Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Ready for a Sea Cruise?

Time to Set Sail: Do you remember the 2012 classic by Thomas E Mann and Norman J Ornstein, It's Even Worse Than It Looks? No, Abq Jew didn't buy or read it either.

Just looking at the title and subtitle (How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism) was enough.

The New York Times' Charles M Blow has now contributed to the general state of dysphoria (yes, there is such a word! Abq Jew thought he was making it up!) with his article We Are Dissidents; We Are Legion. Which begins by reminding us
On Friday, Donald J. Trump, the embodiment, instrument and provocateur of American animus, was installed — and I use that word with purpose and displeasure — as America’s 45th president. He delivered a particularly inauspicious speech to a seemingly sparse crowd, presenting a vision for America that would best be described as aggressive atavism, a retrograde positioning of policy that threatens to drag the country back to a time of division and fear and hostility, when some stand in the light by casting others into darkness.
After the inauguration and on the way to the White House, President Trump’s motorcade
passed the sculptures of Grief and History standing on the Peace Monument in Washington, D.C.
Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

Fortunately, Abq Jew can always count on The New York Times' Paul Krugman to cheer him up when things go really, really badly. For example, his latest article, cheerfully titled Things Can Only Get Worse. Which begins
If America had a parliamentary system, Donald Trump — who spent his first full day in office having a temper tantrum, railing against accurate reports of small crowds at his inauguration — would already be facing a vote of no confidence. But we don’t; somehow we’re going to have to survive four years of this. 
And how is he going to react to disappointing numbers about things that actually matter? 
In his lurid, ghastly Inaugural Address, Mr. Trump portrayed a nation in dire straits — “American carnage.” The real America looks nothing like that; it has plenty of problems, but things could be worse. In fact, it’s likely that they will indeed get worse. How will a man who evidently can’t handle even the smallest blow to his ego deal with it?
And ends
Will [Mr. Trump] respond to bad news by accepting responsibility and trying to do better? Will he renounce his fortune and enter a monastery? That seems equally likely. 
No, the insecure egomaniac-in-chief will almost surely deny awkward truths, and berate the media for reporting them. And — this is what worries me — it’s very likely that he’ll try to use his power to shoot the messengers. 
Seriously, how do you think the man who compared the C.I.A. to Nazis will react when the Bureau of Labor Statistics first reports a significant uptick in unemployment or decline in manufacturing jobs? What’s he going to do when the Centers for Disease Control and the Census Bureau report spiking numbers of uninsured Americans? 
You may have thought that last weekend’s temper tantrum was bad. But there’s much, much worse to come.

Time to sail away? Mr & Mrs Abq Jew briefly considered signing up for the 2016 TCM Classic Cruise, on board the Disney Fantasy.
The newest ship to the Disney Cruise Line fleet, this vessel is a masterpiece of design and engineering boasting Art Nouveau allure alongside modern technological advancements. This 130,000-ton marvel is home to 14 decks overflowing with unique restaurants, relaxing pools, well-appointed staterooms, state-of-the-art venues and more.
But ultimately, we settled for a $29 Roku Express and a shared Netflix account.

Ooooh-weeee, baby!

Thus and so we turn now to what you, Abq Jew's loyal readers, have surely come to realize is the inevitable musical accompaniment: in this case, the unsinkable Sea Cruise. Written and sung by Huey "Piano" Smith and His Clowns; but what we of a certain age remember is the 1959 version by Frankie Ford (August 4, 1939 – September 28, 2015).

If this is too much good cheer for the times (no pun intended) in which we live - when worse comes to worst, as it very well may, again - let us turn to The New York Times' David Brooks to return a sense of sobriety to the proceedings.

His latest article, After the Women's March, begins
The women’s marches were a phenomenal success and an important cultural moment. Most everybody came back uplifted and empowered. Many said they felt hopeful for the first time since Election Day. But these marches can never be an effective opposition to Donald Trump.
Why not? Abq Jew hears you ask. Because, Mr Brooks explains
All the big things that were once taken for granted are now under assault: globalization, capitalism, adherence to the Constitution, the American-led global order. If you’re not engaging these issues first, you’re not going to be in the main arena of national life.
And furthermore
Without the discipline of party politics, social movements devolve into mere feeling, especially in our age of expressive individualism. People march and feel good and think they have accomplished something. They have a social experience with a lot of people and fool themselves into thinking they are members of a coherent and demanding community. Such movements descend to the language of mass therapy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Four Videos and an Inauguration

Four Years: On January 20 2017 - a date which will live in ... perplexity and despair, @realDonaldTrump will, if all goes as planned (Abq Jew cannot in good conscience say "if all goes well"), become the next President of the United States of America.

