Wednesday, June 28, 2023

All The Beauty

In The World: It may be hard to believe, but Abq Jew - known to be so into music - has just started to read a new book - an unexpectedly marvelous Father's Day gift - about the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

You don't forget your first visit to the Met.

Met Fifth Avenue

I was 11 years old and had travelled to New York from our home outside Chicago with my mother. 

I remember a long subway ride to the remote-sounding Upper East Side, and the storybook feel of that neighbourhood: doormen in livery, proud stone apartment towers, and wide, famous avenues. 

The Met 

My first glimpse of the museum was of its generous stone entry stairs. The Met’s façade was impressive in a familiar sort of way, very columny and Greek.  

The magical part was that as we drew nearer, it kept growing wider and wider, so that even out front by the hot dog carts and the geysering fountains, we were never able to get the entire museum into view. 

I immediately understood it
as a place of impossible breadth.
Met Great Hall
We climbed the marble stairs and passed
a threshold into the Great Hall.
As Maureen, my mom, queued up to make our "suggested donation" (even a nickel would have gotten us in), she encouraged me to wander a lobby that seemed no less grand than Grand Central Terminal's, and full of the same energy from people preparing to venture someplace. 
Through the entrance on one end of the hall I could make out a snowstorm of blinding white statuary, perhaps Greek. Through an entrance on the other side, a sandy-colored tomb was just visible, surely the way to ancient Egypt. 
Directly ahead, a wide, straight, majestic run of stairs concluded in a color-splashed canvas appearing as large and taut as a ship sail. We affixed our little tin entry pins to our collars, and it seemed only natural that we should keep climbing. 

The book. of course, is All the Beauty in the World: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me, written by Patrick Bringley, which came out in February. Amazon describes the book as

A fascinating, revelatory portrait of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art 
and its treasures
by a former New Yorker staffer
who spent a decade as a museum guard.

Which it most certainly is. And more - the writing is so clear and elegant, yet so intimate and personal - indeed, so beautiful and moving - that it was hard for Abq Jew to put the book down and return to his regular social media doomscrolling Internet research.

Consider just one example, from Chapter I: The Grand Staircase: Patrick Bringley's account of his discovery of Pieter Bruegel’s The Harvesters.

Breugel Harvesters

I took the lead that day at the Met and barrelled us through at fantastic speed, haunted by the suspicion a yet more unmissable sight lay just around the next corner. Roaming the old master wing, I was stopped and held fast by Pieter Bruegel’s The Harvesters, from 1565. 

I responded to that painting in a way that I now believe is fundamental to the peculiar power of art. Namely, I experienced the great beauty of the picture even as I had no idea what to do with that beauty. 

I couldn’t discharge the feeling by talking about it – there was nothing much to say. What was beautiful in the painting was not like words, it was like paint – silent, direct, and concrete, resisting translation even into thought. 

As such, my response to the picture was trapped inside me, a bird fluttering in my chest. And I didn’t know what to make of that. It is always hard to know what to make of that. 

As a guard, I will be watching countless visitors
respond in their own ways to the curious feeling. 
William Hippo

And that's just Chapter I!

Abq Jew has not had the privilege of visiting the Met Fifth Avenue in many years - but now certainly looks forward to his next journey. 

Even though the admission price (not a "suggested donation") for us senior visiting New MexiJews is up to $22. Adults are charged $30.; students are charged $17; Members, Patrons, and kids are free.


Yes, Abq Jew enjoys receiving books as presents, buying himself books as gifts, and - of course -  reading good books for pleasure and enlightenment. 

Thus, the question must now be asked (it must! it must!): 

How Many Books Does a Person Need?

It turns out that the blog LibrarianShipwreck has probed the question and provided an answer. (Abq Jew thanks FB Friend I S for pointing this out.) LibrarianShipwreck writes:

Suggesting that people might want to reduce the number of books they have is a surefire way to anger bibliophiles, offend amateur librarians, stir up people who enjoy getting riled up over advice not really meant for them, and frighten bookstore owners. 

