Thursday, April 30, 2020

Let's Go Shteeble-Hopping!

Introducing jewishLIVE: As Abq Jew sits here at home, in front of his omnipresent, omniscient, and ominous computer screen, he is quietly reminiscing about The Old Country. And The Old Times.

Do you remember when ... you could step outside your door on a Shabbos morning, turn left or turn right, and go daven at any of the many shtieblach in the neighborhood? Or go to one shtiebel for Shacharis, another shtiebel for Musaf, then head over to The Big Shul for Kiddush?

Do you remember when ...
you could step outside your door?

These days, virtually everything that's happening in the New Mexico Jewish community - if it's happening at all - is happening online. And that's true of Jewish communities all over the world.

As Country Yossi and the Shteeble Hoppers would say - Nobody Comes to the Minyan No More. (Click here for the lyrics.)

So - can we all-powerful Jews make lemonade out of the big bunch of lemons that have been no-contact delivered to our door?

You bet we can!

A cousin of New Mexicast's Rosa Linda Roman, and Rosa Linda told Abq Jew. About Jewish Live, that is. An Enchanting Adventure, sorta. But it turns out (doesn't it always?) that JTA's Ben Sales found out first.
From prayers to puppets: A one-stop shop for Jewish livestreams aims to outlast the pandemic 
(JTA) — On Monday, there’s a Jewish space that hosts two Torah classes and the taping of a podcast. 
On Wednesday, the space offers a Jewish TV show for kids and a discussion of Jewish history. 
On Friday night and again on Saturday morning, it hosts several prayer services simultaneously — some experimental, some more musical, some more standard Conservative or Reform. 
Beyond hosting these events, the space also provides access to yoga, arts programs or classes like one titled “The Concubine in the Refrigerator: Objectifying Women in Comics and Scripture.” 
 It is, of course, not a physical space because no one is gathering in physical spaces now. It’s a website called jewishLIVE that has become a one-stop shop for Jewish livestreaming since its founding six weeks ago — right in time for the stay-at-home and social distancing orders that swept the country because of the coronavirus pandemic. 
JewishLive is not the only platform to be taking Jewish spiritual and entertainment experiences online for the moment. But its founders hope the site will not only fill a need for Jewish community and content now — but also help create a new paradigm for Jewish involvement if and when things return to a semblance of normal. 
 “If we have Jewish life right now,
it’s going to be digital,”
 co-founder Lex Rofeberg said. 
“This new moment unlocks or accelerates a lot of changes that were already underway and shines a light on a lot of things we need that are new.”

So let's get down to tachlis.
What does this mean?

On Shabbos, there is no need for any of us to get up,
get dressed, and go to shul; we can virtually
hop along to almost any NM shteeble online.
In our pajamas (not recommended).

In fact, on Shabbos we can virtually hop along
to almost any shtiebel in the whole entire world,
without worrying about airfare, staying with (Ken O'Hara!) quarantined mishpocha, or missing Kiddush (we will).

And - on any day at all, there is no need for any of us
to leave the comfort of our homes to virtually attend
almost any Jewish celebration, class, or concert
anyplace in the Wide World of Sports.

Vice versa.

We can (finally!) invite everyone in the world
to visit us here, in the Land of Enchantment!

Take a look!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Trust and Truth: Then and Now

Bodily Fluids and Skin Diseases: Yes! While we were all busy last week leyning Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, other, more productive members of our New Mexico Jewish community were engrossed (pun fully intended) in explaining and expounding upon Tazria-Metzora, the double parsha otherwise known as

Image created by Chris Harris
The Bane of B'nai Mitzvah Everywhere

The bane, also, of congregational rabbis - such as Rabbi Dov Gartenberg of Albuquerque's Congregation B'nai Israel, who has written a significant and meaningful sermon for this virtual occasion.

Drasha Diamond Number 8
Shabbat Tazria-Metzora 5780

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
Congregation B'nai Israel

Trust and Truth: Then and Now

These two portions, Tazria and Metzora, are difficult for us to comprehend as modern readers. The concept of Tumah or ritual impurity is difficult to understand.  The term, tzara’at, which is a leprous like disease featured in chapter 13, is also difficult to understand on many levels.