To which Abq Jew responds, in a clear, bold statement with which he is sure we all can agree

For his sanity (what little remains) Abq Jew is meshuggeh to offer four recent videos that frame our times and capture the true gestalt of the political moment.

1. Remember That We Suffered

Yes, The New York Times (!) alerted Abq Jew that Patti LuPone would play a rabbi on the Friday the 13th (wouldn't you know) episode of CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, titled Will Scarsdale Like Josh's Shayna Punim?, in which
the lovelorn title character Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) attends a bar mitzvah with Josh, her ex-boyfriend, that’s presided over by her childhood rabbi. Nothing strange there. But when it’s the Tony Award-winning actress Patti LuPone under the skullcap — with the Tony nominee Tovah Feldshuh slaying an imaginary hora as Rebecca’s mother — well, that’s where things start to get funny. 
In the episode, Ms. LuPone and Ms. Feldshuh lead a klezmer-crazy musical number called “Remember That We Suffered,” about a Jewish taste for basking in horrors past. Much to Rebecca’s obvious discomfort, the lyrics at the top of the song set the cheerily misfortunate mood right away:
Nights like these are filled with glee
Noshing, dancing, singing, wee!
But we sing in a minor key
To remember that we suffered! 
Cheered by the prospect, Abq Jew DVRed the entire episode. Which he hasn't had the time to watch yet. But here is the video of Remember That We Suffered.

2. Human: Francine

A little too flip and flippant? Here is a video from Human: The Movie that will snap us all back to reality.
HUMAN is a collection of stories and images of our world, offering an immersion to the core of what it means to be human. Through these stories full of love and happiness, as well as hatred and violence, HUMAN brings us face to face with the Other, making us reflect on our lives. 
From stories of everyday experiences to accounts of the most unbelievable lives, these poignant encounters share a rare sincerity and underline who we are – our darker side, but also what is most noble in us, and what is universal. 
Our Earth is shown at its most sublime through never-before-seen aerial images accompanied by soaring music, resulting in an ode to the beauty of the world, providing a moment to draw breath and for introspection.
And about this video clip (and the power of chocolate!) -
Born in 1933, Francine Christophe was deported with her mother at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1944. Released the following year, she continues to share her experience and memories, particularly with the younger generations.

3. Real Housewives of ISIS

OK ... too serious. Poignant and uplifting, but too serious.

So let's switch to the Real Housewives of ISIS. Once again, The New York Times (!) tipped Abq Jew off.
The comedy sketch opens with a hijab-wearing British woman named Afsana fretting over how to impress the Islamic State militants who recruited her. “It’s only three days to the beheading, and I’ve got no idea what I’m going to wear!” she laments. 
Another woman models her new suicide vest for her fellow jihadist wives. “What do you think?” she asks. “Ahmed surprised me with it yesterday.” 
A third woman reacts admiringly, typing into her phone and saying: “Hashtag OMG. Hashtag Jihadi Jane. Hashtag death to the West, ISIS emojis.”

4. Israel Dancing

And then there is this video of Israeli Folk Dancing - A Celebration of Traditions, put out by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

There's no special message here, except

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

At the End of In the Beginning

The Wandering Mem: This Shabbat, at synagogues throughout Albuquerque, we will have the honor of reading Parshat Vayehi, And [Jacob] Lived.

And at one of those synagogues (Abq Jew will explain later), the reading will include Jacob's Blessing of the Children of Israel.

And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days. Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father. 
Reuben ...Simeon and Levi ... Judah ... Zebulun ... 
Issachar ... Dan ... Gad ... As for Asher ... 
Naphtali ... Joseph ... Benjamin. 
All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them.
Yes, all the Brothers of Joseph (see Sing Along With Joseph!) we've come to know and love over the many, many, many years. But Abq Jew hears you, his loyal readers, ask

Who's this 'As for Asher' Guy?
What happened to Plain Old Asher?

Funny you should ask! As Abq Jew promised (Billy Nader) last week - let's take a look at Gad's verse and at Asher's verse.

Gad, a troop shall troop upon him;
but he shall troop upon their heel.
As for Asher, his bread shall be fat,
and he shall yield royal dainties.

The problem, which Abq Jew has thoughtfully highlighted, is in Gad's verse: their heel. The Hebrew text reads עקב (heel), not עקבם (their heel). Where did the word "their" come from?

By now you have surely noticed that every other blessing that Jacob utters begins with the name of the person (tribe) being blessed. So isn't the wordphrase מאשׁר (As for Asher) just a bit odd?

To understand what has happened to our Biblical text, let us all recall that the Torah scroll is written with no vowels and no punctuation. Moreover, in the days of Eeyore, there were no extra spaces at the ends of sentences.

