Trotsky's last words were 
"I will not survive this attack. Stalin has finally accomplished the task he attempted unsuccessfully before."
Leon Trotsky's grave in Coyoacán, where his ashes are buried

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Author! Authors! Book Fest!

2015 JCC Book Fest & Authors Series: The Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque is proud to present the New Mexico Jewish community’s annual celebration of the written word.

The JCC Book Fest & Author Series is in its seventh year of bringing new authors of high quality and importance to the Albuquerque community.

2015 JCC Book Fest
Wednesday October 21 - Wednesday November 4

This year's lineup includes:

Woman in Gold

Start by visiting Abq Jew's May 2015 blog post Adele in Gold.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin 

Jessica Fechtor Stir

Simon Goodman 

Hannah Nordhaus 

And while we're talking about upcoming events -


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Janet Klein Was Here

And So Were the Holidays: And thus and so Abq Jew missed her performance (on Erev Shabbat Ha'azinu! Oy Vey!) and her workshops the following day. And missed even announcing her then upcoming presence in the Duke City.

For which Abq Jew can only say

To make (alas, but) partial amends, Abq Jew will now ex post facto announce the

Albuquerque Ukulele Festival
Roaring Ukes of the 1920's

Yes, Janet Klein and an unknown (to Abq Jew) number of Her Parlor Boys were at Ukekopelli 2015. Along with Glenn Kostur & The Alpha Cats and Fred Sokolow.

For those of Abq Jew's loyal readers who may not know:
Los Angeles-based Janet Klein & Her Parlor Boys are preeminent exponents of 1920’s & 1930’s early jazz music. Culling their repertoire from the depths of the Jazz Age, they bring vaudeville charm and thrilling melodies to enthusiastic audiences the world over. The vintage-attired band features the effervescent Janet Klein on vocals and ukelele, and Randy Woltz on piano. 
Delivering delightful shows to audiences from the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan and the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in Australia, to the Ukulele Hooley Festival in Ireland and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Janet Klein & Her Parlor Boys have the wit, musicianship, panache and pep to keep every venue filled with time traveling mirth and merriment!
Abq Jew is absolutely certain that Janet Klein Was Here because she visited a couple of her new friends that Sunday.

To fully appreciate how well Janet Klein does what she does, you may choose to visit her website and view the Official Videos thereupon. Or you may choose to visit Janet Klein's YouTube channel.

But JK&HPB have groupies with video cameras. So - here is JK (sans HPB) singing one of Abq Jew's new favorites, Irving Berlin's 1915 magnum opus Cohen Owes Me Ninety-Seven Dollars.

And even though it's only Thursday ...
Shabbat Shalom, Albuquerque!
Good Shabbos, New Mexico!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Next Year People

Praying for Rain: Nothing, Abq Jew believes, will make a person believe in one or more gods as much as that person's utter and complete dependence on rain - just the right amount in just the right place at just the right time - to live.

In our modern age of ubiquitous supermarkets and world-wide transportation systems, we tend to forget how precarious our situation used to be (and for too many, still is).

This year, as always, we Abq Jews will begin to formally pray for rain on Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of Assembly.

He Causes the Wind to Blow and the Rain to Fall

He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.

After Shemini Atzeret, we continue to pray for rain by adding the "He causes" clause (mashiv haruach umorid hageshem) to the daily Amidah.

We continue to pray for rain until the first day of Pesach, when we begin to pray for dew.

My Jewish Learning explains:
Throughout Sukkot we hint at our desire for rain through such rituals as the water libation practiced in the Temple and the four species, particularly the willow, which represents the association of plant growth and water. 
Continuing with the water theme, a particular feature of Shemini Atzeret is the prayer for rain, thus officially beginning Israel’s rainy season. 
Since the land of Israel relies so heavily on substantial rain for its crops, the prayer for rain is recited with a special plaintive melody, and the cantor dons a white kittel (robe), as on Yom Kippur.
And you might think that's the end of it: We start praying for rain in the Land of Israel on Shemini Atzeret. Oh, but there's much more involved!

Bestow Dew and Rain for a Blessing

Chabad explains that the "He causes" clause in the Amidah (mashiv haruach umorid hageshem) is a statement of fact and not a request.

But the "Bestow dew and rain" clause  (Tein tal umatar) that comes later in the daily Amidah is a request - and we don't start saying that until December.

December? Abq Jew hears you ask.
Where does the Torah or the Talmud
speak about December?

To be fair - neither does, exactly. Still, this is going to get really interesting. But it's way, way, way too complicated for this blog post.

How complicated? Abq Jew hears you ask.
How hard can this be?

For starters, see Abq Jew's blog post Nineteen and Twenty-Eight. Do you, Abq Jew's loyal readers, really want to go through that again? Or would you rather get right to the music?

So Abq Jew is going to take the easy way out and refer you to
But Abq Jew assures you:

Despite the efficacy of the Prayer for Rain, no Sukkot pilgrims got wet on their way home from Jerusalem.

Which brings us to Colin Hay. Who those of you of a certain age will surely remember as the lead singer of the Australian group Men at Work, responsible for the classic hit [Do You Come from a Land] Down UnderWikipedia tells us:
Men at Work were an Australian rock band, which formed in 1978. Their founding mainstay was Colin Hay on lead vocals; he formed the group with Jerry Speiser on drums and Ron Strykert on lead guitar. 
They were joined by Greg Ham on flute and keyboards and then John Rees on bass guitar. 
This line-up achieved national and international success in the early 1980s.
At the Grammy Awards of 1983 they won the Best New Artist category; while at the ARIA Music Awards of 1994 they were inducted into the related Hall of Fame. Men at Work have sold over 30 million albums worldwide. 
Colin Hay is now a solo artist in the Singer / Songwriter category. His song Next Year People starkly describes what rain means to those who live with hope for better times.

Please, G-d! May we all be blessed with
good rains when and where they are needed!