Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Post Pesach Lipa Fix

For those following the Lipa ban story...

Just before Pesach, THE LIFE-OF-RUBIN BLOG posted an ad for a "special Yom Tov Zemiros (not concert) with VERY famous singer" to take place on Chol Hamoed.

DovBear comments in "Beating the bans."

Hey, if they can call an explicit ban on all concerts "not an explicit ban on all concerts", then its fair to call a concert "not a concert." Sauce for the goose...

Word is "not concerts" are a growth industry in the Chareidi market!

Monday, April 28, 2008

From the mailbag...

Psachya writes:
I guess this was bound to happen sooner or later. All the same, if I hadn't seen it with my own two eyes, I wouldn't have believed it actually happened.

To start from the beginning: I just played a show with Uncle Moishy at a certain Pesach hotel. Moish was just swinging into his penultimate number, "Hashem Is Here," when a man with a long white beard stormed into the room. "Hashem is NOT here," he shouted. "There is no Hashem here! How could Hashem be here where there are men and women SITTING TOGETHER at a CONCERT?!!!" He actually began to storm the stage when he was escorted rather firmly from the room. (To his credit, Moish kept on singing and smiling as if nothing was happening. Say what you will, the man's a pro.)

Let's leave aside for a moment the incongruity of what the old man said. On second thought, let's not leave it aside. Frankly, nothing this fellow could have imagined was going on could have compared with the utter ameratzus and apikursus of the statement, "Hashem is not here." (And as the little ones could have explained to him, Hashem is everywhere - up, up, down, down, right, left - but I digress.) Let's just for a moment examine just how totally warped and ridiculous this has become. Let's say, just for a moment, you could imagine yourself as that near-mythical creature - the off-the-derech oisvarf who is constantly haunting Jewish concerts hoping to buy drugs and score with girls (because, as you know, Jewish concerts are the best places to obtain such things, as opposed to bars, rock concerts, street corners, clubs - but, again, I digress). Which concert will he pick to do his nefarious deeds? Well, hey-dum-diddledy-dum - let's cruise an Uncle Moishy concert!

I must admit (shudder) - there was mixed seating at this concert. There were young boys and girls sitting together. Well, very young - preschool young, actually. And yes, there were some mommies and tatties and bubbies and zeidies sitting together in order to shep nachas from their little ones. Rachmana nitzlan!

I'll admit - there is an excellent chance that the old gentleman was the family coot and forgot to take his meds. And he was definitely a minority of one in his opinion - at least in that room. Still, the mindset that causes this sort of thing doesn't exist in a vacuum, especially recently. So it's come to this - I have to explain to my bemused seven-year-old and four-year-old - both in attendance - why the old, rabbinical-looking gentleman attempted to assault Uncle Moishy. Of all people. Onstage. Right in front of a bunch of very young children.

As a certain radio talk-show host is fond of saying, it's sick out there, and getting sicker.
Oh, dear! Methinks it's time Psachya started a blog.

E. forwards a link to "Broward educator named to National Teachers Hall of Fame."

Jordan writes about Tranquility Bay:
Its all very well that a letter was written saying that Tranquility Bay was not a place for a Jewish Child. How about the authors of the letter saying that TB is not a place for any child, and pointing out that the actions of those who tried to save this boy were merely doing what any sensible responsible adult of ANY community should do. It is no small matter that what we deem unworthy of us is good enough for the goyim.
I agree and said as much in my original post on the topic.

Yitz forwards a link to his post, "MODZITZ KLEZMER JAZZ."

David Johnson writes:
I've read some of your blogging on using Sibelius. You've put it through some good testing. My question has to do with creating graphs, harmonic reductions, Schenkerian sketches, etc. In other words, how feasible is it to construct non-metered, "hand-shaped," notationally flexible entries?

I'm sure some hand-tweaking is necessary, because of course such a program is normally used for making real music. I need it more for graphic illustration. Any ideas? And how might these questions apply to Finale, and which program might handle my needs better?

Thanks for your time. Keep on blogging -- it's very helpful!
Arkady writes:

Sorry, I didn’t have all the Information when I originally sent this email (see below)...

Another example of the fact that Time Is Of The Essence:) [ask a sax player near you to explain that one:)!]

12-3 PM, Saturday, April 26, 2008

I’ve added a Map and Directions Link, 2 more Newspaper Articles, and other stuff on this webpage:



On Saturday, April 26, 2008, 12-3 PM, a Bone-Marrow Drive will take place at the Norris Homes Community Center, at 1915 N. 11th St., where the need for donors is as great as the fear.

“Brecker told his sister he wanted the drive to help African Americans, because it didn't seem right that he had a better chance for a match than they did.

Referring to pianist friends Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner, he said, "They have as great a need as I do," his sister recalls.”

Please read the Full Article here:

Daniel Rubin:
At late jazz great's request, a drive to recruit minority stem-cell donors
Philadelphia Inquirer | 03/31/2008

"Daniel Rubin: At late jazz great's request, a drive to recruit minority stem-cell donors"

I received that link from Michael’s sister, Emily Brecker

Thanks to all in advance for honoring Michael Brecker’s Memory!!!

website: www.arkady.com

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tranquility Bay Warning...

Following up on "Why Is A Jewish Music Blogger Writing About Tranquility Bay?"

