Sunday, December 30, 2007
Saturday, December 29, 2007
by Wil Haygood
In 1954, as a nightclub star on the brink of Hollywood stardom, Sammy Davis, Jr. became a Jew. The announcement—the ricocheting word of mouth—startled his friends. He had never mentioned Judaism before. His own background had been one without religion. His mother was a lapsed Catholic, his father a lapsed Baptist. His adoption of Judaism could not really be called a conversion, because he had nothing to convert from. If pressed, he might well have answered "entertainment" as his religion. The decision had been made like many other decisions made in the life of Sammy—spur of the moment, a bout of light introspection, the mind working with a vaudevillian’s quickness and agility, no turning back from an arrived-at decision.
Where did this sudden onset of Judaism come from? Sammy had always been a fervent searcher. And where his mind was not intellectual, his heart was always vulnerable. The conundrum left him forever open to new gadgets, new ideas, new kinds of love. And whatever winds blew those new ideas into the soft recesses of his heart proved, more often than not, to be strong enough to push the ideas even further into his mind, where they fastened, and where he mistakenly thought they had originated with the weight of intelligence. So he came to Judaism quickly and romantically—as if electrical currents were guiding him. …
" He came to me," recalls Jerry Lewis—born Jerry Levitch, and himself Jewish—"and said, 'I’m going to turn Jewish.’ I said, 'You don’t have enough problems already?’"
If we are to believe Sammy’s autobiography, "Yes I Can," the act of conversion had whipped itself around in his mind for all of two weeks. It involved the happenstance of coming across a book, "A History of the Jews," and having a few conversations with rabbis. (During a hospital stay, Eddie Cantor had slipped him a Star of David, which he was now wearing around his neck.) There was no hunger, however, greater than Sammy’s hunger for fame, for Hollywood. He watched movies, trailed the famous, snapped their pictures, hugged them, and hugged them some more. Fame was meat. He was its tiger. If, as the film historian Neal Gabler has proclaimed, the Jews invented Hollywood, then, in 1954, Sammy proclaimed himself—with the acquisition of an almost overnight spirituality—an appendage to that invention. Once seized by a notion, he could be relentless.
He found Max Nussbaum, a rabbi in Los Angeles and a refugee from Europe. In Germany, Rabbi Nussbaum’s reputation kept growing. He had a gift. He was told he should be in that place known as Hollywood. His wife sensed his powers. "When he was young in Berlin, he was like a meteor coming on under Hitler," Nussbaum’s wife would come to recall. "Everybody heard about Max Nussbaum in Berlin because he was such a novelty." The Jews of Berlin came to revere Nussbaum. He told wonderful Hasidic tales, spinning them out. He was, according to his wife—and others—"beautiful"; his mind was energetic. "When I met him," his wife recalled, "I didn’t particularly like him, because he was much too glamorous for my taste. I made fun of him. I said, 'You belong in Hollywood.’ That was 1937."
Nussbaum reached Hollywood in 1942, an escapee from the waves of persecution sweeping the continent. He headed Temple Israel. Five of the seven founders of the Hollywood-based temple were power brokers in the movie business. Nussbaum corralled actors and actresses for fund-raising benefits. Following one—where Bill "Bojangles" Robinson had been the featured guest—he squired everyone to the famous Brown Derby restaurant. The group was told that Robinson, a Negro, would not be served. Nussbaum and company turned and left.
When Sammy found Nussbaum, he was full of childlike questions. He grilled the rabbi as if he were a director moving huge camera equipment across impossible terrain and he needed Nussbaum to help navigate it all—this very minute. The rabbi was suspicious and saw fit to warn Sammy: "Let me caution you not to expect to find Judaism in books."
Sammy opened his one eye wider. The comment perplexed him. He would find Judaism, then, in the clutter of his emotional heart.
There were, however, depths and undertows and crosscurrents that Sammy could not imagine that would intercut with his decision to convert.
The Jew and the Negro had a sometimes complex and always emotional history in America. Both groups, indeed, stood upon common ground: that of an oppressed minority. Bondage and suffering had shoved them together. Pain was understood by both. Several years before Sammy’s conversion, a young writer and essayist by the name of James Baldwin, writing in Commentary magazine, said, "Though the notion of the suffering is based on the image of the wandering, exiled Jew, the context changes imperceptibly, to become a fairly obvious reminder of the trials of the Negro, while the sins recounted are the sins of the American republic. At this point, the Negro identifies himself almost wholly with the Jew. The more devout Negro considers that he is a Jew, in bondage to a hard taskmaster and waiting for a Moses to lead him out of Egypt." Baldwin goes on: "It is part of the price the Negro pays for his position in this society that, as Richard Wright points out, he is almost always acting."
Judaism was cultural, a long thread in a family dynamic. Many who underwent conversions did it for reasons of marriage. But not Sammy. Sammy the actor—the impersonator!—would take the lore of Jewishness because he was Sammy. It was like a wonderful role. He needed the approval of no casting director. He could just do it—open his heart a little, read, entertain other Jews, sit at Rabbi Nussbaum’s knee. Sammy, in the presence of intellectual vigor, sometimes simply wilted. Nussbaum, in the presence of Hollywood, sometimes became vulnerable. (The walls of Nussbaum’s office were lined with photographs of Hollywood stars.) Nussbaum’s warnings to Sammy aside, it was not his mission to try to dissuade him. They were two entertainers, and they were both in the business of pleasing, of soothing when necessary. Their eyes could easily tolerate the klieg lights.
Sammy did not care how Negroes would react to his conversion. He tried his best to operate above the emotional guitar strings of the Negro. Negroes were finicky—just like the Negro press. And Negroes were hardest on Negroes. He would merely endure their bemusement. …
He became a Jew. He was a Jew. A Negro in Jew’s clothing. It was tender, and it was strange. To Tony Curtis the conversion was also "a bit gratuitous."
Actually, it was just Sammy being Sammy—shrewd, opportunistic, heart-touched, and childlike. There had been no religion in his life, and there had been no foundation, and so there was plenty of room for invention. And where there was the possibility of invention, surprise could occur.
But he hardly escaped the guffaws. "When Sammy embraced Judaism I was doing the Milton Berle show," says Peggy King, a singer who would go on to have an important relationship with Sammy. "Milton said, 'What are we going to do—Sammy became a Jew?’" King and others who were gathered around wondered what Berle expected them to say. The comic, recalls King, answered his own question. "Then he said, 'I know, we’ll give them [the Negroes] George Jessel.’"
Jessel, a forgotten figure now, was a longtime comedian considered too Jewish his own good and a bit of an embarrassment to his people. "You never heard such waves of laughter," King says. "We were rolling on the floor."
Wil Haygood is a writer in the Style section of The Washington Post. This essay is excerpted from his award-winning biography, In Black And White: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Don't change horses
until they stop running.
Strike while the
bug is close.
It's always darkest before
Daylight Saving Time.
Never underestimate the power of
You can lead a horse to water but
Don't bite the hand that
No news is
A miss is as good as a
You can't teach an old dog new
If you lie down with dogs, you'll
stink in the morning.
Love all, trust
The pen is mightier than the
An idle mind is
the best way to relax.
Where there's smoke there's
Happy the bride who
gets all the presents.
A penny saved is
Two's company, three's
Don't put off till tomorrow what
you put on to go to bed.
Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and
You have to blow your nose.
There are none so blind as
Stevie Wonder .
Children should be seen and not
spanked or grounded.
If at first you don't succeed
get new batteries.
You get out of something only what you
See in the picture on the box
When the blind lead the blind
get out of the way.
A bird in the hand
is going to poop on you.
And the WINNER and last one!
Better late than
Saturday, December 22, 2007
and all over the place
There was noise, there was kvetching
Such ah disgrace!
The Kinderlakh, sleeping,
The chocolate rush
from the Hanukkah gelt.
And me in the easyboy,
so stuffed with latkes,
I stretched the elastic
which held up my gatkes.
When up on the roof
(and it has a steep pitch)
A fat alte kakker was making a kvitsch.
I jumped up real quick
and I ran to the door,
Was it a bandeet,
or only a schnorrer?
He wasn't alone;
he had eight ferdelakh,
And called them by name
as he gave a gebrakh:
sol the lesser known reindeer"On Moishe, on Yankel, on Itzik, on Sam,
On Mendel, on Shmendrik, on Feivush, on Ham;
My kidneys are kvelling;
do you give a damn?"
He had a white beard
and payyes to boot,
And to keep out the cold,
he had such a nice suit!
A second from Peerless,
I could tell at a glance,
But the cut was okay,
and so were the pants.