Regardless of what the real contents of the original suggestion may have been, or the context in which this advice was couched, to suggest that people may have more books than they really need is seen by some as a declaration of war. 

And yet, it may well be that such a controversy is reflective of one of the great existential quandaries that has plagued humankind since Gutenberg’s day, namely: 

Just how large a library does a person need? 

Ten books? Thirty books? One hundred books?
Five hundred books? A thousand books? More?

Rabbi David Wolpe

ICYMI - Rabbi David Wolpe, Senior Rabbi of LA's Sinai Temple, is stepping down after a renowned tenure (named The Most Influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek and one of the 50 Most Influential Jews in the World by The Jerusalem Post) of 20+ years. 

And - per Facebook - he's trimming his library.

Sinai Temple is giving you an opportunity to own books from the library of Rabbi David Wolpe. Over his 20+ year tenure at Sinai Temple, he has amassed thousands of books including memoirs, biblical texts, history tomes, political books, poetry collections and more.

For one week only, his library is open to you. Come walk the bookshelves in his former office and take whatever books inspire you and pique your curiosity.  

Abq Jew is tempted to make the trip, even though arriving home with more books might not support the rabbinic principle of Shalom Bayis. Of Abq Jew's current collection of 150 - 300 books (estimated), LibrarianShipwreck writes:

Some cryptozoologists have suggested that once a collection of books crosses the 150 books mark it actually ceases to simply be a collection of books. Rather, at this point the books achieve a sort of self-awareness of themselves as a book and as a library. 

Thus, this is no longer just a bunch of books, but a cryptid that it is committed to its own survival and to its own growth. What’s more this is not some mindless gibbering eldritch horror, but a clever and composed entity that carefully conceals its existence. 

Yet late at night it whispers in the darkness,
encouraging the person who has brought this creature
 to consciousness to accumulate more books.

Guard Art

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Let's Twist Again!

A Valley Stream Bar Mitzvah Update: Let's continue last week's Chubby Checker story (see Celebration With a Twist) with a few updates. In April 2019 Abq Jew wrote:

Abq Jew and his parents, of blessed memory, lived on the bottom floor of 35 Gibson Blvd, Valley Stream, from 1956 through 1962. Abq Jew's grandparents, also of blessed memory, lived on the top floor.

A joint purchase, Abq Jew surmises. Maybe ... $10,000 each? Less (GI Bill)? Today worth $560,204, Zi
llow says.
Valley Stream Map

Well, that was then. Zillow now says Abq Jew's ancestral home is worth $745,000 on the open market. But then again - it's a duplex, so one other family gets to share in the excitement of owning a 70-year-old house.

And that $10,000 each? Not a bad guess. John F reports that his family chipped in $12,500 x 2 for their purchase. And that their price included an extra $1,000 so their new home was next door to Abq Jew's parents' - across the street from (not next to) the LIRR tracks.

Sunrise Jewish Center, the Orthodox shul on Rockaway Avenue that Abq Jew's parents helped found - where Abq Jew celebrated his Bar Mitzvah - well, it's now Chabad of Valley Stream, North Woodmere, East Rockaway, and Lynbrook. But it's still there!

The rabbi at Abq Jew's Bar Mitzvah was Theodore Jungreis, husband of the much-more-famous Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. Shortly after Abq Jew's Bar Mitzvah. Rabbi & Rebbitzen left Sunrise and moved to North Woodmere (one of Long Island's "Five [Rich] Towns"), where they, shall we say, did well.

And then - for the record - there's Congregation Beth David, the Conservative synagogue now in Saratoga, California that Abq Jew's parents also helped found - where Abq Jew pre-celebrated his Bar Mitzvah.

At some point, what became Beth David started meeting in a white house on El Camino Real, close to Downtown Sunnyvale. Abq Jew had a nice Friday-night Bar Mitzvah going-away celebration at the white house in June 1963.

