Posts Tagged With: Diaspora

Happy New Year 2012 (5773)

Wishing all our readers a sweet and happy Rosh HaShanna.  Shofar blowing by Jews around the world.

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Neshama Carlebach’s Inclusive HaTikva

At the invitation of the Forward, Neshama Carlebach has recorded a new version of the first verse of HaTikva, Israel’s national anthem.

The Forward’s goal was to start a debate about how the wording of HaTikvah could be made more inclusive for Arab Israelis by setting new words to the prayerful voice of Neshama Carlebach. The lack of inclusiveness made headlines earlier this spring when an Arab Israeli Supreme Court judge, Salim Joubran, stood for the anthem but did not sing the words aloud.

The lyrics are a joint effort of Forward blogger Philologos and Neshama Carlebach. Philologos made suggestions for replacing several phrases that excluded non-Jewish Israelis. Carlebach added a repeat of the last two lines of HaTikva using the original words. Thus the inclusion of non-Jewish Israelis wouldn’t be at the expense of the Jewish Israeli experience.

Here are the revised lyrics. Changes are in bold with the original words following in brackets.

As long as the heart within
An Israeli [Jewish] soul still yearns
And onward, towards the East
An eye still gazes towards our country [Zion]
We have still not lost our hope
our ancient [2000 year] hope
To be a free people in the land of our fathers [our land]
in the city in which David, in which David encamped [land of Zion and Jerusalem]
To be a free people in our land
In the land of Zion and Jerusalem

For Philologos, these lyrics represent a change of heart. Back in 1998 when Israel made it to the World Cup, the anthem had also made the news. One of the Israeli team members, an Arab Israeli named Walid Badir, also stood but stayed silent. At that time Philologos had believed that there was nothing that could be done to make the words acceptable and people like Badir would just have to settle with standing and staying silent. This spring, after the Joubran story made headlines, he wrote,

I’ve changed my mind about “Hatikvah.” The successful integration of Israeli Arabs into Israeli life, on which the country’s future depends, has to have its symbolic expression, too. It’s unacceptable to have an anthem that can’t be sung by 20% of a population. Permitting it to stand mutely while others sing is no solution.

Neshama Carlebach is very aware of the sensitive nature of the song. As she explained to the Jerusalem Post,

I think it was a very controversial move, because to change the lyrics to a precious song like ‘Hatikva’ is a very big statement… It’s not about leaving the world we were in behind; it’s about opening our doors wider. I feel that if the world sees, in my own humble opinion, that Israel is not just a small exclusive group that they can’t touch, but a larger entity that’s willing to wrap our arms around the whole of humanity or even change our anthem, we’re opening our doors, and maybe the press would be better.

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Turning No into Yes

Adam Kohn and grandchildren holding signs saying "Art must go on even after Auschwitz" . Adam Kohn's family visited Auschwitz in 2010. They produced a video of the family dancing to "I will survive" in front of a synagogue, and three concentration camps. Click photo to see video.

Picking up on Eli Weisel’s observation that he has spent his entire life trying to turn “No” into “Yes”, Joshua Hammerman discusses why remembering tragedy is only half the story of Holocaust remembrance:

If the message is survival for its own sake, it is not a survival that is well-rooted. Ultimately, that message won’t be enough, unless it is accompanied by the joyous refrain, “Shiru l’Adonai shir hadash,” “Sing unto the Lord a New Song.” And that is why “Never again” is also not enough.

… The Holocaust can be a spark of Jewish identity and even Jewish pride, but it is not enough to ensure another generation of Jews

…. When I see the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been raised for scores of Holocaust memorials and research centers in America, it doesn’t bother me at all. The memory must remain fresh. The world needs to know; our children need to know and take pride in their heritage, even as regarding Auschwitz

….But there must be a matching grant. The same amount of money must be poured into Jewish education, synagogues and day schools, into making affiliation affordable for every young family, and into programs that emphasize joy rather than victimization. It should not and cannot be one or the other; it must be one and the other…. Auschwitz will reside at the core of the next generation’s Judaism, but we must understand this — the Holocaust will be reinterpreted. The facts will remain the same — they must — but the lessons will change. Just as the exodus from Egypt must be reinterpreted “b’hol dor v’dor” (in every generation) so will the Shoah. It is hard to imagine discussing these events with fewer tears, but they will. It is hard to imagine the bitterness dissipating, but it will. It is hard to imagine anyone coming to reaffirm the joy of Judaism through these darkened binoculars, but they will.

