Friday, July 28, 2023

Remembering Tony Bennett

The Best Is Yet to Come: Many people are called legends. Few embodied the word like Tony Bennett, who passed away last week at the age of 96. 

Tony Bennett

Thus wrote Dan Rather in his Substack newsletter Steady on July 23rd. Mr Rather continued:

His voice. His presence. His style. He was timely and timeless. He had an otherworldly talent of coaxing the sublime out of the music he sang. But he was also a consummate craftsman and tireless worker. He earned his longevity, and we all benefited from it. 

Bennett was such a fixture across the decades that it is almost unbelievable that he is gone. But life, like the songs we sing, eventually must hit its final notes. And in Bennett’s case they crescendoed toward the end. His later-life collaborations with singers young enough to be his grandchildren — like Lady Gaga — prove that relevance is a state of mind. 

In art, music, and life in general, we all can benefit when we reach across generations to learn from each other, staying curious and inspired.  

In the outpouring of tributes to Bennett, we learned about his service in World War II, his support for civil rights, and his dark period in mid-life when his popularity had ebbed and substance abuse nearly killed him. But America loves second acts, and Bennett had many highlights — and Grammys — to come. 

In a pop culture often obsessed with youth, Bennett’s popularity with young listeners shows we may want to rethink society’s definition of “cool.”

Over the decades, Bennett’s songs have brought countless smiles, so we figured it would be fitting to share a few of them today. Choosing from his catalog, however, is an exercise in being overwhelmed — so many classics. We’ve selected three that we felt spoke to the spirit of the Steady newsletter. 

We start with The Best Is Yet To Come, which brims with optimism and resilience. The melody swings, and the lyrics match a feeling of uplift and hope. This version with the incomparable Diana Krall and dancers was particularly joyful.

Mr Rather continues with Bennett’s 1965 classic If I Ruled the World - which, he says -
speaks to a yearning for inclusion, love, and empathy. The line “Every voice would be a voice to be heard” feels particularly fitting at a time when many who are already marginalized are also being silenced.
And Mr Rather ends his tribute with I Left My Heart in San Francisco. Of course. Of which he says:
It was recorded on a whim and became an unlikely classic. People just liked hearing it and hearing Tony Bennett. And what better tribute can a singer or a song have?

In January 2016, on the eve of Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath upon which we are privileged to read BeShalach, the Torah portion that includes Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea, Abq Jew wrote (see The Song of the Bay):
Moses was then able to lead (but not accompany) the People Israel to the Promised Land, the Land Flowing with Milk and Honey, which (of course) turned out to be the Land of Canaan, which (much) later became the Land of Israel.

Not a bad choice, Abq Jew and countless colleagues have emphasized. But if Moses had kept going, he could have brought us all to California.

Instead of Shirat HaYam, we might all be singing I Left My Heart in San Francisco. About which Wikipedia tells us:
"I Left My Heart in San Francisco" is a popular song, written in the fall of 1953 in Brooklyn, New York, by George Cory (1920-1978) and Douglass Cross (1920-1975) and best known as the signature song of Tony Bennett
The song was released as a single by Bennett on Columbia Records as the b-side to Once Upon A Time, peaked at #19 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was later issued on the album of the same name. 
The song is one of the official anthems for the city of San Francisco. 
The music was written by Cory, with lyrics by Cross, about two amateur writers nostalgic for San Francisco after moving to New York. 
In December 1961, in the famous "Venetian Room" at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, Tony Bennett first sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco". 
In the audience that night were San Francisco mayor George Christopher and future mayor Joseph L. Alioto. From the 1960s through the 1980s, at San Francisco's premier supper club the "Venetian Room," Bennett sang the city song. 
It became a hit on the pop singles chart in 1962 and spent close to a year on various other charts, achieving gold record status. It then won the top prize of Grammy Award for Record of the Year, as well as for Best Male Solo Vocal Performance. 
In 2001 it was ranked 23rd on an RIAA/NEA list of the most historically significant Songs of the 20th Century.
To Albuquerque, the US, and the World -

Sabbath Consolation

a Sabbath of Consolation and Peace

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Oppenheimer in Av

The Nine Days: We, the Jewish People, have now entered the month of Av. This coming Sabbath is called the Sabbath of Vision (שׁבּת חזון) because of its Haftorah, the third in the series of three Haftorot of Affliction leading us to Tisha b"Av, the Black Fast on the ninth day of the month.

It is the custom in most synagogues to announce the month of Av as "Menachem Av" - literally, "Consoling The Father." The Talmud says, "When the month of Av begins, we reduce our joy." During the Nine Days we observe a greater level of mourning than during the Three Weeks. 

Oppenheimer Movie

During the Three Weeks, we marked the anniversary of Trinity, the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945, as part of the Manhattan Project. The test was conducted in the Jornada del Muerto desert about 35 miles southeast of Socorro, New Mexico.

