Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Celebrating Tisha B'Av

With Dance and Song: Following Tisha b'Av, there are seven prophetic readings of consolation - starting with Shabbat Nachamu (this week), and all from Isaiah - that comfort us and prepare us for the upcoming High Holy Days. 

But you, Abq Jew's loyal readers, already know that (see Shabbat Nachamu: That Thing You Do! et al)! So let's talk instead about the prophet Zechariah.

Zechariah as depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Who [Zechariah 8:19] tells us that - sometime in the future -
The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months [Tisha B'Av and all related minor fasts] will be transformed into joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. 
Jerusalem, as crowds assemble for a joyful and glad occasion.
Look at that sky!

Yes, dear readers. Tisha B'Av, the Black Fast, will become a happy festival.
Abq Jew can hear you ask:

To which Abq Jew must answer (he must! he must!):

Others wiser and faster and abler to sing in four-part harmony have gone before Abq Jew, and they have figured it out. Here is how: Boney M.
Boney M is a Euro-Caribbean vocal group created by German record producer Frank Farian. Originally based in West Germany, the four original members of the group's official line-up were Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett from Jamaica, Maizie Williams from Montserrat, and Bobby Farrell, a performing artist from Aruba. The group was formed in 1976, and achieved popularity during the disco era of the late 1970s.

Here are a few things that may help explain, clarify, and otherwise decode the song we have just heard. If you have not listened to the song (i.e., watched the video), Abq Jew strongly encourages you to do so now. Really. It's cool.

The Song
Boney M Music Video

Rivers of Babylon is a Rastafari song written and recorded by Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of the Jamaican reggae group The Melodians in 1970. The lyrics are adapted from the texts of Psalms 19 and 137 in the Hebrew Bible.

The Melodians' original version of the song appeared on the soundtrack album for the 1972 movie The Harder They Come, which made it internationally known.

The song was popularized in Europe by the 1978 Boney M cover  version, which was awarded a platinum disc and is one of the top-ten all-time best-selling singles in the UK.

Psalm 137
By the Rivers of Babylon

Psalm 137 is the 137th psalm of the Hebrew Book of Psalms. The Greek Septuagint version of the Bible, and the Latin Vulgate, call this Psalm 136.

In English it is generally known as "By the rivers of Babylon", which is how its first words are translated in the King James Version.

After Nebuchadnezzar II's successful siege of Jerusalem in 597 BCE, inhabitants of the Kingdom of Judah were deported to Babylonia, where they were held captive until some time after the Fall of Babylon (539 BCE).

The rivers of Babylon [in case you slept through that lecture] are the Euphrates river, its tributaries, and the Tigris river.

Rabbinical sources attributed the poem to Jeremiah [look! another prophet!]. The Septuagint version of the psalm bears the superscription: "For David. By Jeremias, in the Captivity."

We all know this psalm, because we sing it all the time! It's the introduction to the weekday Birkat HaMazon!

(Actually, Abq Jew doesn't know anyone who actually sings it, reads it, or even looks at Psalm 137 before bentching on a non-Shabbat non-holiday.)

Psalm 19
The Heavens Declare

Psalm 19 is the 19th psalm in the Book of Psalms. Except (of course) in the Greek Septuagint version of the Bible, and in the Latin Vulgate, where this is Psalm 18.

In English it is generally known as "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork", which is how its first words are translated in the King James Version.

Psalm 19 is attributed to King David - not for King David - and has been set to music often ....

Psalm 19 is recited in its entirety during the Pesukei deZimra of Shabbat and Yom Tov. [JFKs (see In Honor of the JFKs) may not know this.] Verse 15 (see above) is recited during the closing to the Amidah.

Rastafari (Long Version)

Rastafari, also known as Rastafarianism, is an Abrahamic religion that developed in Jamaica during the 1930s. Scholars of religion and related fields have classified it as both a new religious movement and a social movement.

There is no central authority in control of the movement (Abq Jew likes it already!) and much diversity exists among practitioners, who are known as Rastafari, Rastafarians, or Rastas.

Rastas often claim the flag of Ethiopia as was used during Haile Selassie's reign.
It combines the conquering lion of Judah, symbol of the Ethiopian monarchy,
with green, gold, and red.

Rastas refer to their beliefs, which are based on a specific interpretation of the Bible, as "Rastalogy". Central is a monotheistic belief in a single God—referred to as Jah—who partially resides within each individual.

Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia between 1930
and 1974, is given central importance. 

Many Rastas regard him as an incarnation of Jah on Earth and as the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, another figure whom practitioners revere. Other Rastas regard Haile Selassie not as Jah incarnate but as a human prophet who fully recognized the inner divinity in every individual.

Rastafari is Afrocentric and focuses its attention on the African diaspora, which it believes is oppressed within Western society, or "Babylon".

