Wednesday, November 30, 2016

La Vita è Bella! Life is Beautiful!

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

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

The best thing about being a pirate is Ham Night!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here is Abq Jew's Modest Proposal:

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

Which brings us to Life is Beautiful.
Life Is Beautiful (Italian: La vita è bella) is a 1997 Italian comedy-drama film directed by and starring Roberto Benigni, who co-wrote the film with Vincenzo Cerami. Benigni plays Guido Orefice, a Jewish Italian book shop owner, who employs his fertile imagination to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp. 

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

La Vita è Bella! Life is Beautiful!

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

Holocaust On Ice

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Oy [Chaim] Tannenbaum!

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

The guy, of course, is Chaim Tannenbum. 

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

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

La Cueva Bear Tree Imbroglio

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

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

Who the heck is Chaim Tannenbaum?

Here is what you need to know.

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

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

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

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

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

Which is to say

The first night of Hanukkah will fall on Christmas Eve.

Get ready! Until then ...

Happy Thanksgiving, America!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Another Disaster, Another Memorial

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

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

It's been straight downhill since then.

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

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

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

Abq Jew speaks, of course, of

The Staten Island Ferry Octopus Disaster

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

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

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

Let us never forget.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Leonard Cohen, Poet, Dies at 82

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

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

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

1. Leonard Cohen in Concert

2. Rufus Wainwright & Choir! Choir! Choir!

3. Daniel Kahn (in Yiddish)

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

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

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Feels Like ... Tisha b'Av

Comfort Ye, Comfort Ye: Do you remember when elections were fun?

Abq Jew does. Back in 1960, Abq Jew remembers waiting (with his parents, z"l) to watch JFK pass by in a motorcade somewhere on Long Island. After a few hours and no motorcade, we gave up and went home. And it was still fun.

But, as Chris Matthews pointed out early on Election Day - The Dazzle Has Fizzled. Also recalling the 1960 election, he tells us
I have encouraging news for young people experiencing their first presidential election. 
This is not as good as it gets.
As Abq Jew pointed out three years ago in For the 19th of Kislev 5774 - back in the '60s, we had Vaughn Meader and his album The First Family to cheer us through the bad times. At least, until Black Friday, that day of evil.

Election Day was not Anschluss, and Inauguration Day will not be January 30, 1933.

Still ...

Thomas Friedman, Roger CohenMaureen Dowd and many others have reported their shock, their sadness, and their fear on The New York Times' Opinion Page.

... it feels like Tisha b'Av.

Folks Abq Jew knows are walking around hurt, angry, and afraid. His son Dov Yellin Editor / Photographer posted this on Facebook:
I woke up this morning to my 4 year-old daughter curled up next to me in bed. She came with me yesterday to vote for the first female President, but the day ended in heartbreak, with my not knowing how to explain this loss to my girls. I woke up hoping we narrowly skirted this dystopian nightmare with an overnight miracle, but upon checking my phone, I saw we were not so lucky. 
I have only felt true pity for a politician once before - in 2000. To think what a sickening rebuke this must be for Hillary is deeply sad and shameful. There will never be a perfect candidate, but to think that someone who has worked so hard for so long to serve the greater good - bumps in the road aside - had to lose to such a disgusting excuse for a human being is gut-wrenchingly disturbing. 
What will I tell my kids? 
I will tell them that mommy and daddy voted for the candidate who was just like them - the candidate who wants to help everyone, who is respectful to all types of people, who is strong, who has class. 
I will tell them that we will always keep them safe, no matter what.
I will tell them bullies are cowards, and to never back down. 
I will tell them that they should respect the office of the President, but they do not have to respect the person holding that office if they don't believe what he does is right. 
I will tell them that this new President is not be emulated, in any way; that just because he is our leader does not mean what he does is acceptable or normal or right. 
I will tell them to fight for their rights - every day - and to do what is right, moral, and ethical. 
I will tell them to respect everyone; that everyone has a right to their own opinion; but if you disagree with someone, find out why, and then change their mind. 
I will tell them that they can be anything they want to be, even President; that there are no limits; that the real America is not sexist, racist, homophobic, or xenophobic. 
Watching this train wreck last night, the TV media seemed to be baffled as to how all the polls could have been wrong, and how Drumpf turned out white nationalists in record numbers, without much of a ground game, without many surrogates, and without spending much money. 
What they fail to see is that it was their fault. 
They turned out the white vote. The media, by broadcasting every Drumpf speech live, by perpetuating false equivalencies, by refusing to fact check, by refusing to call a lie a lie, by being present in every household in America - giving over a billion dollars of free advertising to a human trash fire - caused this. 
What the TV media does is the equivalent of ambulance chasing and rubbernecking. They have forgotten that some stories are important and some are not; that some are true, and some are not; that being fair and balanced does not mean letting people lie on national TV and not calling them out on it because they don't want to appear biased. 
The TV media has forgotten how to edit, possibly a more important part of their job description than simply gathering "news" and regurgitating it. Do your jobs properly, or get out of the way. 
The Right has complained about the biased media for a long time. I agree that the media as an institution is broken, but not because they're liberal or progressive or elitist, but because they lack the fundamental understanding of what their responsibilities are as journalists. 
The profit motive has given us a Drumpf presidency. 
I am afraid of what a Republican-controlled government will do to this country, and to the world, over the next 4 years. My hope is that the lawsuits about to be litigated against Drumpf actually convict him, imprison him, giving us a President Pence. 
And in two years we flip the legislative branch blue, or at least purple. And in four years we dig ourselves out of this grave (I'm looking at you Elizabeth Warren), and Drumpf is not the last President.