This year, during these Nine Days, the new movie Oppenheimer is to be released. And in another few days, the world will solemnly observe the fateful anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during - and ending - World War II.

Trinity. The commemorations of the destruction of Jerusalem, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. And the movie Oppenheimer - all within the same period of time. 

"Coincidence," Abq Jew hears you say?

As Abq Jew pointed out just last week - coincidence may just be God's way of remaining anonymous. Or, perhaps - hidden. Or, perhaps - angry.

American Prometheus

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the movie Oppenheimer is based on the 2005 biography American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin about J. Robert Oppenheimer, a theoretical physicist who led the effort to develop the first nuclear weapons as part of the Manhattan Project - and which thereby ushered in the Atomic Age. 

Now showing in New Mexico!   

Need to brush up your nuclear physics and atomic history background before you see Oppenheimer

Abq Jew strongly recommends the video Jews in the Manhattan Project, provided by Gaon Web Films and produced by the Jewish Learning Channel, a program of Santa Fe's Institute for Tolerance Studies.

The talk was first presented as part of the Santa Fe Distringuished Lecture Series - by New Mexico's own "Physics Rabbi" Dr Jack Shlachter, whom many of us New MexiJews are privileged to know. For those who don't - 
Dr. Jack Shlachter, former head of the Theoretical Division of Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratory, talks about the outsized representation of Jewish physicists in leadership positions in the Manhattan Project during World War II. 
He discusses many of them with personal stories about who they were. Fascinating inside descriptions Jews in scientific research during WWII. 
Andrew Silow-Carroll

And then there's Andrew Silow-Carroll, former Editor-in-Chief of JTA and current Editor of the New York Jewish Week. For those keeping score -
In January 2021, The Jewish Week announced its acquisition by 70 Faces Media, the publisher of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and other Jewish brands, under whose umbrella it continues as an all-digital brand.
Anyway, Andrew Silow-Carroll and Abq Jew are long-time Facebook friends, both of us being Jewish, and writers, and from New Jersey. Andrew recently posted:
I spoke to a rabbi/physicist (slogan: “Judaism for Your Nuclear Family”) about the Jewish backstory to “Oppenheimer” —
Rabbi Jack LANL

As Abq Jew expected, Andrew was referring to New Mexico's own "Physics Rabbi" Dr Jack Shlachter. And his FB post pointed to the just-published JTA article, At the heart of the film ‘Oppenheimer’ is a clash between real-life Jews. Which begins:

In 1945 physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer was a national hero, hailed as the “father of the atomic bomb” and the man who ended World War II.

Less than a decade later, he was a pariah, after the United States Atomic Energy Commission revoked his security clearance following allegations about his left-leaning politics at the height of the anti-communist McCarthy era.

Christopher Nolan’s biopic, “Oppenheimer,” which opens in theaters on July 21, will star Irish actor Cillian Murphy as the famous scientist. 

But it will also feature Robert Downey Jr. as a lesser known real-life character, Lewis Strauss (pronounced “Straws”), the chairman of the AEC and one of Oppenheimer’s chief inquisitors. 

The clash between the scientist and the bureaucrat was a matter of personalities, politics and the hydrogen bomb (Strauss supported it, Oppenheimer was opposed). 

But according to amateur historian Jack Shlachter, the two represented opposites in another important way: as Jews. 

Shlachter has researched how Oppenheimer’s assimilated Jewish background and Strauss’ strong attachment to Jewish affairs set them up for conflict as men who represented two very different reactions to the pressures of acculturation and prejudice in the mid-20th century.

Ya gotta read the article [Click here]


Andrew points out (as we New MexiJews already knew) that

Shlachter is in a unique position to explore the Jewish backstory of Oppenheimer: A physicist, he worked for more than 30 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the New Mexico complex where Oppenheimer led the Manhattan Project that developed the bomb. 

Shlachter is also a rabbi, ordained in 1995, who leads HaMakom, a congregation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as the Los Alamos Jewish Center.

Abq Jew had always thought that the Big Clash of the Manhattan Project was between Oppenheimer and Edward Teller, with whom Mr & Mrs Abq Jew once - in California, of course, where dreams used to come true - had occasion to meet and converse. But that's a story for another time.

In any event, Rabbi Jack offers a fresh perspective - on the post-Manhattan Project, post-WWII clash between Oppenheimer and Lewis Strauss, who was one of the five members of the original Atomic Energy Commission.

Rabbi Jack offered that perspective in Fifty (Well Maybe Two) Shades of Grey: Nuance in the Relationship Between Lewis Strauss and J Robert Oppenheimer, a talk that he recently presented to the J Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee, a Los Alamos-based nonprofit.

