Monday, October 15, 2018

Jews and Chainsaws

Goodbye Sears Roebuck & Co: As if the news from ... well, everywhere isn't bad enough, last night (!) Sears - yes, Sears - filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Abq Jew has been thinking about Chapter 11, too. Oh - we read Chapter 11 (of Genesis) last Shabbos in shul. You may recall - it's about the Tower of Babylon.

And how The Holy One, Blessed Be He broke the construction union that was building the tower and scattered its leaders 'over the face of the whole earth.'

But Abq Jew and The Jewish Magazine also recall happier ... and funnier times with Chapter 11. If you don't - here is the

Oldest Biblical Joke Ever Told

A man has been in business for many, many years and the business is going down the drain. He is seriously contemplating suicide and he doesn't know what to do.

He goes to the Rabbi to seek his advice. He tells the Rabbi about all of his problems in the business and asks the Rabbi what he should do.

The Rabbi says "Take a beach chair and a bible and put them in your car and drive down to the edge of the ocean. Go to the water's edge. Take the beach chair out of the car, sit on it and take the bible out and open it up. The wind will rifle the pages for a while and eventually the bible will stay open at a particular page. Read the bible and it will tell you what to do."

The man does as he is told. He places a beach chair and a bible in his car and drives down to the beach. He sits on the chair at the water's edge and opens the bible. The wind rifles the pages of the bible and then stops at a particular page. He looks down at the bible and sees what he has to do.

Three months later the man and his family come back to see the Rabbi. The man is wearing a $1,000 Italian suit, The wife is all decked out with a full-length mink coat and the child is dressed in beautiful silk.

The man hands the Rabbi a thick envelope full of money and tells him that he wants to donate this money to the synagogue in order to thank the Rabbi for his wonderful advice. The Rabbi is delighted. He recognizes the man and asks him what advice in the bible brought this good fortune to him.

The man replies:

"Chapter 11."

Which brings us to chainsaws. And to riding mowers. A large selection of both of which Sears always carried - along with everything, everything else.

Also last night - Abq Jew came across a tweet from David Corn, in which he retweeted an article from NewsChannel3 in Memphis. Which Abq Jew quotes in its entirety.
Man run over by lawn mower while trying to kill son with chainsaw 
BRISTOL, Tenn. – A man who police say was run over with a lawn mower while trying to kill his son with a chain saw has had to have his leg amputated. 
The Bristol Herald Courier reports that a warrant for 76-year-old Douglas Ferguson couldn’t be served until Tuesday because of the severity of his injuries. 
According to a Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office release, officers called to a home June 28 found Ferguson bleeding from his leg and head. A preliminary investigation indicated he had tried to attack his son with a running chain saw while he son mowed the yard. 
Detectives say the father and son had an ongoing feud. 
Ferguson is charged with attempted second-degree murder and violating probation. It’s unclear whether he has a lawyer to comment on his behalf.
A word (or two) about David Corn.
David Corn (born February 20, 1959) is an American political journalist, author, and the chief of the Washington bureau for Mother Jones.  
He has been Washington editor for The Nation and appeared regularly on FOX News, MSNBC, National Public Radio, and opposite James Pinkerton or other media personalities.  
Corn was raised in a Jewish family in White Plains, New York. He attended Brown University where he majored in history and worked for The Brown Daily Herald.   
After his junior year, he interned at The Nation where he accepted a job as editorial assistant instead of returning to finish his degree. He earned his remaining credits at Columbia University and received a B.A. from Brown University in 1982. He joined Mother Jones in 2007.
Anyway, David Corn's tweet / comment on the above story was

What family hasn't been here?

Which brings us to next week's Torah reading - Parshat Lech Lecha (Get Up and Go). Or, as we often call it -

Chapter 12
The Etz Hayim Torah and Commentary tells us:
The first 75 years of Abraham's life are passed over in total silence. He still bears the name Abram when God's call comes. 
The patriarch's immediate response thrusts him onto the scene of history with astounding suddenness and marks the beginning of his life.
In other words - the story of Abraham and his descendants is the origin myth of the Jewish people. Yes, since the God of Israel is the God of the World, let's tell the story of creation - and throw in the story of the flood.

But it's the story of Abraham and his mishpocha that we really care about.
Which brings us to one of Abq Jew's favorite books - Rabbi Burton L Visotzky's (see 2012's America's Top Rabbis) The Genesis of Ethics.
Which is subtitled: How the Tormented Family of Genesis Leads Us to Moral Development
As Burton Visotzky says, the Book of Genesis seems to be, at least on first reading, "an ugly little soap opera about a dysfunctional family . . . a story about rape, incest, murder, deception, brute force, sex, and blood lust. But these stories reveal much about human dilemmas and ethical problems that mirror our own lives. 
By delving into the lives of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Esau and holding up these characters of Scripture to the light of critical inquiry, Burton Visotzky reveals much that is fresh and useful about ethics and morality. 