While this material is difficult, I want to focus narrowly on the role of the Kohen in Chapter 13.

As explained by the Etz Hayim commentary, the Kohen in biblical times served in the matter of tsaraat as both a religious and medical authority. The Kohen’s role was to diagnose the condition and in specific cases to isolate (hisgir) the afflicted individual initially for 7 days.

If an individual is declared impure by the Kohen, he will suffer a longer isolation outside of the camp. The Kohen also served to reintegrate afflicted individuals whose conditions had improved or disappeared.

The commentator in the Humash surmises that
When the Kohen visited the afflicted person in isolation and examined the person’s sores, the experience of being cared for by the most prestigious person in the community must have helped generate healing powers in the sick person.
The Kohen plays this role in the community
because he is trusted by the people he attends to. 

The Kohen has an expertise that is accepted by the community and welcomed in time of need.

Although we no longer rely on or expect Kohanim to serve in this function, the role of the Kohen reminds us of the importance of trust as we pass through this time of unprecedented crisis.

We live in a world filled with competing information, intentional distortion, suspicion toward government and authority, and a novel virus that we do not fully comprehend.

Who do we trust? What sources of information
help us stay safe? What are the qualities we should
look for in experts, leaders, people responsible
for making decisions about our health and safety?

One of my favorite passages in Pirkei Avot (5:7) provides us with guidelines on who we should trust in this confusing environment of disinformation, exaggeration, and distortions.

שִׁבְעָה דְבָרִים בַּגֹּלֶם וְשִׁבְעָה בֶחָכָם. חָכָם אֵינוֹ מְדַבֵּר בִּפְנֵי מִי שֶׁהוּא גָדוֹל מִמֶּנּוּ בְחָכְמָה וּבְמִנְיָן, וְאֵינוֹ נִכְנָס לְתוֹךְ דִּבְרֵי חֲבֵרוֹ, וְאֵינוֹ נִבְהָל לְהָשִׁיב, שׁוֹאֵל כָּעִנְיָן וּמֵשִׁיב כַּהֲלָכָה, וְאוֹמֵר עַל רִאשׁוֹן רִאשׁוֹן וְעַל אַחֲרוֹן אַחֲרוֹן, וְעַל מַה שֶּׁלֹּא שָׁמַע, אוֹמֵר לֹא שָׁמָעְתִּי, וּמוֹדֶה עַל הָאֱמֶת. וְחִלּוּפֵיהֶן בַּגֹּלֶם

There are seven characteristics that typify the Golem [clod] and seven, the Hacham [wise person]. The wise person does not speak in the presence of one who is wiser; does not interrupt a friend’s words; does not reply in haste; asks what is relevant and answers to the point; replies with an orderly sequence; when appropriate, concedes that ‘I have not heard this’; and acknowledges the truth. The opposite of these typify the Golem.

I believe that three of these characteristics of a Hacham deserve our attention in teaching us who we can trust in the context of the pandemic. The first characteristic states that a Hacham does not speak in the presence of one who is wiser. The wise person recognizes others with greater wisdom and knowledge and defers to them.

Martin Barraud / Getty Images

This week I read an interview by the columnist Tom Friedman of Dov Seidman, an expert on leadership. As I read Seidman’s comments I thought of this teaching in Pirkei Avot:
The strongest local leaders will be the ones who collaborate with others and, at the same time, are exceptionally clear about their plans, brutally honest about the risks, utterly specific about the behaviors they’re asking of us, constantly searching the world for best practices and totally transparent about the technologies and data they want to collect to track our movements and contacts.
Good leaders not only recognize the wisdom of others, but incorporate the their wisdom to form clear, honest counsel for the community they serve. To defer to others who are wiser, is to incorporate their wisdom.

Consider the next-to-last teaching in our passage from Pirkei Avot,:

When appropriate, a Hacham concedes that
‘I have not heard this.’