But back to the JTA article [Click here]

At one point in their discussion, Andrew says to Rabbi Jack:

I’ve read that Oppenheimer did not feel guilt over his contribution to developing nuclear weapons or the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but he did feel a sense of responsibility for what had been unleashed. 

And Rabbi Jack responds:

Oppenheimer realized that a lot of people lost their lives as a result of this. 

But I will tell you, my father was a GI during World War II, he enlisted in 1943 and fought until ’45. He was in Europe when V.E. Day came, and then came back to the United States for leave before he was going to be shipped out to the Pacific. 

And my father was convinced to his dying day that the bomb saved his life [by ending the war with Japan]. And, you know, that was a widespread sentiment.

Tisha b'Av

May we be comforted among the
mourners of Zion and Jerusalem -


and among the mourners of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Are We There Yet?

42 Again and Again: As we NewMexiJews know, it took Moses and the Children of Israel 40 years of camping out at less-than-4-star hotels to cross the Sinai Desert and arrive at Jericho, their (which is to say, our) gateway to the Land of Milk and Honey.

Tabernacle in Wilderness

As we read this Shabbat in the dual parsha Matot-Masei, we Jews made 42 stops at 42 'stations' during those 40 years. And it's not like they (we) couldn't wait to get on the road again. In fact, the Etz Hayyim Humash tells us -

Rashi, citing Moses haDarshan, calculates that, if we omit the first and the last years, when the Israelites were constantly on the move, there were only 20 stations during 38 years. 

It is wrong to think of Israel as constantly on the march. 

The list of place names reminds us that during most of the 40 years in the wilderness, the Israelites were living normally at one oasis or another for years at a time.

We know exactly where those 42 extended stay sojourns were - Moshe Rabbenu and the KBH have thoughtfully listed them in the parsha! Yes, each and every one of the

By now, Abq Jew is sure, you, his loyal readers, have surely recognized that the number 42 corresponds directly with The Ultimate Answer to The Ultimate Question - you know, Life, The Universe, and Everything.

Hitchhikers Guide

Our traveling companion Wikipedia informs us

The number 42 (forty-two) is derived from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxya science fiction comedy series created by Douglas Adams. 

The title is the name of a fictional, eccentric, electronic travel guide, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, prominently featured in the series.

Baseball fans will note that Jackie Robinson wore number 42, and that the number 42 has now been retired from all Major League Baseball teams.  

New York Yankees fans (of which Abq Jew is certainly one) will note that the last player to were number 42 was relief pitcher Mariano Rivera - now retired.

Wavy Line Blue

Returning to our desert theme - Alexander I Poltorak, in his July 2019 blog for The Times of Israel, reminds us that we, the Children of Israel, participated in Forty Two Journeys to the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. And, he adds -

When G-d brought the Jews out from Egypt, He brought them out with the mystery of the 42-letter name, just as He created heaven and earth… (Zohar Chadash)

Ana BeKoach

And Chana Tanenbaum, in her July 2020 blog for The Times of Israel, explains Why 42 is the ultimate answer to life and everything. And, she adds -

The kabbalists see no coincidence in the fact that there are 42 stops. After all, one of the many names of God consists of 42 letters. (Hence, it is customary when reading these verses not to have any break-to reflect God’s unity).
Let us review 

There are

42 stops on the way to the Promised Land.
42 letters in one of God's names.


“The ultimate answer to life, the universe,
and everything is … 42!” 

"Coincidence," Abq Jew hears you say?


Which brings us to

Ana BeKoach

The Piyyut אנא בכח (Ana b’Koacḥ)

Reb Zalman (Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi) tells us:

The piyyut אנא בכח (Ana b’Koacḥ) is one of a handful of medieval ḳabbalistic poems providing a forty-two-lettered divine name acrostic, the first letters of which reference a litany of angelic names found in twin tomes Sefer haPeliah and Sefer haQanah (14th c.). Reciting these piyyutim thus serve as a “safe” circumlocution for the invocation of the power inherent in this combination of letters.

The earliest recorded printing we could find of Ana b’Khoaḥ dates from the mid-16th century, from one of the earliest Sefaradi prayerbooks printed after the Spanish expulsion. The authorship of the piyyut remains unknown and it was likely written in the 15th century.

