Not Kosher in Kauai

•July 31, 2012 • 3 Comments
Image

Na Pali Coast

“The purpose of the Jewish state is to transform Jews”
Daniel Gordis, “Saving Israel”

If during the Nine Days we are instructed to deny ourselves pleasure in anticipation of Tisha B’Av, then spending this time on the island of Kaui probably isn’t strictly kosher. I sit blogging from my lanai enjoying the sound of waves splashing against the shore just a few feet ahead of me. My travels this month brought me to the far extremes of our beautiful earth; from the lowest place to the wettest, from the most politically complex and volatile, to paradise.

When I left Israel a couple weeks ago there was one major difference from all my previous departures; I didn’t cry this time. I was leaving a part of me behind and it felt good. I spent a week and half in Israel staffing a JFNA National Young Leadership trip to Israel with 160 participants. But it was my 15 year old daughter I was leaving behind. Shira  is spending 5 weeks experiencing Israel with her kvutza from Camp Gilboa of HaBonim Dror - a throwback Zionist youth movement. I could not have been happier to leave Shira, who is having the time of her life.

Shira noticed during our 2008 family trip to Israel, how Israelis have a candor; a straightforwardness, that we both enjoy and appreciate. This quality can be both a blessing and a curse. If you like getting straight to the point it’s great. If you don’t have a tough exterior it can be a challenge. Strong attitudes are the norm.

At Cafe Greg in Eilat this month I needed to speak with the manager. “There’s a problem?” His tone more an accusation than a question. My problem was now his problem.  ME:  “Yes”, I explained,  “I ordered the Dim Sum which I thought was vegetarian but it’s full of chicken.  MANAGER “Well it is written clearly on the menu that it is chicken!” ME: “Well, in your Jerusalem cafe the Dim Sum is vegetarian!” MANAGER: “The Jerusalem cafe is kosher, we are not!” ME: “Well I am not eating this!” A typical Israeli-style confrontational conversation. Issue resolved with neither of us admitting fault. Not exactly friendly but there were no hard feelings. (I had the gnocchi and it was delicious).

During the JFNA trip, Yad Vashem Holocaust educator Dr. Rachel Corazim, spoke to us about the museum’s recent major renovation of its exhibits to reflect new findings and attitudes about the Holocaust. Corzaim shared her mother’s story upon arriving in Israel as a 22 year-old pregnant Hungarian refugee who managed to escape a Nazi camp. A survivor on a kibbutz in the British Mandate, the kibbutznikim who arrive before WWII asked Corazim’s mother, “How could you just let yourselves be rounded up?” This was the mindset of Jews who left Europe before the rise of the Nazis. Independent, living in a tough neighborhood with Arabs, the Jews asked “why would you let yourself be taken voluntarily?” It was incomprehensible to the Jews already living in British Mandated Palestine that Jews in Europe would allow themselves to be captured without a fight. Corazim’s mother, a shy 22 year-old who didn’t speak Hebrew, remained silent. These Jews would not understand.  A culture of silence among survivors began. They could only speak amongst themselves about their shared travails. Israel, as a maturing country, can only now acknowledge its previously unacceptable attitudes toward survivors. Yad Vashem’s Corazim emphasized “The Israeli narrative of the Holocaust is evolving.”

Israel is a mixed tapestry of survivors and refugees from around the world: Holocaust survivors (198,000 still alive in Israel today), FSU Jews (1,000,000+), Ehtiopian refugees (120,000), Jewish refugees from Arab countries (800,000). There is profound beauty and depth in a country that has held true to its core value to serve as a refuge to any Jew. Israel, their native land – maybe going back a few generations – but still the homeland of all Jews, has always been a haven for Jews fleeing for their lives. This rich, disorganized tapestry creates a culture of aggressiveness unlike most places in the world. Imagine a place with Jews who survived the Soviet Russian regime, Holocaust survivors, Jews forced to flee their homes of centuries in Arab countries, Jews fleeing persecution in Africa who had no previous exposure to modern technologies: it is a social worker’s haven. A melting pot of scarred people all with some sort of tragedy in common. Tension and arguments are bound to ensue.