Wait a minute! Abq Jew hears you cry.

These are our patriarchs and matriarchs!

Yes they are. And they are not - as if such a thing could exist - perfect human beings. Yet they are our mishpocha. And we can learn from what they did right, and we can learn from what they did wrong.

And we can debate endlessly about which is which.

So let's go back and talk about Sears.
Sears, Roebuck and Company, colloquially known as Sears, is an American chain of department stores founded by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck in 1892, reincorporated (a formality for a history-making consumer sector initial public offering) by Richard Sears and new partner Julius Rosenwald in 1906. 
Formerly based at the Sears Tower in Chicago and currently headquartered in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, the operation began as a mail ordering catalog company and began opening retail locations in 1925. 
The first location was in Evansville, Indiana. In 2005, the company was bought by the management of the American big box chain Kmart, which formed Sears Holdings upon completion of the merger. 
In terms of domestic revenue, Sears was the largest retailer in the United States until October 1989, when Walmart surpassed it. 
As of 2017, Sears is the 23rd largest retailer in the United States. 
After several years of declining sales, its parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on October 15, 2018.

And let us end this crazy blog post with an altogether too-brief appreciation of Julius Rosenwald.
Julius Rosenwald (August 12, 1862 – January 6, 1932) was an American businessman and philanthropist. 
He was born in 1862 to the clothier Samuel Rosenwald and his wife Augusta Hammerslough, a Jewish immigrant couple from Germany. He was born and raised just a few blocks from the Abraham Lincoln residence in Springfield, Illinois, during Lincoln's Presidency of the United States. 
By his sixteenth year, Rosenwald was apprenticed by his parents to his uncles in New York City to learn the clothing trades. While in New York, he befriended Henry Goldman and Henry Morgenthau, Sr. With his younger brother Morris, Rosenwald started a clothing manufacturing company. They were ruined by a recession in 1885. 
Rosenwald had heard about other clothiers who had begun to manufacture clothing according to standardized sizes from data collected during the American Civil War. He decided to try the system but to move his manufacturing facility closer to the rural population that he anticipated would be his market. He and his brother moved to Chicago, Illinois. 
In 1890, Rosenwald married Augusta Nusbaum, a daughter of a competing clothier. 
The rest, as they say is history.
Rosenwald became a member of the city's leading Jewish Reform congregation, Chicago Sinai congregation, soon after moving to Chicago. Its rabbi, Emil G. Hirsch, made a big impact on Rosenwald's philanthropy. 
Rosenwald donated generously to several Jewish community projects in Chicago and served as vice president of Chicago Sinai for many years. 
Booker T. Washington encouraged Rosenwald to address the poor state of African-American education in the US, which suffered from inadequate buildings and books. Rosenwald provided funds to build six small schools in rural Alabama, which were constructed and opened in 1913 and 1914, and overseen by Tuskegee.
The collaboration between Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald was the subject of the 2015 documentary Rosenwald, subtitled A Remarkable Story of a Jewish Partnership with African American Communities by writer, producer and director Aviva Kempner, which won Best Documentary Jury Award at the Teaneck International Film Festival and the Lipscomb University Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, Nashville Film Festival. 
He established his Rosenwald Fund in 1917 for "the well-being of mankind".  
Unlike other endowed foundations, which were designed to fund themselves in perpetuity, the Rosenwald Fund was intended to use all of its funds for philanthropic purposes. As a result, the fund was completely spent by 1948.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

It's Noah Time Again!

Send Out the Dove!  This Shabbat we will again read Parshat Noah, the one portion of the Holy Torah that has us New MexiJews lamenting the tragic loss of Earth's entire dinosaur population, who (quite literally) missed the boat.

Abq Jew exhorts everyone, especially those in Hurricane Michael's path, to be safe and stay secure. Shelter at home; shelter in the shelter; or shelter at Uncle Stan's place. But shelter. And remember that time when

Noah of Arc and his wife, Joan,
build a boat to survive a great flood.

But Abq Jew digresses. 

Yes, it was six (6) years ago (!) (see Noah! Send Out The Dove!) that Abq Jew first brought you Matti Caspi and Chocolat, Menta, Mastik singing their '70s hit.

And here it is again, and only because a) it is Parshat Noah; and b) this performance reminds Abq Jew of days ... and years ... gone by. Nostalgia.

Parshat Noach. A time to

Send out the dove.

