Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Suddenly Adar, Thomas

Let Our Joy Increase: Thank God it's Adar! When Adar arrives, our happiness goes way up. Which is good - because we can use all the happiness we can get, Ken O'Hara.

Wilbert Awdry, who created Thomas the Tank Engine, disliked change,
venerated order, and craved the administration of punishment.

Photograph by PBS via Everett

At the very hour Adar 5780 was sneaking in, Abq Jew had occasion to reread Jia Tolentino's delightfully dystopian homage to one of her favorite PBS programs.

Which is to say, it came up on Abq Jew's Facebook timeline - who knows how these things work? Oh ... it's from The New Yorker.
The Repressive, Authoritarian Soul of "Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends"

When I was a child, I could spend all day at Shining Time Station, the fictive train depot with its own eponymous TV show, where Thomas the Tank Engine and all his plate-faced locomotive friends worked and lived. 
To my undeveloped brain, each episode seemed like a beautiful daydream, in which an orderly, magical, trance-inducing universe ticked on under bluebird skies. 
For company, there was the Conductor, voiced first by Ringo Starr and later by George Carlin, and then the trains: gentle blue Edward, moody green Henry, big strong Gordon, little red James, and, of course, Thomas, with his pointed eyebrows and perpetual smile. 
The show, which included segments that had first aired on a British show called “Thomas & Friends,” began airing on PBS in 1989, and each episode opened with a Joe Cocker-ish theme song: “Reach for the steam, reach for the whistle, go where the railway runs/ Reach for the words, reach for the story, follow the rainbow sun.” 
I would hum along. How could I possibly have imagined that, decades later, I would get lost in obscure corners of the Internet where people interpret the show—at length—as a depiction of 
a premodern corporate-totalitarian dystopia?

So let's talk about Henry.
If you have watched the series and not encountered such readings of it, you may assume that these interpretations are ridiculous. 
In that case, you should spend four minutes with “The Sad Story of Henry,” a segment from “Thomas & Friends” that aired on the second episode of the first season at PBS. (In the U.S., it was retitled “Come Out, Henry!”)
It begins on a drizzly day in Sodor, the fictional island in the Irish Sea that serves as the show’s setting. Henry, the curmudgeonly train, is afraid to come out of his tunnel, because “the rain will ruin my lovely green paint and red stripes.” 
Then Sir Topham Hatt, the railway director, who is also known as the Fat Controller, arrives on the scene. (He looks like Monopoly’s Rich Uncle Pennybags but with eyes that have almost surely witnessed murder.) 
The Fat Controller orders the passengers to pull Henry out with a rope, but Henry won’t budge. They push him from the other direction, to no avail. (The Fat Controller declines to physically participate in this effort, citing “doctor’s orders.”) 
The passengers then tell Henry that it’s not raining; Henry, perhaps noticing that everyone still has their umbrellas out, refuses to move.
Realizing that the day’s workflow is irrevocably disrupted, Fat Controller decides that Henry must be punished—for life. 
“We shall take away your rails, and leave you here for always and always” 
he tells Henry. As Henry’s face contorts into anguish and the background music toots a series of Oompa Loompa faux-glum flourishes, railway employees build a brick prison around Henry, leaving only half of his face visible. His train friends pass by: one snubs him, and another whistles hello. Henry has no steam left to whistle back. 
He spends his days alone, soot-streaked, wondering if he’ll ever be allowed to go back to work. The last line of the segment is the narrator saying, 
“I think he deserved his punishment, don’t you?”

Jia Tolentino concludes her piece:
Though “Shining Time Station” ended in the nineties, Thomas the Tank Engine shows have aired almost continuously since. “Thomas & Friends” has gone on in some form for twenty seasons, two of which featured Alec Baldwin as the narrator. 
In 2009, the show went completely C.G.I. In 2014, the actor who had voiced Thomas for the previous five years quit, saying that the successful show was exploiting him by paying “a very low wage.” 
The trains seem overdue for a similar revolution.

But we were talking about Adar, and the rapid approach of (almost) everyone's favorite holiday (and the only one on our calendar that will forever be celebrated, even in the Days of the Messiah) -


Which brings us to - were you there last Sunday, when the klezmer / world band Beyond the Pale performed at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church in (where else?) Placitas, as part of the Placitas Artists Series?

Abq Jew and a couple hundred of you were.
Wow, what a concert!