VOS IZ NEIAS has posted a letter signed by Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky, and Dr. David Pelcovitz.

The letter, which was also published on page 15 of the Jewish Press, thanks those "shtadlonim who gave of their time, effort, and money to save Yitzchok Meir (Isaac) from a non Jewish oriented reform facility."

They write:
"What has clearly emerged, is that the facilities such as Tranquility Bay, Jamaica is not a place for any Jewish child. We understand the need for all types of intervention to help our children, but Tranquility Bay SHOULD NOT be an option.
You can read the entire letter at the above link.

New Jewish Music Blog

Check this out. Kol B'Seder's Jeff Klepper has started a blog. He's in Pesach mode, featuring mp3's of Pesach melodies from around the world. Love that Syrian Echad Mi Yodea.

This is great stuff!

Speaking of Jeff, here he is in a duet Gospel version of Shalom Rav with Joshua Nelson.

Rav Belsky: Lipa Ban (A Little Bit) Forged

Vos Iz Neias reports that Rav Belskey has issued a letter about the Lipa concert ban.

He writes:
In his newly-released public letter, Rabbi Belsky explains that the text of the final proclamation containing his and others' signatures contained wording that he was not shown—specifically, the phrase banning all concerts. Rabbi Belsky issued his letter to assert that while all the rabbonim did in fact sign the ban, their intention was only to block The Big Event for reasons explained in the letter, not all concerts in general.
Here's the letter.

The letter is vague. It's vague about the specific reason the Big Event concert was deemed inappropriate. It's vague about who misrepresented the Rabbonim's position. And, Rav Belsky is the only signator. As well, the letter is dated weeks ago. Why wasn't it made public then?

This seems like an attempt at damage control, given the fact that so many concerts have either been announced or happened since the Lipa ban, and it's clear that they will continue to happen. This saves face by presenting an alternate narrative.

1) The rabbis were opposed to the Big Event for unspecified "leitzanus".
2) The published ban didn't represent their views on concerts in general.

On the surface, it seems nice and neat. Plus, by not being specific about what the problem was, they preserve the ability to arbitrarily ban another event (or defend a ban after the fact if they are manipulated into signing on to one).

It's not convincing though. It may well represent Rav Belsky's view of what happened, but it doesn't represent the views of those ban signers who do wish to ban all concerts (and some of them do). To avoid ambiguity, all of the ban signers need to publicly clarify that the ban was only on the "Big Event."

The letter also doesn't assign responsibility for the "forgery" to the forger. If Asher Friedman "forged" the final text, Rav Belsky has an obligation to identify him, so that the public (including newspaper editors accepting ads) will know to discount anything he says. This holds true no matter who the "forger" was. Finally, Rav Belsky needs to delineate what specifically was wrong with this event, both so that the public can make "appropriate decisions" and so that producers/performers will know what is/isn't acceptable.

On additional point. Rav Belsky's letter does not address the fact that the "Big Event" show had been advertised for months with no comment from the rabbonim. Why didn't they address the specific issues they had with that show right away? Both the language and timing of the ban were meant to hurt Lipa. Rav Belsky is now distancing himself from the line banning all concerts. He ought to be concerned about --and distance himself from -- the violent language of the ban, and the timing of the ban to inflict maximum financial loss (even if this was not intended) as well.

If Rav Belsky had come out with this when the ban was announced, it might have carried some more weight. But if this is the best he can offer --publicizing this excuse two months late -- color me less than impressed.

It feels like he waited to see if this would blow over, and since it hasn't, he's trying to make it go away. It's too little, too late.

I think over time, members and observers of the NYC area Chareidi community will come to view the Lipa concert ban as a "tipping point" with ramifications to their community that far outweigh any possible perceived benefit of the ban.

Hat Tip, "LG5000."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

JM Links From Around and About

In the realm of bad Bar Mitzvah gift ideas... here's a Google search someone found us with.

MoC parodies Jonathan Rosenblum's article "Five-Star Pesach." Excellent!

On the messianic concert...

parshablog posts "Manipulating the Gedolim III - Rav Ovadia Yosef Unfortunately Does *Not* Ban A Concert." The first two posts in the series are here and here.

He also posts "Rebbe Moshiach Concert by MBD and Shweky."

LIFE-OF-RUBIN writes "This is What Should Have Happened With The Big Event."

Emes Ve-Emunah posts "A Messianist Concert."

Vos Iz Neias posts "R' Ovadai Yosef: Certainly No Ban, On MBD, Shweki Chabad Concert."

Moving on to the Lipa ban...

Jewish Blogmeister posts "Rabbi Yisroel Belsky: Speaking Out on Music Ban?" Anyone have any confirmation of this?

Married and Navigating Jewish Brookly posts "According to a writer in the Jewish Press the Yeshivish World needs to learn that banning things are not the answer - our question is why are our Ravs better than the previous generations? Aren’t our Rabbis suppose to guide us instead of hitting us with sticks?"

LIFE-OF-RUBIN posts "Concerts Are Here to Stay."

The Jewish Press publishes the Marvin Schick essay addressing the ban. We linked this essay a while back.

The Jewish Press also prints a letter on the Lipa Ban, "Rabbis Should Decide."

Hirhurim comments on the letter in "Too Easy."

Speaking of Lipa, here's "The New Lipa?", a video clip of exactly how "not singing songs from non-Jewish sources" works. Awesome!

