Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Who Shall Live?

Unetanah Tokef and Blue Hors Matiné: The well-known piyyut Unetanah Tokef, which we Jews recite on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, tells us that

As a shepherd herds his flock,
directing his sheep to pass under his staff,
so do you, LORD, pass, count,
and record the souls of all living,
and decree a limit to each person's days,
and inscribe their final judgment

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
and on Yom Kippur it is sealed -
How many shall pass away,
and how many shall be born

Who shall live and who shall die
Who in good time, and who by an untimely death
Who by water and who by fire
Who by sword and who by wild beast
Who by famine and who by thirst
Who by earthquake and who by plague
Who by strangulation and who by stoning
Who shall have rest and who wander
Who shall be at peace and who pursued
Who shall be serene and who tormented
Who shall become impoverished and who wealthy
Who shall be debased, and who exalted

Now, Unetanah Tokef does not cover horses. So Abq Jew wonders: Do all sentient beings pass under God's staff? Do animals - or perhaps, only certain animals - have souls? Everyone has an opinion, but God alone really knows.

Despite the certainty and uncertainty of not knowing, Abq Jew presents - first for your enjoyment, and then for your contemplation - this viral video of Blue Hors Matiné at the 2006 World Equestrian Games, with her rider Andreas Helgstrand.

Wikipedia tells us
At the 2006 World Equestrian Games, riding the mare Matiné, Helgstrand came in second in the Individual Freestyle and third in the Individual Special
Eurodressage's report of the tournament called him "the favourite of the crowd" and said he "seemed to have redefined piaffe and passage".
A video of this performance (to the hip-hop song "No Mo" by Red Astaire) has circulated widely on YouTube, being seen over 5 [now 19] million times.

Here is something you may have noticed:

Life is unfair.

Eurodressage (January 25, 2010) tells the tragic story:
The world famous dancing grey mare, Blue Hors Matine, was humanely put down today after a tragic accident in the field. A passer-by had noticed there was something wrong with the grey mare in the field and notified a staff member at Blue Hors. 
"There was no doubt about it that Matine had broken her left front leg at the knee," said the saddened Blue Hors manager Esben Møller. "The vet immediately diagnosed that there was no way possible to save her life." 
The career of Matine ... was that of a shooting star rising high and then unfortunately crashing down like meteorite. 
Though she was well known in Denmark as a young dressage horse, she made her international break through and fame at a very rapid speed. Within one year she premiered at Grand Prix level and won individual silver and bronze at the 2006 World Equestrian Games. 
And that is when her career virtually ended. 
The mare competed successfully at a few more World Cup qualifiers in the winter of 2006-2007 but she injured herself slipping off the trailer at the 2007 World Cup Finals in Las Vegas. 
As of then Matine continuously struggled with injuries and never returned to the show ring. 
In August 2009 Møller announced that Blue Hors had given up the fight to get her back to full health. They gave the mare a peaceful retirement as a broodmare in the field ....
Why get so worked up about a horse? Because, as Abq Jew noted back in 2012 (see They Shoot Horses, Don't They?) -
Among Abq Jew's dearly held beliefs is this:  That of all the perfectly designed creatures the Holy One, Blessed Be He, created, there are three whose design is even more than perfect: the greyhound; the horse; and the giraffe. 
The greyhound and the horse, of course, are perfectly and elegantly designed - to run.  That is what they do, speedily, gracefully, seemingly effortlessly.  And the giraffe?  Perfectly designed to show us all that God, at least occasionally, has a sense of humor.  But not right now.

Which brings us to the tragic story of Elisha ben Abuyah. Wikipedia tells us
Elisha ben Abuyah (Hebrew: אלישע בן אבויה‎‎) ... was a rabbi and Jewish religious authority born in Jerusalem sometime before 70 CE. 
After he adopted a worldview considered heretical by his fellow Tannaim and betrayed his people, the rabbis of the Talmud refrained from relating teachings in his name and referred to him as the "Other One" (אחר, Acher).
There is a famous midrash that tells how Acher "adopted a worldview considered heretical" -
Elisha and his contemporaries, great Rabbis, were walking in a field and saw a young lad climb a tree at his father's urging. 
The father wanted the eggs from a nest. So the boy shooed away the mother bird to take the eggs.  
(It should be noted that the Torah promises long life to only 2 commandments: honoring one's parents and shooing away the mother bird before taking her eggs).  
The boy falls and dies. 
Whereupon Elisha ben Abuyah cries out

At least - not in this world.