Beyond the Pale
For over 20 years Toronto’s Beyond the Pale has been making its distinctive brand of boundary-busting Eurofolk fusion. 
Inspired by Klezmer and Balkan styles but influenced by everything from jazz and classical music to bluegrass, newgrass and reggae, Beyond the Pale’s music traverses a vast and exotic musical landscape, bound by no particular idiom and shaped by many. 
Their stellar musicianship, meticulous dynamics, adventurous compositions, and inventive arrangements of traditional material make them one of Canada’s most innovative acoustic ensembles. 
Though individual virtuosity abounds within the group, the collective sound always takes precedence, conveying the deep and generous bonds of creativity that unite these longtime collaborators.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Onomatopoeia and The Jewfish

Ichthyology Strikes: It truly is amazing that, at its advanced age, Abq Jew's mind works at all. How it works remains an open question. But for all you theologians and marine biologists out there - here we go!

Let's start with Imitation of Life, the 1934 film starring Claudette Colbert, which was playing on TCM a few weeks ago. As Wikipedia tells us -
Imitation of Life is a 1934 American drama film directed by John M. Stahl. The screenplay by William Hurlbut, based on Fannie Hurst's 1933 novel of the same name, was augmented by eight additional uncredited writers, including Preston Sturges and Finley Peter Dunne. 
The film stars Claudette Colbert, Warren William and Rochelle Hudson and features Louise Beavers and Fredi Washington. 
The film was originally released by Universal Pictures on November 26, 1934, and later re-issued in 1936. A 1959 remake with the same title was directed by Douglas Sirk. 
In 2005, Imitation of Life was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It was also named by Time in 2007 as one of "The 25 Most Important Films on Race".
Fascinating, eh what? OK ... not really. But what did fascinate Abq Jew was the professional occupation of Warren William's character, Stephen Archer.

Stephen Archer was an ichthyologist. 

You know - a marine biologist. Someone who studies fish. For a living.

Which started what is left of Abq Jew's mind ... to wandering. Rather than fixing the hole where the rain gets in, Abq Jew asked himself -

In all of Hollywood's history, how many films
have portrayed ichthyology ... or ichthyologists?

Well, there was that one.

The connection between Jews and sharks runs deep. (You have no idea how long Abq Jew has been waiting for an opportunity to say this.) It's not just Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss.

Remember (of course you do!) way back in 2010 (see The Big Lie Lives On) when Gary Rosenblatt, then the Editor of The Jewish Week, wrote about the ludicrous accusation made by Stephen Colbert:
On “The Colbert Report” the other night, the “newsman” host reported on the increase of shark attacks in Egyptian waters lately and cited a quote from the regional governor of Sharm el Sheikh, who said reports of the Israeli Mossad being responsible for placing deadly sharks in the Red Sea to hurt Egyptian tourism “needs time to be confirmed.” 
Observed Colbert in his most sinister voice: “The sharks may not be acting alone.” 
Asserting that he tries not to spread international Zionist conspiracies, he added: “Israel working with sharks? It makes too much sense.”
The audience roared. 
They “got” how ridiculous such charges are. And when Colbert cited “the old stereotype that Jews control the tides,” and showed a clip of a young Steven Spielberg directing a scene from “Jaws” to “prove” that “Jews and sharks have teamed up before,” the laughter grew louder. 
Colbert’s closing kicker: 
“In Egypt, the movie was released as… ‘JEWS’!” 

Abq Jew Googled "Jews Jaws meme" 
and discovered some of the most hateful, obscene, and disgusting 
antisemitic images he has seen - at least, recently.
Therefore, he has instead posted (above) the Greyhound Teefs meme. 
Please support Greyhound Adoption League of Texas (especially its
New Mexico Chapter) or your local animal rescue group.

Which brings us, of course, to the

Jewfish (Epinephelus Itajara)

If you take a look at jewfish on Wikipedia, you find that there's the Epinephelus Itajara (Atlantic goliath grouper) plus three other fish types. Amazingly, it appears that the herring (see You've Got Matjes DNA!) is not considered a jewfish. And there's Jewfish, Florida, plus another couple of place names.

