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December 11, 2016 / 11 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘High Holiday’

The Exile is Officially Over

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012


Yishai and Malkah kick off by discussing Yishai’s visit to the annual Yisrael Beiteinu meeting in Jerusalem and how he decided to take public transportation in order to avoid the ever-rising gas prices in Israel.  Yishai talks about his day spent in Jerusalem and how he had gained insight by going to an event for Chai Elul, the 18th day of the month of Elul, hosted at a known Shul in Jerusaelm.  They move on and end the segment by talking about how Jewish exile is rapidly ending with the last remaining Synagogue in Egypt canceling High Holiday services for “security reasons”.

Yishai Fleisher on Twitter: @YishaiFleisher
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Moshe Herman

The Blowing Of The Shofar In Sholom Aleichem And The Dybbuk

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

The World of Sholom Aleichem and The Dybbuk

Released on DVD: September 27, 2011

Archive of American Television



The blast of the shofar ends one of the most dramatic scenes in “The Dybbuk,” directed by Sidney Lumet, in which a rabbinical court excommunicates a dybbuk, while the same sound of the shofar opens the “Sholom Aleichem” story of Bontche Schweig, announcing the Job-like character’s arrival in heaven.


“The Dybbuk,” which was broadcast in 1960 on David Susskind’s syndicated TV series “The Play of the Week,” and “Bontche Schweig,” which along with Sholom Aleichem’s “Tale of Chelm” and “The High School” aired on the same show in 1959, have recently been released on DVD on eOne Home Video, just in time for the High Holidays.


Each DVD runs about two hours, and if one purchases both, one should be forewarned that it’s so hard to tear oneself away that one might as well block out four hours to watch both. In between the static lines of the old broadcasts, which lend both DVDs an authentic and antique aura, all four tales have elements of humor intertwined with sobering messages. (Perhaps the Chelm tales touch less on serious subjects than the others, but while one laughs at the Chelmites, it’s hard not to feel protective of them too.)



At the core of “The Dybbuk” is the often blurry boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead. Particularly in the High Holiday period leading up to the Yizkor memorial service for loved ones who have passed away, it’s easy to identify with Leah, daughter of the wealthy Sender, who flees from her bridegroom (who might just have wandered off the Chelm set) to the cemetery to conjure her lost love, the kabbalist and recently deceased Channon.


Whether it is Channon’s dybbuk which enters Leah or whether she herself invites her beloved’s memory into herself, Leah causes such a disturbance shunning her bridegroom that she is marched to the rabbi of a neighboring village to be exorcised. William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” (1973) has Georgetown as its backdrop-particularly that ominous flight of stairs, which has become such a pilgrimage site to fans-but the Dybbuk’s setting is far less glamorous. This is the shtetl, where old wives share bubba meises galore. But the rabbinic court is serious business, and the consulted rabbi even enlists the help of his own rabbi.


Many tallitot, black candles, white shrouds and Torah scrolls later, Channon is ordered to depart.  As the shofar is blown several times, Channon-possessed-Leah squirms and then seems to have a full-blown seizure. This shofar blowing has nothing to do with calling anyone to repentance; it’s an all-out battle cry summoning the angels of the heavens to lay siege to the dybbuk threatening Leah.


The shofars that herald the arrival of Bontche Schweig in heaven-in grand Shakespearean fashion, we are told early and often about the grand hero long before he actually arrives on set-are far more celebratory than those in dybbuk. (Though, it’s worth noting, both have at least one tekiyah gedola, as well as the other usual notes.)


Although the word on the heavenly street is that Bontche is so grand that even the forefather Avraham needs to be summoned to greet him, the recently deceased Bontche (we never know what brought about his end) turns out to be a kopek-a-dozen kind of guy, rather than the larger than life hero who had been announced. Bontche is dressed like a beggar, but the defending angel soon reveals that he has not said a word in his entire life, despite having suffered far greater troubles than even Iyov.


The prosecuting angel gets a few objections in-the divine court, it turns out, doesn’t allow similes, metaphors or rhetoric, just facts-but one pitiful look from Bontche silences him, and he offers no rebuttal to the defense angel’s opening remarks. This spectacle makes a deep impression on the court, and Bontche is offered not only eternal life, but also any prize he desires. All of the heavens are his, the court tells him, and all he must do is name what his heart desires. After living his entire life mute, Bontche finally opens his mouth, and his request is quite surprising, to say the least.


The shofar is hardly more than a prop in the Bontche Schweig story, and it’s not a huge part of “The Dybbuk,” but the two broadcasts highlight two different sides of the shofar.


The shofar is all about the symbolism of transitions from beginnings to endings. The shofar marks the beginning of Bontche’s life after death (so it’s simultaneously a beginning and an end for him), and it plays an integral part in Channon’s death after death. It also marks a major change in Leah, who struggles with the paralyzing choice of joining her beloved in death or lingering without him among the living.