Finally, Teruah posts an mp3 laden post, "Cantor Yosef Gottesman, Opera in the Synagogue!", that includes Eishes Chayil to the theme from Titanic. Oy!

From the mailbag...

E. contributes a "peep":
Rude Schnorrer Guy: The uncouth collector who likes to stick a wad of cash in people's faces while mumbling something incoherent about "hachnosis kalleh" who impatiently persists when you ploitley wave off his rudeness with a sorry, or "I don't have any money" by rebounding with "So maybe epis you have a chek?"
J. also contributes one:
Love dem peeps!!

What is it about singers that have cordless mic's and run into the crowd to sing, changing keys and the like while leaving us to guess what comes next?

PS I actually walked off the bandstand
Sounds like he's been gigging with "Srully Reverb!"

Chaim writes:
Did you see this??

Oorah had that American idol type audition for a singer to be on their cd this year and the winner was Sruly Werdyger??? As in Mendy Werdyger's son? Who has already sang on a CD (Shabbos with the Werdygers) and whose father owns ADERET was the winner? This is too funny. This would be like Madonna's daughter winning American idol.
Actually, he's been on more CD's. If memory serves, he released a Purim CD and an acapella CD over the past year or so.

E. also writes:
how can the banners honestly expect to effectively ban gadgetry in a community that so thrives on the level of hockery that comes with possessing the latest in technological toys? that teaches the young kids to aspire to want to be like their role model hockers toting the latest in high tech gizmos, which is by the way one of the most booming staple businesses in every heimishe community?
do they honestly expect parents of children in today's world to effectively balance and function the hectic livves brought on by the demands of the current lifestyle without communication and or chas vshalom entertainment devices that have (shudder) screens?
Once again a poorly composed ill thought ban has completely ignored people's individual shalom bayis, safety, pikuach nefesh, parnossah and a litany of necessities of our world.

(Perhaps rather than promote such inane hysteria, they can actually to a little work and develop a serious education for the young people, their parents and the educators as to the potential possible disadvantages and flaws that may potentially exist and how and why to avoid them and or work around it in a sound mature manner. Nevermind that outwardly forbidding something induces an extreme opposite interest, but how many people do you actually know that uses a cellphone or an ipod for illicit material? You can see more pretizus by having your eyes open at every newstand in flatbush)
"Anon" writes:
Observation and opinion: I davened this (Shabbos) morning at a large, 'black hat' shul. I could hardly hear the shaliach tzibor over the talking during Psukei D'zimrah. Things quieted down dramatically once we reached Borchu.

The olam then sang Kail Adon in a very spirited, heartfelt manner with a wordless nigun along with the chazan (saying the words in between each posuk). Likewise the congregation sang wordless nigunim during kedusha, again, in a very spirited manner.

This strikes me as strange. All the holy words/concepts of Psukei d'Zimrah are ignored/demeaned. It seemed that the congregation put their most intent kavanah into the 'la la's and 'oy oy's of the above mentioned sections, drowning out the shaliach tzibur.

It seems to me that they are longing to vocalize/sing to express themselves - but would they not be better off doing this, in this manner, at a motzei Shabbos kumsitz?

I'm a chozeir b'tshuvah and have learned about the depth of meaning in Tehillim (B'H - Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch's commentary is back in print!). I was also steeped in the folk music process - make music, don't just be a spectator - people need to express themselves through music. Doing it by making inaudible the voice of the chazan, who is singing the holy words of tefilah, is not the way to go.

Kavanah during Psukei d'Zimrah and sing the actual words during Tefilah (or be quite enough to hear/let them be heard). And, while I'm on my soapbox - music education in the Yeshivas so we can make music ourselves, instead of relegating music to a spectator sport of attending concerts and buying cds. - My opinion.
Sounds like "Anon" visited a shteibl.

Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev would look at this and say: "Mi ke'amcha Yisroel! Even Jews who aren't intellectually or spiritually moved by the words of the davening, nevertheless long to praise Hashem with the sentiments of the tefillah, and interrupt their conversations to do so, by joining in the singing of glorious marches and waltzes capturing the essence of these tefilos praising Hashem's rule!"

Itzi writes:
Just curious. Whats up with all of the hype that 'surrounds' a Jewish album before it's released? By hype I mean the utter lies that are promised i.e. Album X is coming out next week. When next week arrives: oh, its coming out in two weeks, next month etc.

I don't get it. Is endless procrastination supposed to be intended to 'excite' a listener? Cause it does just the opposite.

Is it just me?

P.S. Where's Yeedle's long promised album? Wasn't it supposed to be released Tu B'shvaat? Lest one forget the other numerous promised-yet-never-came-to-fruition release dates.

P.P.S. Keep up the great work! Love it when you think aloud.
L-o-R writes:
amazing post on TB. You did the right thing breaking from music only. The worst part is that we make a big ruckus, stand on our soap boxes and then days go by and everyone forgets. Yet this kid will still be in the horrible situation he is in. How a parent can send a kid to such a place, even if they were told those stories are just angry ex-patients, still, if even for a moment you think it COULD be true. It's a disaster and I really find major fault with R' Shechter. There have to be consequences. It's a dangerous situation all around.
Ibn Mordechai writes:
Dear Hasidic Musician-

I was wondering if you could help me spread my new(ish) blog. My objective is to share words of Torah with the world, but particularly, people who are in the workforce and do not necessarily have the time and/or the skills to open up a sefer and learn.