As it turns out, in 2015 Avishay Artsy wrote in Jewniverse -
How the Jewfish Got Its Name 
Why does putting the word “Jew” in front of any object make it sound a little anti-Semitic? There are several theories for how the jewfish (Promicrops [sic] itaiara), an Atlantic saltwater grouper with fins and scales, got its name. It may derive from the Italian “giupesce,” which means “bottom fish,” or may have originally been named “jawfish” for its large mouth. 
A less flattering theory is that in the 1800s, jewfish were declared inferior and only fit for Jews. 
The Maryland-based American Fisheries Society received complaints about the name for decades. It announced in 2001 that the name was deemed “culturally insensitive” and was changed to goliath grouper – not for the biblical Philistine Goliath who was slain by David, but because of the fish’s ability to grow up to 700 pounds. 
The ichthyologists–that is, fish scientists–pointed out a precedent: squawfish. The name was changed to pikeminnow because native Americans felt it was derogatory toward women. 
But the fish’s name lives on in places like Jewfish Point and Jewfish Creek in Los Angeles and South Florida. Basically, places where Jewish retirees also tend to congregate. 
Which brings us, of course, to


An onomatopoeia (or onomatopœia, from the Greek ὀνοματοποιία), is a word that imitates or suggests the source of the sound that it describes.

See 2018's Onomatopoeia and The Jews III, et al. In which Abq Jew provided the example of

and opposed it with the example of

Abq Jew is just gonna leave that up there for a while. Just in case you need to look up how to pronounce ichthyology. And then think about it.

Has Abq Jew mentioned that he loves studying Talmud?
Of course he has! See A Daily Dose of Talmud, et al.
But, Abq Jew claims, Talmud is not theology.
And let's leave it at that.
For now.

And close with another stab at onomatopoeia. Here are Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner performing a classic 2000 Year Old Man routine which delves into the origins of words ....

Not enough? Here's another one -

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Wisdom of Our Sages

Upcoming Class Announcement: Got ethics? Sometimes it seems that few of our leaders do. But our Jewish sages not only had ethics - they endeavored to live ethically, and to pass down to us exactly what that means.

Thus - in the spirit of "it's up to us to turn this thing around" - Abq Jew is pleased to announce the following upcoming class:

Pirkei Avot:
The Wisdom of Our Sages
Starts: Wednesday 11 March 2020
Six Sessions: Wednesdays @ 1:30 pm
Instructor: Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
Albuquerque JCC

Spiritual / Ethical Teachings of Judaism through the lens of Two Great Texts: Pirkei Avot and Avot de Rabbi Natan. What are the enduring values of Judaism as we dig into great Jewish teachings of the Rabbis shared 2000 years ago?

"All Israel have a share in the world to come."

These are the traditional words with which we begin a study of Ethics of the Fathers. They are not part of the Pirkei Avot text; rather, they are a preamble that shows us - from the POV of The Holy One, Blessed Be He - where we stand.

Sort of like that other preamble we all know:

"We the People of the United States ..."

But Abq Jew (big surprise!) digresses. Anyway, you can check out Ethics of the Fathers on page 477 of the HaSiddur HaShalem Daily Prayer Book of Philip (Paltiel) Birnbaum. Go look! It's right there on your bookshelf!

Or - you can check out any of the zillion-or-so editions of Pirkei Avot. Ranging from Jessica Tamar Deutsch's The Illustrated Pirkei Avot: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Ethics to Amanda Monaco's jazzy guitar Pirkei Avot Project to ... well, you get the idea. 

Rabbi Jill Jacobs has written a wonderful introduction to Pirkei Avot for My Jewish Learning.

Pirkei Avot (literally, “Chapters of the Fathers,” but generally translated as “Ethics of Our Fathers”) is one of the best-known and most-cited of Jewish texts. 

Even those who claim to know little about Jewish literature are familiar with maxims such as “If I am only for myself, who am I? (1:14)” and “Say little and do much (1:15).” 

Popular Hebrew songs take as their lyrics lines such as “The world stands on three things: Torah , service, and acts of loving kindness (1:2)”  and “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (2:21).”

Pirkei Avot is so popular that many siddurim (prayer books) include the full text of this book. In many communities, it is customary to read a section of Pirkei Avot every Shabbat. 

And Rabbi Jacobs has also written a cogent introduction to the lesser-known Avot d’Rabbi Natan.

Tucked in the back of Seder Nezikin in most editions of the Talmud is a mysterious series of books collectively referred to as Masekhtot Ketanot, the “Minor Tractates.” 

Though classified as a unit, these minor tractates include material from a variety of genres produced over several hundred years. One of these volumes is Avot d’Rabbi Natan, a sort of companion volume to Pirkei Avot.

Like its better-known cousin, Avot d’Rabbi Natan consists largely of maxims that cover the proper approach to Torah study, common human courtesy, and other life advice. For the most part, the instructions seem directed at those who pursue the rabbinic life of Torah study and discipleship. 