It sure makes Abq Jew wonder.

The Unetanah Tokek passage concludes -

But repentance, prayer and righteousness
avert the severity of the decree.

May it be so.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Rosh Hashanah 5778

Dip Your Apple In The Honey: It's Rosh Hashanah! And, as we begin a New Year, please remember - as Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum of Synagogue Emanu-El in Charleston, South Carolina has taught us -

There is hope for the world.
There is hope for your life.

The way it is now is not the way it must be. 

Abq Jew warmly invites you to check out
this now-classic Rosh Hashana hit from 5772:

Dip Your Apple!

No apples, pomegranates, babies, or smartphones
were harmed in the filming of this video.
Please don't feed babies honey.


Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Abq Jew knows (and knows you know), are special times for our Jewish hearts, minds, and souls.

The Ein Prat Fountainheads have touched our hearts. Now, for our minds, here is a video by Abq Jew's Talmud teacher Rabbi Judith Hauptman that explores the origins of the Avinu Malkenu prayer.

A bit more about Rabbi Hauptman:
Judith Rebecca Hauptman (born 1943) is a Jewish femininst Talmudic scholar.
She grew up in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, United States. 
Hauptman received a degree in Talmud from the Seminary College of Jewish Studies at Jewish Theological Seminary, a B.A. in economics from Barnard College, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Talmudic studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary. 
She earned her PhD in 1982, and was the first woman to earn a PhD in Talmud, which she earned from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. She also studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. 
Hauptman was ordained as a rabbi in May 2003 by the Academy for Jewish Religion. She is the E. Billi Ivry Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Chair of the Department of Talmud and Rabbinics. She has taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary since 1973. [Rabbi Hauptman has recently retired.]

L'Shana Tova U'Metuka, New Mexico!
A Good & Sweet Year, Albuquerque!


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Repent and Return

Woman-Ochre in Silver City: We are getting closer and closer to the High Holy Days: Selichot begins this Saturday night. We approach the Days of Awe with thoughts ... and actions ... of repentance and return.

Willem de Kooning, Woman-Ochre, 1955

Which brings up the intriguing (wait; you'll see) topic of Art and Art Theft.

Did you see the 1999 movie The Thomas Crown Affair, with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo? (The 1968 original, with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, dealt with bank robbery, not art theft.)

How about 1966's How to Steal a Million, with Peter O'Toole and Audrey Hepburn? (Although the topic was art forgery, only loosely related to art theft.)

As what is left of Abq Jew's brain sorta recalls (but as IMDb confirms), neither the characters nor the themes in these flicks was particularly Jewish.

So Abq Jew proposes that we instead talk about Willen de Kooning (1904-1997), the  Dutch-American abstract expressionist artist who was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and moved to New York in 1927.

OK ... Willem de Kooning was not Jewish. But his wife Elaine Marie Catherine Fried de Kooning (1918 1989) sorta was. Still, Abq Jew hears you cry

Where are the Jews?

Ready? Here we go!

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer William K Rashbaum (Jewish?) just published an article in The New York Times titled A de Kooning, a Theft and an Enduring Mystery. (It was hidden in the New York / Region section, so you can be excused if you missed it.)

The story begins:
Willem de Kooning completed “Woman-Ochre” in 1955. It depicts a defiantly naked figure facing the viewer, arms akimbo. At the time, de Kooning had a studio in Greenwich Village, where his artistic vision — not to mention his quiet charm and energetic drinking — made him a figure of renown on the art scene. 
Three years after de Kooning finished the painting, a benefactor of the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson bought it for the institution. And 27 years after that, in 1985, it was stolen — cut from its frame.