Seidman observes:
In addition to truth and hope, what people actually want in a leader, even a charismatic one, is humility. 
I feel more certain in the face of uncertainty when a leader says to me, ‘I don’t know, but here are the wise experts I am going to turn to for answers, and here is how we are going to hunt for the answers together.’ 
The more I hear Dr. Fauci say that he does not know something, the more closely I listen to him discuss what he is sure of.
Humble leaders actually make themselves smaller than the moment. They know that they alone cannot fix everything. 
So, they create the space for others to join them and to rise to do big things — together.
Anavah, humility, is the ability to perceive what you do not know and to seek others who do know. The quality is similar to the first quality of deferring to someone who is wiser.

The difference here is a person who is acutely aware of what they don’t know and can identify those gaps in knowledge to be able to seek wisdom and knowledge from others. This can only arise from authentic humility.

The last quality in the the Mishnah from Pirkei Avot is that

A Hacham acknowledges the truth.

Seidman posits a similar quality.
Great leaders trust people with the truth. And they make hard decisions guided by values and principles, not just politics, popularity, or short-term profits. 
Great leaders understand that when so many vulnerable and scared people are so willing, so quickly, to put their livelihoods and even their lives in their leaders’ hands, and make sacrifices asked of them, they expect the truth and nothing but the truth in return. 
Leaders who trust people with the truth are trusted more in return.
The ability to admit the truth - even if it is difficult to bear - is a critical quality for the moment we are in. We are dependent on our leaders at every level to provide us with the truth and point out falsehood.

The final comment in the Pirkei Avot passage tells us that

The Golem embraces the opposite of these qualities.

The Golem does not defer to those who are wiser than him. He has trouble accepting the authority and wisdom of others.

The Golem never admits to not knowing something. He has convinced himself that he knows everything, and has a better grip on reality than anyone else.

He is likely to hide his ignorance to go along with alternative realities as a way to cover up for his ignorance.

Lastly, the Golem cannot accept the truth. Or he actively distorts it. He only promises a rosy future because he thinks people will abandon him if he tells the harsh truth.

Paul Sancya / Associated Press

In an analysis of the methods of Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist of Info-Wars, journalist Charlie Warzel observes:
He instills a deep distrust in all authority, while promoting a seductive, conspiratorial alternate reality in which Mr. Jones, via his outlandish conspiracies, has all the answers.
In another observation, Mr Warzel refers to anti-vaxers and people who trump liberty over public health:
They judge about other people’s needs or interests as a form of tyranny by definition. They do not think their choices affect other people.
As difficult it is to understand our portion today, it is possible to understand that the Kohen was a trusted and truthful authority. While 2500 years have separated us from the ancient practices described in the portion and our own time, we need trusted and truthful leaders as much as our forebears. We hunger for the qualities of sound and wise leadership that are described in Pirkei Avot.

In this confusing and distorted world, we must be especially skeptical of false prophets, corrupt and self-serving leaders, and arrogant snake oil salesmen. We must cultivate the critical skills to recognize and support wise leadership that the Torah has left for us as an inheritance. 

In August 2019, Rabbi Dov Gartenberg began serving Congregation B’nai Israel as Interim Rabbi.

He leads services, celebrations, education, life-cycle events, and programming. He is also available to members in need of pastoral care.

Rabbi Dov is committed to the process of healing our congregation, welcoming and understanding interfaith families, and supporting those in our community who are traveling the path as Conservative Jews.

Rabbi Dov is guided by his convictions in the spiritual beauty, eternal relevance, and deep humanity of Judaism for our 21st century lives and times.

He is an experienced congregational rabbi who seeks to provide comfort for those in grief, bring hope to those who are ill, and support those who seek to enhance their Jewish lives.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Toothpaste & Torah

& Simmy Cohen: It has come to Abq Jew's nearly-dormant attention that many of us are experiencing shortages during this covid-19 pandemic.

Antoine-Jean Gros’s Bonaparte Visiting the Plague-Stricken in Jaffa, c. 1804. Wikimedia.

We have, as Israelis are saying, made it past Pharaoh. And we'll make it past this. Still, something is missing. Yes, we'll keep calm and carry on.

But before we return to "normal" (whatever that was), we'll have to replenish our supply of faith, lovingkindness, Mosaic Magazine, and


You know, of course, about shortages of ... other household supplies, let's say. Like anything having to do with ... cleanliness. Anything intended to fight infection, whether bacterial or viral or coronaviral.