ImageJews argue with each other. We disagree vehemently both in Israel and in the U.S.  We struggle with the meaning of the State of Israel, what responsibilities should be incumbent upon all Israelis, what values must Israel uphold? Should 54,000 Haredim be required to serve in the IDF? The Tal Law (expiring today) aims to deal with Ben-Gurion’s miscalculation in giving 400 Jews an army exemption at the States inception. The Israeli Social Justice movement keeps issues like how Israel should deal with (non-Jewish) Sudanese refugees, at the forefront of political discussions. We disagree on which American is the best person to lead our country as president, in the context of who will be a stronger ally to Israel. We argue on how best to be a Zionist when we don’t always agree with the positions of the Israeli government.

Israel is a young, modern country. It continues to evolve and become a better place because we struggle together as the nation of Israel with these issues. Start-Up Nation even attributes Israeli success in Hi-Tech and its entrepreneurial nature in part due to its inherent nature to argue with authority. The name ‘Israel’ comes from Jacob wrestling with the angel of G-d. Doesn’t get more Chutzpadik that that! So arguing with each other seems just a natural byproduct.

Shira is learning the history of the Zionist movement by seeing Israel, staying on kibbutzim and traveling with HaBonim’s Israeli counterpart HaNoar HaOved. Experiencing mainly a secular perspective of Israel, she likely does not yet even realize its diversity or how life there can be difficult and complicated, but meaningful. She says she wants to make Aliyah. As Zionist parents of a young Jew, nothing would make us happier.

Reflecting from paradise over Tisha B’Av in Kauai, enjoying the sun, the ocean, the cool breezes, the peacefulness of the giant sea turtles floating by outside our lanai, my thoughts remain with Israel. Paradise is pretty much everything you’d expect (although apparently they mow the grass every other day early in the morning, which really needs to stop!).  Even the language here is soft; mostly vowels and a few soft consonants thrown in. Compare the Hawaiian language to Hebrew – a language with NO vowels and mostly harsh sounding consonants. Chet, Tzadik, Chaf – even the alphabet is aggressive. But to this Jew this paradise is devoid of personal connection. Paradise is a great escape for a few days or even weeks. But I yearn for the Jewish tumult, the disagreements, the collective history and values we share.

Tilted Tree Memorial – Zachor

•July 1, 2011 • 2 Comments

“To be a Jew means to belong to a nation whose people are linked to each other spiritually and emotionally, to belong to a group that shares a common magnificent past, one tradition, and a common destiny and fate. The Jewish people are the sons of one father. They are one big family.”
~ Moshe Katsav (President of Israel 2000-2007) reflecting on Daniel Pearl‘s last words, I am a Jew

An existing tree was moved and replanted at an angle, as if it had been disturbed by the physical blast of the explosion or by the mental shock, the small earthquake that altered this location. It is a living monument that will change from season to season and regenerate from year to year. Its presence suggests the integration of the traumatic memory into the university's everyday life."From the artist's web site: http://www.ranmorin.com

The tilted tree stands at an angle. The tree is Ran Morin‘s artistic memorial to the brutal events that occurred meters away on July 31, 2002. It is secured from falling by a rope; held almost upright as if by a constant loving hand of support. It stands in the garden entrance to the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria on Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus.

This site of this memorial was an off-itinerary visit of a Birthright group I lead this month with Israel Experience. Upon entering Jerusalem, the City of Peace, for the first time, Birthright buses typically stop at the Mount Scopus viewpoint overlooking the city skyline. Our trip was different.

Zachor

On our trip was the first cousin of one of the nine killed at Hebrew University during the July 2002 attack. Taylor very much wanted to be able to visit the memorial to her cousin, Marla Bennett. Marla had been a student of Judaic Studies at Hebrew University while jointly learning at Pardes to become a Jewish educator. When her life was thwarted, Marla had been living in Jerusalem for a year and a half, coinciding with the peak of violence of the Second Intifada. During that period the streets of Jerusalem were completely empty of tourists, shops and pubs closed early, or did not even open at all. Marla wrote about living in Jerusalem at a time when most wouldn’t come even for a short visit.

“Each morning when I leave my apartment building, I have an important question to contemplate: Should I turn left or should I turn right? This question may seem inconsequential, but the events of the past few months in Israel have led me to believe that each small decision I make–by which route to walk to school, whether to go out to dinner–may have life-threatening consequences. I have been living in Israel for a year and a half; I arrived just a month before the current wave of violence and horror began.”

