Monday, February 26, 2018

Why We Celebrate Purim in 5778

With Alpha Beta Academy: You know that Megillat Esther is not a children's story, don't you? There are more levels of meaning in Megillat Esther than you or Abq Jew can count. 

After the Messiah has come (may he come speedily, in our days) all the current Jewish holidays will be done away with, save one. You guessed it - Purim.

Why will Purim be celebrated forever? First of all, because Chapter 9 of Megillat Esther tells us so:
... these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed.
But more importantly - Purim is eternal in order to reward those who maintain their faith in the Almighty even when He is hidden. 

God's name is never mentioned in Megillat Esther, yet the whole megillah that transpires - especially the good ending - is because of Him.

When you're ready to get serious about Purim, Abq Jew has just the book for you: The Queen You Thought You Knew, by Rabbi David Fohrman.

Rabbi Fohrman is now the principal educator behind Aleph Beta Academy - a wonderfully lucid and modern resource for both teachers and learners. The website tells us:
Aleph Beta Academy is committed to the relevance of Jewish learning. We want to help our students struggle with some of life"s biggest questions, and to achieve answers that are meaningful and satisfying. 
We believe Torah study should be evidence-based, intellectually stimulating, emotionally gripping and relevant to your everyday life. 
Together with our world-renowned educators, Aleph Beta is building an online library making this amazing material accessible to students around the world. 
Guided by our principal educator, Rabbi David Fohrman, Aleph Beta seeks to feature world-renowned teachers of understanding. While our teachers may all have different methodologies, we pride ourselves on evidence-based instruction. 
Our students should decide for themselves what they believe is compelling, and in this way, we strive to keep our Torah-study intellectually honest.

Aleph Beta Academy has, of course, its own YouTube Channel. So if you're not quite ready for the book (162 pages), one of Aleph Beta's newest videos asks
Why do we need to celebrate Purim? Of course, it’s nice to commemorate the salvation of the Jewish people, but as many of us have been taught, God’s name is all but hidden in the Megillah’s story. 
Since when do we have holidays without God? What exactly are we celebrating here? 
Watch this video to explore some of the answers to these questions, and find brand new meaning in not just the experience of Purim—but in every single day of the year.

Happy Purim, World!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Jews and Washington

And The Jim Kweskin Jug Band: George Washington's parents (Augustine and Mary Ball Washington) celebrated his first birthday on February 11, 1732.

Note: Washington was born on February 11, 1731; when the Gregorian calendar was implemented in the British Empire in 1752, in accordance with the provisions of the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, his birth date became February 22, 1732.

Yes, Abq Jew is just as angry as you are about the shooting at
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
And too many other shootings. And too many other issues.
Nevertheless, we persist.

And for this year's celebration of Our First President's Birthday, Abq Jew is pleased to again present his classic blog post from February 2015 ....

Washington and The Jews

We Americans have celebrated Washington's Birthday as a Federal Holiday since 1879. But, as Wikipedia tells us,
On January 1, 1971, the federal holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.  This date places it between February 15 and 21, which makes the name "Washington's Birthday" in some sense a misnomer, since it never occurs on Washington's actual birthday, either February 11 (Old Style), or February 22 (New Style).
To include Abraham Lincoln's Birthday (never celebrated as a national holiday) in the February festivities, Americans have informally renamed Washington's Birthday "Presidents Day," aka President's Day and Presidents' Day.
Note: Because "Presidents' Day" is not the official name of the federal holiday, there is variation in how it is rendered, both in the name of official state holidays and colloquially. Both "Presidents Day" and "Presidents' Day" are common today, and both are considered correct by dictionaries and usage manuals. "Presidents' Day" was once the predominant style, and it is still favored by leading authorities, notably, The Chicago Manual of Style, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Webster's Third International Dictionary, and Garner's Modern American Usage. In recent years, as the use of attributive nouns (nouns acting as modifiers) has become more widespread, the popularity of "Presidents Day" has increased. This style is favored by the Associated Press Stylebook (followed by most newspapers and some magazines) and the Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference (ISBN 978-1582973357).
In New Mexico, Abq Jew was surprised to learn, Presidents' Day, at least as a state-government paid holiday, is observed on the Friday following Thanksgiving.

Washington began his working life as a surveyor, then switched to the military. After some success in that field, he entered his third career, government.