For the full essay see The Times of Israel.

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Cuban Jazz Meets Klezmer : Flashmob on the Streets of Paris

The above video was a joint project of the JewSalsa dance school, TanJoe art Gallery, the Jewish Agency, et le FSJU. The concept and dance routine was an initiative of dance professor and musician David el Shatràn.

According to an article in the French JSS News, the dance routine is divided into four sections each representing different types of Latin dance rhythms in honor of the four questions from the Passover seder:

The flashdance itself is also meant as a kind of metaphor for the seder as well because it welcomes all to join in.

For more information:

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Seders around the Jewish World

Beijing at night

On the first night of Passover as the sun moves around the world Jews from all countries begin one after another to celebrate the seder. The particular way each family and group of friends celebrates differs from table to table, time zone to time zone. Yet we all tell the same story on the same night.


In Tablet magazine Dan Levin talks about his seder in China. He writes

For most of the year, our Jewishness hovers in the background; our primary identity here is “foreigner.” But Passover forces us to confront our shared religious heritage—and how it resonates in a Chinese context. The Haggadah features tales of villains and heroes, tyranny and dissent, and when we distill the Seder’s morality play through the dark realities of China, it reads as subversive political commentary. After all, we are celebrating freedom in a country that is not free.


An Israeli chef and his crew prepared 900 chickens, tubs full of salad, and over a 1000 boiled eggs with the electricity going on and off. Over 1,100 people came from all over Nepal to attend the seder. Each year about 10,000 Israelis visit Nepal. The seder in Katmandu is one of three seders in Nepal.  For more, see 1,100 Pounds of Matzah in the Himalaya Mountains .


Last year seder Gilead Shalit’s family marked the seder in the tent the family had erected outside of the prime minister’s house. This year for the first time in six years the family is celebrating Passover with Gilead Shalit in their own home.

Soldiers from the HaRuv brigade arrived expecting a festive seder meal. Instead they got cold matzah and salami. IDF kitchens must serve kosher food. The rabbi in charge of supervising the kitchen insisted that the planned meal be thrown out because it was improperly heated.

Several Russian Jewish oligarchs celebrated an unremarkable seder in a Jerusalem hotel this year, but the way they prepapred for the seder was anything but usual. The week before the seder they traveled 200 kilometer through the Aravah desert northward to Jerusalem accompanied by camels without their usual modern conveniences . The trip organizer told the Moscow Times that the journey presented “a serious spiritual and physical challenge to the particpants.”

Gilad Shalit’s family have left their tents, but the residents of Machpelach house in Hebron have just set up theirs. They were evicted the week before Passover by the IDF. The residents claim that they had bought the property fair and square and had the right to live in the house. The IDF says that property has been set aside for military use and they can’t be there. Their claims will be reviewed in the coming months. In the meantime as a protest they have set up a tent nearby and held their seder in the tent.

Four years ago Chef Alon Goren of the El Barrio restaurant in Tel Aviv realized that many of his staff were foreign workers who had no place to go for seder night. He invited them to the restaurant for a small seder. The next year he invited workers from restaurants run by friends. The third year the number of people coming to the seder grew so large that he could no longer hold it in his restaurant. He moved it to a villa owned by a high ranking police officer and friend of his. This year the seder was held in a Flamenco studio in south Tel Aviv. Describing the children at his seders Goren said “It’s just amazing. The kids who come speak Hebrew fluently. They’re Israelis! Their parents are from another world, but these youngsters are so Israeli. They know the songs, and they have such a good time,”.