I very much enjoy your posts and I know that your readership could gain tremendously from this blog.

Blog Title: Da Kani Ma Chaser?

Url: www.vortlach.blogspot.com

Thank you very much for your consideration and much Hatzlacha.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Closing Out The Season With... Peeps

Some peeps to close out the season...

The "Demo Freak"
The "Demo Freak" is a uniquely annoying peep. This is the peep who has some obscure requests for their event like, for instance, one Ladino tune during dinner. We play Ladino songs occasionally. We haven't yet worked up a demo, though.

That's not good enough for this client, who, although looking for a simcha band to play simcha music for the rest of her five hour affair, will base her decision of which band to hire on the basis of which band has a Ladino demo. In the end, she'll opt for a band from outside her community, ironically, one that also doesn't have a Ladino demo, because they "must" do it better than a musician from her community who's actually transcribed and learned a bunch of these tunes because he's interested in them. The band she does hire will wind up trying to sight-read a third generation copy of a chart the bandleader's friend has faxed over an hour before the gig.

The saving grace about not having booked the gig is the fact that it means we don't have to deal with this peep at the affair. A joy, no doubt.

The "Cud Chewers"
These peeps, a middle-aged LI mom and her three married daughters pop in the gum for speeches at their cousin's Bar mitzvah. Dressed to the nines, and chewing with their mouths open, it's easy to see where the kids picked up this lovely habit. Cause gum during dinner is just so classy.

The "Tightrope Walker"
This peep introduces the guest of honor at an organizational function by "dissing" the guest of honor's choice of occupation. Then, just as it seems that he's about to stumble and insult the guest of honor, s/he "saves" the moment by contrasting said guest to the typical. For example, if the guest of honor is a lawyer, the "Tightrope Walker" might start out talking about how lawyers are sleazy shysters and ambulance chasers and then "save" their comment by saying "our guest of honor is upright and honest." Smooth, no? Well, they think so. Only problem is, if the guest of honor is a lawyer, its likely that a number of the guests are his professional colleagues. All potential long-term donors. Also all offended. Of course, this NEVER happens in real life.

We've NEVER heard a "Tightrope Walker" introduce a rabbi by saying: "Rabbis are like horses." Nope, never. Especially not the other night. Especially not in front of members of his shul board.

The "Yiddish Speaking Pole"
This peep works at the non-standard venue we played at the other night. A Judeophile, when he sees a Jewish musician unloading, he comes out and loads our gear into the venue for us, all the while peppering his conversation with Yiddish. He learned Yiddish from a non-Jewish Russian coworker. He also keeps a sharp eye out for us when the gig is over, helping us to load out. A sheynem dank!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Concert Blackmail - Updated

Check this out!

The messianic Lubavitchers in Israel are having their annual concert in honor of the "Rebbe Melech Hamoshiach." The concert features MBD and Yaakov Shwekey. In an attempt to inoculate himself against would be "ban-ners", Shwekey obtained a letter from Rav Ovadya Yosef permitting his participation as long as the event keeps men and women separate. You can read the letter at the above link.

Reading the letter, it seems that Rav Yosef was not told that this is a messianic event. His letter describes an event "lekvodo shel hoAdmor m'Chabad," something these messianic events most certainly are not.

At any rate, the anti-concert activists in Israel are up in arms. Not because of the messianic part. They are opposed to all concerts. Life in Israel posts about their threats against this concert. They've threatened to photograph all concert attendees and send the photographs to their Rosh Yeshiva, seminary head, or other "relevant" leaders. They also deny that Rav Yosef wrote the letter permitting the show and cite Rav Wosner to that effect. Why not just ask Rav Yosef? It's pretty clear he wrote it.

The irony is, since this is a messianic concert, they might have been able to convince Rav Yosef to withdraw support had they handled this properly. I doubt he'd cave to threats though.

They're threatening MBD with personal and professional consequences too. These folks, Mordechai Blau and co., sound like lovely people. They're making a real kiddush Hashem, as usual. Full details at Life in Israel.


Vos Iz Neias has posted a post-concert update and writes:
In an update to the historic concert held tonight, it appears the 'askonim' have had a major flop, and have failed to disrupt the event.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Why Is A Jewish Music Blogger Writing About Tranquility Bay?

Recently, there has been a lot of coverage of the story of Isaac Hersh, a 16-year-old from an Orthodox Brooklyn family who was trapped at a Jamaican “reform school,” Tranquility Bay, since June 2007. He has since been rescued, but the issue of custody has yet to be settled.

On March 25th, the NY Daily News published “Jewish family sues Jamaican reform school for troubled teens,” a story about a lawsuit filed on Isaac’s behalf to get him out of Tranquility Bay.

On March 26th, the NY Jewish Week published an article on the story, “Custody Case Over Son of Hatzolah Executive,” that contained additional information.

Both of these articles were extremely troubling to read. It seemed obvious that something was very wrong here, that Isaac didn’t belong at Tranquility Bay, and that he needed immediate help.

On March 28th, Isaac was liberated and the NY Jewish Week published “Breaking: Brooklyn Teen Released from Jamaica,” an article about his rescue. It’s an amazing story of how some dedicated people achieved Isaac’s release.