During our Birthright trip, just a couple days earlier, we had visited Sderot – another Israeli city transformed by terror attacks. Since 2001 over 10,000 rocket and missile attacks have been launched at Sderot and neighboring cities, from the Gaza Strip.

Bus Stop Shelter in Sderot.

We were astounded to see bus stop /bomb shelters lining the streets, steel and concrete reinforced structures built over elementary schools, and apartments with bomb shelter add-ons – some still being constructed. Giant concrete caterpillars serve as a playground shelters. A new school under construction was being built half-way underground to provide protection from incoming missiles.

Playground in Sderot

We participated in a missile attack drill. Tom, our guide for the hour from the Sderot Media Center, shouted “Tzeva Adom. Tzeva Adom.” “Code Red.” We had 15 seconds to run to safety. We quickly piled into two adjacent bus stop shelters. A man stood nearby waiting for a bus, watching us. He shared how he had once received a call to pick up his son from elementary school after it was hit. The boy was fine: the father has shrapnel scars on his face. “This is life in Sderot” he said. Learning about Israeli life can be intense.

Back at the Mount Scopus memorial our Birthright tour guide shared the timeline of the July 31, 2002 bombing. Is there such a thing as coincidence? He was working security at Hebrew University the day of the attack. He stood next to the Tilted Tree recounting the details of how he arrived at the site seconds after the explosion.

Quiet – for the first time in a week of traveling together with 44 Birthright participants – stillness. Everyone listened attentively in absolute silence. Our guide choked up, became emotional, was unable to speak. A tank commander who has seen combat, overcome by his memories and the helplessness of terror. Silence, but for the peaceful Jerusalem breeze blowing through the leaves. Softly flowing tears. Silently we bonded. Became one. One people. One family. We tacitly mourned together. Linked together by a shared history. A shared tragedy. ‘The Jewish people are the sons of one father. We are one big family.’

Aaron, a Birthright participant, later commented, “I’d heard about attacks in Israel, I never thought I would meet someone who actually witnessed one. I never expected to be part of a group with not one, but two people, directly affected by the same attack.”

We are one. We mourn together.

We are one. We celebrate together.

A few days later our trip came to a close. On our last day we welcomed Shabbat together and danced with Israeli soldiers at the Kotel. We celebrated the B’nai Mitzvah of four participants from our group at a service overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. We concluded Shabbat with Havdallah. We had bonded with each other, and with our new Israeli friends.

Lynn Schusterman, who is shaping the future of Jewish community through her thoughtful philanthropy, shared her vision for a ‘Jewish spring’ at the Israeli Presidential Conference last week. “Can you imagine how powerful it would be if every Jew across the world felt part of our global Jewish community and connected to our Jewish homeland?”

We are fortunate. We don’t have to imagine.

Taglit Birthright Israel, Israel Experience, IE-24-259, June 16 - 26, 2011

Kosha Hip Hop Goes Mainstream

•May 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Kosha Dillz appears on stage wearing a kippah, a PUNK JEWS t-shirt, and a star of  David displayed prominently around his neck. He introduces himself as “the best Jewish rapper in Korea Town.”  Earlier this month Kosha packed all his belongings, left New Jersey, drove as far west as he could, and made Los Angeles his home. L.A. after all, is the entertainment capital of the world, and what better place to continue one’s steady rise to hip hop stardom.

Kosha grew up in New Jersey, studied at Rutgers, struggled with addiction and spent time in jail. Unlike typical American mainstream rappers, he was born in Israel- as Rami Matan Even-Esh. Much of his family was lost in the Holocaust. His art is inspired both by his love for Judaism and his family. He entertains with a mix of self-deprecating, Borscht Belt humor and an authentic fusion of hip hop with Jewish influences.  “For Jewish rappers, secularism has been the rule,” according to a review of Kosha Dillz in the Los Angeles Times. Kosha defies that mold. Kosha’s Jewishness is as overt as can be, adding to his uniqueness as an up-and-coming hip hop artist.