In Egypt was the seder that wasn’t. Every year since the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, the Israeli embassy in Cairo has held a seder. This year the seder was canceled due to deteriorating relations with Egypt. Because of problems protecting staff, embassy personnel have been returning home to Israel each weekend . Because the seder fell on Shabbat this year, the ambassor was in Israel with his family rather than in Cairo.


Ruth Ellen Gruber from Budapest writes:

At Pesach, I made a “seder crawl” that took me to the Bet Orim seder and two others on the first night and one additional seder on the second. I had been invited to all of them, and seder hopping was how I dealt with the dilemma of having to make a choice about which to attend. Each was a big communal affair for dozens of people, organized by one of Budapest’s plethora of different Jewish groups and congregations. They all took place in and around the city’s downtown old Jewish quarter, in venues ranging from a modern JCC auditorium to the formal dining room of a popular restaurant to a funky basement youth cafe.

United Kingdom

Angie Jacobs writes in the Times of Israel about the prepackaged McSeder plate in her local supermarket and the challenges she and her sister had with creating a seder plate that was acceptable to the vegetarians in the family.

USA, East Coast

At the Garden, spending Passover with Springsteen : Long Island resident Warren Rosen didn’t want to miss Bruce Springsteen’s opening concert at Madison Square Garden in lower Manhatten. Since there was no way to get from his Seder Table in Massapequa Park, to the Garden, Rosen decided he’d bring the Seder to Springsteen. He rented a room in a restaurant across the street from Madison Square Garden; printed up special Haggadot with Bruce Springsteen on the cover; and invited his friends. They began the seder with “Matzah Ball”, a song written by his wife and set to the tune of Springsteen’s song Wrecking Ball. When the seder was over, everyone crossed the street and went to the Springsteen concert.

College student Alan Meskin writes in the Forward about his family’s efforts to maintain their Russian roots duing the seder. Obviously there are Russian dishes at the meal, but more than that the seder has special meaning for Russian immigrants to the USA. He writes:

To Russian immigrants especially, the holiday is a moment when they can think about the recent attainment of independence from the former Soviet Union and how they were let go after years of oppression and hatred.

USA, Moab Desert, Utah


Several families gathered in the Moab desert in Utah for a day long pre-seder and seder program. In memory of the Jews having to walk their way out of Egypt, they began their pre-seder celebrations with a hike to the Corona Arch, a giant natural made stone arch, an hour long hike from the nearest road. At the arch they read the story of the Exodos from the Torah. After the reading, following Miriam’s example, women danced with tamborines. The group returned to their camp site to complete the evening with a traditional seder. The annual desert seder is lead by Reform rabbi, Jamie Korngold. Next year, she will leave leadership to someone else. Korngold plans to be in Jerusalem.


USA, West Coast

In the Los Angeles Jewish Journal a morrocan Jewish father describes how Arabic and his Morrocan heritage shaped his understanding of the seder and the world around him.

Growing up in a French-speaking Sephardic-Moroccan home in Los Angeles, my sisters and I were never taught that Arabic was the “language of the enemy.” That is, unless we considered our parents “the enemy” — they spoke it between themselves when they didn’t want us to understand what was being said. I have vivid memories of Judeo-Arabic being spoken in my home. … Throughout my upbringing, the first chant at the Passover seder that really made it feel like Pesach for all of us around the table sounded like this …. Although my parents are no longer alive, my family continues our Judeo-Arabic chanting at the seder. These chants continue to tell the story of Pesach — my Moroccan ancestors’ Pesach — to my children, in the original language of their ancestors.

For Gary Smith’s vegan family the shank bone was only the beginning of their problems with the traditional seder. None the less they found a way to adapt the seder to integrate both their connection to Judaism and their commitments as vegans. He writes in the Jewish Journal about their “veder” or a vegan seder:

Our veder is really not much different than most others except that as vegans and animal rights activists, we see animals as fellow innocent victims. We decide to include and remember the 10 billion animals who are killed for food each year in the United States, the hundreds of millions in vivisection laboratories, the animals enslaved in zoos, circuses, racetracks and water parks for human entertainment, and the millions killed for fur, leather, wool and silk. Although being vegan is still outside the mainstream, it is in no way a rejection of the values we grew up with. In fact, the very teachings of Judaism encourage us to question authority, protect those who are most vulnerable, and take action against oppression and injustice — qualities that are common, if not necessary, to vegans and animal activists.