On March 29th, the NY Daily News followed up with “I was beaten & bound in boot camp, claims Brooklyn ultra-Orthodox teen,” which gave more details about Isaac’s experience while in confinement.

On March 30th, Tzvi Gluck, one of the people involved in rescuing Isaac, appeared on Zev Brenner's radio show. You can hear the entire show here.

On April 4th, The Jewish Star published a front page article, “Questions Abound After Tranquility Bay Rescue,” that is a must-read.

On April 7th, the YU Commentator published “Tragedy Then Triumph,” an editorial about the case that included additional reporting by the writer.

My beat is music, not community scandal, but this is an important story and some of the issues raised are connected to concepts we’ve addressed in relation to recent bans, in particular the concept of the infallibility of Da’as Torah, even when Torah leaders have been mislead.

Also, some J-music bloggers have posted on this topic and in light of this I think it’s important to address this issue. In particular, I believe that one blogger’s posts have been very irresponsible, and that the attitude of fairness he claims to be presenting is in fact anything but fair. At best its na├»ve and at worst malicious, but in either case it’s simply wrong. I’ll post links to his posts on the topic a little further on.

I’m not going to summarize the story. Just read the links above for the details. Suffice it to say that it is clear that Isaac should never have been sent to Tranquility Bay. The notion that any parent could send their child there is horrifying. Even more so, when the family is frum, since there are no accommodations for Kosher or Shabbos observance at TB.

These kinds of schools are physically and emotionally abusive. A few years ago, I had occasion to read through a hard copy of the school rules and regulations for the Academy at Ivy Ridge, another WWASP (World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools) school.

Just one example to illustrate…

According to the rulebook, students had to ask permission to pass gas. If a student passed gas without permission, he was disciplined severely. If a student did ask permission, he was escorted to a side area and his gas passing was monitored. If he then didn’t pass gas, he was disciplined severely. It gives you an idea of the type of dehumanizing atmosphere at these places.

I’m not going to focus much on the abuse that occurs at these places, except to point out that the information is clearly available online. Even a few minutes of Googling will provide enough information to scare any reasonable parent away from the Tranquility Bay program, which is apparently the worst of all of these programs. Since it’s outside the US, it operates with even fewer restrictions than the US-based schools.

I would like to focus on what has happened since this story became public and various blogs picked up the story. I’ve been watching with a sense of unease as some people have felt compelled to defend the indefensible here by leaving insidious comments. (One blogger indicates that the same IP address attempted to post talking points under four or five different names.) I am also disturbed by the reception that some, including the aforementioned Jewish music blogger, have given these posts.

First, about the comments. These comments take one or more of the forms listed below.

1) These commentors suggest that people shouldn’t assume the obvious conclusions are correct because “Da’as Torah,” in this case Rav Aharon Schechter, signed off on Isaac being sent to Tranquility Bay. They argue that no one is qualified to question Rav Schechter’s judgement.

In my opinion, this suggestion is pernicious. Dr. Pelcovitz has confirmed that Isaac was abused at Tranquility Bay. So, whether Rav Schecter was misled by Isaac’s father, or whether he was aware of the issues in advance, it’s clear that he exercised poor judgment here. Especially when he refused to reverse himself after he was contacted by a number of gedolim including Rav David Feinstein and Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky who felt that this was a case of pikuach nefesh, and made him aware of the abusive situation at TB. One does not ignore abuse because a rav, no matter how well-respected, is willing to allow it to continue.

If anything, when taken with Rav Schechter’s recent participation in a number of recent unfair bans including the Lipa ban and the wig store ban, this story clearly demonstrates that Rav Shechter has been more than willing to participate in and even initiate unfair and anti-halachik behavior.

The notion of rabbinic infallibility implied by these commentors has strong negative ramifications for our community and ensures the perpetuation of avlos.

2) These commentors cast aspersions on the foster family in Houston where Isaac has been living and write that Isaac was out of control, and that they couldn’t deal with him anymore, etc.

Issac was staying with Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe’s family. Rabbi Wolbe is the executive director of the Torah Outreach Resource Center of Houston. Rabbi Wolbe, a grandson of the famous Rav Wolbe ZT”L, is one of the people who flew to Jamaica to rescue Isaac. The Jewish Star talked to him. Here’s what they wrote:
Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe, the rosh kollel and executive director of the Houston Kollel was an informal foster father to Isaac, whom he said calls him daddy. “I know the kid living in my house. He’s been hanging around my house since he’s 11,” he said. “I know him through and through. He’s not a drug abuser. He’s not a mechalel Shabbos. I’m not saying that he’s a tzaddik, but he’s a normal, good, healthy boy.”

He emphasized that when Isaac had to move out, it was due to personal matters pertaining to his family at that time, and not because of any behavioral lack on Isaac’s part.
That disproves that assertion. In point of fact, Dr. Pelcovitz is convinced that Isaac should be in Houston rather then with his parents.

3) Similarly, these commentors say that Isaac was a behavior problem “everywhere” including in the school in Houston.

Zev Elef writes in the YU Commentator editorial linked above:
Isaac attended Robert M. Beren Academy, an Orthodox day school affiliated with Yeshiva University. Although nobody contended that Isaac did not struggle academically in Houston, contrary to his father's allegations, all agreed that his behavior was stellar at Beren Academy.