Shabbat Rosh Chodesh

So let's talk about
Shabbat Korach Rosh Chodesh Tammuz.

As mentioned last week, Abq Jew's Bar Mitzvah date turned out to be Shabbat Korach of the year 5723, which also turned out to be Rosh Chodesh Tammuz of that year (1963).

Since that day, we Jews have read Parshat Korach 60 times in the Land of Israel and 59 times here in the Diaspora. (The 60th time will be, G-d willing, this coming Shabbat, June 24.)

But since that day, we Jews have read the Haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh 142 times. (The 142nd time was Shabbat Tazria-Metzora, April 22, 2023.) 

Which, to what is left of Abq Jew's mind after too many years of technical writing, raises the question -

How come

Hebrew Calendar

The answer lies in the delightful yet
mysterious intricasies of the Hebrew Calendar.

First of all - Abq Jew strongly recommends that , at a minimum, you review these blog posts what he has written about the complexities of the Hebrew Calendar:

WARNING: Reviewing these blog posts will not help you understand the magic behind Shabbat Rosh Chodesh. On the other hand - it couldn't hurt!

Here's something that will help you understand aforementioned magic: Mathematics of the Jewish Calendar. Where it says (abbreviated):

There are fourteen possible types of year.

A year may not start on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday. Thus it may start on any of four weekdays (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday). There can at most be 24 year types.

Of these, nine are obviously impossible because they would cause the next Rosh Hashana to fall on a forbidden weekday. And one possible type of leap year can never happen.

This leaves fourteen possible year types, and they all do occur.

Then we turn to what Mathematics says (abbreviated) about Shabbat Rosh Chodesh:

Shabbat Rosh Chodesh is a Shabbat that falls on Rosh Chodesh. 

There are two such Shabbats in every Hebrew year type, and three in six certain types.

In four year types, Rosh Chodesh Tishrei is also Shabbat, but that is Rosh Hashanah, so does not count as Shabbat Rosh Chodesh.


Abq Jew (thank you,!) looked at the Civil Calendars for the years 1963 through 2024. And discovered:

Twelve years in which there was but one Shabbat Rosh Chodesh. (Remember: these are civil years, not Hebrew years.) In every case, it was Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Iyar, and the Torah reading was Tazria-Metzora.

Fifteen years in which there were two Shabbats Rosh Chodesh. Several Nisan-Elul combinations; a few Shevat-Iyars; others were one-offs.

Thirty-five years in which there were three Shabbats Rosh Chodesh. Many Shvat-Tammuz-Cheshvan combinations; several Adar I-Tammuz-Cheshvans; some Nisan-Elul-Tevets.

Tammuz and Cheshvan were the most popular Shabbats Rosh Chodesh. In all cases, they are a two-fer; in many cases they are a three-fer with Shevat. 

There was never a Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Sivan or a Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Kislev. 

Since (and including) 1963, there have been nineteen Shabbat Korach Rosh Chodesh Tammuzes. The last Shabbat Korach Rosh Chodesh Tammuz was in 2017; the next Shabbat Korach Rosh Chodesh Tammuz will be in 2024.

Isaiah the Prophet

If you're going to learn but one Haftarah (say,
for your Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah, or Aufruf),
Isaiah's Shabbat Rosh Chodesh would give you
the most bang for the buck. Just sayin'.

One more thing

Remember last week when Abq Jew said that someplace, he has photos of his Chubby Checker Bar Mitzvah celebration of June 1963?



Found them

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Celebration With a Twist

The Bar Mitzvah of Abq Jew: Just last week, Abq Jew received a wonderful, out-of-the-blue Facebook Friend invitation from a John F - whose name Abq Jew sort of recognized from a previous lifetime, a long, long time ago.

Could it be? Yes, it could!