Kosha’s first performance as a brand new California resident was at
Orange County’s Tiki Bar  in Costa Mesa- about the last place you’d expect to hear a hip hop performer rapping in Hebrew. But even in The OC during University of California Irvine’s now infamous Muslim Student Union anti-Israel “hate week,” performing one city over from the home of the anti-Semitic Institute for Historical Review, and bastion of the John Birch society, Kosha’s performance was very warmly received.

Kosha’s engaging personality and performance style even had the  late-night O.C. audience singing along during a song in Hebrew about his family, aptly named “HaMishpacha Sheli.”  He has an endearing personality which draws his audience in, regardless of religious or political affiliation. Kosha’s unabashed Jewishness and love of Israel effectively raises awareness for Jewish issues in a completely unobtrusive way. He makes being Jewish cool and likable, which of course it is, but not everyone knows that. For young Jews he’s an admirable role model spreading a positive Jewish message.

Case in point is Kosha’s Yom Ha Shoah Freestyle, which is a tribute to the victims of the Holocaust and was posted on the Kosha Dillz homepage on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Kosha asks his website viewers to “Please take a moment today to reflect….and share [this video] with your friends and family. We can educate those who are unaware of such atrocities, and prevent history from repeating itself.” 

Kosha’s freestyle talent is impressive. Equally impressive is his ability to relate to his listeners from onstage. He’s released a solo album, Beverly Dillz, and has toured with Matisyahu, Cage the Elephant and underground freestyle legend C-Rayz Walz (with whom he released 2008’s “Freestyle Vs. Written”). Kosha’s exceptional talent has not gone unnoticed.

To read more about Kosha and sample his music, visit http://www.koshadillzworld.com/site-press/.

Raising Jews: Dayenu

•May 8, 2011 • 6 Comments

וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם עַל לְבָבֶךָ: וְשנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ
V’hayu had’varim ha’eileh asher anokhi m’tzav’kha hayom al l’vavekha, v‘shinan’tam l’vanekha v’dibar’ta bam

And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart, and you shall teach them diligently to your children

(Excerpt from Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

If all I accomplish in this life is to raise my two kids as well-adjusted, ethical, Israel-loving Jews: Dayenu! I will have fulfilled one of the most critical mitzvot—no easy task in today’s modern world in which, in reality, all Jews are Jews by choice.

For my children it would be so easy to assimilate into American culture, lose their identities as Jews, explore other religions, and date people of any faith.  What’s more, they will soon be moving on to college, where defending Zionism and Israel is more complex than ever. In spite of each of these challenges, I am confident my kids will remain committed Jews and strong Zionists.

My husband and I decided before our first child was born that we would send our children to Jewish Day School. We gave our son and daughter Hebrew names—Israeli names, actually. Giving them English-equivalent names in addition to Hebrew names seemed redundant, so we skipped that altogether. Aviel Natan and Shira Daniella are now 16 and 14, respectively.

Given the strong-willed (some might even say “stubborn”, but we would just argue with them until they surrendered) nature of their parents, it’s only fitting that our kids are each independent thinkers in their own right. So it should have come as no surprise when, at the advanced age of four, Aviel became a self-proclaimed atheist, nor when, at age nine, Shira became a vegetarian.

In the case of Aviel, we did not try to influence his decision, but rather spoke openly with him about the existence or non-existence of God. Today Avi is still an ardent atheist who loves to discuss his beliefs with others. He has read the New Testament, and is fascinated with Internet chat rooms and fora spanning all faiths. Apparently, though, few of his interlocutors are equally enthusiastic: he has been blocked from participation in all but the Mormon chat rooms. Give credit where it’s due: those Mormons don’t give up easily.

One of the most amusing conversations we recall from the kids’ childhood came about when Shira tried to convince Avi that the parting of the Red Sea by Moses proved the existence of God, because who other than God could perform such a miracle. They were ages 6 and 8 at the time.

In sixth grade, Aviel, along with two of his classmates, were ostracized by their Judaica teacher for posing the question of finding meaning in the prayers of the Siddur, if one doesn’t believe in God. Unable—or unwilling—to meet the challenge posed by the sincere boys, the teacher took the rest of the class to another location and left the three of them to fend for themselves for the remainder of the period. The eleven-year-old boys just shrugged and moved on to discuss evolution. Clearly, the school was unprepared to respond to the insightful, sometimes heretical questions children ask: perhaps that’s one reason why that institution recently closed its doors.