Both performances do well to couch the shofar in veils of both gravity and humor. The sound of the shofar has often been said to resemble the wailing of a child. Of course context is a vital factor. Someone else’s child crying beside you on a plane is hardly joyful, while one responds more tenderly to the cries of one’s relations (even if they can be annoying). In the hands of Sholom Aleichem, the shofar embodies a wide range of feelings: anticipation, promise, irony, humor, devastation and tragedy. Food for thought when we hear the blowing of the shofar this High Holiday period.


Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blog.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

Menachem Wecker

A Secular Jewish College Student Responds

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I am not Orthodox, nor am I actively involved in Jewish life. My background is Reform. My family attends High Holiday services; we are not kosher, but my parents have a seder on Passover – though we don’t strictly observe the law of not eating bread during the entire holiday. My parents would never consider bringing really non-kosher food like ham or bacon into the house, though they do eat everything in restaurants. They are devoted to the land of Israel and they raised us with good Jewish values, and I visited Israel with our Temple youth group.

I have an uncle who became Orthodox and lives in New York (he sent me your column last week). He calls himself a “ba’al teshuvah.” I don’t quite know what that means, but I do see that his new identity has made him a fanatic. We rarely see him, except when we visit New York or he comes to California. He keeps in contact with my father and always tries to convince him to become religious. My father indulges him by pretending to listen to his arguments, but of course he always dismisses them.

When my brother married a gentile girl, my uncle really became an annoyance. Not only did he barrage my parents with letters and phone calls, he got on my brother’s case with a vengeance. He wouldn’t let go. He pushed and pushed and he even asked a local Chabad rabbi to intervene, but he only succeeded in making our family angrier.

When my brother got married, my uncle didn’t attend the wedding and that caused a very big rift in our family. My parents were very hurt – I don’t think they ever got over it. They are still in contact, but the relationship has become very strained. And now he has gotten on my case. He just never gives up.

I am a student at UCLA. I go to High Holiday Services here and attend programs and an occasional Shabbat dinner at our local Hillel. At present, I don’t have a serious girlfriend, but my uncle keeps writing to me about the importance of marrying a Jew. I don’t want to be disrespectful to him, but I hardly ever respond to his letters. To be honest, they irritate me.

You might ask at this point why I am writing to you. I have no problems. I am not seeking your guidance and I understand that is largely the focus of your column, but my uncle sent last week’s column thinking it might cause me to change my way of thinking – that I would realize that we, the Jewish people, are alone in the world, that our lives are once again being threatened and we are living in an environment similar to pre-Holocaust Europe.

Frankly, I find that comparison far-fetched, totally unrealistic, bordering on Jewish paranoia – and I wrote the same to my uncle. Of course he was unreceptive and told me I just don’t understand. He suggested that in my present environment I am so far removed from reality that I don’t have a clue as to what is going on in the world.

I feel prompted to write this letter now because I think it is time to address this “Jewish paranoia.” Yes, the Holocaust occurred. Yes, it was an unbelievably horrific time. Yes, mankind descended to the level of the jungle. But genocide has not been limited to Jews. Tragically, it has been the lot of many people in many parts of the world.

I’m not trying to whitewash that cataclysmic, hellish nightmare, but I think it is time for us Jews to move on. We can’t forever live in the shadow of the Holocaust. We have to understand that the world today is different. In most countries, democracy prevails. Certainly, in our own United States we have a democratic government that is not tolerant of racism or anti-Semitism. What we are witness to today is not bias against Jews but an objection to the policies of Israel and the Zionism it represents. So when I read those letters you published in your column – letters that promote scare tactics and constantly recall the Holocaust – I said to myself that I would not only respond to my uncle, but to you as well.

I have many Arab friends on campus, and believe me they have no bias against Jews. Their only problem is with the Zionist state, which they feel is the cause of all of the suffering in the Middle East. While I do not take their side and am a supporter of Israel, I also feel compelled, as a fair-minded individual, to appreciate their point of view, which would be wrong to ignore. Objecting to Israel’s policies does not mean one is biased against Jews. I truly believe that here in the United States anti-Semitism is a thing of the past and that it is time for us to free ourselves of the sinister shadow of the Holocaust.

I very much doubt you will publish my letter since it doesn’t reflect your point of view or that of the publication for which you write. Nevertheless, I have written to express my opinion.

A Jewish Student at UCLA

My Dear Friend:

Not only am I publishing your letter in full but, please G-d, I will also respond to it. Watch for next week’s issue in which I will address your concerns in full.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Sing Unto Him A Song: Blue Fringe And Soulfarm

Wednesday, July 28th, 2004

There is Hassidic story about a young boy who attended Yom Kippur services at his local synagogue, and yet could not participate in the High Holiday service because he was illiterate. As the congregation donned prayer shawls and read from prayer books, the young boy sat puzzled at the letters he simply could not interpret. Finally, he stood up on his chair and began to whistle on his reed whistle as loudly as he could. Shocked, those sitting near him hastened to silence him angrily, but the Baal Shem Tov intervened and admonished his congregants. He
explained that the boy had uncovered a universal, purely auditory language and had felt his prayers so deeply that the Gates of Heaven swung wide open immediately, a feat that a day of communal prayers had been unable to produce.