35 Gibson Blvd

In April 2019 (see Passover: The Last Days), Abq Jew wrote about his old home town - Valley Stream, Long Island, New York.
Abq Jew and his parents, of blessed memory, lived on the bottom floor of 35 Gibson Blvd, Valley Stream, from 1956 through 1962. Abq Jew's grandparents, also of blessed memory, lived on the top floor.

A joint purchase, Abq Jew surmises. Maybe ... $10,000 each? Less (GI Bill)? Today worth $560,204, Zillow says.

Six years of blessed memories. Within easy walking distance of Brooklyn Avenue school, Sunrise Jewish Center, Gibson station, the candy store, and everyplace Abq Jew needed to go.

A thousand kids on the block. We played in the street. The LIRR tracks were behind the houses across the street. You got used to it.

John F, his sister Debbie, and his cousin Fran are the kids who lived next door. Their parents (Mary and John, and Angie and Lou) and Abq Jew's parents were the absolute best of friends during our six years there - 1956 through 1962. 

The 'kids' were as happy to find me as Abq Jew was to hear from them. 

As it turns out - Debbie and Fran (John was too young) remember going to Abq Jew's 1963 Bar Mitzvah celebration at Town & Country Village(?) night club, where the featured entertainer was Ernest Evans. Better known as

Chubby Checker
Chubby Checker
Someplace, Abq Jew has photos.

For those of you, Abq Jew's loyal readers, who are too young or too old to recall, Wikipedia tells us:

Chubby Checker (born Ernest Evans; October 3, 1941) is an American rock and roll singer and dancer. He is widely known for popularizing many dance styles, including the Twist dance style, with his 1960 hit cover of Hank Ballard & The Midnighters' R&B song "The Twist", and the Pony dance style with the 1961 cover of the song "Pony Time". 

Checker introduced his version of "The Twist" at the age of 18 in July 1960 in Wildwood, New Jersey at the Rainbow Club. "The Twist" went on to top the Billboard Hot 100 not just once in 1960, but yet again in a separate chart run in late 1961. 

The first success was attributed to teens, and the unprecedented second number-one Billboard ranking was driven by older audiences following a spirited live performance of the song by Checker on The Ed Sullivan Show, seen by over 10 million viewers.

So about now, you're probably asking -

What About

What about the Bar Mitzvah ceremony? You know - the reason we all gathered 'round Chubby Checker to celebrate? Wasn't there a religious aspect to the day?

Well yes, there was a religious aspect. 

Shabbat Rosh Chodesh

Abq Jew's carefully-selected Bar Mitzvah date (more than eight weeks before he turned 13) turned out to be Shabbat Korach of the year 5723, which also turned out to be Rosh Chodesh Tammuz of that year.

Since that day, we Jews have been blessed to read Parshat Korach - The Great Rebellion - 59 times. The 60th time will be, G-d willing, this coming Shabbat June 17 in the Land of Israel, and next Shabbat June 24 here in the Diaspora.


And how many times, Abq Jew hears you ask,
has the Haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh
been read since that 5723 day? 

Wherein lies a story.

God Loves Stories

To be continued ....

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Amsterdam: Occupied City

Cannes to Holland: As Abq Jew has mentioned (see April's Hiding During the Holocaust), over the past few weeks he has become fixated on the travails of Dutch Jews during World War II. 

Occupied City

A major part of Abq Jew's fixation is due to the overwhelming tragedy, which Nina Siegal shared in her recent book The Diary Keepers:

  • Of the estimated 140,000 Dutch Jews, only about 35,000 survived World War II. Some 102,000, along with hundreds of Roma and Sinti people, died in the Holocaust. 
  • That means that about 75 percent of the Dutch Jewish population was murdered in five years. 
  • In a single generation, the Nazis had managed to wipe out four centuries of Jewish tradition and culture in Amsterdam and the Netherlands
  • In France, 25 percent of Jews were killed during the Holocaust; about 40 percent of Jews from Belgium were murdered. 
  • The Netherlands holds the dubious distinction of having the lowest survival rate of all the Western European countries.