Many of the sayings recorded in one of the books appear also in the other. As in Pirkei Avot, the rabbinic statements of Avot d’Rabbi Natan are ordered by generation, beginning with those attributed to the first rabbis, and continuing through each generation of disciples. 

Unlike Pirkei Avot, however, Avot d’Rabbi Natan rarely simply presents an aphorism, but instead adds long commentaries and expansions on these statements. For example, both books record Hillel’s exhortation, “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving humanity and drawing them to Torah.” 

In Pirkei Avot, this statement stands on its own (1:12). In Avot d’Rabbi Natan, Hillel’s comment sparks a multi-page meditation on Aaron’s humility, the power of peace, and techniques for stopping quarrels.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Paul Farnes, RAF Ace, Dies at 101

The Battle of Britain: No, you have probably never heard of him. Neither had Abq Jew. But Paul Farnes, in his youth, did something extraordinary.

Paul Farnes, seated second from left, with a group
of fellow Royal Air Force fighter pilots in 1940.

Central Press/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

He helped save the world.

Abq Jew's favorite New York Times Obits writer, Richard Sandomir (see Singer Norma Tanega Dies at 80 and Hal Blaine, Drummer, Dies at 90), tells Mr Farnes' story.
Paul Farnes, Last R.A.F. Ace of Battle of Britain, Dies at 101 
He was one of the last of “The Few,” the Royal Air Force airmen who defended Britain against the powerful Luftwaffe. 
Paul Farnes, a Royal Air Force fighter pilot and the last surviving R.A.F. ace of the Battle of Britain, in which he shot down six German aircraft and damaged a half-dozen more, died on Jan. 28 in West Sussex, England. He was 101. 
His death was announced by the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust. 
Mr. Farnes was one of the last survivors of the nearly 3,000 airmen called “The Few,” a nickname inspired by Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s tribute to them in August 1940 while the campaign, begun in July, raged on. 
“Never in the field of human conflict,” Churchill said, “was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Mr. Farnes, who qualified as an ace after destroying five enemy aircraft, received the Distinguished Flying Medal in late October 1940 and was the only member of “The Few” to attend an annual commemoration of the Battle of Britain in 2017. 
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,” he said, reciting from a poem by Laurence Binyon in a village near Kent. “Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn./At the going down of the sun and in the morning,/We will remember them.”

When, just a short time ago, the US seemed to be stumbling into a war with Iran, Abq Jew began rereading Barbara Tuchman's classic, The Guns of August. Wikipedia tells us that the book is:
a volume of history by Barbara W. Tuchman. It is centered on the first month of World War I. After introductory chapters, Tuchman describes in great detail the opening events of the conflict. Its focus then becomes a military history of the contestants, chiefly the great powers. 
The Guns of August thus provides a narrative of the earliest stages of World War I, from the decisions to go to war, up until the start of the Franco-British offensive that stopped the German advance into France. The result was four years of trench warfare. 
In the course of her narrative Tuchman includes discussion of the plans, strategies, world events, and international sentiments before and during the war. 
The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for publication year 1963 ....
By the time Abq Jew finished rereading The Guns of August (a few days ago), our flare-up with Iran was almost forgotten.

But the book's chief lesson (there are many) - how easy it is to go to war, and how difficult it is to end a war once begun - should be imprinted on our consciences and our consciousness forever.

The Great War website tells us:
Laurence Binyon composed his best known poem while sitting on the cliff-top looking out to sea from the dramatic scenery of the north Cornish coastline. A plaque marks the location at Pentire Point, north of Polzeath. However, there is also a small plaque on the East Cliff north of Portreath, further south on the same north Cornwall coast, which also claims to be the place where the poem was written. 
The poem was written in mid September 1914, a few weeks after the outbreak of the First World War. During these weeks the British Expeditionary Force had suffered casualties following its first encounter with the Imperial German Army at the Battle of Mons on 23 August, its rearguard action during the retreat from Mons in late August and the Battle of Le Cateau on 26 August, and its participation with the French Army in holding up the Imperial German Army at the First Battle of the Marne between 5 and 9 September 1914. 
Laurence said in 1939 that the four lines of the fourth stanza came to him first. These words of the fourth stanza have become especially familiar and famous, having been adopted by the Royal British Legion as an Exhortation for ceremonies of Remembrance to commemorate fallen Servicemen and women. 
Laurence Binyon was too old to enlist in the military forces but he went to work for the Red Cross as a medical orderly in 1916. He lost several close friends and his brother-in-law in the war.
Mr. Farnes, right, with Prince Charles at a ceremony marking
the 77th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in Dover, England, in 2017.