Oh - one more thing (as Columbo used to say). Way back then there was no ם (final Mem). There was only מ (Mem).

So here is what Biblical scholars say: Over the years, the Mem that was the final letter in עקבם became the Mem that is the first letter in מאשׁר. In other words

A scribal error was made.

Talmudical scholars, of course, will have none of this.

Oh - one more more thing (as Columbo never used to say). At one time, the Torah was written in כּתב עברי (Hebrew script), not the square-letter כּתב אשׁורי (Assyrian script) we use today.

You can read more about this (and the traditional Rabbinic response) here on Aish.com.

Because it is the final parsha in the Book of Genesis, one Albuquerque congregation - Chabad, don't you know - will shout out, at the end of the seventh aliyah (but not after maftir)

Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!

Other Abq congregations may (or may not) shout this out, for those congregations may (or may not) include Jacob's Blessing of the Children of Israel in their Shabbat Torah reading, this being the first year of the Triennial Cycle.

And yet.

In spite of our disagreements over scribal errors, alphabet switcheroos, and reading cycles - every Shabbat, every Yom Tov, every weekday, when we lift the Sefer Torah before replacing it the Ark, all of us Jews all over the world will shout out

This is the Torah
that Moses placed before the Children of Israel!

Shabbat Shalom, Albuquerque!
Good Shabbos, New Mexico!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Shapeshifting Noah's Ark

The Coracle Oracle: A new twist on the ancient story we all know:

Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood ...
And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of. 
The diameter of the ark shall be fifty cubits;
the circumference of it [πd] 157 cubits;
and the area of it [πr2] 1,963 'square' cubits.

Wait a minute! Abq Jew hears you, his loyal readers, exclaim. That's not how the story goes! The King James tells us

Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood ...
And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of.
The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits;
the breadth of it fifty cubits;
and the height of it thirty cubits.

Irving Finkel believes the ark was round. He bases his theory on years of study. And he's got proof. But Abq Jew now hears you ask

Who the heck is Irving Finkel?

Wikipedia tells us
Irving Leonard Finkel (born September 1951) is a British philologist and Assyriologist. He is currently the Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian script, languages and cultures in the Department of the Middle East in the British Museum, where he specialises in cuneiform inscriptions on tablets of clay from ancient Mesopotamia.
Irving Finkel reads cuneiform like the rest of us read the Daily Mail or Biblical Archaeology Review. Or watch a PBS NOVA program titled Secrets of Noah's Ark.
In 1948, a British pilot serving in Iraq acquired a clay tablet with an intriguing, 3,700 year-old inscription. The ancient writing tells the story of how the god Enki warns a Sumerian king named Atra-Hasis of a future flood that will destroy mankind; Enki gives him instructions for building a boat to save his family and livestock. 
If that sounds like a familiar tale, it’s because this was one of several ancient flood traditions that, centuries later, would inspire the biblical story of Noah. But the tablet’s inscription describes a boat very different from the traditional image of the Ark—it’s said to be circular and made of reeds. 
Is this nothing more than a fanciful myth? Or could such a reed boat have carried Atra-Hasis’ family of more than one hundred and his many animals? 
Join NOVA as a team of historians and expert boat builders investigates this fascinating flood legend and sets out to rebuild a tantalizing, ancient forerunner of the Ark.
You can read more about this fascinating story here. Or watch the entertaining and informative PBS NOVA program here.

But take a close look at about 34 minutes in.

Which shows how the original round ark


the ship-shape ark we know today.

How, Abq Jew hears you ask, could this round-to-rectangular shapeshift possibly have happened? The PBS NOVA program explains -

Through a series of scribal errors.

Wow! Abq Jew hears you exclaim. Those ancient Mesopotamians sure were sloppy! Thank God, you think, that our ancient Hebrew scribes were so much more careful with the text of our Torah, the literal Words of God.

Well ... think again. Abq Jew will (Billy Nader) talk about one such classic error in next week's Torah reading, Vayehi. Next week.

In the meantime, Abq Jew hears you ask

Why would anyone build a round boat?

Irving Finkel points out that a pointed ship may be easier to sail to a particular destination - but the ark had nowhere special to go.
In all the images ever made people assumed the ark was, in effect, an ocean-going boat, with a pointed stem and stern for riding the waves – so that is how they portrayed it. 
But the ark didn’t have to go anywhere, it just had to float, and the instructions are for a type of craft which they knew very well. 
It’s still sometimes used in Iran and Iraq today, a type of round coracle which they would have known exactly how to use to transport animals across a river or floods.

The man who is tired of tablets is tired of life.
- Irving Finkel