And finally we reach Hawaii where blogger Lorraine Gershun writes about her family’s second night seder:

My husband and I set the table this afternoon for our second night Seder. When we finished I realized that we were both wearing our bathing suits. He was still in his board shorts from his morning surf session and I had just returned from the neighborhood pool after swimming some laps. “Now that is being Jewish in Hawaii I thought.”

Update: 2012-04-15, added stories about seder in Katmandu, Nepal and Moab Desert, USA.

Several families gathered in the Moab desert in Utah for a day long pre-seder and seder program. In memory of the Jews having to walk their way out of Egypt, they began their pre-seder celebrations with a hike to the Corona Arch, a giant natural made stone arch, an hour long hike from the nearest road. At the arch they read the story of the Exodos from the Torah. After the reading, following Miriam’s example, women danced with tamborines. The group returned to their camp site to complete the evening with a traditional seder. The annual desert seder is lead by Reform rabbi, Jamie Korngold. Next year, she will leave leadership to someone else. Korngold plans to be in Jerusalem.

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The Malavsky Family Choir

Cantor Samuel Malavsky, born in Kiev, was well known for singing with his sons and daughters in concert in the 1940’s and 1950’s, long before women cantors were accepted even in non-orthodox synagogues. Malavsky insisted on giving his daughters respect due to cantors as well. In concerts Malavsky’s daughters, and not just Malavsky, would sing with tallit and kippah. Several prayer tunes were composed with “boy alto” solos so that his daugher Goldie could sing. Some had soprano solos as well. Malavsky’s music may be some of the earliest cantorial settings deliberately composed for the female cantorial voice.

During World War II, they sang the High Holidays in San Francisco. The family frequently lead Passover seders in the Catskills as well. But in general, opportunties to use their skills to lead prayer were limited. Orthodox synagogues would not allow him to sing with his daughters. Conservative synagogues welcomed the family as a group, but Malavsky did not like the changes to liturgy. He found his solution singing in hotels, music halls. Sometimes the same Orthodox rabbis who would not let Malavsky and his daughters sing in their shuls would come to the concert at the hotel.

The family also did numerous recordings and even cinema shorts, as in this clip below (song starts at 0:56).

  • The family choir, known as “The Singers of Israel” performed ….
  • Malavsky’s cantorial style was known for its strong marked beat and syncopation. (jewish virtual library)
  • Goldie Malavsky : her own album – , singing Ich Baink Ahaim

Some other songs by the Malavsky family:

  • Yedid Nefesh : Malavksy as soloist accompanied by soloist
  • Ribon HaOlamim : solo by Malavsky, no choir, but very beautiful classical chazzanut, shabbat song typically sung between shalom aleichem and eshet chayil
  • Tzur MiShelo Achalnu : Shabbat table song, sung after eating. (clip above)
  • Vchol Boei Olam : solos by both Malavsky, a daughter and the family choir
  • Tzena Tzena – Israeli folk song

For more about the “The Singers of Israel”, see

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Community Blames Mother, not Mohel, for Death from Metzitzah b’Peh

According to the New York medical examiner, on September 28, 2011, a two week old infant died at Maimonides Hospital from a Herpes Simplex I (HSV1) infection acquired after the child was circumcized by a mohel who used direct oral suction to “clean”the wound.

The case is currently being investigated by the Brooklyn DA, but the family is not cooperating. Despite the medical examiners report the community is closing ranks around the mohel and instead blaming the mother, claiming that she did not care properly for her child.

Oral suction (metzitzah b’peh) is a high risk practice that has been rejected by many Jewish halachic experts. The Haredi community insists it is an essential part of circumcision and considers its right to continue the practice a matter of religious liberty.