"Isaac was a fine and upstanding citizen of the school community," wrote Head of School Rabbi Ari Sigel in a letter. "He was warm and friendly to everyone he encountered and we did not, at any time, have discipline issues with him."
4) Some have left comments suggesting that Isaac was suicidal.

I do not believe this. But, the notion that this is a good defense of the decision to send him to TB is bizarre. The idea that it is appropriate to send a suicidal person into an emotionally and physically abusive confinement is simply incredible. If anything, it makes the decision to send him even less understandable, if such were possible.

5) Comments have also been left asserting that Isaac has various dangerous personality and character flaws and/or was on drugs.

Frankly, given the clear falsehood of the other assertions made by these same posters, it is very unlikely these assertions are true. Rabbi Wolbe disputes them as well. However, even if they were true, there are people willing to care for Isaac, and there are much better options here in the US, so this doesn’t justify sending Isaac to TB either.

You can see some of these types of comments at the Vos Iz Neias blog here and at the following posts and related comment threads at Jewish Blogmeister which I find to be especially disturbing.

In this post, “The Daily News: Telling Lies About Isaac Hersh,” JB writes:
Regarding the latest news story you may have read, I'll publish another possible side to this horrible story:
He then posts an email, ostensibly written by a friend of his, that makes nasty assertions about Isaac’s character as well as the following bizarre assertion.
“Explain why none of the other siblings were not abused...abusive parents abuse all of their kids.”
The assertion that abuse is an all or nothing proposition is false. Full stop. Putting this notion out there as valid can only serve to harm victims of abuse and/or aid abusers.

In this post, “Isaac Hersh Saga Continues...Updates...,” he wrote:
In my humble opinion the truth has yet to present itself and I think the media has been to some degree one sided in smearing the name of the Hersh's (which of course they feel is quite deserving). I'm only presenting the side that's not getting much of a voice as they should have a right to be heard.
Thus far, one side has been willing to go on the record and back up their assertions with evidence. The other has resorted to innuendo, mostly anonymously. Not very compelling. The Hersh family has a right to present their side, but they need to do it openly. JB is allowing himself to be used here. He should know better. Besides, even if the Hersh surrogates allegations are correct (which I obviously don't believe to be the case) there are clearly more appropriate ways to deal with them.

Finally, in this post, “The Awareness Center and Isaac Hersh,” he passes on negative information about the people behind the Awareness Center. The reality is that this is mostly irrelevant. The Awareness Center has not played a significant role in this case, although they have reported on it. There are serious problems with the Awareness Center and the credibility of the woman behind it. I do not support either. However, the fact that the Awareness Center has decided to post about this case is simply not relevant to the legitimacy of the criticisms that others (including Rav Dovid Feinstein and Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky) have about the way Isaac has been treated.

There’s a natural tendency towards being “dan lekaf zechus” and avoiding Lashon Hara which, although a laudable goal, has the effect of ensuring that most people won't look into this to see what the facts are. Especially when bloggers allow people to take advantage of their blogs to misinform the public.

I think it’s important to address this issue publicly, because it’s important to make sure that it is impossible for this to ever happen again. Also, since some less reputable bloggers have written about the case, it's being presented as “da’as torah” vs. sleazy bloggers. There’s a natural reaction among some in the community to reject anything “reported” by the UOJ or Failed Messiah blogs, so having other blogs address the issue with less vitriol could have a positive effect. There is benefit to the community seeing that its not only the scandal blogs that are following the story.

Also, it’s important to make sure that a resolution is reached that is in Isaac’s best interests. I believe that this is more likely to happen if the people involved, including Rav Aharon Schechter, as well as the judge in the upcoming custody hearing for Isaac, know that the public is paying attention.

At this point, one thing is clear. Since there are people willing to take Isaac in, people who want him and are willing to take responsibility for him, placing Isaac with them is the most appropriate way to resolve this.

Monday, April 07, 2008

In Review: "Be A Ba'al Tefillah"

In the mail… “Be A Ba’al Tefillah: The Shabbat Davening in MP3 Audio” featuring Cantor Sherwood Goffin.

I recently wrote about the Cantorial Council of America’s event I’d attended. Due to a gig and a family commitment, I was only able to attend Cantor Motzen’s session. I would have liked to hear Cantor Goffin’s presentation “Highlights of the Shabbat Shacharit Prayer” as well.

Thanks to the folks at Davka for sending this program, which includes the material he presented that morning.

This CD-ROM features well-known Lincoln Square Synagogue Chazzan Sherwood Goffin singing the complete Shabbos Tefillah including Kabbolas Shabbos, Ma’ariv, Shacharis, Musaf, as well as Birkas Hachodesh and Musaf for Shabbos Rosh Chodesh.

The program is based on the curriculum of the Belz School of Jewish Music at Yeshiva University, where Cantor Goffin is a Faculty member. It includes audio mp3’s in both Sephardic and Ashkenazic pronunciation as well as PDF’s of the text of the tefilos and explanatory notes that include information about the sources of the melodies used. It also includes some helpful tips for learning the material.