A mere 160 years (1790) before Abq Jew's Birthday,Washington wrote a famous Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island.

The Letter contains the celebrated clause
to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance
and ends with the felicitous wishes
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid. 
May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.
So let's talk about Valley Forge (it's going to come up later). Wikipedia tells us:
Valley Forge in Pennsylvania was the site of the military camp of the American Continental Army over the winter of 1777–1778 during the American Revolutionary War. It is approximately 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Starvation, disease, malnutrition, and exposure killed nearly 2,500 American soldiers by the end of February 1778.
That was, coincidentally, during the period known as the Little Ice Age.

This concludes the serious portion of this blog post.

Which brings us, of course, to Jim Kweskin and his Jug Band. Kweskin's website tells us
There has never been another group like Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band. The original "Americana" band, playing everything from classic blues to hillbilly country, ragtime, jazz, and rock 'n' roll, they perfectly captured the legendary 1960s mix of exuberant anarchy and heartfelt sincerity. 
Their imitators were legion, including a San Francisco jug band that became the Grateful Dead and a New York jug band that became the Lovin' Spoonful, but no other group attained their unique blend of youthful energy and antiquarian expertise, tight musicianship, loose camaraderie, and infectious swing.
Jim Kweskin, Wikipedia tells us, was born on July 18, 1940, a mere one month and 10 years before Abq Jew's Birthday. Kweskin's Birthday, like Lincoln's Birthday, has never been celebrated as a national holiday.

Nevertheless, when Abq Jew founded the Motherhood & Apple Pie Skiffle Band a mere 47 years ago (1968), it was the Jim Kweskin Jug Band that he modeled his group after.

In keeping with the theme of the day, here is Washington at Valley Forge, a favorite of both the Jug Band and the Skiffle Band.

Happy Washington's Birthday, USA!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Jane Bordeaux Cycles Falcon Heavy

Sometimes Things Go Right: Yes, they do. Although our Catholic cousins can complain about Ash Wednesday falling on [St] Valentine's Day this year, we NewMexiJews have little to get upset about. Except for everything.

Which is why last week's successful launch of Elon Musk's SpaceX Falcon Heavy was so ... uplifting, you should, perhaps, pardon the expression.
Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two. With the ability to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons (141,000 lb) - a mass greater than a  
737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel
Falcon Heavy can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy, at one-third the cost.

Did you watch the Falcon Heavy launch live, as it happened? ICYMI, Abq Jew has thoughtfully provided the launch video here, and the synchronized booster landing video here.

The cheering, shouting, and general hoopla you hear in the background comes mostly from SpaceX employees - engineers and such - at SpaceX headquarters in beautiful, downtown Hawthorne, California.
Hawthorne was once a "whites only" settlement, commonly called a sundown town. During the 1930s, signs warned African-Americans to be out of Hawthorne by sundown.
Many of us have come a long way since then, although many of us have not.

Still, it stirred Abq Jew's still at last count reasonably well-functioning heart to hear and see the celebrations of the young people at SpaceX (yes, there were a few AKs-over-40 scattered around).

As long as the US and the world have young people who can put together projects like Falcon Heavy - maybe there's a chance we'll be OK down the road.

The road is never really closed.

The band Jane Bordeaux (Doron Talmon is in the center) Photo: Chen Tamari

Which brings us to Jane Bordeaux.

A band from Tel-Aviv, making live n' kickin'
American folk-country style music in Hebrew.

Last year, told us why 1.6 million people have shared a music video in Hebrew. It was because

Israeli folk band's production in an old penny arcade is winning admiration for its beautiful animation, even among those who don’t know the language.

Abq Jew is happy to present Ma'agalim (Cycles) by Jane Bordeaux. The video is set inside an old penny arcade in which a wooden doll is stuck in place while the world around her changes and passes by.

The Jerusalem Post recently reported:
A Full-Bodied (Jane) Bordeaux 
One country girl, two rugged city folk, three albums... Jane Bordeaux is at it again. They look like Peter, Paul and Mary, they sing Bob Dylan covers, but Jane Bordeaux’s sound is 100% their own.