He was triple XL,
a real groisser goof,
So I yelled out,
"Meshuggener! Get off from mein roof!"
He jumped down and said
as he shook hands with me,
"Max Klaus is the name.
You have maybe some tea?"
So I gave him a gleisel,
while he shook his white mop,
Mutt'ring, "Always the same thing,
They're dreying my kopp!"
From Vancouver to Glacier Bay,
Outremont to Reginek,
Every shmo in the world
hakks meir a cheinik!
They're screaming for presents,
and hallah with schmaltz,
And from Brooklyn alone,
the back pain, gevaltz!"
So we sat and yentehed,
and we spun the old dreydels,
(He took all of my money,
and one of my knaidels)
He said, "Business is not bad,
a living I make,
But I'm getting too old
for this Hanukkah fake;
And the cell phones, you see
how my pacemaker dings?
For two cents I'd quit,
and move to Palm Springs?"
And he gave a geshrei
as he fled mit a lakht,
"Gut Yontiff to All,
Vey iz Mir, Such a Nakht!"
Friday, December 21, 2007
'Twas the night before Xmas
And down here in Boca,
I was sitting at Starbucks,
Drinking my mocha.
I know we're all Jewish,
But was wondering still,
If Santa would come here
And give us a thrill.
On my way home,
No Xmas lights did I see,
On the houses, the windows,
Not even the trees.
What a strange feeling.
Not a decoration in sight.
Was it really December
Or a warm summer's night?
I drove past the delis,
There were lines out the door.
People were waiting
For Kishka and more.
The restaurants were busy,
Christmas dinners not planned.
Never, not here
We're in Boca Land.
At home all was quiet.
I left out Kosher wine,
In case Santa came to Boca
For the very first time.
Snoozing came easy
To me Xmas Eve.
I wasn't waiting for presents
To be left under a tree.
I could hope all I want.
I could fuss and then see,
If Santa would make time
For little old me.
Then all of a sudden
He pulled up in his Jag,
With a sack full of presents
Each sporting a tag.
Oh Bloomies, oh Saks
A computer and more.
He knows where to shop,
He frequents my stores!
He looked for the lox,
The bagels and jelly.
He came to Boca first
To fill up his belly!
"I have a long night ahead,
I want you to know.
>From Boca I leave
For New York and the snow."
He stayed for a while,
He chatted and ate.
Then he left in a flash
Before it got late.
What a great night
I thought with a sigh.
That jolly old Santa
Is a really nice guy.
As I cleared off the table
I heard with delight
"Shalom to you all,
And OY, what a night!!
We are faithful Catholics who support the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel. We wish to draw more attention to the plight of long-suffering Catholics and other Christians in the Muslim world. We believe there are millions of Catholics who represent an untapped resource for support of the Jewish State and its right to defend itself from terrorism. We want to be a source of information for Catholics on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Sabbah's Christmas Message to the Jews: No Jewish State
I've wasted too many words on the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the odious Michel Sabbah, the highest-ranking Roman Catholic in the Holy Land. He's a pro-Palestinian leftist who uses his position to blame Israel for every bomb, every death, every riot that occurs in Israel. He parades around as a peace activist and a man of God while Jews and Christians are murdered by Islamic thugs; often the same thugs who used to work for his old friend Yassar Arafat.
Has he gone to far this time?
In his pre-Christmas message Sabbah rejected the idea of a Jewish state, effectively alligning himself with anti-Semites everywhere.
"If there's a state of one religion, other religions are naturally discriminated against," Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah told reporters at the annual press conference he holds in Jerusalem before the Christian holiday.
What an idiot. Muslim countries are specifically Muslim, discriminating (often violently) against non-Muslims. Is Sabbah going to denounce these countries for being a "state of one religion?" Don't count on it.
And what about Sabbah's Palestinian friends? The forth-coming Palestinian state, built with rocket launchers and torture chambers on the homes of forcibly-evacuated Jewish families, will be, by all acounts, exclusively Muslim.
In Israel, on the other hand, Arab women get PhD's from Hebrew University. In Israel, Muslims are elected to the Knesset, Israel's parlament. As I write this, Sabbah's peaceful friends in Hamas are broadcasting from the Temple Mount, which is still off-limits to Jews who wish to mourn the destruction of the First Temple.
Suppose those Jews who were forced off their land in Israel tried to immigrate to Vatican City. How fast do you suppose their papers would be processed? Isn't Vatican City a country which has only one religion?
Catholic history is filled with countries that were officially Catholic. And few of them had a human rights record as good as Israel has.
Sabbah followed up this vile performance with his Christmas message: "If Israel decides for peace, we will have peace."
Really? Hamas will lay down its arms? The PLO will give up its stated desire to liberate "occupied Tel Aviv?" All the violence that began before the 1967 war of Arab aggression (and the disputed territories) will magically morph into peace?
I wonder: in Sabbah's sick and twisted world, do child murderers, anti-Semites, and Jihadist lunatics ever have any responsibility for the carnage they leave in their wake? I guess not.
And what a fine Christmas message for the head Roman Catholic in the Holy Land to give to the Jews: you and your holocaust-surviving relatives cannot have your own state. Furthermore, all the bloodshed that has come about as a result of others trying to drive you into the sea is really your fault.
The Latin Patriach forgot to add "and a curse be upon them and their people."
I wondered if anyone would have the moral courage to denounce this grotesque and bigoted display of Jew hatred. I don't mean Catholic leaders; they won't open their pious mouths. At least not until the faithful start dropping notes in the collection plate that read "My tithe went to the Friends of the IDF." Then you'll see them scurry like rats to distance themselves from Sabbah, just enough to get the money flowing again.
But perhaps someone else, somewhere might speak out. Someone did. The Simon Wiesenthal Center called upon the Vatican to reject Sabbah's "insidious campaign to de-Judaize Israel."
“Israel does not need lessons from Patriarch Sabbah on how to treat citizens of other faiths and religions,” said [Rabbi Marvin ]Hier. “He would better serve the Christians in the Holy Land by going to Gaza and defending the beleaguered Christian minority there from Hamas extremists.”
This is singular moment in the history of the post-Vatican II Catholic Church. We now get to find out if Vatican II's document on relations with the Jewish people was real, or simply window-dressing. Pope Benedict XVI cannot let Sabbah's hateful words go unchallenged. Sabbah must be repudiated. He should be defrocked.
God bless the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
And may Latin-rite Catholic Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem rot in hell.
That's my Christmas message.
Posted by D.B. Kenner at 7:34 AM
By Lois Goldrich | Published Today | Community |
View all articles by Lois Goldrich
Nancy Katz always knew she wanted to go to Cuba — but she didn’t know why.
"And when I learned of the existence of a Jewish community there, I was determined to go," said Katz, whose photographic exhibit "Faces of Cuba" is on display at the Englewood Public Library until Dec. 31.
"It may have had something to do with a Sephardic connection" on her father’s side, Katz told The Jewish Standard, noting that one branch of her grandfather’s family had moved to Buenos Aires and that she had recently reconnected with a cousin from Argentina. Whatever the reason, Katz, who lives in Teaneck and owns a photography studio there, has now gone twice to Cuba, and the 36 images on display in Englewood provide a close, personal look at the Jews she met there, together with their homes and synagogues.
At right, a Jewish artist and active member of the Hatikvah synagogue in Santiago de Cuba teaches another member how to put on tefillin.
While in Cuba, "I went to three bar mitzvahs, celebrated Chanukah, and basically fell in love with the people and their commitment to a Jewish way of life," Katz wrote about her 2004 trip with the Cuban American Jewish Mission. Photos from that trip, and from a subsequent visit in 2006, are displayed in the library and appear on its Website, www.englewoodlibrary.org.
Also included in the exhibit are objects that help to explain what is depicted in the photos. For example, Katz has included tefillin in the display case featuring photos of Ruben Dorado Sotolongo, whose bar mitzvah she attended in Santiago de Cuba.
Katz noted that on a typical Shabbat in Santiago, a community of some 90 Jews, there might be 30 to 35 people at synagogue. "I saw one man arrive on donkey after three days of traveling over the mountains to get there," she said.
While she has written several accounts of her trips — she returned to Cuba in 2006 to visit with children and adults with disabilities — Katz said that there’s "something special about capturing things in photographs." Both ways of recording allow you to show passion for people, she said, "but in photographs, the passion of the people themselves comes across — you’re not setting it up. They’re allowing you to see who they are."