Whatever happened, Abq Jew hears you ask, to "Woman-Ochre"? The story continues:
It was finally recovered last month, and investigators are focusing on several theories. And one of them is, in its own way, extraordinary: 
They are trying to determine if the heist was engineered by a retired New York City schoolteacher — something of a renaissance man — who donned women’s clothing and took his son along as his accomplice, and then hung the masterwork in the bedroom of his own rural New Mexico home, where it remained. 
In other words, they are examining whether he stole a painting now valued at in excess of $100 million simply so he could enjoy it. 
The teacher, Jerome Alter, and his wife, Rita, both died at 81, he in 2012 and she earlier this summer.
<Read more here
The ranch-style home in Cliff, New Mexico, where a painting was found that would turn out to be "Woman-Ochre" by Willem de Kooning. (Photo: Grant County Assessor's Office)

And in case you're wondering - Cliff is 28.7 miles up US Highway 180 from Silver City, right by the intersection with US 293.

Want to know more about Jerome and Rita Alter? So did Benjamin Fisher, who last month published Bedroom of late Cliff couple held stolen de Kooning in the Silver City Daily Press.

The story begins:
As news broke of a near-priceless Willem de Kooning painting found behind the bedroom door of a house here in Grant County — more than 31 years after its theft from the University of Arizona — interest was piqued about the people whose door that was. 
Although the owners of Manzanita Ridge — who purchased the estate, discovered the painting and returned it to the University of Arizona — have declined to reveal the owners of the estate, the Daily Press has independently confirmed that the house belonged to two longtime residents of Cliff. 
By all accounts, Jerry and Rita Alter led quiet lives here in the area, with Rita known as a well-liked speech pathologist in the Silver Consolidated Schools, but saved grand adventures for far away. 
The Alters moved to the Cliff area sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, following Jerry’s retirement from a long career as a professional symphony musician and music teacher in the Big Apple, based on both his 2012 obituary in the Daily Press and interviews with people who worked with Rita. 
Jerry was highly educated at New York University, Brooklyn College and Columbia University. After his retirement here, though, few of those reached on Friday could offer much information about Jerry. 
Far more people knew Rita from her time at Silver Schools.
<Read more here>  
University of Arizona Museum of Art Curator Olivia Miller gets her first look Friday, Aug. 4, at Willem de Kooning’s “Woman-Ochre,” missing for 31 years. (Courtesy Photo)

Jennifer Olsen also published an article last month about this case, A (hundred) million dollar find: The tale of the missing de Kooning, in the Silver City Daily Press.

The story begins:
The long-missing and very valuable Willem de Kooning painting that turned up in Grant County last week was found hanging behind a bedroom door in Cliff. Manzanita Ridge co-owners Rick Johnson, Buck Burns, and David Van Auker, who purchased the estate, said it was one of the few paintings remaining on the home’s nail-studded walls. 
The 30-by-40-inch oil painting of a female figure caught their attention as lovely, but the men hadn’t gotten around to researching and pricing it, as they do with all the store’s merchandise, so the piece sat propped on the floor against a pile of chairs for a few hours. 
Immediately, it attracted attention and curiosity from customers — some of whom returned repeatedly to look at and discuss it. Although buying furniture — and sometimes art and antiques — for their store in downtown Silver City is their business, never had one of Manzanita Ridge’s pieces generated such excitement. 
Now authenticated as “Woman-Ochre” from Willem de Kooning’s Woman series, this particular painting was taken from the University of Arizona Museum of Art 31 years ago. 
The suspects were described at the time as a woman in her 50s, who would now be in her 80s, and a man in his 20s, who would now be in his 50s. 
The woman — fair skinned with glasses and a headscarf — distracted a guard while the man with curly hair, a mustache, and glasses cut the canvas from its frame and smuggled it from the museum under his clothing. 
Fast-forward 31 years, when “Woman-Ochre” wound up hanging in the master bedroom of a Cliff home, and then on the floor of Manzanita Ridge on Bullard Street. 
“I have to say it was so random and there was so little evidence that was left behind that it was really hard to imagine where it could be,” said UAMA Curator Olivia Miller, who discussed the painting frequently and knew the basic details of the crime as it happened. 
“Now, it seems like of course it was nearby and would turn up in an estate sale.”
How did "Woman-Ochre" wind up back at the UAMA? The story continues:
As the piece got even more attention in the store on Thursday, Aug. 3, Burns decided to hide it. “He puts a blanket on it and sticks it in our bathroom,” Van Auker said. 
That was when the serious web research began. As they read the story of the stolen de Kooning, they joked about having accidentally bought a $100 million painting. But then they realized they had to return the painting to U of A. 
The men said they never considered keeping it or trying to sell it for the hundreds of millions of dollars they guessed it was worth. “We didn’t even have to talk about it,” Johnson said. 
Van Auker called the art museum and a student receptionist transferred him to curator Olivia Miller. “Olivia was very calm and I was thinking to myself, ‘This woman is going to think I’m a nut job, that I picked up a print at Salvation Army and think it’s a de Kooning,’” Van Auker said. 
But Miller asked for photos and dimensions. “She wanted a full-on picture of the painting, then a picture of the signature and then she asked for a couple of pictures showing the paint texture,” Van Auker said. 
The dimensions they sent were just one inch off, consistent with the canvas being cut and stretched. “I was pretty confident,” Miller said. 
<Read more