In a world overrun by social learning, it is far too easy to fall into the traps of mimicry, retracing the footsteps of those musical icons who came before. However, the dynamic Israeli trio, fronted by singer-songwriter Doron Talmon, has introduced an unexpected element to the popular American country- folk style: Hebrew.
Meanwhile, in other news:

A panther chameleon opens the mouth in its enclosure in a zoo in Frankfurt, Germany,
May 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The Times of Israel (et al) reports that
Iran accuses West of using lizards for nuclear spying 
Adviser to Khamenei says aid collectors for Palestinians sought to deploy reptiles whose skin 'attracted atomic waves' 
The former chief-of-staff of Iran’s armed forces said Tuesday that Western spies had used lizards to “attract atomic waves” and spy on his country’s nuclear program.

 It was the latest in a long line of incidents of Western countries, including Israel, being accused of deploying secret agents from the animal kingdom.

And in more other news, we've got the American woman who fell asleep with a headache and woke up with a British accent ... which has lingered for two years. 

A real-life case (well, she's from Arizona) of Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS). Yes, there's a name for this!

And in  still more other news, Boston Dynamics has given us the insightful video Hey Buddy, Can You Give Me a Hand?

All of which returns Abq Jew and (hopefully) you, his loyal readers, to our theme of ... hope, you should, perhaps, pardon the expression.

It ain't over yet (see When Is It Over?).

Thursday, February 8, 2018

All About KlezmerQuerque 2018

Klezmer! Nahalat Shalom! Presidents Day Weekend!  Yes, Abq Jew has mentioned this before. About a zillion times. But here we go once again!

KlezmerQuerque 2018
 16th Annual
Presidents Day Weekend
February 16-18
Congregation Nahalat Shalom
Henry Sapoznik
Margot Leverett
Avia Moore

Here is the plan:

The 16th Annual KlezmerQuerque is a three-day festival of concerts, workshops and dance parties featuring ‘Klezmer’ which is the traditional dance and instrumental music based in the ancient wedding ceremonies of the Eastern European Jewish people.

The festival will take place from February 16-18, 2018 (Friday evening through Sunday evening) over Presidents Day weekend.

KlezmerQuerque is produced by Congregation Nahalat Shalom, its 22-piece inter-generational Community Klezmer Band, and Rikud dance troupe.

The festival presents a wide variety of events for all ages, abilities and budgets including a free children’s event, concerts, dance parties, lecture-presentations, and “hands-on” workshops in music and dance.

Highlights of the festival include 
  • Performances by the guest artists on Friday evening February 16 as part of Der Freylekher Shabbes; 
  • Performance and a dance party on Saturday evening, February 17, featuring the guest artists; 
  • Four workshops by the guest artists on Sunday, February 18 between 10:00 am and 5:45 pm.

Henry Sapoznik, IYDK, is an award-winning record and radio producer, banjoist, author, and ethnomusicologist in the fields of Yiddish and American popular and traditional music. Henry is a pioneer - the first? - in the worldwide revival of klezmer music.

Margot Leverett (see Margot's in New Mexico!) is one of the foremost of the new generation of klezmer clarinetists. Margot was involved in avant-garde music when she first heard klezmer. When it comes to klezmer and Jewgrass, Margot is one of the best.

Photo by Randi Thompson

Avia Moore - dance leader, teacher, and choreographer from Toronto, Canada - will be leading dances at the parties and teaching workshops. 

KlezmerQuerque 2018 will also feature music and dance by many local klezmer artists including: The Rebbe’s Orkestra, The Nahalat Shalom Community Klezmer Band, Rikud Dancers, Alavados, Di Kavene Kapelye, and Beth Cohen.

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: Henry plays the hardly-strictly-klezmer sad song Baltimore Fire (see The Great Baltimore Fire) from his 2017 album Banjew.

This is gonna be good!

See you there!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Wives, Husbands, Shekels

Shalom Bayit (Peace at Home). Yes, this Shabbat is special! The Torah reading is Mishpatim, making this the Shabbat of a Million Regulations (see Writing Down the Laws). And it's Shabbat Shekalim, aka Infrastructure Shabbat (see Old Time Taxes).

And for this special Shabbat, Abq Jew is pleased to again present his classic blog post from January 2014 ....

Husbands and Wives

You may have noticed by now that Abq Jew is a stickler for correct spelling, impeccable grammar, and proper English usage in strict accordance with the work of Henry Watson Fowler. Or maybe not.