The first time, she said, she did not go "as a photographer." Indeed, before her 16-day trip she conducted a small fund-raising campaign "among my friends, family, and my local community," collecting much-needed items (prescription eyeglasses, children’s clothes, over-the-counter medicines, and toothbrushes) for her Cuban hosts.
The second time, "while I thought of myself more as a photographer, my visit was mostly as a humanitarian," she said.
Noting that the communities she visited "greatly appreciate support from Jews in the United States," Katz said she was impressed by "their ability to relish life and be joyful when they lack so much in terms of material goods and the freedoms we take for granted in our country."
She also pointed out that most visitors to Cuba go to Havana, home of more than 1,000 Jews, "not to outlying areas where there are home synagogues." Noting that Jewish communities in these areas need books, tallesim, and other Jewish ritual objects, she said that while they don’t have full-time rabbis, the communities are visited occasionally by clergy from other countries.
Katz said she was most "impressed, touched, and inspired" by the Santiago Jewish community’s "commitment to a Jewish way of life…. When one man learns to lay tefillin, he teaches the next one. Santiago is creating its own traditions as it carries on the ancient ones," she said.
She pointed out that between 1959 and the early 1990s, Fidel Castro did not permit Jews — or any religious group — to publicly practice their religion.
"It was difficult," she said. "They couln’t pass on their traditions through Hebrew schools, or synagogues. There were no bar mitzvahs."
Now, however, after only a decade, said Katz, the Jewish people she visited — in Havana, Santiago, Santa Clara, and Caibarien — are trying to grow their communities, with new births and conversions helping to counteract the loss of members who move to the United States, Israel, or other countries.
The photographer, who said she read voraciously about Cuba before her two visits, said that most Jews living there today have Sephardic backgrounds. The Eastern European and German Jews who came to what she called "Hotel Cuba" in the 1930s to escape persecution — with some staying for more than 40 years — have left, as have those "other American Jews who just happened to be living there, mostly for business reasons," she said.
"It’s a hard life for everyone there," she said, "but trying to maintain Jewish life is particularly hard."
It's hard to be a Jew on Christmas.
It's a holiday on which we pass.
Their rituals are not for me
and the stress gives me gas!
We don't sing the songs
nor decorate the tree
But it's just one day
we don't belong
That's just the way
it has to be.
They believe that Jesus
is the Messiah.
but on that I don't agree
I'm sure glad I live in America
The land of the free
Santa will never arrive at my house
On that i agree
Although I wasn't naughty
or even a louse
Oh poor poor pitiful me!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
The Heritage Institute did a study showing that of all the distinct ethnic groups in the United States, including those of English heritage, the Jewish community had the highest “community” score of any other group.
* Number 1 in providing medical advancements that saved American’s lives in the last 100 years.
* Number 1 in authorship of both biographical and fictional materials.
* Number 1 in per capita income.
* Number 1 in the creative arts
* Number 1 as educators, (grade school through college level)
* Number 1 in the legal profession
* Number 1 in the banking/investment banking business.
* Number 1 in providing the most charity/philanthropy per capita.
* Number 1 in journalist/media participation.
* Number 9 in military service. (they made the top ten, out o f 20 ranked ethnic groups)
* Number 10 in athletics. The Jews squeaked into the last top spot with their participation in ice skating, tennis, track and baseball. (Rod Carew was allowed)
* Number 1 in the lowest incidents of anti-social behavior.
Jews commit the least amount of violent crime of any ethnic group. (The best neighbor to have is a Jew)
America has always honored Jews and that is why Jewish representation in Congress is at an all-time high and vastly exceeds their numbers in the population.
Monday, December 17, 2007
By Nate Bloom
Every year the American Society of Composers and Publishers publishes a list of the 25 Most Popular Holiday Songs. The old favorites--"The Christmas Song," "White Christmas," etc.--are always on the list, but songs enter or leave the list based on the popularity of recent covers of the song.
Among the 25 songs picked this year, more than half--13 to 14--were composed, co-written or performed by verifiably Jewish artists. Here's a rundown on the songs with Jewish connections. Click on the links below to see information about a particular song.
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
Do They Know It's Christmas? (Feed the World) Santa Baby
Holly Jolly Christmas Santa Claus is Coming to Town
I'll Be Home for Christmas Silver Bells
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year Sleigh Ride
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays
Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree White Christmas
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)
Number one on the list, this song was written in 1945 by Mel Tormé (1925-1999) and Robert "Bob" Wells (born 1922)--both of whom are Jewish. "The Christmas Song" has gained in popularity since 2000, the first year I looked at the ASCAP list. In 2000, it was third, with "White Christmas" holding the #1 spot.
Tormé, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, is most famous as a jazz vocalist, but he did write about 250 songs, mostly with Wells. Tormé wrote the music for "The Christmas Song" and Wells penned the lyrics.
As it says in this article, this song was written in July, in the hot desert.
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Back when I first wrote on the subject, I caught a newspaper reference to a university seminar in which one of the professors, reportedly, said that Fred Coots, co-writer of the song, was Jewish. I reported that Coots was Jewish. However, upon reflection, I am not sure that this newspaper source is unimpeachable and I haven't, yet, been able to find an independent reliable source that confirms or refutes the newspaper article's information on Coots.
Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" is the historical "biggie" of popular Christmas songs. Its incredible success inspired scores of other songwriters to try and write a Christmas song.
Berlin, one of the most famous songwriters in American history, was born Israel Baline in what is now Russia, or possibly Belarus. He came to the States in 1891. His father is alternately reported to have been a cantor or rabbi, but didn't work in either capacity when the family moved to America. His father's death, when Irving was 13, forced Irving Berlin to find work--like singing in the streets--just so he and his family could eat.
Berlin's early dire poverty fits the stereotype of the successful Jewish American songwriter--but not quite the reality. Most top Jewish American songwriters, especially those who worked in the Broadway theater, were from families that fit in an income range from upper working class to upper middle class. Also, most Jewish Broadway composers were American born and not immigrants.
Berlin certainly never hid the fact that he was Jewish, even though he changed his name (he adopted "Berlin" because that was how his last name, Baline, was misspelled on the sheet music cover of his first published song).
Despite his rabbi father, Irving Berlin was never a religious man--although he supported Jewish causes--like the State of Israel. He was absolutely very much an American patriot--and "God Bless America" was a sincere statement of his beliefs. (The royalties to that song go to the Boys and Girls Scouts).
For Berlin, personally, Christmas was not a happy time. His second wife, and the love of his life, was a Catholic. While Berlin remained a secular Jew, he allowed his children with his second wife to be raised as Episcopalians. One of their children, a son, died very young on Christmas day in the 1920s.
Berlin celebrated Christmas with his wife and his surviving children when those children were young, but he was always reportedly sad on that day--mourning his dead child. He did not celebrate the holiday at all when his surviving children were grown-up.
Let It Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!
This song was written (1945) by the Jewish songwriting team of lyricist Sammy Cahn (1913-1993) and music composer Jule Styne (1905-1994).
In the 1950s, probably half of all Americans would recognize the names of this songwriting duo. Previews of coming movies would actually sometimes say that the film featured a Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne tune--and that tune would usually end up high on the "hit parade."
Cahn won the Oscar for best song four times: once with Styne, and three times with composer Jimmy Van Heusen, who wasn't Jewish.
Cahn was born Sammy Cohen on the Lower East Side of New York, the son of Polish Jewish immigrants. He changed his name from Cohen to Kahn to Cahn--to avoid being confused with a popular entertainer of the day with a similar name and, then, a songwriter with a similar name.
Jule Styne was born in London to Jewish parents from the Ukraine. His family moved to Chicago when he was 8. He is best known as a top Broadway and movie musical composer and the list of the great shows he wrote is staggering. Maybe the biggest are: "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," "Peter Pan," "Bells are Ringing," "Gypsy" and "Funny Girl."
Cahn and Styne also wrote "The Christmas Waltz." That tune has appeared in past years on the ASCAP top 25. But it is not one of the 2006 ASCAP top 25.
Composer Leroy Anderson wasn't Jewish, but lyricist Mitchell Parish (1900-1993) was.
Parish was born Michael Hyman Pashelinsky in Lithuania, but his family moved to Lousiana and settled in Shreveport when he was an infant. (I don't know if living in Lousiana inspired the name change to "parish"--the term used for counties in Lousiana.)
Parish's family moved to New York City when he was about six and he got his education, through college, in New York. For decades, he was a leading lyricist.
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, Holly Jolly Christmas
Johnny Marks (1909-1985), who was Jewish, was an interesting man, but his main claim to fame is writing three of the most popular Christmas songs of all-time.