So, Abq Jew hears you ask

Where is the Repentance?
Where is the Return?

None of us is perfect. But the Torah, the Talmud (see Living Talmud: Eilu Metzios), and the entirety of Jewish experience tell us that we Jews (we humans) are expected to try to do the right thing - even if (especially when) we fall short.

However, Manzanita Ridge co-owners Rick Johnson, Buck Burns, and David Van Auker - most likely, non-Jews - did the right thing. They returned the missing painting to its rightful owner.

Instinctively, without considering any other course of action.

As for Jerome and Rita Alter - most likely, Jews - who can say? They left this world without (publicly) revealing the provenance of the de Kooning painting in their New Mexico home.

The Alters did not (as far as we know) repent. Did they have anything to repent for? They certainly did not return the painting. Did they know it was lost?

Something to think about ....

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Abq: Hurricanes Not Welcome Here

But Nukes? We Love 'Em! Hurricane Harvey has already visited - and overstayed his welcome. Irma is on her way, to be followed by Jose. And now, there's some talk of Hurricane Katia perhaps planning a visit as well.

Hurricane Irma on Monday

Yes, it's Hurricane Season in the Good Ol' US of A. And this year, it's sorta like

Honi the Circle-Maker on Steroids

Honi the who? Abq Jew hears you, his loyal readers, ask. Jewish Heritage Online Magazine explains:
Honi Ha-me'aggel (the Circle-Maker) was a renowned pietist in the period of the Second Temple (first century BCE) who was said to have performed good deeds by using extraordinary powers of prayer or by performing miracles. 
According to popular legend, Honi slept for seventy years and on awakening prayed for death rather than living in a strange world. 
The following story, which tells of his power to bring rain in times of drought, is recorded in many sources. His name, ha-Me'aggel ("one who draws circles") is usually taken to be connected with this incident. 
But (of course; there's always a joker in the crowd):
Some scholars claim he was named Honi Ha-me'aggel after the place from which he came, while others suggest he was so called as he was often called to repair roofs or ovens, with a ma'gillah ("roller"). 