And now, toothpaste.

Ever since Abq Jew's very own dental hygienist cancelled his last scheduled dental cleaning, Abq Jew has been receiving almost-daily reminders to keep his teeth and gums healthy.

You too? 

That may explain the sudden run on toothpaste (and toothbrushes, and Stim-u-dent, and mouthwash) at Costco, WalMart, and other specialty outlets. Empty shelves on desert isles. deserted aisles.

Just kidding.

And then there's shul.

Shul, we miss. Some of us miss the davening. Some of us miss the camaraderie. Or the comradery. Or the community.

Or the food.
But this is what Abq Jew misses:

Do you also miss the sound of Torah being leyned? Are you stuck - no, safe - at home with little ones who want you to read them just one more book?

Please allow Abq Jew to introduce

Shira Hanau

Shira Hanau is - just recently! mazeltov! - a staff writer at JTA. Previously at the New York Jewish Week where she reported on politics, religion, and the American Jewish community.

Her writing has also appeared in the Forward, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, and Columbia Journalism Review. She was named Rookie of the Year by the New York Press Association in 2018.

Abq Jew wants you to know that Ms Hanau can write serious stuff - see Jewish burial societies face difficult choices as deaths from coronavirus mount.

But, in Abq Jew's perhaps not-so-humble opinion, Shira Hanau will forever be known as

The woman who sorta introduced
Simmy Cohen to the world.

Which she so famously did in this here JTA article.
Meet the dad bringing Jews stuck at home the sounds of Torah — set to classic children’s books 
(JTA) — Simmy Cohen has hardly read from the Torah since his bar mitzvah. When he’s not working at his marketing job from his home in Queens, New York, Cohen spends far more time these days reading children’s books to his 13-month old daughter. 
But with a spark of comedic genius and perhaps a little quarantine-induced imagination, he put the two together in a video of himself reading — no, chanting — the classic board book “Goodnight Moon” set to the Torah trope. 
“For those missing the sound of leyning,” he wrote in his post of the video to Twitter, using the Yiddish word to describe the vocalization used when reading aloud from the Torah.
Cohen hoped the video would resonate with other Orthodox Jews whose access to live Torah reading ended when their synagogues closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. 
But the video quickly found a broader audience .... 
Cohen has followed his original production with a chanting of “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom,” the classic story of an anthropomorphic alphabet’s nighttime adventure. 
A friend from Twitter, Avi Schwartz, wrote the trope but insisted that Cohen chant it because people already recognized his voice. 
Click here to read the rest of Shira Hanau's wonderful interview with Simmy Cohen. Click here to view "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" on Twitter (probably, only if you have a Twitter account).

Or just watch the video below.

The best part? The shalshelet over "Oh, no!" at 33 seconds in.

Of which Simmy Cohen tells us:
He [Mr Schwartz] wanted me to do the “shalsheles” in the part right before “chicka chicka” to emphasize that — I’m breaking it down for you as though this is some important thing — I think there’s only three or four of them in the whole Torah. 
They’re for real, real emphasis and there’s all kinds of opinions on why they appear and what does it mean, they’re not picked randomly. Whereas I’m sort of just picking what sounds right.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

A Virtual Holocaust Remembrance

Although We Cannot Be Together: For this solemn remembrance, we can still commemorate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, as a virtual community.

A Community Yom HaShoah
Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration
Monday April 20, 2020  ~  7:00 pm
Zoom Link:

Here is the New Mexico Holocaust Museum's online exhibit, featuring survivors' stories and videos from the Museums 2018 project Behind the Lens: Student Portrayals of a Troubled World.

Today - April 19, 2020 - also marks the 77th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Which, Abq Jew firmly believes (see From Mordechai to Mordechai) marks the beginning of modern Jewish history.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Swimming with Nachshon

High Muddy Waters: As we approach the Seventh Day of Passover, we Jews remember the bravery of Nachshon ben Aminadav.