Marks was born in a New York City suburb and graduated from prestigious Colgate University before going off to Paris to study music. Besides writing songs, Marks was a prominent radio producer. He had a heroic World War II combat record, winning the Bronze Star and four battle stars.
Marks also served as President of ASCAP and my friend, composer Ervin Drake, got to know him in that capacity (Drake served as ASCAP president some years after Marks). Drake confirmed to me that Marks was Jewish--and he helped me with a few other songwriters on this list that he knew personally and knew to be Jewish.
The full story of how "Rudolph" came to be is laid out in detail in this article. In short, Marks' brother-in-law, Robert May, who I think was Jewish--but I am not sure---invented Rudolph.
It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
The Jewish composer, George Wyle (1917-2003), was born Bernard Weissman in New York City, got his start playing piano in the Catskills and moved to Los Angeles in 1946 to write and conduct music for the Alan Young Radio Show.
He is also famous for writing the music to the theme song for "Gilligan's Island," the endlessly popular '60s TV show. (The lyrics to that tune were by Sherwood Schwartz, the show's Jewish creator).
Wyle's grandson is Adam Levy, a very talented guitarist who is best known for playing guitar in singer Norah Jones' band. He is also a composer and recording artist in his own right. His grandfather, he says, was an important influence on him.
l'll Be Home For Christmas
Walter Kent, who wrote the music, and Buck Ram, who co-wrote the lyrics with Kim Gannon, were Jewish. "I'll Be Home," like "White Christmas," was first sung by Bing Crosby and released (1943) during World War II. Like "White Christmas," it hit a nerve among those separated from their loved ones, and was an instant hit and holiday classic.
There is a legal dispute about this song. In short, Buck Ram, who was born Samuel Ram, wrote a poem--later a song--with the title "I'll Be Home for Christmas." Maybe Kent and Gannon saw Ram's version before they wrote their song and maybe they didn't.
In any event, Kent and Gannon wrote the song we all know--which bears little relationship to the song Ram wrote, except for the title. But Ram felt he deserved a writing credit--he sued--and he got a co-writing credit.
This song was written (1951) for The Lemon Drop Kid, a Bob Hope movie.
Jay Livingston, who wrote the music, and Ray Evans, who wrote the lyrics, were a famous (Jewish) songwriting team with many big hits to their credit. Livingston (1915-2001) was born Jacob Levinson in a small industrial suburb of Pittsburgh.
Evans (born 1915) was born in Salamanca, a small city not that far from Buffalo, New York. He went to the Univ. of Pennsylvania, as did Jay Livingston, and the two met when they joined the University dance band.
They formed their songwriting partnership in 1937 and it endured until Livingston's death. (By all accounts, these two guys were like brothers and Evans was absolutely devastated by Livingston's death.)
According to ASCAP, the most popular (most current airplay) version of "Silver Bells" is the one by saxophonist Kenny G, who is Jewish.
Do They Know It's Christmas? (Feed the World)
Written by Midge Ure and Bob Geldof, this is the newest song on the list, was composed in 1984 for the "Live Aid" concert.
Rock musician Bob Geldof, who is now more famous as a humanitarian than a musician, was raised a Roman Catholic.
While I wouldn't call Geldof a "Jewish songwriter," he has some Jewish ancestry--apparently a Jewish grandparent. He told Hello magazine in 2002: "I'm Irish. My grandparents were Belgian, German, English and Irish. They were Catholic, Protestant and Jewish. I married a Welsh woman. We had English children. I live with a French girl. I luckily have flats in London, Paris and Rome."
There's No Place Like Home For The Holidays
I am still researching Bob Allen, a talented songwriter who is now deceased. This song's lyricist, Al Stillman (1906-c.1986), was Jewish.
Stillman being Jewish was confirmed, to me, by composer Ervin Drake. Stillman was one of Drake's co-writers on the lovely song, "I Believe." (A song that appears on many Christmas albums).
Al Stillman was born in New York and was a writer for Radio City Music Hall for 40 years. He had several other big hits, which are listed on this biography. Mr. Drake tells me that he was not a practicing Jew.
This song was mostly written by Joan Ellen Javits (born 1928), and was first recorded by Eartha Kitt back in 1953. Madonna's 1987 version has proven popular enough to put this tune into the top 25.
Joan Javits, who is Jewish, was kind of a one-hit wonder so not that much is "out there" on her post-Santa Baby career. Joan is the niece of the late (Jewish) Senator Jacob Javits, a Republican who represented New York State from 1956 to 1981 and had a very distinguished career. Joan's father, Ben, was a prominent attorney and he was very important to the career of his brother, Jacob Javits.
I couldn't find any real biographical material on Philip and Tony Springer, who wrote the lyrics.
Nate Bloom writes a weekly column on Jewish celebrities, broadly defined, that appears in the Detroit Jewish News, the American Israelite of Cincinnati and the New Jersey Jewish Standard. It also appears bi-weekly in j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California. Most of the items in Bloom's weekly newspaper column differ from the items in his bi-weekly column on interfaith celebrities for Interfaithfamily.com.
Oy to the World
Schlepping Through A Winter Wonderland
Hava Negilah - The Barking Dog Version
Bubbe Yetta Got Run Over By A Reindeer
Enough With the Jingle Bells Already ... Sheez!
Deck the Halls with Balls of Matzo
Come On Baby, Light My Menorah
We Three Rabbis
Silent Night? I Should Be So Lucky!
OCTOBER 20, 2007
RABBI MITCHELL WOHLBERG
Are Jews Too Powerful? The Vanity Fair Perspective
This magazine may be dangerous to your health … or maybe not! You can't tell which magazine it is because I've only shown you the back cover. The front cover has a picture of Nicole Kidman in a state of undress and I fear if I show it to you, you may have trouble focusing on me!
The magazine I am referring to is the October issue of Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair is one of the magazines I subscribe to. I do so because I have a subscription that costs only $12 a year and despite the fact that most of its advertisements (the main reason I subscribe to any magazine) is geared toward women, I find Vanity Fair a lively magazine where every month at least one or two of its articles I find of interest. But nothing prepared me to expect what is found in two articles in October's Vanity Fair – two articles that may be dangerous to your health as a Jew – or maybe not!
In the October issue of Vanity Fair there is an article on page 259 entitled, "The 2007 New Establishment" – a list of what Vanity Fair considers the 100 most powerful, influential people in American society. Now I think it was Joseph Aaron in the Chicago Jewish News who first took note of a rather remarkable aspect about these 100 people.
We Jews represent about 2.5 percent of the American people. So one could naturally expect that out of the 100 most influential people in America, one would find listed two or three Jews. How many Jews do you think were listed? You're going to find this hard to believe, but according to Mr. Aaron's calculation, 51 out of the 100 are Jewish! Now, keep in mind that this is not a list of shleppers … amongst the 100 are people with names
like Warren Buffet, Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey. And yet, right along side of them are people with names like Schwartzman and Spielberg and Bloomberg and Geffen and Perelman and Lauder and Wasserstein and Cohen and Weinstein and Weintraub, and Friedman, and Silver.
Not bad, my friends! Not bad! Not bad when one considers that
there are more people born in China every year than there are Jews in the whole world!
And as if all this is not enough, on page 306 in the same issue of the magazine, there is another list. This one called "The Next Establishment" listing younger people who Vanity Fair believes will eventually make it to the 'big list.' There are 26 people on that list … 15 are Jews. Again, over 50%! Eat your heart out, Anne Coulter!
And then, just in case you still don't get it, on page 308 of Vanity Fair they have a list of people who made the "New Establishment" list in the past, but for one reason or another didn't make it this year, but Vanity Fair believes will be back in the future.
There are 9 names on this list … 8 of them are Jews! This is absolutely unbelievable!
This is absolutely incredible! The only question is – the age old question: Is it good for the Jews? Does presenting so many Jews out front in the public, in positions of power, drawing attention to us … is that good? It shows how good we are? Or is it bad, feeding the hatred of the anti-Semites who accuse us of being too powerful and too controlling.
It's not easy giving a correct answer to this question because I believe Jewish tradition provides two contradictory responses. On a verse toward the end of Genesis where Jacob speaks to his children as they are about to go down to Egypt, the Midrash describes the conversation: "Jacob requested of them: do not go out with bread in your hands and do not all enter through one gate … do not go out with bread in your hands in order not to arouse ill feeling and do not all enter through one gate for fear of the eye."