Atlas Steve McQueen

As it turns out - it's strange, sometimes, how these things turn out - during Covid, famed British filmmaker and director Sir Steve Rodney McQueen (the Academy Award-winning 12 Years a Slave, et al) was working on a documentary about just that sad topic.

Biance Stigter

As it also turns out - not so strange, this time - famed British author and director Bianca Stigter, Dame McQueen, wrote an illustrated history in 2019 titled Atlas van een bezette stad: Amsterdam 1940-1945 (Atlas of an Occupied City: Amsterdam 1940-1945)

The book uncovers traces of World War II in Amsterdam, guiding the reader through the once-occupied Netherlands capital. (There does not appear to be an English translation ... yet.) 

Where were people in hiding? Where was the NSB headquarters? Where were Het Parool and Vrij Nederland stenciled and where were the food stamps distributed? In which street was an attack committed and which house was set on fire as a reprisal?

Occupied City

The resulting film, Occupied City, premiered
at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2023.

The Netherlands Film Fund says:

 Living in Amsterdam is like living with spirits.
It looks like there are two parallel worlds.
The past is always present.

The Cannes website tells us:

The past collides with our precarious present in Steve McQueen’s bravura documentary Occupied City, informed by the book Atlas of an Occupied City (Amsterdam 1940-1945) written by Bianca Stigter

McQueen creates two interlocking portraits: a door-to-door excavation of the Nazi occupation that still haunts his adopted city, and a vivid journey through the last years of pandemic and protest. 

What emerges is both devastating and life-affirming, an expansive meditation on memory, time, and where we’re headed.

things you should know

The most important thing you should know about Occupied City is that Abq Jew hasn't seen it. No, Abq Jew did not make it to Cannes this year (or any other year, for that matter), where the film was shown in a special screening.

Entertainment company A24 will release Occupied City in North America, but has not done so yet. Nope, not even a trailer. Nevertheless, many (good, bad, and awestruck) reviews of Occupied City are in. 


Here is a sampling of good and awestruck reviews.

The Hollywood Reporter

Sheri Linden writes in The Hollywood Reporter:
‘Occupied City’: Steve McQueen Breaks With Doc Convention in a Provocative Look at Amsterdam During World War II

Working from a book by his wife, Dutch filmmaker Bianca Stigter, the '12 Years a Slave' helmer explores his adopted city in the ’40s and today.

It’s no surprise that Steve McQueen, a visual artist turned director, takes an unorthodox approach to nonfiction. Without a single interview or frame of archival material, he connects past and present in Occupied City, a documentary that challenges and rewards patience. 
Combining an elegantly lensed visual portrait of contemporary Amsterdam with a matter-of-fact oral account of the city during its occupation by Germany, McQueen’s four-plus-hour film shares the exhaustiveness of such Holocaust-chronicle magnum opuses as Max Ophuls’ The Sorrow and the Pity and Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah
But its perspective is entirely fresh, eschewing the standard, and more readily engrossing, nonfiction custom of first-person testimony and faces in dramatic close-up. Peering into the liminal place where history’s ghosts linger, McQueen stirs up something more complex than emotion.


Jake Coyle (AP) says in The Midland [Texas] Reporter Telegram:
In Steve McQueen's 4-hour Cannes entry 'Occupied City,' Holocaust past meets Amsterdam present
In Steve McQueen's “Occupied City,” a young woman with an even voice narrates, with rigorous specificity, Nazi encounters and crimes throughout Amsterdam during World War II. The accounts go address by address, and so does McQueen's camera.

Yet the images that play throughout "Occupied City" are of modern day Amsterdam. In the roving, 4 hour-plus documentary made by McQueen, the “12 Years a Slave” director, with his partner, the Dutch documentarian and author Bianca Stigter, past and present are fused — or at least provocatively juxtaposed.