Nachshon ben Aminadav   David Brook

While everyone who has seen The Ten Commandments knows that Moses and his staff (including The Holy One, Blessed Be He) parted the waters of the Red Sea - we Jews also remember Nachshon, who was the first to step in when the Egyptians were chasing us.

And Nachshon didn't just stick a toe in. He continued walking until the water was up to his neck. Then and only then did the Red Sea part, allowing us Children of Israel to cross on dry land.

No swimming required.

Mendy Kaminker of tells us:
Nachshon’s name has become synonymous with courage and the will to do the right thing, even when it’s not popular. 
Inspired by Nachshon, King David wrote in Psalms, 
“I have sunk in muddy depths, and there is no place to stand; I have come into the deep water, and the current has swept me away . . . Let not the current of water sweep me away, nor the deep swallow me, and let the well not close its mouth over me."
A Song for the Seventh Day of Passover

Which of course (of course!) brings us to this blog post's musical selection! Appropriately titled Up to My Neck in High Muddy Water. Original version by - The Greenbriar Boys! With John Herald, Frank Wakefield, and - Bob Yellin.

For those of us keeping score, Wikipedia tells us:
In 1959, guitarist/vocalist John Herald formed The Greenbriar Boys, along with Bob Yellin (banjo) and Eric Weissberg (fiddle, mandolin, banjo). Weissberg was soon replaced by Paul Prestopino, who, in turn was later replaced by Ralph Rinzler (mandolin) to form their most successful combination. 
The 1966 album [Better Late Than Never!] included the original recorded version of [Monkee] Mike Nesmith's "Different Drum", which was made into a hit song the following year by [Linda Ronstadt and] The Stone Poneys
This album was also the source for a subsequent Stone Poneys single, "Up To My Neck In High Muddy Water," with author credit to [mandolinist/vocalist Frank] Wakefield [who replaced Ralph Rinzler], Herald, and Yellin.

Abq Jew must point out (he must! he must!) that the aforementioned multi-instrumentalist Paul Prestopino has more musical yichus (Chad Mitchell Trio, PP&M) and far better chops than just about anybody still out there.

And yet, Paul Prestopino (currently a founding member of the Magnolia Street String Band, et al) has no Wikipedia page! Someday, Abq Jew hopes, this omission will be corrected!

So now I'll swim ashore for I must make it
Although I'm up to my neck in high muddy water

Hag Sameach, New Mexico!
Good Yontif, Albuquerque!

Monday, April 6, 2020

It's Pesach 5780!

Passover Is Almost Here: A time when we used to gather with friends and family, to celebrate our Holiday of Freedom.

This year, Pesach will be different.

Abq Jew's friend Jacob Richman (formerly of Brooklyn, now of Ma'aleh Adumim) reminds us:

The coronavirus is a serious matter,
but sometimes humor can relieve the stress.
Refuah shleima (get completely well)
if you have the virus or are in quarantine.

In spite of everything - what would Passover be without videos? Abq Jew here thoughtfully provides seven (7) of the newest - made especially for 5780's Days of Matzah (aka Pesach). And one more (maftir), just for luck.

OK ... some of them were just made for "this season" - but they can help cheer us as we approach our holiday.

Want to see Abq Jew's three (3) classics? They're here too!

1. A family from Kent who shared a video of their living room performance of a lockdown-themed adaptation of a Les Misérables song have become a sensation online. Ben and Danielle Marsh and their four children changed the lyrics of One Day More to reflect common complaints during the Covid-19 lockdown. They say the video, which has gone viral, was intended to give friends and family a laugh during this stressful time.

2. The Sound of a Pandemic! Don't worry, Maria and the Von Trapplings know how to deal with it! The song is not intended to be taken seriously - I made it to humour myself and am quite blown away at the following it's got over such a short time. No, wine is not a cure for the virus. Neither is whinging or blobbing (real words.) No, they're not good at social distancing in the video - it was released in 1965. Stay safe and in your bubbles - greetings from New Zealand.

3. The Fab Four have "come together" to remind us that CLEAN HANDS SAVE LIVES! To learn when and how to wash your hands, click here.