There was a famine in Egypt and Jacob is telling his children that when they go down to Egypt don't let the people see that you have bread. And don't all come marching in together as one; people will be afraid of you; people will envy you; people will give you the 'evil eye.' With this in mind, one cannot help but think that the articles in Vanity Fair are not doing us any favor. It would be better if there wasn't so much attention drawn to our success.
On the other hand, in the Book of Exodus, in describing the garment that was made for the High Priest to wear in the Temple, we are told that the hem of his robe had bells on it so that people would know that he was coming. And the Lubavitcher Rebbe saw this as a lesson that a Jew should go out into this world proud and confident, trying to spread the message.
And that's just what Lubavitcher Chasidim do these days, with their "Mitzvah Mobiles" and the big Chanukah menorahs they put up in public squares throughout our country. So, from the perspective of the Lubavitcher Rebbe you could say – although he never would have put it this way: "If you've got it, flaunt it!"
So what do you think? Lay low or flaunt it? Is Vanity Fair good for the Jews or not? I venture to say that your answer depends upon how old you are.
Alan Dershowitz put it so well in his book appropriately entitled, Chutzpah" when he pointed out, "We are at a generational crossroads. The Jews who were the American pioneers – our first generations of immigrants – were indeed guests in other people's land." Yes, many of our fathers and mothers and certainly our grandfathers and grandmothers felt that they
were guests in America. And so they made sure that they did nothing to 'rock the boat.'
They did as little as possible to draw attention to themselves. They had a 'sha-shtil' philosophy – lay low and they won't come after us with an ax. And so, Betty Perske changed her name to Lauren Bacall, and Joseph Gottlieb to Joey Bishop, and Issur Danielovich Demsky to Kirk Douglas, and Sidney Liebowitz to Steve Lawrence. But as Jews grew more successful in America they also grew to feel at home in America. And
suddenly Jews were asserting their rights as Jews. In the 50's and 60's when many Jews moved to the suburbs there were many synagogues across the country that built their parking lot in the front and the synagogue in the back so as not to upset their neighbors.
But then, all of a sudden, in the 70's "Freedom for Soviet Jewry" was put on billboards in front of every synagogue … and Jews started demanding their rights and asserting their interests. Sure, it led the Jimmy Carters and the Walts and the Mearsheimers to claim that the Jewish lobby was too powerful. But just one generation ago there was no Jewish lobby! And there was no Israeli Air Force! And by the time others fought our battle, 6
million Jews had gone up in smoke!
At the beginning of this morning's Torah portion God challenges Abraham to leave his country and to come to the Promised Land of Israel. "V'escha l'goy gadol – and I will make of thee a great nation and I will bless thee and make thy name great and be thou a blessing." God promised Abraham that his progeny would become a great nation. As you know, the Jewish people have never been great in numbers, and yet there are people who think that we rule the world! It's unbelievable! There are ¾ of a billion Hindus in this world. There are over 300 million Buddhists. There are more Zoroastrians and Mormons in the world than there are Jews! But who rules the world?
Not them! Who rules? Me and you … and our 'mishpocho' over at Vanity Fair.
And you know what? There are lots of people who think that's true! And you know what? I'm glad they do! It's very important for our survival.
My teacher, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, of blessed memory, once pointed out and interesting fact about Abraham. Abraham found respect from the outside world only in the aftermath of one particular incident. As we're told in our Torah portion this morning, "Melchizedak, king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine." He went so far as to make a kiddush – "And he blessed him and said: Blessed be Abraham of God most high, maker
of heaven and earth." What prompted this profusion of compliments? Why was a Jew suddenly thrust into the role of universal hero? Pointed out Rabbi Soleveitchik: this reception was never accorded Abraham when he fulfilled his characteristic of chesed, showing kindness to strangers and hospitality to wayfarers. Helping others won Abraham no worldly praise. It was only now – now that Abraham has pursued the terrorists who held his nephew Lott captive, and in the words of the Torah: "Smote them
and pursued them." … only now did the world show respect. For what impresses the world is not saintliness as much as strength, not character as much as courage, not piety as much as power.
Let our enemies think that we are all-powerful. As Akiva Eldar once put it in the Haaretz newspaper, "The Arab belief that the Jews rule the world has become one of Israel's most important deterrent factors, no less than its military strength. The lunatic idea that 6 million Jews dictate the policies of a superpower with 280 million inhabitants has contributed greatly to the decisions by Arab and Palestinian leaders, and even to that of the Arab League, to accept – albeit with gritted teeth – the existence of the Jewish
state. When Anwar Sadat and King Hussein came to Jerusalem, they had at least one eye fixed on Washington." Yes, let the Arab world think that we're all-powerful. That's the only way they may somehow come to the realization that they're going to have to learn how to live with us.
And here in America, I'm sure there are some people who, when they read Vanity Fair, will have an upset stomach. But do you think they would learn to love us if we were less successful? Should we be less successful just to please them? The Jews living in the shtetels of Eastern Europe were not successful, had no power. That didn't stop the Cossacks and others from destroying their homes and killing their families!
I've told you the story of someone sitting in a café in London on Feb. 28, 2001 reading the International Herald Tribune. He couldn't get over the fact, in turning to the editorial page, five of the six columns were written by Jews: Richard Cohen, Stephen Rosenfeld, Robert Caplan, Ellen Goodman and Thomas Friedman. The sixth column was written by a South Korean by the name of Prof. Han Sung-Joo. Five Jews and a Joo! It's true, with
so many Jewish names in positions of prominence, it drives our enemies crazy. But you know what? It makes many of our friends feel good! And we Jews have many friends here in America. Many of them believe that the Bible is the word of God. And they take seriously – very seriously – the words of God's promise to Abraham when He said,
"V'avorcha m'vorechacha u'mkalelcha oar – and I will bless them that bless thee and him that curseth thee I will curse." Those are very important words that God promised to Abraham; that those who will support the Jews will be blessed and those who curse us will be cursed. You should know that it is this promise which forms the basis of much of the Evangelical Christian support for the State of Israel. Type in the words of this promise on an Internet search engine; type in Genesis 12:3 and you'll see how many Christian websites pop up. If you are our friend, you'll be blessed … if you are against us you'll be cursed. It's one of the facts of history.
We speak of the "glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome."
But that glory and grandeur soon departed after the Greeks and Romans turned against us. Similarly, soon after Spain expelled its Jews, the sun began to set on the Spanish Empire. And in modern times, the Iron Curtain of Communism first began to fall when the Jews sought their freedom. So let people think we are blessed. They just might be right … and they just might be blessed as well.
"I will bless them that bless thee and him that curseth thee I will curse."
On a majestic night nearly 4000 years ago, God promised our forefather Abraham that his people would be made in to a "great nation." That pledge by the Almighty was repeated to our forefathers and remains a solemn oath. This month's Vanity Fair seems to indicate the pledge is being fulfilled in our day. We are the most blessed generation in the last 2000 years of our people. We should thank God for being that privileged
generation that has an Israeli Air Force that could knock out Iraq's nuclear reactor and Syria's as well. We should thank God for living in this great country, the good old U.S. of A where a majority of the members of the New Establishment are Jewish. "Hashem oz l'amo yitain. Hashem yevorach et amo bashalom. The Lord has given strength to His people. May He now bless us with peace." Amen.
Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg • October 20, 2007 • Beth Tfiloh Congregation • Baltimore, Maryland
THE NEIGHBORHOOD BULLY
by Bob Dylan - 1983
Well, the neighborhood bully, he's just one man,
His enemies say he's on their land.
They got him outnumbered about a million to one,
He got no place to escape to, no place to run.
He's the neighborhood bully.
The neighborhood bully just lives to survive,
He's criticized and condemned for being alive.
He's not supposed to fight back, he's supposed to have thick skin,
He's supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.
He's the neighborhood bully.
The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land,
He's wandered the earth an exiled man.
Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn,
He's always on trial for just being born.
He's the neighborhood bully.
Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized,
Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.
Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad.
The bombs were meant for him.
He was supposed to feel bad.
He's the neighborhood bully.
Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slim
That he'll live by the rules that the world makes for him,
'Cause there's a noose at his neck and a gun at his back
And a license to kill him is given out to every maniac.
He's the neighborhood bully.
He got no allies to really speak of.
What he gets he must pay for, he don't get it out of love.
He buys obsolete weapons and he won't be denied
But no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side.
He's the neighborhood bully.
Well, he's surrounded by pacifists who all want peace,
They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease.
Now, they wouldn't hurt a fly.
To hurt one they would weep.
They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep.
He's the neighborhood bully.
Every empire that's enslaved him is gone,
Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon.
He's made a garden of paradise in the desert sand,
In bed with nobody, under no one's command.