And Reb Zalman offers this lyrical translation:

Ana BeKoach

Sefaria offers a (slightly) more literal translation of the piyyut, which appears in our Kabbalat Shabbat service just before Lecha Dodi:

:אַנָּא בְּכֹחַ גְּדֻלַּת יְמִינְךָ. תַּתִּיר צְרוּרָה
:קַבֵּל רִנַּת עַמְּךָ. שַׂגְּבֵנוּ טַהֲרֵנוּ נוֹרָא
:נָא גִּבּוֹר. דּוֹרְשֵׁי יִחוּדְךָ. כְּבַבַּת שָׁמְרֵם
:בָּרְכֶם טַהֲרֵם. רַחֲמֵי צִדְקָתְךָ. תָּמִיד גָּמְלֵם
:חָסִין קָדוֹשׁ. בְּרוֹב טוּבְךָ. נָהֵל עֲדָתֵךָ
:יָחִיד גֵּאֶה. לְעַמְּךָ פְּנֵה. זוֹכְרֵי קְדֻשֶּׁתֶּךָ
:שַׁוְעָתֵנוּ קַבֵּל. וְשָׁמַע צַעֲקָתֵנוּ. יוֹדֵעַ תַּעֲלֻמוֹת
:בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד

We beg you!
With the strength and greatness of your right arm, untie our bundled sins.
Accept your nation's song; elevate and purify us, O Awesome One.
Please, O Heroic One, those who foster your Oneness,
guard them like the pupil of an eye.
Bless them, purify them, pity them.
May Your righteousness always reward them.
Powerful Holy One, in much goodness guide Your congregation.
Unique and Exalted One, turn to Your nation which proclaims Your holiness.
Accept our entreaty and hear our screams, O Knower of Mysteries.
Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom, forever and ever.

Kabbalah Tree

While My Jewish Learning refers to Ana B'Koach as a Portal to Creation, and tells us that this enigmatic poem recited almost precisely as Shabbat begins contains a hidden mystical meaning.

Each week during the Friday evening service, as we prepare
to ascend from the weekday world of mundane obligations
to the Shabbat realm of blessed rest, we encounter
an ancient benediction: Ana b’Koach,
an enigmatic prayer said to conceal a mystical formula
for spiritual renewal within its plea for divine aid.

Ana BeKoach

There are, of course, many traditional and many new niggunim for Ana B'Koach. And Reb Zalman, as to be expected, had his own niggun.

And then there's Jacob's Ladder (formerly Kol Kahol), Abq Jew's semi-favorite young Jewgrass group, who have their own version of Ana Bekoach on their new album, Beit El (coming out August 1). 

The melody is borrowed from Bury Me Beneath The Willow, one of the first recordings ever made by the widely renowned and esteemed Carter Family. 


Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Alan Arkin Dies at 89

Versatile Actor and Folksinger: Oscar winner Alan Arkin, whose background in improvisation and knack for comic drama were cornerstones of his extensive genre-hopping career that yielded enduring characters from the 1960s comedy “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” to “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Argo,” has died.

Alan Arkin

Thus reports the Los Angeles Times. The actor’s sons Adam, Matthew and Anthony said in a joint statement:

Our father was a uniquely talented force of nature, both as an artist and a man. A loving husband, father, grand and great grandfather, he was adored and will be deeply missed,

And Wikipedia tells us a familiar American Jewish story:

Alan Wolf Arkin was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 26, 1934, the son of painter and writer David I. Arkin, and his wife, Beatrice (née Wortis), a teacher. 

He was raised in a Jewish family with "no emphasis on religion". His grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, Russia, and Germany.

His parents moved to Los Angeles when Alan was 11, but an 8-month Hollywood strike cost his father his job as a set designer. 

During the 1950s Red Scare, Arkin's parents were accused of being Communists, and his father was fired when he refused to answer questions about his political ideology. David Arkin challenged the dismissal, but he was vindicated only after his death.

Now, most people knew Alan Arkin as an actor - and, as the JTA and the Forward and everyone else eulogizes, an excellent actor. 

But those of who (like Abq Jew) are old and NYC-based enough also remember Alan Arkin as a folksinger. Again per his Wikipedia entry:

The Tarriers
With Erik Darling and Bob Carey, [Alan Arkin] formed the folk group The Tarriers [named after the folk song Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill], in which Arkin sang and played guitar. 
The band members co-composed the group's 1956 hit The Banana Boat Song, a reworking, with some new lyrics, of a traditional, Jamaican calypso folk song of the same name, combined with another titled "Hill and Gully Rider".
It reached No. 4 on the Billboard magazine chart the same year as Harry Belafonte's better-known version.

Yes, Abq Jew must point out (he must! he must!): that Banana Boat Song, The same song that made Harry Belafonte (see May's Harry Belafonte Dies at 96) famous. The Tarriers did it first.

Musicians Wash Sq Park

And yes again - Abq Jew must also point out that The Tarriers formed from a collection of folk singers who performed regularly at Washington Square Park in New York City during the mid-1950 and 1960s.

The Tarriers kept going for years, on and off, with personnel changes that included Eric Weissberg (see March 2020's Eric Weissberg, 'Dueling Banjos' Musician, Dies at 80) and Marshall Brickman in the group.

However - after completing a European tour in early 1958, Alan Arkin left the group to pursue acting. At which he did rather well.

Alan Arkin