4. More Beatles - Yesterday (Lockdown A Capella Version)

5. Stayin' Inside - Corona Virus Bee Gees Parody. Stay inside and wash your hands! Hope everybody is staying safe, and staying inside!

6. When life hands you lemons ... what do you do? Well, the obvious answer is: Record, shoot, mix and edit a full cover for the Friends Theme Song with new and funny lyrics that matches the current situation!  So everyone, let's all make some lemonade!

7. We’re All Home Bound- the Corona Virus Song

8. Now for something completely different: Vin Scully calls Kirk Gibson's full at-bat that finishes with a legendary walk-off homer during Game 1 (October 15) of the 1988 World Series. Ah yes, Abq Jew remembers it well.

Good things can happen, even in the darkest of times.
We just have to wait for the right pitch.

As promised - Abq Jew here thoughtfully provides three (3) of the classics. You're welcome!

1. Google Exodus: Best. Passover. Video. Ever.

2. Passover Rhapsody: Second. Best. Passover. Video. Ever.

3. The Passover Prank. Best. Passover. Prank. Video. Ever. For parents who (especially) miss their kids on Pesach. Who know that Skype and Zoom are never enough.

As the Seders approach, Abq Jew must remind us all (he must! he must!) that Good News, Salvation and Comfort are just one (1) Pesach visitor away.

?אחד מי יודע
Tonight Could Be The Night!

At our Pesach seders
we Jews have been opening our doors to Elijah for thousands of years.

We still believe that Elijah the Prophet will return tonight
and announce the Coming of the Messiah.

When that happens, our first question will be:

Did Elijah remember to send out a press release?

If he did — you may learn the Good News in a few days or weeks.
But you can always hear about Salvation and Comfort at &
Your guide to Jewish life in Albuquerque and beyond

A Zissen Pesach, Albuquerque!
Chag Kasher veSameach, New Mexico!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

This Year, Pesach

Will Be Different: In the old days - last year, and every year before that most of us can remember - Passover was a time to gather with friends and family, to celebrate our Holiday of Freedom. That's the way it always used to be.

This year, Pesach will be different.

But, as Rabbi Sue Fendrick tells us:

Sue Fendrick is a writer, editor, rabbi, spiritual director
and humorist who lives and works in the Boston area.

You Are Allowed to Have a Shvach Seder

You do not need to set up a multi-media, multi-layered presentation on Zoom. You do not need to cook 17 dishes that remind you of all the family members you are not gathering with. You do not need to do all the cool things that people are suggesting for small seders.

You do not need to go out on your mirpeset/porch at 11 pm and sing Chag Gadya with your neighbors. You do not need to compile an “in these times”-themed haggadah or seder supplement.

You are living through an international pandemic. For all of the support you have, for all of the jokes people are making, for all of the new Torah that is being are experiencing a collective trauma as an individual, within the daled amot/delimited space of your own home and your own life.

You may be managing others’ experience of that trauma. You are dealing with challenges you have never faced before. You may feel scared, angry, depressed, or lost.

If you want to and can do any of the above for a maximalist seder night, great. But if you don’t want to and/or can’t, it is totally fine to cook a modest meal, throw together a seder plate at the last minute, get up to make salt water when it’s time for karpas because you forgot to do it before, make decisions on the fly about how much to talk about each step of the seder and what to read and not to read.

Light the candles. Bless the wine/grape juice and the holiday. Eat the symbols. Be together. Talk about some things. Read some things. Be energized, or be tired. Do things you never did before because “what an opportunity to have an intimate seder”, or do the minimum. Go to sleep knowing you have fulfilled your obligation.

You do not need to make up for the seder
you are not having, or the seder
you wish you could have.

Do this year’s seder(s) however that works for you this year. Do your best to keep yourself and your family healthy. Connect to the themes of Passover—getting out of narrow places, celebrating life, gratitude, remembering our obligations to each other and to all others.

Dayeinu. That is more than enough.
Rabbi Susan P. Fendrick, copyright 2020,
permission to share granted liberally with attribution

To give himself - and you, his loyal readers - hope that yes, this too shall pass, Abq Jew returns to 2016's The Walk of Life Project. Which posited, and then proved, that

is the perfect song to end any movie.