The last recorded death from Metzitzah B’Peh acquired HSV1 was in 2004 when two twins were allegedly infected by mohel Yitzak Fischer. Fischer was banned from performing oral suction in 2007, but the ban does not appear to have been enforced. The Jewish week found that he was still scheduling brit milah with oral suction even two weeks ago. The Lower Hudson news reported that Fischer is also under investigation in connection with the most recent death.

New York City’s attempt to crack down on the practice in 2005 ended with a state wide 2006 “protocol” that allowed the Haredi community to continue the practice despite objections of medical personel and on-going concerns about health risks. This protocol was rescinded in 2007, but Agudat Israel who played a major role in the 2006 protocol claims that they were never informed of the change. The Health Commission plans on letting the Brooklyn DA take the lead in the current investigation.

In 2005 Mayor Bloomberg vowed not to interfere with religious practice, has begun to shift his rhetoric:

There is probably nobody in public life who fights harder for the separation of church and state than I do, but I just wanted to remind everybody: religious liberty does not simply extend to injuring others or putting children at risk … And we will continue working with the community and others to prevent more baby boys from suffering these tragic fates. (Source: NY Times)

Only time will tell if this new assertiveness will result in government action. Many of the themes of Haredi-state interaction apparent in Israel also seem to be at play in New York. Continue reading

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My Sweet Canary: Roza Eshkenazy

Roza Eshkenazy was a cafe singer and prolific recording artist in the 1930’s. Known as the Queen of Rebetiko, her long career continued through the 1970’s. She died in December, 1980 in her mid 80’s, confused by Alzheimer disease.   Her music continues even today to influence and inspire Israeli, Greek, and Turkish artists.

Born in the late 1890’s to Sephardi Jewish parents,  she grew up near Thessaloniki.   She survived World War II with a forged baptismal certificate and a love affair with a German officer.  After the war she toured frequently in the USA and even considered living there. However, the love of her life remained in Greece.  By the late 1950’s she had returned to Greece where she lived until the end of her life.

Rebetiko, or “Greek blues”, is the name given to urban-Greek folk music and Ottoman cafe music based on Turkish modes and traditional Greek and Anatolian dance rhythms. Lyrics discussed themes of urban life and hardship, including the urban drug culture. It is accompanied by traditional stringed instruments, finger cymbals, and sometimes an accordion or  hammered dulcimer like instrument.

Her life and the Jewish-Turkish milieu in which she lived was memorialized in a documentary, “My Sweet Canary”, by Haifa born director Roy Sher. Continue reading

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Creating Am Shalem — A Complete Nation

Editor’s Note: the following article was written in early February during MK Haim Amsalem’s visit to the USA.

by Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, cross-posted with permission  from Leslie’s Laptop, United Jewish Communities of Metro-West New Jersey.

Did you ever see something and say to yourself, “I can’t believe I just saw that — and when can I see some more?” No, I don’t mean Mario Manningham’s sideline catch on Sunday, although I hope we do see many more of those next season. What I’m referring to is a visit to the MetroWest and Central NJ federations by Rabbi Haim Amsalem, MK (member of Knesset).

Rabbi Amsalem is an ultra-Orthodox, haredi Sephardic rabbi who entered the Knesset as a member of the right-wing Shas party. Concerned about the growing social problems in Israel, and most concerned about the issues that divide the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of Israel, he left Shas and founded the Am Shalem political party. He came to speak to our two communities about his vision of what needs to take place in Israel if it is to be both Jewish and democratic; about what it will take for Israel to be am shalem — a complete nation.