Hand this boy a guitar and send him packing across the world for concerts stuffed with Orthodox teenage groupies, and you have the phenomenon of Orthodox boy bands. In an article on Jewsweek.com entitled “The New Face of Jewish Rock: Meet Blue Fringe, The Best Jewish Boy Band You’ve Never Heard Of,” Chanie Cohen calls the band “the best thing to happen to Jewish teenagers and young adults since Oreos became kosher.”

As one scans the scene of young girls with full sleeves, long hair held with pastel headbands and skirts so long that they reach three inch platform sandals, dancing spiritedly along to the music, one wonders just what the religious bands cause to happen to Jewish teenagers and young adults.

Many of the great minds of Chassidus have written widely on the importance of song as a source of connection with G-d. The Levites sang in the Temple, and Kind David, G-d’s sweet singer, used to arise every midnight to play his harp and compose poetry. Clearly Judaism ? which perhaps crowds out the painter with the Second Commandment and admonitions against excessive reliance on the visual faculties – has much use for the auditory, and grants the musician center stage. One wonders if Rabbi Nachman and Rabbi Schneerson would apply their thoughts on music to Jewish rock bands.

Take Blue Fringe’s Flippin’ Out, from their CD: “My Awakening.” The song – which explores the typical cultural shock experienced by a product of American Day School education encountering a year in yeshiva in Israel – says, “I start to think that girls are “gashmius”/I tell myself that I’m above that shtus/ So I break up with her, my lifelong friend/Cause kavod ha-briyot is just pretend.” With this type of lyrical accompaniment, Blue Fringe will never enjoy a haredi audience, which has no use for sarcastic lines like, “I just heard a half hour Halacha shiur/ And decide to change the way I’ve lived for 18 years.”

Soulfarm plays Jewish songs as well, primarily from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Examples include renditions of “I Am Your Servant” [Ki Ani Avdecha] and Uvnay by Rabbi Carlebach, and Oz VeHadar by Reb Blecher.

Blue Fringe proves more diverse than you would expect from a band of four Yeshiva University students. The Blue Fringe band is comprised of Dov Rosenblatt (lead singer, guitarist), Avi Hoffman (lead guitarist), Danny Zwillenberg (drums) and Hayyim Danzig (bass). When one gets past the shock of seeing a rock band with kippas, one notices differences in the band members.

Some wear button down shirts with tzitzis hanging out, while others dress less formally. Some wear knitted yarmulkas and others black skullcaps. Swaying in a manner that recalls a yeshiva student shuckling in time to his Gemara, Dov sings beautifully and masterfully works his guitar into a frenzy. Avi backs him up with an occasional solo and Danny covers the rear, while Hayyim strums his bass unassumingly.

Soulfarm is comprised of Noah Chase, C. Lanzbom and Mark Ambrosino. Where Blue Fringe draws its inspiration from a wide range of influences, Soulfarm embraces The Grateful Dead, and this shows through in their lyrics: “So I scream for no reason/ Just to know I’m still alive,”… “It’s not about me; it’s not about you/ Only things that matter are the crazy things we do/ Kill the silence with our screams/ Take what’s real, make it a dream.”

When I heard the two bands perform a few weeks ago on a boat, I had the distinct feeling that it was really stupid to be on a boat on a rainy day bumping about the waves watching the two bands trying to play and remain standing at the same time, but after overcoming that realization, I was distinctly aware of an emerging link. The two bands manage to attract religious audiences in part because they are Jewish and they employ Biblical texts and Jewish issues in their music, but there seems to be a Jewishness to them that lies not in the verses, but in the auditory scream that opens Heaven’s gates in a way that texts cannot.

Of course, I do not suggest that those who would object to the literal lyrics should compromise their religious standards and encourage their kids to navigate a space that they perceive as religiously dangerous. Nonetheless, it seems quite clear that Jewish music is headed in a direction that draws inspiration not from literal texts, but from an atmospheric sense of identification with Judaism in more of an aesthetic sense. Judging from the audiences, CD sales and world tours, Blue Fringe and Soulfarm fill a certain need and affect their audiences in a way that textual language cannot, and it will be really interesting to see where the bands go from here as they further explore that space.

Menachem Wecker edits the Arts and Culture Section of the Yeshiva University
Commentator. As an artist, he has trained at the Massachusetts College of Art.
Menachem may be contacted at: wecker@yu.edu.

For more information on Blue Fringe, visit http://www.bluefringe.com/ or contact Jon Perl at jpprods@bigfoot.com or at 212.494-9085. For more information on Soulfarm, visit http://www.soulfarm.net/.

Menachem Wecker

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/sing-unto-him-a-song-blue-fringe-and-soulfarm/2004/07/28/

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