Gareth Fuller/Press Association, via Associated Press

For the Fallen

by Laurence Binyon
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free. 
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears. 
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe. 
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them. 
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam. 
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night; 
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain. 
Source: The London Times (1914)
Hawker Hurricane
The Battle of Britain officially lasted from 10 July until 31 October 1940, but the heaviest fighting took place between 8 August and 21 September. 
Both the Supermarine Spitfire and the [Hawker] Hurricane are renowned for their part in defending Britain against the Luftwaffe; generally, the Spitfire would intercept the German fighters, leaving Hurricanes to concentrate on the bombers, but, despite the undoubted abilities of the "thoroughbred" Spitfire, it was the "workhorse" Hurricane that scored the higher number of RAF victories during this period, accounting for 55 percent of the 2,739 German losses, according to Fighter Command, compared with 42 per cent by Spitfires.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Tzadik of Freehold

Yahrzeit Observed: Sunday, February 2, 2020, was a very special day.

First of all, it was an exceedingly rare palindrome date - for those using the Gregorian calendar. The last palindrome date was 909 years ago (11/11/1111), when most Christian folks were using the Julian calendar. The next palindrome date will occur on 12/12/2121, God willing.

And it was, of course Groundhog Day, a popular tradition observed in Canada and the United States, for no apparent reason. Accept climate change evidence from scientists? Nah. Accept weather predictions from rodents? Sure!

Which is not to mention the miraculous event of Super Bowl LIV (that's "life" in modern Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish). The miracle? Well, beating the Santa Clara 49ers is close.

But picking up and moving Kansas City (and the entire Chiefs organization) from meshugenah Missouri to Ken O'Hara Kansas? Pretty spectacular.

Here in the Jewish world, it was Super Sunday for many, if not all, of the Jewish Federations of North America. Did you get a phone call? Time to pitch in to help each other. We're all in this together.

And, in the Conservative Jewish world (and in the special sphere of the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs), it was the day of the annual World Wide Wrap - celebrating the mitzvah of wrapping tefillin.

But, as it turned out, Sunday (the 7th day of Shevat), was also the

Grave of Avrohom Itzhak Klugman, The Tzadik of Freehold

Yahrzeit of Avrohom Itzhok Klugman
The Tzadik of Freehold

Please (please!) allow Abq Jew to say a few words about Freehold, New Jersey.

First of all - if you cross the railroad tracks, turn right at the corner, and follow Route 79 as it swings to the left  - in a few short miles you'll get to Aberdeen, where Mr & Mrs Abq Jew et familia dwelled from 1982 to 2000.

Second - yes, Freehold is the hometown of Bruce Springsteen.
Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen was born at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, New Jersey on September 23, 1949. He is of Dutch, Irish, and Italian descent. He spent his childhood in Freehold, New Jersey, where he lived on South Street.

Third - the song. My Hometown is a single by Bruce Springsteen off his Born in the U.S.A. album.
The song's lyrics begin with the speaker's memories of his father instilling pride in the family's hometown. While it first appears that the song will be a nostalgic look at the speaker's childhood, the song then goes on to describe the racial violence and economic depression that the speaker witnessed as an adolescent and a young adult. 
The song concludes with the speaker's reluctant proclamation that he plans to move his family out of the town, but not without first taking his own son on a drive and expressing the same community pride that was instilled in him by his father. 
Some of the song's images reference the recent history of Springsteen's own hometown ... in particular the racial strife in 1960s New Jersey and economic tensions from the same times (e.g., the "textile mill being closed" was the A & M Karagheusian Rug Mill at Center and Jackson Streets of Freehold). 

But back to The Tzadik, of whom Abq Jew had never heard in all the years he lived in New Jersey.

It turns out - there's a plaque! At the entrance to the Freehold Hebrew Benefit Society Cemetery. The above photo of which Abq Jew stumbled upon at the Jewish Genealogy Portal on Facebook. And which reads (in part)


The Lakewood Scoop published a yahrzeit notice for Reb Klugman a few days ago. And a few people wrote in, telling what they knew of The Tzadik.
He was hidden until a journalist discovered him and interviewed him for several hours. He was so impressed he created a four day series of articles about this great man. Exactly one day before the first article was to be published the Tzadik left this world. We are working on translating the original articles from Yiddish to English. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
He was killed crossing over the train tracks by an oncoming train. He had a couple of seforim in his tallis bag, amongst them a Tanya which he was carrying at the time.