He's the neighborhood bully.
Now his holiest books have been trampled upon,
No contract he signed was worth what it was written on.
He took the crumbs of the world and he turned it into wealth,
Took sickness and disease and he turned it into health.
He's the neighborhood bully.
What's anybody indebted to him for?
Nothin', they say.
He just likes to cause war.
Pride and prejudice and superstition indeed,
They wait for this bully like a dog waits to feed.
He's the neighborhood bully.
What has he done to wear so many scars?
Does he change the course of rivers?
Does he pollute the moon and stars?
Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill,
Running out the clock, time standing still,
Sunday, December 16, 2007
WHO WANTS TO BE A JEWISH MILLIONAIRE?
Write down your answers.
Correct answers and scores are at the end of the quiz
Complete this popular saying:
"Spring ahead, Fall back, Winter in"
B. Palm Beach
C. Boca Raton
D. Bora Bora
Rhinoplasty is a type of cosmetic surgery that alters the appearance of
B. Varicose veins
A $200 blouse is marked down 75% at Loehmann's, and you have a coupon
that allows you to take an additional 20% of the price. After receiving
your 30% employee discount, how much change will you receive from a $50
bill if sales tax on the purchase is 5%?
The traditional way to cure disease in a Jewish household is with
A. Chicken Soup
B. Hard sucking candies
C. A visit to a Jewish doctor
D. All of the above
Which character on the TV cartoon "The Simpsons" is of Jewish lineage?
A. Mayor Quinby
B. Krusty the Clown
C. Ned Flanders
D. Chief Wiggums
Which of the following books of the Bible is NOT in the Old Testament?
During Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to go to the bank of a river and
cast ones sins away using what items?
C. Rose Petals
D. Bread Crumbs
'"Schlemiel" is a Yiddish term for
PRIEST is to BAPTISM as MOHEL is to
B. Bar Mitzvah
Which country has the largest Jewish population?
D. United States
Which of the following items would you NOT find on a traditional Seder
Which famous Jewish comedian wrote the book "How to Talk Dirty and
A. Lenny Bruce
B. Milton Berle
C. Howard Stern
D. Woody Allen
Which of the following is NOT one of the twelve Hebrew Tribes?
Israel officially proclaimed statehood on May 14th of what year?
The first of the Nazi concentration camps was opened in 1933 in which
A. Dachau, Germany
B. Nuremburg, Germany
C. Auschwitz, Poland
D. Treblinka, Poland
Who was the first justice of Jewish descent appointed to the United
States Supreme Court?
A. Ruth Bader Ginsberg
B. Louis Brandeis
C. Simon Wiesenthal
D. Warren Burger
ARE THESE YOUR FINAL ANSWERS? CHECK THEM AGAINST THE ANSWER KEY BELOW.
$100 = C
$200 = D
$300 = A
$400 = D
$500 = B
$1,000 = B
$2,000 = D
$4,000 = A
$8,000 = A
$16,000 = D
$32,000 = B
$50,000 = A
$100,000 = B
$250, 000 = C
$500,000 = A
$1,000,000 = B
Freylekhs (also called Karahod, Redl)
This is the major group dance of the Eastern European Jews. It's the one you see in all the old movies.
You will also see people doing a version of it at most weddings and bar mitzvahs.
The concept is simple.
Either a line or circle (or both formations interchanging) formation,
everyone steps in their own way to the music.
This doesn't mean that it's a free for all. There are characteristic movements
like a shuffling sort of walk, a two-step, alternately stepping and stamping.
The circle/line can move to the right or to the left, snaking
around the room. People can go into the middle of the circle to show off their moves.
The thread the needle figure (below) can also be a part of this dance.
I see people doing a grapevine step to this dance at most parties that I attend.
However, I haven't seen that step included in any of the dance descriptions I've read.
The grapevine step occurs more commonly in Israeli folk dance. Somehow,
I think the wires got crossed and the step migrated from one dance style to the other.
There are choreographed versions of the freylekhs in existence
(Vizonsky, Berk--liner notes from Tikva record T-117) which try to capture the
overall style of the dance but are not spontaneous the way the dance was originally done.
In order for the spontaneous freylekhs to be fun, you really need a large group of people interacting.
For a small group of 10 or 15, the choreographed versions might work better.
The community at large probably gets confused about a hora vs. a freylekhs.
The hora can mean many things. The Israeli hora is a fast paced dance done with
a shoulder hold with several characteristic steps, not really much like the freylekhs (Berk),
with the basic step being the same as the Romanian sarba step. A similar dance is
taught as the Chasidic Hora on the "Dancing into Marriage" video.
There is also a slow hora which is done to very slow 3/8 music, with its own
distinctive footwork, again very different from the Israeli hora or the freylekhs
(personal communication Jacob Bloom). In Romanian dancing, the hora seems to be
a generic word for dance but quite often refers to a sort of saw-toothed pattern
that moves in and out of the line of the circle. Then, if you travel through the
Balkans you will find many horas, horos and oros which are really non-specific words for dance.
How to thread the needle
|(as demonstrated in the video "Dancing into Marriage" and in photos below) |
Leader is leading the line to the left, is on the left end of the line.
Leader #1 turns to their own right, does not pass under the arch formed between
Leader then leads the line under the arch formed between person #2 & #3. #2 does
This process continues until everyone is wound up. While the winding is going on,
The wound up line then snakes around the dance floor.
To unwind, the leader does their own small circle to the left, thus unwinding themselves.
An alternate method of threading/unthreading the needle, which begins with the leader passing under the arch formed between the last two people in the line, and pulling the whole line through can be seen in this video at the 37 second point in the timeline. As in the previous description, the leader works his/her way along the line pulling the line through subsequent arches, and winds her/himself into place at the end. The last person who would pass under the arch each time, doesn't actually pass under and instead wraps their previously arched arm around their neck (easier to see in the video than to explain!) The unwinding process involves raising the arch again and pulling the tail of the line through over and over until unwound (see the video where I try to get this to happen but the music ends too soon).
See photo of Broiges Tants
The concept of this dance holds a lot of lessons for life today.
It was customary at a shtetl wedding for two individuals, usually the mothers-in-law,
to dance a pantomime of fighting and then making up, a life lesson for the newly
married couple. There are a number of choreographed versions of this dance in existence
(see published resources Vizonsky--male/female couple version,
Freehof--female couple version & Lapson-quadrille version).
Postings on the Jewish Genealogy network also indicate that in the shtetl there
were certain people who customarily danced the Broiges Dance at different community events.
These individuals improvised the dance as they went along.
The book that comes with the cd "Klezmer Music, A Marriage of Heaven and Earth"
explains how this process worked with the musicians and dancers.
For another description of a shtetl scenario, see “The Angry Dance” in Jack Kugelmass’s book
“From a Ruined Garden.” Here a mother believes her son is marrying below his status.
She performs this dance at the wedding with the grandmother of the bride, just
before the veiling of the bride. By the end of the dance they have kissed and made up.
|NEW Here is a recollection of the broiges dance by Milton Blackstone, sent to me via e-mail on Sept. 13, 2002. His mother routinely danced it at celebrations with a family friend named Wolfe: |
"It started out by the male courting the female and that developed into a disagreement followed by the male seeking forgiveness while she was very indignant. I seem to remember a reverse switch somewhere during the dance when the female persued the offended male, after which they got together and then the freylekh celebration came in as they danced off.
.....at all our relative's celebrations .... at some point, everyone clamored for Gussie and Wolfe to do the broiges tance.....
My mom died in 1966 at the age of 76. She came from Musnik, Lithuania in 1912 (via Riga) on the S.S. Pennsylvania and was a typical Jewish girl from a large family. Her maiden name was Lenzner. I'm most positive that she learned this tance in Europe, although I remember that she performed if most frequently at simchas held for my father's family, mostly during the late 30's - early 40's. After Wolfe passed away, some time around the mid-forties, my cousin Mildred took his place and did it with my mother. I am currently 78 and I can still see them traipsing around the floor while everyone clapped in unison......
Sher (or Sherele - Scissors Dance)
Also known as Volzeni Dance (Rivkind) and Hakhnaah, Hebrew for respect and
fear "because dancers bowed their heads. It was a gesture of respect."
According to Vizonsky, the sher is a Jewish adaptation of the quadrille dances being done
in the English and French courts of the 18th century. Dvora Lapson states that the
dance was originally a tailor's guild dance with the figures meant to represent a pair
of shears and threading the needle. In the movie "Dancing into Marriage" it is stated
that the dance might also refer to the cutting of the bride's hair with the shears on the
evening before the wedding as was customary.