Watch for the plaid in the rainbow.

Stegosauruses had beautiful singing voices, and they knew
all the words to The Seekers' greatest hits.

And remember the stegosaurus.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Israel's Next UN Ambassador

Welcome, Nikki Halevy: As Abq Jew is sure you have by now been made aware, Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, announced (SURPRISE!) her resignation today.

And boy does she look happy!

Ms Haley's Jewish background has long been known, as Wikipedia reports:
Nimroda "Nikki" Haley (née Randhawitz, born January 20, 1972) is an American politician who is currently the 29th United States Ambassador to the United Nations. 
When Haley was five years old, her parents attempted to enter her in the "Miss Bloomberg" contest. The contest traditionally crowned a Jewish queen and a shiksa queen. Since the judges decided Haley did not fit either category, they disqualified her. 
Haley has two brothers, Matti, a retired member of the Israel Defense Forces, and Haran, a web designer. She has one sister, Sima, a radio host and Technion - Israel Institute of Technology alumna.

Ms Haley's advocacy for and - dare we say it? - outright support of Israel at the United Nations are also well known.

Today, Nikki Haley has gone above and beyond the Jewish community's already-high expectations. The Jerusalem Post reports that Nikki has

Formally converted to Judaism in accordance with
Orthodox standards; restored the 'v' to her name to honor her family tradition; departed on aliyah to the Land of Israel; and accepted a position as Israel's next UN Ambassador.

Todah rabbah, Danny Danon! It's been fun!

And in case you were wondering -

There was always something about South Carolina's
State Flag that made Nikki a bit nervous.

Mazel Tov Nikki Halevy!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Start All Over Again

In The Beginning - Swing Time: The Fall Holidays are celebrated, over, and done. Now we Jews turn our attention to the New Year of 5779. Abq Jew would like to remind you that starting this very Shabbat - Shabbat Bereshit - we once again have the opportunity to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again.


Which immediately brought to what is left, after all these years, of Abq Jew's mind, the song Pick Yourself Up. Sung and danced to by the Jewish performers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the 1936 Cecil B DeMille Biblical epic Swing Time.

About which said song Wikipedia tells us:
"Pick Yourself Up" is a popular song composed in 1936 by Jerome Kern, with lyrics by Dorothy Fields. It has a verse and chorus, as well as a third section, though the third section is often omitted in recordings.  
The song was written for the film Swing Time (1936), where it was introduced by Fred Astaire [Frederick Austerlitz] and Ginger Rogers [Virginia Katherine McMath].
Rogers plays a dance instructor whom Astaire follows into her studio; he pretends to have "two left feet" in order to get her to dance with him. Astaire sings the verse to her and she responds with the chorus.  
After an interlude, they dance to the tune. (Author John Mueller has written their dance "is one of the very greatest of Astaire's playful duets: boundlessly joyous, endlessly re-seeable.")
And about which said film Wikipedia tells us:
Swing Time is a 1936 American RKO musical comedy film set mainly in New York City, and starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
It features Helen Broderick, Victor Moore, Betty Furness, Eric Blore and Georges Metaxa, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. The film was directed by George Stevens
Noted dance critic Arlene Croce considers Swing Time Astaire and Rogers' best dance musical, a view shared by John Mueller and Hannah Hyam.
Wait a minute!
Abq Jew hears you cry.

Fred and Ginger weren't Jewish.
Were they?

Well, Abq Jew must tell you, no. They weren't. But let's take a look at some of the other people associated with Swing Time. It's got plenty of yichus.

Jerome Kern 

Jerome David Kern (January 27, 1885 – November 11, 1945) was an American composer of musical theatre and popular music.

One of the most important American theatre composers of the early 20th century, he wrote more than 700 songs, used in over 100 stage works, including such classics as "Ol' Man River", "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man", "A Fine Romance", "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", "The Song Is You", "All the Things You Are", "The Way You Look Tonight", "Long Ago (and Far Away)" and "Who?".

Kern was born in New York City, on Sutton Place, in what was then the city's brewery district. His parents were Henry Kern (1842–1908), a Jewish German immigrant, and Fannie Kern née Kakeles (1852–1907), who was an American Jew of Bohemian parentage.

At the time of Kern's birth, his father ran a stable; later he became a successful merchant. Kern grew up on East 56th Street in Manhattan, where he attended public schools. He showed an early aptitude for music and was taught to play the piano and organ by his mother, an accomplished player and teacher.

Dorothy Fields

Dorothy Fields (July 15, 1904 – March 28, 1974) was an American librettist and lyricist. She wrote over 400 songs for Broadway musicals and films.