In addition to ‘nusach’, the program offers several melodic options for those parts of the liturgy that are commonly sung communally like Lecha Dodi, Keil Adon, and Kedusha. Cantor Goffin is known as a “nusach purist”, so even when setting these tefilos to “more recent” melodies, the tunes chosen typically reflect a sense of tradition whether that tradition is Chazzanus or Chassidic. Where appropriate, Goffin also selects melodies that use the traditional Chazzanus modes associated with a given tefillah.

To illustrate the types of melodies chosen, here are those used for Lecha Dodi:

• Settings for the first part of Lecha Dodi include the Bobover Wedding March, Yedid Nefesh, and the Breslover Lecha Dodi.

• Melodies offered for Lo Sevoshi include the famous Gerrer Chassidic version as well as Moshe Laufer’s Keitzad Merakdin and R’ Shlomo Carlebach’s Veyitnu Lecha.

Using this program...

The file installation went smoothly. For some strange reason, the 1st track of each tefillah showed up in iTunes, the program I used to listen to the mp3’s, as the last, but this is easily rectifiable by dragging the file to the appropriate place.

Obviously, the first choice would be to study one on one with a teacher. However, if that isn't possible, this is a very useful tool for those interested in learning to lead davening. The focus here is very much on education, so the backing music, which consists of keyboard accompaniment by Cantor Eric Freeman, is there in a very supportive role only to aid in “hearing” the melodies. (The piano endings on some of these like Keitzad Merakdin and Veyitnu Lecha are rough.) The vocals are mixed very up front so that the listener can hear Cantor Goffin clearly and are clearly enunciated, pleasant, and easy to learn from.

If you or someone you know is interested in learning how to daven for the amud on Shabbos, it’s worth checking out “Be A Ba’al Tefillah.” This might also be of interest to ethnomusicologists looking for a Nusach-based presentation of the traditional American Shabbos service.

The J-Post reviewed this project here.

The program is available from Davka here.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Achashveirosh and Yidden and Non-Jewish Music

Rafi G posts a Mishpacha newspaper excerpt quoting Rav Steinman on setting Jewish lyrics to non-Jewish songs. Here are the quotes:
"Using tunes of people that are not "people of Torah", even if the words are not assur, could possibly be considered to be like "enjoying from the meal of Achashverosh".

"The fact of their participation [in the party of Achashverosh] alone was problematic, even if they had not eaten anything that was non-Kosher. The same is true with enjoying things that are not within the spirit of Torah even if they do not have anything specifically assur about them. The same is with using tunes of people who are not living lives dedicated to Torah... even if there is no actual Issur involved. It is worse than any specific issur, because everybody knows to stay away from an issur. The moment non-Jews act in a certain way, we must stay far away from it so as not to be as if "enjoying from the meal of that Rasha [Achashverosh]."
Rav Steinman's analogizing the use of secular melodies to "enjoying from the meal of Achashverosh" is interesting, especially since the Megillah omits music from the description of luxuries provided at Achashverosh's feast.

In "The Power of Music", I quoted Rav Matisyahu Solomon, who asks:
Why didn’t Achashveirosh provide any temptations for the sense of hearing at the party described in the beginning of Megilas Esther? He provided temptations for all of the other senses; smell – scents from the garden; sight – beautiful tapestries to see; touch; luxurious gold and silver beds; and taste – “Yayn malchus rav.” Why didn’t he provide music to tempt the sense of hearing?
Further, he asks:
R' Salomon asks: The Nesivos (in Megilas Sesarim) explains that Achashveirosh’s intent was that each thing would incur a direct violation, for example, he had prostitutes there to tempt the people, so why didn’t he have musician’s playing erotic music? We all know the power of music in being moshech people to ta’avah.

To answer, he [Rav Solomon] quotes “Zaken Echad” (based on Radak) who says that we’ll never totally understand Tehillim until we understand the musical instructions and instruments assigned to each piece. The power of a nigun is to add “hesber v’havana b’dakus hadevarim.” To this point, the Meiri explains the pasuk of “Zamru maskil”; that singing gives insight. However, it only gives insight, or is meorer that which is hidden in our hearts and souls. In other words, R' Salomon feels, a nigun is neither tameh or kadosh, rather the tune is meorer what’s in one's heart. Even if a given tune is meorer some to ta’avah, nevertheless, the same tune can bring an Ish Kodesh to dveykus.
So, according to Rav Solomon, one can derive the exact opposite from story of Achashveirosh's party; that even secular music can be used in a spiritually positive way.

Friday, April 04, 2008

4/4/08 Link Dump

The Forward reports on an alleged plot by disgraced cantor Israel Rand to entrap his replacement's father. Also in the Forward,"David’s the Singer, He’s the Rapper", about Oded Turgeman's movie about Nosson Zand aka Niz, a rapper turned Yeshiva boy.

"Band-Aid" producer Trevor Horn is working on an anthemic recording of "Oseh Shalom" in honor of Israel's 60th.

Mark Rubin makes an important point that bears repeating.

Heichal HaNegina posts about "Y'hei Sh'lama", a recently composed song of the Modzitzer Rebbe. He's got video of it being sung at a recent tish.

Shimi Pines sings about building new Chareidi neighborhoods in Israel.

At Hirhurim, Rabbi Ari Enkin posts a presentation of Halachik sources relating to Chazzanut.

JewsByChoice.org posted a Y-Love profile, "An Unorthodox Orthodox Jew."

Here's a blogger who got tired of hearing songs at simchas he didn't know the words to. So, he's started "Know The Words!", a blog of lyrics to popular contemporary chassidic songs.