It is thus difficult for Abq Jew to admit that he had a hard time describing his favorite pasuk in Parshat Mishpatim (see Writing Down the Laws).

The first clause of the pasuk was easy:

.אִם-בְּגַפּוֹ יָבֹא, בְּגַפּוֹ יֵצֵא
If a man came with a coat, he should leave with his coat.
The foundation of the entire coat (and hat) check industry.

The second clause, not so much:

.אִם-בַּעַל אִשָּׁה הוּא, וְיָצְאָה אִשְׁתּוֹ עִמּוֹ
If a man is married, his wife should go out with him.
The fundamental law for husbands - go out with you wife after Shabbos!

Here, Abq Jew struggled with
  1. Husbands should go out with their wife ... which some might think suggests polyandry.
  2. Husbands should go out with their wives ... which some might think suggests polygamy.
As shown above, Abq Jew decided to skirt the entire issue and go for an alternative (not alternate; see Word Girl) but still imperfect wording.

Our Torah does not put much stock in polyandry, and doesn't really deal with it. (The case of levirate marriage cannot reasonably be considered polyandry.) But the Torah clearly permits polygamy.

But the Torah does not exactly promote polygamy. In fact, our Torah shows - particularly in the stories of Abraham (Sarah and Hagar) and Jacob (Rachel and Leah and Bilhah and Zilpah) - just how well [not!] polygamy worked for our ancestors.

So why does Judaism not permit polygamy today? Two reasons are traditionally offered.

1. Rabbenu Gershom, Meor HaGolah

Who, Abq Jew hears you ask, was Rabbenu Gershom? Wikipedia tells us:
Gershom ben Judah, (c. 960 -1040? -1028?) best known as Rabbeinu Gershom (Hebrew: רבנו גרשום‎, "Our teacher Gershom") and also commonly known to scholars of Judaism by the title Rabbeinu Gershom Me'Or Hagolah ("Our teacher Gershom the light of the exile"), was a famous Talmudist and Halakhist.  
Rashi [yes, our Rashi] of Troyes (d. 1105) said less than a century after Gershom's death,"all members of the Ashkenazi diaspora are students of his." As early as the 14th century Asher ben Jehiel wrote that Rabbeinu Gershom's writings were "such permanent fixtures that they may well have been handed down on Mount Sinai."  
He is most famous for the synod he called around 1000 CE, in which he instituted various laws and bans, including prohibiting polygamy, requiring the consent of both parties to a divorce, modifying the rules concerning those who became apostates under compulsion, and prohibiting the opening of correspondence addressed to someone else.
There are two very interesting things about Rabbenu Gershom's polygamy ban:
  1. The ban was only intended for and accepted by the Ashkenazic community, and not for and by the Sephardic community.
  2. The ban was only until "the end of the millennium." That is, until the year 5000 - according to our Hebrew calendar. Hint: we are now in the year 5774.
So now, Rabbenu Gershom's polygamy ban is little more than a custom. But then there is

2. Dina D Malkhuta ("Dina")

At one time or another (also at one time and another), Dina D Malkhuta ("Dina") has lived in every Jewish community in the world. Sometimes we recognize her as the cop on the corner or the accountant in the corner office; other times she is invisible, and we belatedly perceive her presence only in the subpoenas and hearings that follow.
OK, this is just the type of thing that Abq Jew finds humorous. Dina d'malkhuta dina (the law of the land is the law) is a Rabbinic / Talmudic statement that states equivocally that Jews must observe the laws of wherever they live. What, you expected unequivocally?
The blog Jewish Treats explains:
“Dina d’malchuta dina,” the law of the land is the law, is a phrase repeated numerous times in the Talmud, and always attributed to the sage Samuel. According to Samuel, there is no question that a Jew must obey the laws of the land in which he/she resides... unless that law directly contradicts halacha (for instance a law ordering everyone to worship idols).  
In certain cases, the rabbis determined that certain rulers and their unfair and harsh laws were dangerous to the Jewish people, and therefore permitted the local Jews to "skirt the laws" or even to ignore them (such as the anti-Semitic decrees of the Russian Czars). In a country like the United States, however, there is no question that dina d’malchuta dina must be strictly observed.  
What does this mean? This means that being a law-abiding citizen is more that just one’s civic duty, it is one’s religious obligation as well. Taxes, civil law, even the “rules of the road” are our responsibility to uphold.