Beregovski states that the sher originally was a woman's
dance since men and women did not usually dance together(see further discussion below).
In some areas, the non-Jewish community actually picked up the sher from
the Jewish population. According to Beregovski,the Moldavian gentile version
of the dance was called a Srayer. Further discussion on the origin of the
sher can be found in the liner notes of Budowitz's cd Mother Tongue.
Whatever its origin, the sher was a popular dance similar to a square dance.
Many versions of the sher can be found in books
(Lapson, Vizonsky, Kraus) and there is an online version on Jacob Bloom's web page.
There are many versions of the sher depending on the community from which the dance arose.
The overall concept is that of partners visiting others and then returning to their own partner.
The original dance probably went on for a long time with choruses being repeated and people
visiting one at a time, as well as time for shining. You may want to do the dance in the
traditional way or you may use the version below which has fewer repetitions.
Music: According to Joshua Horowitz of the band Budowitz (thanks Joshua), 2 versions of the
sher became standard due to their being recorded on 78's: the Philadelphia Sher and
the Russian Sher; however, other music was also used, as long as the tempo, style and
length of the piece fit the dance. I have found different shers on different cd's.
Once again listen to a few and pick the one that suits your needs.
(Arrangement by Teme Kernerman of Toronto. Based on the original version of the sher.
Additional information from the video Dancing Into Marriage.)
Formation: Square, 4 couples, woman on the right of the man
Sometimes danced with 2 couples per side (Rivkind);i.e., 8 couples,
(numbers represent which couple is which), all facing centre.
Couple 1 has their back to the music:
(A) All join hands, circle to the left for 16 counts
circle to the right for 16 counts (back to original places)
(B) Couples 1 & 3, advance towards each other for 4 counts
retire, back to place with 4 counts
Couples 1 & 3, exchange places (8 counts), see below for details of how to change places
Couples 2 & 4 advance, retire and exchange places as described for 1 & 3
Everyone now has exchanged places, it's time to go back!
The sequence is repeated exactly as above which will return everyone to their original positions.
(C) Men 1 & 3 exchange places, 8 counts
Now man 1 is with woman 3, and man 3 is with woman 1
The couples turn with the new partner for 8 counts. Position for the turn is hands on partner's
shoulders, turn to theleft, using small walking steps.
The whole process is repeated, including the turn, returning men to their original positions
This exchange process is now done using man 2 & 4 (exchange, turn, return, turn)
The entire dance can be repeated 2 or 3 times from the beginning.
All join hands, circle to left for 16 counts
(D) In the movie, Dancing into Marriage, Lee Ellen Friedland states that people
can go into the middle and shine (show off) after the circle.
(E) Now proceed to the thread the needle figure described under the freylekhs instructions
and snake around the room. It is wise to decide ahead of time, who in the group
will lead the threading. You can unwind as described in the "Thread the Needle" instructions
or if the group requires a simpler method, have everyone raise their arms and
then turn to the right part-way, which automatically unwinds everyone at once.
You may also choose to remain coiled as an ending to the dance.
According to Joyce Mollov, in the movie Dancing into Marriage, the Thread the Needle
represents the backstitch and the unwinding represents removing the stitches without breaking the thread.
How to exchange places (couples)
One method you can use is to have one of the couples raise their arms to produce an arch, and
have the other couple pass through the arch. Then, each couple must turn as a couple, with
the man backing up and the lady moving forward, positioning themselves
in their new spots, with the lady on the right.
Another method is to have the couples slip past each other as follows:
The couples advance towards each other, then each couple moves
a bit to their own right. The couples then move past each other with the men
passing left shoulders. The couples then take the exchanged position in the square.
One way to teach this technique is to have the 2 couples advance towards each
other and join hands, forming their own little circle. Circle 1/2 way round to the right.
The two couples separate from one another and each backs in to the
new position on the square. Eventually they can form an imaginary circle and slip past each other.
How to exchange places (individuals)
The two men advance towards each other with 4 steps (RLRL) taking a
little dip on the fourth step, meeting in the middle, almost right shoulder to right shoulder.
Each man moves a bit backward and to his own right. They pass left shoulders
and use the remaining 2 steps to meet the opposite lady.
The path that is traced by the men going back and forth is supposed to represent
the blades of the scissors; the rotation around each other in my mind, may
represent the pivot point of the scissors (does anyone know?).
Alternatively, the woman can be on the left of the man in couples 2& 4
(see Lapson’s choreography, reference listed in resource section).
This formation was used to avoid handholding between men and women who
were not married, assuming all 4 couples were married couples. Instead of having
2 men exchange places as described above, this version of the dance had a
man exchanging places with a woman; the turn was then done with 2 men dancing
together and 2 women dancing together. The man and woman would then return
to their own partner. Discussions on the Jewish Music List (September 13 & 14, 1999)
indicate that even this formation would not have been acceptable to traditional rabbis
and is probably a modern development (over the last 100 years) due to
a more liberalized society. However, the article by Zvi Friedhaber listed on the
resource page suggests there were people who broke the rules all along.
At the present time separate dancing is still the rule at orthodox celebrations
HanukkahRunde from Steve Weintraub (pdf format)
Arranged to fit Happy Joyous Hanukkah, by the Klezmatics
I have only found instructions for this dance in Vizonsky's book although I saw it in the
movie Yidl with the Fidl. The dance was usually done after the wedding ceremony by an
individual woman dancing towards the married couple. The woman holds a large challah
and dances to symbolize good luck and prosperity. Vizonsky offers a specific choreography
for the dance but states it would have been very much an improvised dance in the shtetl.
In the movie there are two women dancing with the challahs.
Their movements are much less elaborate than the choreographed dance.
According to the book “From a Ruined Garden,” the special wedding challah was decorated
with multicoloured poppy seeds.. In the particular shtetl described, the women with challahs
escorted the bride and mother-in-laws down the aisle. Relatives with challahs also escorted
the wedding party from the wedding canopy.
There are several different versions of this dance. The one most people know is
by Lillian Shapero and can be found in Lapson's book. A well researched version of the dance
is described in SOFDH's 1994 Problem Solver. Vizonsky states that this is a dance used to
welcome the bride into the fold of married women It is a couples dance that can be done
as a mixer or just a simple couple's dance. It is a great dance for children and families.
Everyone seems to enjoy the clapping and stamping that goes on.
According to Rivkind, this dance was created by Rabbi Zusya of
Hanipoli, accompanied only by stamping and clapping, no music,"to teach Jews to
worship God quietly without noise music or words." It was known as the shtiler dance.
The old Yiddish movie "The Dybbuk" has a version of the dance which is described as "Tapping Dance" in the subtitles.
Steve Weintraub has reconstructed this dance and music is available at CD Baby, on Hopkele by Kapelye.
To see a short clip of this dance, visit Leon Balaban's video site. (Please note the final partner exchange
wasn't done consistent with Steve's choreography--it's the folk process in action: I flubbed up and
in the process created a new variation :) ).
Based on Nathan Vizonsky's Choreography
Background: The mitzvah dance fulfilled the Torah commandment to dance before the bride.
Due to the requirement that males and females not touch, either a handkerchief, a belt, or the
train of the bride's dress was used to replace holding hands. The master of ceremonies (badkhn)
traditionally called up male wedding guests to dance with the bride, one at a time. The dance was
also called the kosher dance indicating the bride had undergone ritual purification
prior to the wedding, and also sometimes called the Shabbes Dance.
See also abstract of Judith Brin Ingber's article under references.
Rivkind differentiates the term mitzvah dance as being dancing with
the bride and groom, whereas the kosher dance referred specifically
to dancing with the kosher (ritually pure) bride. The bride's
eyes would be downcast; i.e., she would not make eye contact with
the men she danced with. In addition, the kosher dance might also
refer to the rabbi dancing with his followers, the Hasidim.
For a more complete discussion of this dance, please see the article written by Zvi Friehaber
listed under published resources.
Modifications for the recreational setting: In a dance class, everyone wants to dance and would
be unhappy sitting on the sidelines watching others dance with a fictitious bride, one at a time.
Therefore, the dance has been modified to be a couple/mixer dance. In the shtetl, everyone
would have improvised their own steps and that would have worked as each person took a turn
dancing with the bride. In a recreational dance couple/mixer setting, it is necessary to choreograph
the dance or the result would be chaos. For another example of a choreographed mitzvah dance,
see Fred Berk's version in 100 Israeli Dances.
Teaching Tip: I always tell people not to worry too much if they don't get the footwork quite right.
