Monday, January 26, 2009

From the mailbag...

Yale Strom writes again:
BiDm - not to belabor the point, but once again, you've misquoted me -- I never "laid credit for Chabad Houses across the world on the klezmer revival"; so let me clarify by example: In 1981, in Miskolc, where there was a small Jewish community (secular and frum and everything in between) there were a couple of local amateur Jewish musicians who began playing Jewish music privately. I know, because I was there. Point of fact: Chabad was not. The frum Jews were not Lubavitsher - in fact, the elderly frum Jews who grew up before World War II were followers or sympathetic to the Satmar or Munkacser khasidim (who by the way have had strong religious philosophical disagreements over the years - continuing today - with Lubavitsh).

During the Communist era, throughout Eastern Europe, Jewish life and practice went underground, particularly for the youth. The older Jews were already pensioners, they were not as afraid of retribution, of career assassination or expulsion from attending specific colleges - risks posed to the young Jews. As one old orthodox Jew told me in 1981, "I was in prison before the war, I was in various concentration camps, the Soviets sent me to a camp, and I'm here now. What can they do to me?"

What these young musicians did was get people interested in singing Jewish music and for some, to even looking at Hebrew and Yiddish text (and Miskolc was not a haven for Yiddishists). There was a young man I interviewed in 1988 for my book "A Tree Still Stands: Jewish Youth in Eastern Europe Today" who eventually went on to study at the Budapest rabbinical seminary. Part of the kindling of his interest in Jewish life and religion (of which he learned nothing from his parents) came from listening to Jewish music, particularly Ashkenazic Jewish music from Eastern Europe, aka - klezmer. This happened before Rabbi Oberlander, the Lubavitsher rabbi in Budapest since 1989, formed a Chabad minyan in Miskolc.

I never stated that in every case, in every Chabad minyan throughout Central and Eastern Europe, the way was paved only because of the klezmer revival. But to not acknowledge the power of the klezmer revival (music, text, Yiddish, the cultural cohesion and community building for Jewish communities and the social history of klezmer as functional music) is simply wrong. All of these factors made communities more receptive to new Jewish expressions - including Chabad. And Chabad has done a great job in re-igniting the embers of Judaism in these communities where there are shlikhim.

My assertions are based on fact, on interviews with actual informants since 1981. Those things may not support one's thesis, but they are indisputable.
It seems to me that we are talking about two separate assertions.

1) There are individuals whose interest in learning more about Judaism was kindled by Jewish music.
2) The success of Chabad Houses can be attributed, at least in part, to the klezmer revival.

Point #1 is clearly true. I don't believe anyone contests that. I've met many people who came to some form of Jewish observance through becoming involved in Jewish music, whether as a performer or listener.

Point #2 is inaccurate though. This is easy to test. Look at Chabad's history even before the klezmer revival, when they were perhaps the most effective outreach group under three generations of Communism in the U.S.S.R. Compare also, the success of Chabad Houses worldwide. Not to belabor the point, but Chabad and Chabad houses have been successful throughout the world, including many areas where the klezmer revival has not reached. Might some people who became interested in Jewish culture via klezmer then been more open to Chabad? I know people who came to some form of observant Judaism through Jewish music. But I'd also say that Chabad has proven itself globally, reviving Jewish interest, in areas untouched by the klezmer revival. In other words, I'd point at Chabad as the source of Chabad's success, not the klezmer revival. In short, I'm confident that the Chabad House in Miskolc, to use Yale's example, would have been quite successful in reaching out to unaffiliated Jews in the area, even if there hadn't been a klezmer revival.

Joel Rubin made a simliar point, about the renewal of interest in Judaism in various forms taking place at the same time, like the klezmer revival and the Havurah movement. He did not credit the klezmer revival with the success of the Havurah movement though. I'm sure there are people who came to Havuah that way too, on an individual level, (and Orthodoxy and various Chassidic groups too) but, I don't see it as cause and effect.

In short, what I take issue with is the assertion that the Chabad House's success is based on the klezmer revival. Sure, some individuals may have decided to start attending because of that, but there is enough empirical evidence for the success of Chabad houses in places outside the influence of the klezmer revival. Perhaps, judging by his clarifying emails, this is what Yale meant to say at the conference, i.e. point #1 not point #2, but that's not what I heard him say.

Yosef Sukenik writes:
Here is a link to a new song composed for the Puah Institute's annual dinner on January 13th. The dinner was the same week as the annual conference in Jerusalem which had over 1500 people but unfortunately no music. Composed by Cecelia Margules and Rami Yadid. Performed by Shloime Dachs. Song of the Cradle.
Joe Flix forwards a link to his LinkBag #3. He's been enjoying my Luft review series. I'll be getting back to that shortly.

Roger Bong writes:
I did a Google search of the Stanley Miller Band and, like several others, have found your blog.

I wanted to find more information about the Band, but it seems there is very little info on the internet. I own the album "Live!" by the band, originally released on Azoi Records and recorded April 16, 1976 in New York at the Lincoln Square Synagogue.

I know nothing about Jewish music, but bought the Band's "Live!" album (an LP) because it was unopened. I found it in a thrift store in Eugene, Oregon. Have you heard the album before? I thought you or visitors to your blog might like to know about it, since there is no discography of the band online.

It's good to know that the Band wants to reissue one of their albums to CD.
Chris writes:
I've written before, you may not remember. I'm studying for conversion and am an semi-pro/amateur reggae musician/producer. Do you know of any message boards or IRC channels where I can talk to Jewish musicians? Here in Tokyo I know precisely zero people in my shul who make music. I'd like to be able to talk to some people who make torah centric music or even musicians living a torah life.

BTW, it just tears me up that I cant play during shabbat! Yesterday I was almost counting the minutes till I could fire up my gear. I know thats probably not in the spirit of shabbat at all, but I wonder if other musicians feel the same?
Got this email about "But, Kol Isha!!!":
Regarding the J-music post with the "kol isha warnings" - My impression is that these types of disclaimers are similar to the Surgeon General's warnings on a pack of cigarettes. Whoever's buying pays it no mind; and those who take it seriously weren't buying anyway. But you still have to put it on the cigarette box.
I just found the idea of putting a Kol Isha warning on a Gay/Lesbian/Transgender event a bit odd. I guess he missed that bit. It’s kind of like hosting an affair at a treif restaurant and warning that there might be shaatnez in the dinner napkins.

Gil Student comments on "For Everything Else, There's Mastercard."
Yeshua is an Aramaicized version of Yehoshua. See Ezra 2:2 for one of many places where Yehoshua Kohen Gadol (of Zechariah 3 fame) is called Yeshua.
That's true, but to the secular Jews who see this, Yeshua means Jesus.

On the same subject, Leor writes:
I noticed that right away in the music video as well and questioned it. Then I though about it and realized it was possible that they meant Yeshua simply as "salvation" ???
It'd be spelled differently in that case.