Here's a great headline: "Curbing The Cabs By Its Horns." Didja get it?

Jewess interviews Basya Schechter.

From the Jewish Week, here's "‘Power Trio’ On The Bima."

Also in the Jewish Week, George Robinson reviews a number of discs including Michael Winograd's "Bessarabian Hop."

Cantor Sam Weiss's essay about Naomi Shemer's music is up at the Klezmer Shack.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Today's "Kol Koreh"

Agudath Israel needs to create a central clearing house for these. Some gedolim are bound to feel left out. I mean, Rav Aaron Schechter and the Novominsker seem to be getting invited to sign all of the bans, but some of the other gedolim are not being given the chance. Or are they?

This poster wouldn't be necessarily noteworthy, were it not for the spate of Bans, Kol Korehs, and "Urgent Messages" all signed by different rabbonim.

Paskening via pashkevil is a bad trend. Even when the goal is admirable.

Best April Fool's Music Gag

This year's Best April Fool's product? Reason Accordions.
What's better than having a real, high-quality accordion recording on your tracks? Having a hypersampled accordion rig that gives you full creative control over your accordion sound throughout the session of course!

Introducing Reason Accordions - the hassle free, creativity sparking way of adding studio-grade accordion sounds to your mix. With Propellerhead Software's ground breaking Hypersampling technique, we have captured these fine accordions in painstaking detail using state of the art equipment and instruments.

Reason Accordions delivers the most detailed accordion library on the planet. We started with selecting the finest accordions known to man: The Bohner Handklavier Mod Z, the Musettematic Aurora and the Chevalier Esquire mk IV. These instruments all represent different paradigms in both sound and the suitable playing style and will offer and extremely broad palette of hard-to-get accordion sounds.

In true Hypersampling tradition, the recording equipment was chosen with as much care as the instruments. Legendary microphones such as the Panasonic BFZ-38 and the Tandberg SK-1 was used to track the accordions both digitally and analog. Many accordionistas wouldn't dream of recording digitally, but using proprietary software, we have extrapolated the analog warmth out of the analog recording and applied it to the digital samples, thus creating the warm, dynamic and organic sound that die-hard accordion players have always been looking for.

With Reason accordions, you can stay focused on making music and forget about the everyday challenges for a devoted accordion players: Leaking bellows, worn-out reeds and sensitive neighbors. Leave the hard part to the software and stay focused on the music!
Here are some specifics:
ReFill Contents
Three classic accordions, each with up to six register settings per instrument
A total of 47 preset patches
Style patches to help you find genre-typical sounds for your accordion productions
Producer patches where top producers put their unmistakable touch on the accordion sounds
Location Settings Combinator patches that lets you experience your accordion music in a setting that you select - cathedral ambience, waterfall backdrop, on the bus - close your eyes and these patches will take you there.
Auto-comp combinator patches using the RPG-8 and Thor sequencers to create auto-accompaniment in many musical styles
An abundance of MIDI files with genuine accordion master performances
4 DVDs worth of accordion bliss. 12, 16 and 24 bit version included.
They've got mp3 demos and a making of video too!

Oh, Those Peeps! - Updated

It's been a busy season and that means more peeps...

"The Connoisseur"

This peep likes his veal served medium and he has a VERY precise definition of what that is. Simply allowing himself to be served a helping won't do. Instead, the "Connoisseur" will demand that the chef at the carving station cut and serve him from the middle of the cut. That's the only part of that particular meat suitable for this gent's delicate palate. Never mind the inconvenience to the chef and those waiting behind; the cut he would otherwise received is simply unacceptable to a person of such refined taste.

The "Music Thief"

The music thief uses one of your tracks on a publicly distributed CD-ROM without permission. When they spot you at an event, they come up and tell you so, and then say something like "I suppose I could have asked." No apology though. Also no credit. Nice.

The "Yeshivishe Shmuck"

Apologies for the language, but it's simply the most accurate way to describe this guy. Usually with peyos behind his ears, he's the guy who comes up to us --while the dance floor is packed -- to say "play something good." What he means is "play a specific disco/hora off of the latest "Srully Reverb" album that hit the stores yesterday. The fact that everyone is enjoying the music is irrelevant. If it's not what he wants right then, its "no good." Ironically, he usually shows up at times when we're really "feeling" the crowd.

Update: To clarify, there's nothing wrong with making the request. It's the attitude in the initial request and the rudeness demonstrated if he doesn't immediately get his desires fulfilled that make this "peep" notable. Also, there's virtually no satsfying this guy. If you play the song he's asks for, he's back moments later with another request. And, as soon as one isn't honored, the character traits making him a "Yeshivishe Shmuck" are immediately displayed.

The "Yeshivishe Shmuck Wanna-Be's"

These peeps are a class of 12-13 year olds from a black hat yeshivah attending a friend's Bar Mitzvah. They aspire to grow up to become full-fledged "Yeshivishe Shmucks". Sadly, judging by their behavior at their friend's simcha, many of them will succeed. Whether it's rudeness to the musicians, disrespect of the family, or just generally obnoxious behavior, the "wanna-be's" cross the line from excited kids being a little too rowdy at a party, into gross Chillul Hashem. On the bright side, these peeps provide reassurance about our decision not to buy in that community.