Many Rastas call for the resettlement of the African diaspora in either Ethiopia or Africa more widely, referring to this continent (everyone's homeland) as the Promised Land of "Zion".

Rastafari (Short Version)

Since Rivers of Babylon is based upon Psalms 19 and 137, one might think that the song is about the Children of Israel and the Land of Israel, as we Jews understand them. However, one would be wrong.

That's because the Rastafari song Rivers of Babylon is all in code. Zion refers to Ethiopia (or, more generally, Africa). Babylon refers to the Western world. And then there's Haile Selassie.

And not only is the song all in code - it's in toned-down (for the non-Rastafari) code.
The Rastafarian language was excised from the lyrics for the Boney M version. 
Although the group performed an early mix of the song on a German TV show and sang "How can we sing King Alpha's song" [referring to Haile Selassie] as in the Melodians version, it was changed to "the Lord's song", restoring the original, biblical words, in the versions that were to be released. 
To fit the meter, "O Far-I" became "here tonight" rather than the original, biblical "O Lord".

The Song 
1979 Sopot International Song Festival

ICYMI: The Sopot International Song Festival is an annual international song contest held in (surprise!) Sopot, Poland.

Same song, same (Boney M) singers. But Abq Jew thought you, his loyal readers, might appreciate a live version. Backup singers, full orchestra.

The Dance (Remix)
Boney M Does Disco

Abq Jew was ... researching ... on YouTube, looking for still more versions of Rivers of Babylon to share with you, his loyal readers. And came upon this - a wonderful dance remix of Boney M's disco version.

The dancers appear to be part of Rock that Swing, "The Extraordinary Boogie and Swing Festival [and Dance Camp]" held in Munich, Germany.

WARNING: This is a dance remix. It is impossible (at least, for Abq Jew) to tell what music they are actually dancing to.

But who cares? The dancing is just too good!

But back to Zechariah. Who told us (see top) that - sometime in the future (speedily, in our days!) -
The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will be transformed into joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. 
Zechariah closes that verse with an admonition that still speaks to us today.

YES! May we celebrate as the Holy City of Jerusalem continues to be rebuilt, and as the Holy Land of Israel continues to be restored. 

And may we soon dance and sing on Tisha B'Av.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

El Paso: 'Do Something!'

Jupiter; now Saturn: Have you been watching The Planets on PBS? It's a new, fascinating series that explores and explains everything you always wanted to know (or not) about our solar system.

Abq Jew has been watching. And thinking about Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets. And thinking about El Paso, Albuquerque's down-the-block and across-the-street neighbor. Which this week suffered an immense tragedy.

A new simulation suggests our solar system's giant planets,
Jupiter and Saturn, could have played an important role
in helping life get a foothold on Earth.   
(Image: © NASA/JPL)

How, Abq Jew hears you ask, could there possibly be a connection between Saturn (particularly) and El Paso?'s Sarah Lewin wrote (in 2016):
Life on Earth Can Thank Its Lucky Stars for Jupiter and Saturn 
Without Jupiter and Saturn orbiting out past Earth, life may not have been able to gain a foothold on our planet, new simulations suggest. 
The two gas giants likely helped stabilize the solar system, protecting Earth and the other interior, rocky planets from frequent run-ins with big, fast-moving objects, researchers said. 
In other words, giant planets appear to have a giant impact on giant impacts.  
Thus - Jupiter and Saturn protect Earth from asteroids, comets, meteors, etc that could have destroyed life (or could in the future destroy) life on Earth.

Everyone sort of remembers that Jupiter protects us.
But we forget that Saturn protects us, too.

Here in America, we Jews are (to a great extent, but imperfectly) protected from white supremacist antisemitism.

First of all, by the African-American community, at whom most American sinat chinam (unwarranted hatred) is directed. You know -


And also by the Mexican-American / Latino community. We forget that hatred of them protects us Jews, too. But we were reminded this week.


At a memorial for the victims of the shooting in El Paso, Tex., on Tuesday.
Calla Kessler / The New York Times

Bringing us down to Earth - Simon Romero (see Hate in NM: March 2019), Caitlin Dickerson, Miriam Jordan and Patricia Mazzei wrote in The New York Times:
‘It Feels Like Being Hunted’: Latinos Across U.S. in Fear After El Paso Massacre 
After 22 people were shot to death at a Walmart in El Paso over the weekend, a Florida retiree found herself imagining how her grandchildren could be killed. A daughter of Ecuadorean immigrants cried alone in her car. A Texas lawyer bought a gun to defend his family. 
For a number of Latinos across the United States, the shooting attack in El Paso felt like a turning point, calling into question everything they thought they knew about their place in American society. 
Whether they are liberal or conservative, speakers of English or Spanish, recent immigrants or descendants of pioneers who put down stakes in the Southwest 400 years ago, many Latinos in interviews this week said they felt deeply shaken at the idea that radicalized white nationalism seemed to have placed them — at least for one bloody weekend — in its cross hairs. 
“At least for Latinos, in some way, it’s the death of the American dream,” Dario Aguirre, 64, a Mexican-American lawyer in Denver and a registered Republican, said about the impact of the killings on him and those around him. 
Mr. Aguirre moved to San Diego from Tijuana when he was 5, and was raised by his grandmother in poor Mexican neighborhoods. He enlisted in the Air Force, and later became an immigration lawyer — a classic American success story.
A vigil in El Paso on Sunday. Latinos across the United States
expressed alarm about radicalized white nationalists placing them
in their cross hairs.
   Ivan Pierre Aguirre for The New York Times