The effect can be startling, stirring and confounding. An elderly woman shifts to country music in an apartment complex where, we're told, a family was once arrested and sent to a concentration camp. A radio throbs with Bob Marley in a park where German officer once resided in the surrounding townhouses. A boy plays a virtual reality videogame where an execution took place.
McQueen said in an interview alongside Stigter 
It’s almost like once upon a time 
there was this place called Earth.
“Occupied City,” which premiered Wednesday at the Cannes Film Festival, includes no archival footage or talking heads. Instead, it invites the viewer to consider the sometimes hard-to-fathom distance between one of history's darkest chapters and now. It's about remembering and forgetting.

Yahoo Life

Tomris Laffly says in Yahoo! Life:
‘Occupied City’: Steve McQueen’s Epic Holocaust Documentary Is a Disquieting Cinematic Essay

We walk among ghosts in cities, storied urban constructs with layers of misty memories one can sense in their distinct smells, and perceive in their dated cracks and imperfections. 
There are hundreds of thousands of such ghosts that haunt Steve McQueen’s audacious documentary essay “Occupied City,” a 2023 Cannes premiere that is as much a hypnotizing and cumulatively disquieting cinematic artifact about the Holocaust and World War II-era Amsterdam as it is a stubbornly single-minded historical art installation.

The simplest way to describe “Occupied City” would be calling it an extensive guided tour of Amsterdam’s past that uses Bianca Stigter’s book, “Atlas of an Occupied City (Amsterdam 1940-1945)” as a compass. 
McQueen’s camera travels through 130 specific addresses in the present-day of his adopted town. 
Let’s call it near-present-day to be exact — “Occupied City” strolls through the Dutch capital mostly during the earliest days of the COVID lockdown, introducing each of these addresses as they relate both to their gut-wrenching World War II history and contemporary standing.

Door after door, town square after town square, hall after hall and lot after lot where some of the now knocked-down buildings used to exist, Stigter’s strong diction and disaffected voice narrates what took place in those locations in the years of the fascist occupation by Germany, after Nazi troops invaded the Netherlands to eliminate its Jewish, Sinti and Roma populations.

The Guardian

Peter Bradshaw writes in The Guardian:
Occupied City – Steve McQueen’s moving meditation on wartime Amsterdam

The monumental film which tracks day-to-day life in Amsterdam under Nazi rule asks hard questions of what we think about the gulf between past and present

Steve McQueen’s monumental film is a vast survey-meditation on the wartime history and psychogeography of his adopted city: Amsterdam, based on his wife Bianca Stigter’s Dutch-language book Atlas of an Occupied City, Amsterdam 1940-1945.

With a calm and undemonstrative narrative voiceover from Melanie Hyams, the film tracks day-to-day life in Amsterdam under Nazi rule. 
It spans the invasion in 1940; the establishment of the NSB, the collaborationist Dutch Nazi party; the increasingly brutal repression and deportation of Jewish populations to the death camps; and then the “hunger winter” of 1944 to 1945 as food and fuel became scarce in the city and the Nazis displayed a gruesome mix of panic and fanaticism as the allies closed in.

What McQueen does is effectively represent the maps and figure legends of the book on screen: the camera shows us the modern-day indoor and outdoor scenes on individual streets, canals, squares, buildings and jetties where the barbarity unfolded – but shows them as they are now, with 21st-century people going about their business while Hyams’ narration coolly summarises what happened in each particular spot, sometimes adding that the original building has been “demolished”.

Awards Watch

Ben Rolph concludes his Occupied City review on the AwardsWatch website with these words:
Occupied City ends with a sobering touch as the camera lies still on an empty tram as it travels through the fog-filled city, the empty train symbolises the emptiness left behind by all the murdered victims of an oppressive regime: those seats, now empty, could’ve been occupied. 
It then concludes with a bar mitzvah, showcasing the next generation of Jewish people from Amsterdam. 
It’s as if he is trying to say: there is a future out there, but it’s also important to look at the past to avoid the same heinous results. 
Steve McQueen Bianca Stigter,