Her best-known pieces include "The Way You Look Tonight", "A Fine Romance", "On the Sunny Side of the Street", "Don't Blame Me", "Pick Yourself Up", "I'm in the Mood for Love" and "You Couldn't Be Cuter".

Fields was born in Allenhurst, New Jersey, and grew up in New York City. Her family was deeply involved in show business.

Her father, Lew Fields, was a Jewish immigrant from Poland who partnered with Joe Weber to become one of the most popular comedy duos near the end of the nineteenth century. They were known as the Weber and Fields vaudeville act.

Her mother was Rose Harris. She had two older brothers, Joseph and Herbert, who also became successful on Broadway.

Lew Fields and Joe Weber

Lew Fields (January 1867 – July 20, 1941), born as Moses Schoenfeld, was an American actor, comedian, vaudeville star, theatre manager, and producer.

Lew Fields was half of the great comic duo Weber and Fields, the other half being Joe Weber (11 August 1867 – 10 May 1942), born Joseph Morris Weber.

Fields and Weber started performing in museums, circuses and variety houses in New York City.

The young men had a "Dutch act" in which both portrayed German immigrants. Such "dialect acts" (German dialects, Irish dialects, Jewish/Yiddish dialects, Blackface and Black/African American vernacular English) were extremely common at the time, the comedy coming from the actors' mangling of the English language and dropping of malapropisms as they undertook life in America.

In the case of Weber and Fields (or "Mike and Meyer" as their characters were known) and many of the other acts of this genre, this often involved stereotyping by dress and behavior, as well as comedic and often sympathetic portrayals of the characters' attempts to fit into American society.

"Crafty schemes" of "making it big" in America, as well as the attempts of mere survival of immigrant poverty in America, were written into the script of these acts. A typical "Mike and Meyer" routine involved Mike, the short and clever one, unsuccessfully trying to coach Meyer, the tall and simple one, in a scheme to get them a free lunch at a working-class saloon.

Neil Simon

Marvin Neil Simon (July 4, 1927 – August 26, 2018) was an American playwright, screenwriter and author.

He wrote more than 30 plays and nearly the same number of movie screenplays, mostly adaptations of his plays. He received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer.

Neil Simon was born on July 4, 1927, in The Bronx, New York, to Jewish parents. His father, Irving Simon, was a garment salesman, and his mother, Mamie (Levy) Simon, was mostly a homemaker.

Simon had one older brother by eight years, television writer and comedy teacher Danny Simon. He grew up in Washington Heights, Manhattan, during the period of the Great Depression.

Wait a minute! How did we get to Neil Simon,
when we were talking about Swing Time!

Well, it turns out that Neil Simon (some say) based his play The Sunshine Boys on ... wait for it ... the vaudeville duo Weber & Fields (see above).

Others say no; Neil Simon based his play The Sunshine Boys on the vaudeville duo Smith and Dale.

Smith and Dale

Smith and Dale were a famous American vaudeville comedy duo. The two performed together for more than seventy years.

Joe Smith (born Joseph Seltzer on February 16, 1884 - February 22, 1981) and Charlie Dale (born Charles Marks on September 6, 1885 - November 16, 1971) grew up in the Jewish ghettos of New York City.

Seltzer and Marks met as teenagers in 1898 and formed a partnership. They named their act "Smith and Dale" because a local printer gave them a good deal on business cards reading "Smith and Dale" (intended for a vaudeville team that had dissolved). Joe Seltzer became Joe Smith, and Charlie Marks became Charlie Dale.

So let's talk about Swing Time's director.

George Stevens

George Cooper Stevens (December 18, 1904 – March 8, 1975) was an American film director, producer, screenwriter and cinematographer.

Among his most notable films are A Place in the Sun (1951; winner of six Academy Awards including Best Director), Shane (1953; Oscar nominated), Giant (1956; Oscar for Best Director), and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959; nominated for Best Director).

During World War II, Stevens joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps and headed a film unit
from 1943 to 1946, under General Eisenhower. 

His unit shot footage documenting D-Day — including the only Allied European Front color film of the war — the liberation of Paris and the meeting of American and Soviet forces at the Elbe River, as well as horrific scenes from the Duben labor camp and the Dachau concentration camp

Stevens also helped prepare the Duben and Dachau footage and other material for presentation
during the Nuremberg Trials. In 2008, his footage was entered into the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as an "essential visual record" of World War II.

Not Jewish, as far as Abq Jew can tell.
Still, plenty of yichus.

Which brings us to the entertainment portion of this blog post.

First, the song.

Then, the dance.


On January 20 2009, the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama,
in his inauguration speech, quoted the lyrics in the song Pick Yourself Up, saying

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off,
and begin again the work of remaking America.