The following year, Aviel prepared for his Bar Mitzvah. We considered Avi’s atheism irrelevant to the question of his participation in the Bar Mitzvah ceremony; indeed, I don’t think it ever occurred to him to try to get out of it. In a preparatory meeting, the rabbi asked, “So Avi, tell me about this God that you do not believe in.” Avi’s response began, “First, let me say that I reject the premise of your question.” Fortunately our rabbi was neither insulted nor intimidated by Avi’s beliefs, and they were able to have a deep and meaningful discussion. For Avi, not believing in God doesn’t make him any less capable of identifying as a Jew.

Avi’s next project is creating a computer game based on the Israeli War of Independence. His moral code, his sense of what is just and ethical, and his upbringing as a Jew have combined to create a fervent Zionist who takes great pleasure in defending Israel in online fora or wherever the opportunity presents itself.

Shira remains committed to vegetarianism, an admirable stance that helped influence my own return to the vegetarian diet I’d abandoned two decades ago. Kindness to animals is a core Jewish value, but it’s not the only one Shira embraces.  She spends summers at Zionist summer camps, several weekends a year at youth group Shabbatons, and even the occasional Shabbat morning service with me.

Me and Avi at Shira's 2nd grade Siddur ceremony

Recently, during Passover, I decided not to go through the effort of changing over to our Passover sets of dishes. To my surprise, Shira seemed disappointed, complaining that she “no longer feels Jewish.” Was her comment just teenage hyperbole, or an astute critique of my flaws as a parent? Who knew that bypassing this relatively minor tradition would affect my daughter so deeply, so much so that for the first time she did not observe the Passover dietary restrictions. Her remark led to a discussion of what she felt was missing in our ritual observances. I can tell you one thing: we’ll be using the Passover plates next year.

I can offer no formula for success in raising good Jews. My personal experience suggests that the sincerity of your own convictions is what matters most: sooner or later, children will see through their parents’ hypocrisy. Even with the best intentions, though, there is little doubt that a significant amount of plain old luck is involved. I feel very blessed on this Mother’s Day, and on all days, that my own kids appear to be well on their way to living happy lives as Jews who will contribute positively to society.

Passover Memories (and a few recipes)

•April 23, 2011 • Leave a Comment

No holiday in the Jewish tradition requires as much preparation or has as many rules and restrictions as Passover. We are supposed to go beyond the standard laws of kashrut, breaking out new sets of meat and dairy dishes and cleansing every inch of our home of chametz. And the list of what we are permitted to eat for eight days is much shorter than what is forbidden.

The extensiveness of ritual and prep work involved mirrors the depth of the Passover story itself —the history of the emergence of an independent Jewish nation. We are commanded to tell the story to our children as though “we ourselves were slaves in Egypt.” But is this collective memory a truth or fiction?

Each year we retell the story of our ancestors’ release from bondage in Egypt as they went forth into the Sinai. Oh yay! No longer slaves, the Israelites instead found themselves wandering around a barren desert with no idea how to get to the promised land. All this makes for a story loaded with symbolism, conflict, and interesting characters… not unlike our annual Seder.  Indeed, what other Jewish holiday offers enough pathos and drama to be featured in movies and musicals? Certainly not Rosh Hashanah.

This Shabbat my rabbi recalled the sermon Rabbi David Wolpe gave on Passover in 2001. Wolpe’s comments sparked international controversy when he suggested that the story of Exodus might be fictional. In lieu of a sermon this Shabbat, fellow congregant and archaeological scholar, Ahuva Ho, spoke about the historicity of the Exodus story.

A fascinating topic, but whether or not the Exodus is factual is not that important to me. Either way, it is a story so rich it remains the center of scholarly work. Three thousand years later it still serves as the basis of a major religion, a philosophy of life, and a guide of laws and rituals that informs the lives of the modern Jewish people. The story that we share at Seder each year allows us to revisit our slavery and liberation while creating new family traditions and memories with and for our own children.

The first Seder Scott and I hosted was small. We lived in New Jersey, far from any family, so it was just us and a few friends. Our friend Viktor, a child of Ukranian refuseniks, offered to bring—actually, make, from scratch—gefilte fish. (I guess in Kiev you couldn’t just go down to the market and buy some gefilte fish in a jar.) He said he’d need a big pot and that he would bring the fish, which he purchased in Chinatown on his way to our apartment. The fish made their final Hudson River crossing on the PATH train to New Jersey, still flopping and squirming as Viktor knocked on our apartment door. Twenty years later, it is still the freshest and best gefilte fish that we have ever tasted.