And many clients have told Mr Aguirre:
 ‘We’re the new Jews, we’re just like the Jews.’
“It’s quite a transition from being invisible to being visible in a lethal way. It’s something new to my community. We are used to the basic darkness of racism, not this.”

These are the Nine Days - the first days of the Hebrew month of Menachem Av. This coming Shabbat we will note, and beginning on Motzei Shabbat will observe, the Fast of Tisha b'Av.

These Nine Days have been especially hard in America. In Gilroy. In Dayton. And, alas, in plenty of other American cities. But especially in El Paso.

On Tisha b'Av we Jews traditionally remember our Holy Temples that were lost - and, at least in our hopes, begin to rebuild.

Tisha B'Av
Transforming Grief into Action
Sunday August 11     1:00 pm - 2:30 pm
Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque
5520 Wyoming Blvd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109

On Sunday, August 11, we - a coalition of New Mexican Jewish organizations and individuals - invite you to gather in Albuquerque and observe Tisha B'Av, the Jewish fast day of communal mourning.

This day is traditionally a remembrance of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E. Tisha B'Av is also a day Jews mark and mourn brokenness, loss, and shattered ideals.

We feel compelled to reflect on the contemporary tragedies and atrocities committed right here in the U.S.

We must turn our attention to the disaster and brokenness of this nation that hunts down, detains and deports immigrants, separates families, cages children and turns away asylum seekers.

Together we will explore our communal culpability in this tragedy and ask honestly: where do WE stand in the face of this cruelty and violence? Join us to study, read, sing, bear witness, and build our collective New Mexican Jewish voice to take action.


Organized Locally by Bend the Arc Jewish Action: Moral Minyan New Mexico, Jewish Bridge Project of New Mexico, Jewish Asylum Seekers Initiative, Congregation Nahalat Shalom, Congregation Albert, as well as committed unaffiliated individual organizers. Space generously donated by JCC Albuquerque.

Organized Nationally by T’ruah, Bend the Arc, National Council for Jewish Women, the RAC, J Street, HIAS, and Torah Trumps Hate in response to a call for action by United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led network in the country.

Jim Morin, MorinToons Syndicate

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Forgotten At The Library

Of Burnt Books: Do you remember the pure joy, the immense pleasure, the awesome power you felt when you received your very first library card from your local library?

Abq Jew sure remembers!

So, you may ask: What ever happened to Alexandria's Great Library? The Ancient History Encyclopedia tells us:
The infamous destruction by fire of the Library of Alexandria, with the consequent loss of the most complete collection of ancient literature ever assembled, has been a point of heated debate for centuries. 
What exactly happened to this amazing storehouse of ancient knowledge, and who was responsible for its burning? 
The prime suspect in [the] destruction of the Library of Alexandria is Julius Caesar. After Caesar's death it was generally believed that it was he who had destroyed the Library. 
So - was it JC (see Beware Already)? That would have been around 48 BCE. There is no one left for us to interrogate. And there are other theories of the crime, other persons of interest.

The truth? Unknown. Or forgotten.

 Firefighters battle a blaze at the LA Central Library
downtown on April 29, 1986   Jack Gaunt / Los Angeles Times

And then there was the fire that devastated the Los Angeles Central Library on April 29, 1986. Don't remember it? Neither does Abq Jew, who was living in Aberdeen, New Jersey at the time.

First of all - it was Passover! We were celebrating! Local (and national) news barely mentioned the fire. And - wasn't there something else going on just then ...? Like ...

An aerial view of the damaged Chernobyl nuclear-power plant,
photographed a few weeks after the disaster, in May 1986
Laski Diffusion / Wojtek Laski / Getty

The Chernobyl Disaster

Oh yeah, Chernobyl. But let's go back to the LA Library fire.

To refresh our memories of what happened, here is the beginning of Carolyn Kellogg's October 2018 review of Susan Orlean's newest, The Library Book. From the LA Times, of course.