Anyway - here's the famous Honi story:
Once there was a terrible drought in the land of Israel. It was already the month of Adar, which usually marks the end of the rainy season and the beginning of spring, but no rains had fallen all winter long. 
So the people sent for Honi the Circle-Maker. He prayed, but still no rains came. Then he drew a circle in the dust and stood in the middle of it. Raising his hands to heaven, he vowed, "God, I will not move from this circle until You send rain!" 
 Immediately a few drops fell, hissing as they struck the hot white stones. But the people complained to Honi, "This is but a poor excuse for rain, only enough to release you from your vow. 
So Honi turned back to heaven and cried, "Not for this trifling drizzle did I ask, but for enough rain to fill wells, cisterns, and ditches! 
Then the heavens opened up and poured down rain in buckets, each drop big enough to fill a soup ladle. The wells and the cisterns overflowed, and the wadis flooded the desert. The people of Jerusalem ran for safety to the Temple Mount. 
"Honi!" they cried. "Save us! Or we will all be destroyed like the generation of the Flood! Stop the rains!" 
Honi said to them, "I was glad to ask God to end your misery, but how can I ask for an end to your blessing?" 
The people pleaded with him, and he finally agreed to pray for the rain to stop. "Bring me an offering of thanksgiving," he told them, and they did. 
Then Honi said to God, "This people that You brought out of Egypt can take neither too much evil nor too much good. Please give them what they ask so that they may be happy." 
So God sent a strong wind that blew away the fierce rains, and the people gathered mushrooms and truffles on the Temple Mount. 
Then Shimon ben Shetakh, head of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, said to Honi, "I should excommunicate you for your audacity, but how can I, since you're Honi! God coddles you as a father does his young child. The child says: 'Hold me, Daddy, and bathe me, and give me poppyseeds and peaches and pomegranates,' and his father gives him whatever he wants." 
So it was with Honi the Circle-Maker.

Thank G-d, we don't get no hurricanes here in Albuquerque. Torrential rains and flash floods? Occasionally. Smoke from wildfires elsewhere? Fairly regularly (חבל). Tornadoes? Once in a Blue Moon.

But nukes? We love 'em!

We Burqueños love nukes so much ... we want to keep 'em close to us. At our local (minutes from downtown!) Kirtland Air Force Base. As Ollie Reed Jr reported in the Albuquerque Journal last year -
KAFB home to massive nuclear storage complex 
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Officially, the Kirtland Underground Munitions and Maintenance Storage Complex (KUMMSC) is “not an interview topic.” 
That’s the response you get if you ask Kirtland Air Force Base officials about it. 
Unofficially, it’s the largest storage center for nuclear weapons in the world, providing storage, shipping and maintenance for the Air Force and the Navy. Some of the weapons there are scheduled for dismantling. 
The storage complex’s existence is not in question. It is operated by the 898th Munitions Squadron, which reports to Air Force Global Strike Command.
And NukeWatch (Nuclear Watch New Mexico) tells us -
Kirtland Underground Munitions Maintenance and Storage Complex (KUMMSC)  
Activated in 1992, the largest storage facility for nuclear weapons in the nation and possibly the world; thought now to house up to 2500 warheads, most awaiting dismantlement; operated by the 898th Munitions Squadron, which reports to Air Force Global Strike Command.
You can learn more about the Duke City's nuclear stockpile (Abq Jew know you want to!) from this 2006 KRQE report:

Thank goodness, Abq Jew hears you cry, we don't live in Albuquerque. Actually, Albuquerque is a pretty good place to live - watermelon mountains, blue skies, friendly people. And [hot-air] balloons! But for you loyal readers in Missouri or Georgia or Israel -

Think you're safe?

Then take a look at this video - How Close Do You Live to a Nuclear Bomb?

The accompanying liner notes tell us
Nuclear weapons are terrifying in two ways. What they're capable of, and how close they may actually be located to you. 
You may have spent your entire life living near one and never knew about it, or maybe not. Either way, if you want to put your mind at ease or want to get freaked out by it, then this video will tell you with "reasonable" accuracy of where most nuclear weapons are located in the world. 
Some, however, nobody knows of, which means that technically... some could be located just about anywhere! (0000000.1% chance of anybody ever finding these though so don't ever try).
So, Abq Jew supposes, your next question is gonna be -

What's the Deepest Hole We Can Possibly Dig?

There's a video for that, too!

Let us, Abq Jew therefore proposes, keep things in


Hurricanes NO. Lee, Maria, and Nate will not pass through the Land of Enchantment. Nukes, YES. May their sleep be undisturbed, may their journeys be safe and silent. And in the meantime -

School's back. Take it easy out there!