A year later we moved to California and hosted our family Seder. We packed twenty people into a dining room well-suited for eight. That first year in our new home I made a flourless chocolate cake, using for the first time a springform baking pan. I thought the little handle on the pan was meant for a better grip, and I grasped it on the way to the oven. Should have read Baking for Dummies! With batter now all over the floor I quickly commanded our puppy Spenser to sit! and stay!  As I wiped up the dog-toxic batter, Spenser couldn’t help but slowly slide backwards on the slick linoleum floor, never once budging from his sitting position. In subsequent years, no matter how craftily I hid the kosher-for-Passover chocolate chips, Spenser still found his way into them, and twice ended up on pre-Seder trips to the vet to have his stomach pumped.

A few years later as a family of four we attended a synagogue retreat at Camp Ramah in Ojai.  Each such event featured a scholar-in-residence, and this year it was Noam Tzion, co-author of A Different Night, The Family Participation HaggadahNoam’s Haggadah would transform our Seder for eternity. We no longer conduct the Seder at the dinner table. Instead we sit comfortably in the family room on the couch surrounding a table of fun Seder-appropriate fun and tasty food. No one is antsy for our Seder to end because there are plenty of appetizers and we have fun retelling the story.

This year I accidentally lit my hair on fire while passing the karpas. Miraculously, though my hair was aflame, it was not consumed. Well, maybe a little bit. In any event, a pretty neat trick but not a tradition I’ll be continuing.

As always, this year’s Seder evoked nostalgia. After the flaming hostess incident, Uncle Ben said the smell of my singed hair reminded him of when his mom and grandmother used to singe the feathers off the chickens while preparing for Shabbat and holidays. We also heard for the first time about Scott’s great-grandpa Jake’s Seders which were conducted entirely in Hebrew, even though none of the children knew Hebrew. Oy! (Fortunately no one recalled the Brussels Sprout Confrontation from the holiday we spent with our Orthodox relatives who do not think small cabbages can be adequately cleaned and are therefore not kosher.)

Passover was the last holiday my mom spent with us before her cancer took control of her destiny. That last Passover she spent with us she was weak and exhausted from chemo and radiation treatments. It was also the last time she visited our house and read to our children. She barely made it upstairs to kiss the kids goodnight. The two full days I spend each year cooking for the Seder allow me many solitary hours to think about my mom.

Last year was the first time in a few years that our good friends Ben and Barbara were not with us for Passover. Ben and Barbara help me cook and Ben always makes the gravy so we really need them to come back. They also brought us the tradition of searching for the chametz with a feather and symbolically burning it. Our daughter really likes that and missed not doing it this year.

By the way, my Seder menu is pretty tasty so I’ll share it below with some recipes. I’d love to hear about your family Seder traditions and recipes so please write back with some comments.

SEDER MENU
Appetizers
: crudite, steamed artichokes with dips, olives, deviled eggs – according to A Different Night, the original Rabbinic custom was to serve substantial appetizers during the Seder. “The stomach which gets its due early in the seder liberates the mind to engage in the main course of the seder; telling the story and discussing freedom and slavery.”
Charoset: Israeli Charoset, Moroccan Charoset, Ashkenazi Charoset – I like to make a variety from different countries representing Jews from all over the world.

At the dinner table: Gefilte fish, Chicken soup with Matzoh Balls – For clear broth, strain soup through sieve while ladling in to bowls.

Recipe at Epicurious.com

Dessert

  • Pavlova – use non dairy Passover whipped cream product (bitter after taste but it’s parve)
  • Passover Honey Cake
  • Perfect Poached Pears – really good over the Honey Cake

East Meets West – Yemen Blues

•April 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Last month I heard Yemen Blues perform for 1200 young Jews as part of the at the TribeFest mega event in Las Vegas. TribeFest, JFNA’s new and improved conference for young Jewish adults, brought together an eclectic array of hip, offbeat Jewish speakers and performers in combination with more traditional Jewish establishment types for good measure. Yemen Blues was one of the most inspired choices of artists on the TribeFest playbill.