Abq Jew predicts that one of the first laws to be proposed by the Trump Administration, passed by the Republican Congress, and signed into law by our new President will be

The Alec Baldwin SNL Full Employment Act

Abq Jew wishes Alec Baldwin a short but meaningful career continuing his role as DJT on Saturday Night Live. The Vaughn Meader of our day!

And yes, Abq Jew is trying ... struggling ... to find some good in this.

With just a little more planning, Abq Jew keeps saying to anyone who will listen, things could have turned out so much differently. And so much better.

Rabbi Min Kantrowitz writes
Sadly recognizing the need for loving vigilance. In efforts to understand I recently read (and recommend) two books: Hillbilly Elegy and Deer Hunting with Jesus.
If you are feeling in a dark place right now, consider the Psalm 23 'walk in the shadow' image, remembering that a shadow is NOT the same as darkness - it is light that creates the shadow. 
Let's focus on the light and increase it, shining from all directions, so that the shadow disappears. Hard important work that we can only do together.

And JFNM Executive Director Zach Benjamin reminded us before Election Day
It's not my M.O. to dictate or demand how your conscience should compel you to vote. That is a private decision. 
However, I do have one thought/wish: be kind to each other. 
Go easy on each other. Please don't end relationships, dissolve friendships, or cut family ties because of differing perspectives. 
When the dust settles, you will regret it. Those differences will seem trivial in hindsight. 
It is important to bear this in mind today, but it will be most critical tomorrow and into an immediate future in which we must all continue to advance our society, and more importantly, our relationships with others. 
There will be a tomorrow, just as there has been at every other uneasy juncture in our history. Let's face it with dignity.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Dink's Song: Fare The Well

A Haftorah for Noah: A Haftorah, Abq Jew must tell you, is not one half of the Torah. Nor (see the classic joke in About That Bush or Wanna Be a Rabbi?) is a Haftorah one half of the Talmud.

Coffee Shop Rabbi Ruth Adar explains.
Haftarah (pronounced haf-tuh-RAH, or haf-TOH-rah) is a word that puzzles many people who hear it. It is not “half-Torah” as the Ashkenazi pronunciation seems to hint. 
Haftarah is a reading from the books of the prophets, the Nevi’im.
And Rabbi Adar continues.
Unlike the Torah readings, which include, over the course of the year, every word from the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, the Haftarah readings are only from selected portions of the prophetic books. 
The readings always have some link to the Torah reading, although sometimes it takes study to perceive the link. 
We do not know for sure when or why the Haftarah readings became part of the Shabbat Torah service. 

Here is Abq Jew's offering for the Haftorah of Parshat Noah: Dink's Song. The first verse speaks of Noah's dove. No study is required to perceive the link to this week's Torah reading.
Dink's Song (sometimes known as "Fare Thee Well") is an American folk song played by many folk revival musicians such as Pete Seeger, Fred Neil, Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Cisco Houston as well as more recent musicians like Jeff Buckley ... 
The first historical record of the song was by ethnomusicologist John Lomax in 1909, who recorded it as sung by an African American woman called Dink, as she washed her man's clothes in a tent camp of migratory levee-builders on the bank of the Greater Calhoun Bayou River, a few miles from Houston, Texas ....
Here is one of the sweetest recordings Abq Jew has found of Dink's Song.

It's from Pete Seeger's 90th Birthday Concert (The Clearwater Concert), held at Madison Square Garden on May 3, 2009.

NEW: From Sing Me The Songs:

Now, the YouTube "liner notes" tell us that this video features Bruce Cockburn, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and Rufus and Martha Wainwright. But Abq Jew knows what you want to know!

Who's the guy playing harmonica?

The "liner notes" don't mention him. The Wikipedia entry for The Clearwater Concert omits him from the list of performers. Amazon doesn't list him on the 2-DVD set. Nor does PBS. Not even Clearwater, the organization. And The New York Times? Nothing.

The guy, Abq Jew firmly believes, is Chaim Tannenbaum. This view is verified via the Vimeo video of Dink's Song, which actually lists him as a performer.

So now Abq Jew hears you ask -

Who the heck is Chaim Tannenbaum?

Who is Chaim Tannenbaum? Just another graduate of Brooklyn's Midwood High School, whose other notable graduates include Woody Allen, Roz Chast, and Mrs Abq Jew.

And at 68, he's a new folk hero.