Susan Orlean displays a book that was damaged in the fire.
Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

Must Reads

Who started the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Library? Susan Orlean investigates in her new book
Curiosity is Susan Orlean’s superpower.
Hundreds of L.A. firefighters fought the devastating downtown’s Central Library on April 29, 1986. Thousands of people contributed to the Save the Books campaign afterward. Millions heard the news that the library was burning and then that it was caused by arson. 
But more than three decades later, only Orlean was asking who did it and why, and wondering whether anyone today should care. In a reverse “Fahrenheit 451,” Orlean took a fire and turned it into a book. 
Titled — aptly and ingeniously — “The Library Book,” it tells the story of the mysterious fire that burned 400,000 books while also tracing Orlean’s love of libraries, from trips with her mother to taking her son. Along the way, she relates the unexpectedly colorful history and future of the L.A. Public Library.

Abq Jew first learned of Susan Orlean's new book from (you guessed it!) The New Yorker. Wherein, also in October 2018, was published an adapted excerpt from "The Library Book."

And Abq Jew is just now beginning to read "The Library Book." Wherein he found a most powerful exposition of the power of memory and the fear - everyone's fear - of being forgotten.

It turned out that these paragraphs were among those selected for The New Yorker's article. Which begins:
Personal History
Growing Up in the Library
Learning and relearning what it means to have a book on borrowed time.
I grew up in libraries, or at least it feels that way. 
Illustration by Lilli Carré

Susan Orlean describes the pure joy, the immense pleasure, the awesome power she felt when visiting the library, as a child, with her mother.

And then:
I found myself wondering whether a shared memory can exist if one of the people sharing it no longer remembers it. Is the circuit broken, the memory darkened? 
My mother was the one person besides me who knew what those gauzy afternoons had been like. I was writing about libraries because I was trying hard to preserve those afternoons. 
I convinced myself that committing them to a page would save the memory of them from the corrosive effect of time. 
The idea of being forgotten is terrifying. I fear not just that I, personally, will be forgotten but that we are all doomed to being forgotten; that the sum of life is ultimately nothing; that we experience joy and disappointment and aches and delights and loss, make our little mark on the world, and then we vanish, and the mark is erased, and it is as if we never existed. 
If you gaze into that bleakness even for a moment, the sum of life becomes null and void, because if nothing lasts nothing matters. 
Everything we experience unfolds without a pattern, and life is just a baffling occurrence, a scattering of notes with no melody. But if something you learn or observe or imagine can be set down and saved, and if you can see your life reflected in previous lives, and can imagine it reflected in subsequent ones, you can begin to discover order and harmony. 
You know that you are a part of a larger story that has shape and purpose—a tangible, familiar past and a constantly refreshed future. We are all whispering in a tin can on a string, but we are heard, so we whisper the message into the next tin can and the next string. 
Writing a book is an act of sheer defiance. It is a declaration that you believe in the persistence of memory.

The writer Amadou Hampâté Bâ once said that, in Africa, when an old person dies, it is like a library has been burned. When I first heard the phrase, I didn’t understand it, but over time I came to realize that it was perfect. 
Our minds and our souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual’s consciousness is a collection of memories catalogued and stored inside, a private library of a life lived. It is something that no one else can entirely share; it burns down and disappears when we die. 
But if you can take something from your internal collection and share it—with one person or with the larger world, on the page or in a story told—it takes on a life of its own.

For those who are especially curious, here is a bit of Susan Orlean's story. Yes, she's a MOT. Betcha didn't know that!
Susan Orlean (born October 31, 1955) is a journalist and author. She has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1992, and has contributed articles to many magazines including Vogue, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Outside
She is best known as the author of the 1998 book The Orchid Thief, which was adapted into the film Adaptation (2002). Meryl Streep received an Academy Award nomination for her performance as Orlean. 
Orlean was raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio, the daughter of Edith (née Gross 1923-2016) and Arthur Orlean (1915-2007). She has a sister, Debra, and a brother, David. Her family is Jewish
Her mother's family is from Hungary and her father's family from Poland. Her father was an attorney and businessman.
Best. Short Story. Ever.
The Fable of the Goat (מעשה העז)   Shmuel Yosef Agnon (שׁ״י עגנון)

We Jews are about to enter the Nine Days of melancholy - beginning with Rosh Hodesh Menachem Av (see Consoling The Father and May Father Find Comfort, et al) - leading up to the Black Fast of Tisha B'Av. It is a time when we remember the fire and destruction of those terrible days.

Those who mourned the loss of the Los Angeles Central Library were privileged to rejoice in its rebuilding. And the Talmud states (lehavdil) that all who mourn the destruction of Jerusalem will merit to rejoice in its rebuilding.

During these days, as Jerusalem is being rebuilt, it is that promise of full redemption which makes this period one of hope and anticipation.

We Jews go on telling our stories. We defiantly and exuberantly write books (and even blogs!), for we are the People of the Book. And we will forever believe in the persistence of memory.

Everything matters, for something always lasts.