As a zealous fan of Israeli music infused with Middle Eastern and world influences, I was excited to hear Yemen Blues perform. They exceeded my expectations and fulfilled my passion for venturing into new musical territory. I was completely enthralled as the tones of Middle Eastern jazz/blues washed over me.

Start with New Orleans jazz, mix it with modern Israeli rock, and then add in native Yemini melodies and instruments and you’ve got the original Yemen Blues sound. Lead singer Ravid Kahalani, whose voice you may recognize from The Idan Raichel Project, is an Israeli Jew of Yemini descent. Kahalani sings both in Arabic and Hebrew, dancing joyously in front of an ensemble of real live musicians–a rare treat at a time in which music-minus-one performances (live acts accompanied by recorded tracks) have become the accepted norm. The Yemen Blues sound is a full-bodied swing band blend with strings and brass alternating between blues riffs and melodic minor scales.

Kahalani evokes the tribal and exotic sounds of his Yeminite heritage through his music. The history of the Temanim (Jews of Yemen) reads like a story-book fairy tale. This ancient Jewish community is said to have settled in the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula during the time of King Solomon (1451 BCE), on a quest to retrieve gold and silver for the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. The vast majority of the Jews of Yemen eventually returned to Israel in 1949-1950 as rising political tensions and pogroms forced the Yeminite Jews to leave their home of 3400 years. Israel’s Operation Magic Carpet secretly returned 50,000 Jews to their homeland. The Temanim, who had never seen airplanes before, famously referred to their salvation as taking place “on the wings of eagles”. Sadly, today Yemen’s tiny remaining community of 250 Jews are refusing Israel’s overtures to bring them back to Israel and to safety, as a new wave of political turmoil and protests could again threaten their lives.

True art can transport you to a time and place far away. Yemen Blues, with its fusion of jazz and African musical traditions, transports you to distant lands, to a culture that has all but completely disappeared from its native desert sands.

Yemen Blues is as engaging to watch as they are to hear. The stage is filled by a viola, cello (my personal fave), trombone, trumpet, alto flute, and Latin and Middle Eastern percussion. The trumpet player looks so authentic he’d probably be taken away by the TSA if caught traveling in his gig attire. Surround that with tribal percussion and a lead singer who performs in a trance-like state of ecstasy, and you have a unique blend of sounds that should bring Yemen Blues into the hands of a major record label very soon. If you like world music with a twist of old-fashioned American ingenuity, check this group out at www.yemenblues.com.

Read more about Yemen Blues at WorldMusicCentral.org.

8 Signs You May Be Suffering TribeFest Withdrawal

•March 8, 2011 • 2 Comments


#8     You keep checking the TribeFest hashtag on Twitter and are sad that the steady stream of tweets have come to a halt. (Or you finally realize that you really need to get on Twitter and stop wasting your life away without it.)

#7     It’s 7:00 pm and you’re trying to figure out where tonight’s Mash-Up is.

#6     You are hungry, because the food at TribeFest wasn’t exactly copious.

#5    People suddenly expect you to pay for your cocktails. What’s that all about?

#4     After learning at this morning’s session on the delegitimization of Israel, that Rav Imanuel Ravad survived the 1929 Hebron Massacre you’ve developed a respect for the really old Chabad dude pushing mikvah-will save-the world literature. He tolerates extremely loud parties and a lot of awkward stares dedicating his life to perpetuating the ritual of Mikvah. If those of us, 50-60 years his junior, can harness our passions and energy the way he does, think of what we could accomplish!

#3    You’ve added new words like Gonzo Judaism,  Punk Jews and Jewlicious to your vocabulary, and you can’t wait to get the Yemen Blues CD. No one else knows what you are talking about but you sound really cutting edge.

#2    You wish you’d won the free YLD Summer Mission to Israel lottery.

#1     You can’t wait for the next TribeFest!

If your jonesing for some more TribeFest reading check out these articles:
JTA
TribeFest a hit with young federation donors, but reaching unaffiliated still a challenge

The Jewish Week
Live From TribeFest 3 – Obama and the Jews
Live From TribeFest 2 – No Team Like the Jewish Community
Live From TribeFest

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.