Rabbi Amsalem spoke in Hebrew. His translator was Dov Lipman, a charming young Orthodox rabbi who shared his own experience with intolerance in Beit Shemesh, where he lives, and which galvanized him into joining Am Shalem. There were about 100 people in attendance, including the folks from Central who attended via live video feed. There were clearly Hebrew speakers in the audience, because Rabbi Amsalem quickly got two sets of applause — first when he spoke in Hebrew and then again after Rabbi Lipman translated. I experienced my usual frustration of understanding only small amounts of the Hebrew, but what I heard in translation was very exciting. Continue reading

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Celebrating Purim With a Vengeance

Its often said that Purim is the Jewish Halloween, but some Jews in Borough Park, Brooklyn in New York City must have taken that a little too seriously.

When most people think of Purim, they think about funny parties, weird costumes, drinking a lot, and giving gifts to each others. The Jews who put up these Purim decorations decided that wasn’t enough. They decided the Purim symbol they wanted people to remember was t the hanging death of Haman and his sons. The recreated the scene by stringing up a line of eleven manequins on a wire stretched across the street.

There is a medieval tradition of parading with a hanging figure of Haman and then burning the figure up in effigy. Symbolicly burning is a way of wiping something out. Psychologically burning is a form of purification. One might imagine that burning Haman in effigy is a symbolic way of purifying ourselves from the effects of evil, i.e. symbolically ridding ourselves of self-defeating anger, learned fear, anxiety responses and all the other ways suffering and trauma can bend the human soul out of shape. But hanging 11 fake corpses in a row to stare at all day is nothing more than gloating.

Jews aren’t supposed to rejoice in death. The Talmud says that a generation that puts one man to death is a blood thirsty generation. We talk about the effect of death,. For example, wiping out the name of someone and their descendents is a way of saying that they have been completely vanquished and can never cause trouble anymore. However, we don’t rejoice in death itself, nor in the suffering that leads up to it.

Jews believe in respecting dead bodies. According to Jewish tradition even the hung body of a criminal should be taken down before nightfall. Even if the human being who inhabits the body is evil, the human form is in the image of God. To leave it hanging disrespects not just human dignity, but also God.

Jewish tradition teaches that even our enemies deserve a degree of empathy and respect. Each Pesach we dip our finger in our glass of wine and remove ten drops. According to one well known explanation, we diminish our own joy at liberation because our freedom came at a price paid by others.

Judaism believes that the ability to stand up for oneself and the ability to have compassion for one’s enemy are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the opposite is true. The failure to have compassion destroys the ability to protect oneself. Pharoah was a strong leader, yet he is described as having a hardened heart. Each plague in one way or another was meant to provoke empathy and compassion. For many, shared suffering can soften even the hardest of hearts, but this was not the case for Pharoah. He couldn’t even muster compassion for his own people, let alone the Hebrews in his care. Plague after plague Pharoah refused to let the Jews go, even though his own people suffered the price of his stubbornness. Even when he lost his own son he could not feel empathy and compassion for all the Jewish children he had killed during the years he forbid the Jews to reproduce. He could not acknowlege their suffering. Eventually his hard heart killed him. He drowned in the Red Sea pursuing the people he had no compassion for.

Haman too lacked empathy. He was consumed with his need for power and respect. When Haman refused to bow down to him, he began persecuting Mordachai and everything associated with him, including the entire Jewish people. Had he been capable of empathy he would have understood that Mordachai’s refusal to bow was an expression of integrity and not a threat to Haman’s power. Had he been capable of empathy he would have accepted the kings need to honor Mordachai as the person who saved his life. Instead of empathy for the king’s need, Mordachai entertained still more hatred and resentment against Mordachai. Eventually, his self-absorption and lack of empathy sealed his doom: seeking to save his own life he threw himself at Esther with the intent of begging her for his life. He gave little thought to how this might look to the king. Whn the king came in from the garden, he saw Haman attacking Esther. This was the final straw and the king ordered Haman’s death.

Even the Jewish notion of God affirms the compatibility of empathy and honor. God in Judaism is portrayed as a strong warrior, but also as One filled with compassion.

We lower ourselves to the level of Haman if we think that celebrating salvation requires gloating over the death and suffering of others, even long dead fictional others. There’s a reason mischloch manot, tzedakah, and a meal are the Purim mitzvot: they are about sustaining life.

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