After all this was originally an improvised dance. The only concern is that people change partners
at the same time to avoid colliding. To ensure everyone's safety I shout "change" each time
partners change until the group seems comfortable with the dance.
Formation: partners facing in a circle, man facing out (back to centre of circle), woman
facing the man. Each partner holds a diagonal corner of of the handkerchief fairly high, about
head level, in their right hand. Men and women do the same footwork.
Music: a 4/4 or 2/4 piece of klezmer music freylekhs or bulgar will work.
If using faster music, I prefer to use 2 beats per step.
If using a slower piece of music I use one beat per step.
( Vizonsky choreographed the dance to 4/4 allegretto music, using 2 beats per step,
but in the shtetl the tempo probably varied.)
Beregovski notes that the preferred music for the Kosher Tanz in some regions
was a Polonaise.
Notation below is for 2/4 music, one beat per step.
1 Step to right with right foot (1), place left foot behind the right foot without weight (2)
2 reverse of measure 1
3 Step forward towards partner with right foot (1), touch left foot behind the right (2)
4 Bow or curtsey (1), straighten up (2)
5 while making a quarter turn to the left so the partners are now standing side by side
with the handkerchief still held high, step forward with left foot(1),
forward with right foot (2)
6 continue to step forward with left foot (1), touch the right foot forward (2)
7 Back up by stepping back on right (1), back on left (2)
8 step back on right(1), touch left forward (2), back to original positions,
facing each other again.
9 touch left heel beside right foot (1), touch left toe beside right foot
(2), man lets go of handkerchief
10 each partner now moves to their own left, men's circle will move counterclockwise,
women's circle moves clockwise step sideward to left (1), bring the right foot
to the left foot (2) (step, together)
11 step sideward to left (1), kick the right foot forward (2)
12 each person now moves to his/her own right, step right foot sidewards to right (1),
bring the left foot to the right foot (2)
13 touch right heel beside left (1), touch right toe beside left
(2), man picks up the hankie again.
14 & 15 With hankie held high, both partners make a full turn clockwise under the hankie,
beginning with the right foot (1), left (2), right (1), left (2)
16 man lets go of hankie, each person then takes 2 steps to their own right step right (1),
step left (2) moving one place over, now facing a new partner, and man picks up the hankie.
Dance begins again
Mazel Tov Dance
Rivkind describes this as a dance done by women, individually with
the bride after the veiling of the bride (bedekns) ceremony. The badkhn
would call up each woman for her turn.
( as described by Jacob Bloom, learned from Michael Alpert 1994 KlezKamp)
Slow 3/8 time signature
1 step per measure
If you check your klezmer cd’s you are bound to find a hora which has this characteristic 3/8time signature.
Note that the rhythm pattern is very different from the Israeli hora, and the dance is much slower.
Formation: circle or line, “w” hand hold
Styling: Dance progresses to the right-steps made to the right are larger than steps to the left
There is no movement into centre
Arms up and joined, arms raising slightly on each step
(facing right) Walk right, left, right, (facing center) touch left foot
(facing left) Walk left, right, left, (facing right and leaning back
slightly) touch right foot
The steps of the Bulgar will be familiar to anyone who has experience with Balkan dance,
as the steps appear under different names in different Balkan countries; e.g. sarba step in Romania.
The basic step is also the same footwork pattern as the Israeli Hora.
According to Feldman's article, the bulgar became the predominant Jewish
dance in the American Jewish community. He attributes this to the
perception that the bulgar was a secular dance that the European Jews
picked up from the surrounding community in Moldavia (bulgareasca in Moldavia);
it did not have a strong association with orthodox Jewish weddings. This
made it more appealing to the American Jewish community. However,
even the bulgar did not survive in subsequent generations due to the overall
decline of klezmer music and dance in the US.
In the book "Klezmer Music A Marriage of Heaven and Earth", the bulgar music is said to be
named after the Bulgarian inhabitants of Bessarabia; however, the connection of the music
itself to the Bulgarians is apparently not clear (personal communication, Joshua Horowitz).
Instructions (As described by Jacob Bloom, as taught by Michael Alpert1994, KlezKamp, & Mame Loshn session )
Formation: Shoulder hold, circle formation
Music: A bulgar of your choice--listen to a few as the tempo varies a great deal.
(A) Right foot steps to right
Left foot crosses in front (or behind)
(B) Right foot steps to right, left foot swings across
(C) Left foot steps to left, right foot swings across
Variations (The designated leader whether in a circle or line if the circle happens to break, determines which variation everyone does. The steps are not called; everyone just watches and imitates the leader)
1. Vary size of steps
2. A & B same as variation 1
(C) Jump onto both feet with feet spread apart, hop onto left foot with right
foot swinging across
3. A & B are the same as variation 1
(C) for C substitue: step Left, stamp Right beside left
4. A & B are the same as variation 1
(C) Step Left, Right, Left (3 small quick steps in place)
5. A & B are the same as item 1
(C) leap onto L, RL (leap followed by two small quick steps in place)
6. A is unchanged (B) leap onto R, LR (in place) (C) leap onto L, R L (in place)
7. A & B unchanged (C) step on both feet with feet spread apart,
step on both feet with legs crossed
8. (A) same as item 1 (B) step on both feet with feet spread apart,
step on both feet with legs crossed, (C) step on both feet with
feet spread apart, step on both feet with legs crossed
9. First step in A is a stamp with the Right foot (towards the outside of the
circle), followed by the rest of any of the other variations.
Note: for variations 5 & 6 the leap-step-step sequences are done more or less in place like a pas-de-basque
Czardas (Jewish version)
Learned from Steve Weintraub at Winnipeg Klezmer Dance Workshop November 2001.
Notes by Helen Winkler with assistance from Steve Weintraub.
Steve learned this dance within his own family of Hungarian Jews. This dance was also done by non-religious Romanian Jews (personal communication Bob Cohen Di Naye Kapelye). Mixed dancing was not allowed in observant Chasidic communities.
Formation: Couples facing—man’s hands on woman’s upper back. Woman’s hands on man’s shoulders.
This is an improvised dance in the sense that although there are typical figures done to it, each couple does whichever figures they chose at any given time throughout the dance.
Music: Any Jewish style Czardas 4/4 or 2/4 time (my personal favourite, Track 4 of Di Naye Kapeleye’s cd Mazeldiker Yid)
The step is starting with man’s right foot, (woman uses opposite footwork):
Step R foot to R, bring L foot to the right and step on L
Step R foot to R, and close the left to it, no weight on L
Then repeat this sequence beginning with the L foot this time
There is a slight dip/lean on the 4th count into the direction of the step, R when moving R, L when moving L. The weight bearing leg does a small kneebend on the 4th count.
Step sideward with R to R, Step left across R
Repeat this as many times as desired. Then reverse the footwork.
It’s easy to change directions if you finish with 3 stamps
A buzz step may be substituted.
Then they each take a small jump backwards so as to face each other again.
Then they jump forward to the left and back to place.
Repeat as desired, usually an even number of times, usually 4 or 8, to fill a phrase of music.
Man starts on R foot, woman on L foot
Do three quick little runs in place (counts:1& 2), and hold for the (&) beat.
The free leg is extended to the side slightly. The knees stay close on the 2nd beat, but the lifted heel is extended outward, sort of like a Charlston step- the knee of the gesture leg must bend slightly to accomplish this. The accent is very much on 2. In terms of the "quick runs" the first 2 are done lightly toward the ball of the foot, and the last count -2- on a firm, flat foot.
Rivkind describes this as a dance/game similar to musical chairs.
Individuals walk around the room without music. One man walks
with a stick. Suddenly, he drops the stick, sits down and everyone
scrambles for a chair (there is one less chair than people).
Whoever is left picks up the stick and the game continues.
Read more about Shtock Dance
According to Rivkind, this was a Hasidic circle dance involving multiple circles.
The Kozak, based upon the dance of the Cossacks, is frequently mentioned
in articles and recent discussion on the Jewish music list suggests that
it remains a popular dance in many communities. This is in contrast to
Vizonsky's comment "Essentially it is the display of the warrior and was,
therefore alien to the psychology of the Jew to whom it was wholly
unacceptable." Zeitlin indicates that the Cossack dance referred to the
more vigorous version which included "Somersaults, handstands and flips."
Cossatchok was the less vigorous version. This dance is mentioned in
2 of the dance stories on my web site, one dating back to the 1800s.
The question is, in view of the history between the Cossacks and
the Jews in Eastern Europe, why was/is this dance so popular among Jews?