Friday, May 30, 2008

In Review: An Eclectic Mix

Gershon Veroba – Reach Out

Ever since I first discovered him, when I purchased ‘Sasson Vesimcha" in high school, Gershon Veroba has been a musical influence. A wonderful singer, with strong roots in Chassidic and Israeli music, as well as American pop music, Gershon has always evidenced a refreshing musical sophistication in his approach to Jewish music.

On “Reach Out”, Gershon returns to his true love, composing original Jewish American music, after a few years moonlighting as a parodist singing Jewish versions of popular secular songs for the “Variations” series and his own “Impressions” series.

Most of the songs on this album are original, although it does include a song composed by Yaakov Gifter, one by Elimelech Blumstein, and a cover of Sam Glaser’s “Across The River.” For most of the album, Veroba is backed by his band, Takana. Formed a few years ago to back Gershon in concert, Takana ably fills their position, providing tight rocking accompaniment on tunes like “Bamarom”, “Mi She’oso”, and “Ana Avda”, and sensitive backing on the slower songs.

Israeli rockers Reva Lesheva make a guest appearance providing the music to “Harimi”, a pretty song written for Yeshivat Shaarei Mevaseret Yerusholayim.

The songs are a blend of original songs in English and settings of liturgy. My personal preference is for the Hebrew originals, but the English lyrics are a cut above the typical cheesy JM strive/alive learn/yearn rhyme scheme popular in so much Orthodox JM. “Reach Out” blends American pop influences ranging from Tom Petty-esqe guitars to Neal Diamond in a mature blend of harmonic sophistication and taste.

Gershon's website is here.

(You can hear audio clips in the widget below.)

Temple – Coming Home

Temple is a duo featuring singer Danya Uriel and guitarist Eyal Rivlin. “Coming Home” is an album of original Hebrew chants that “honor the sacred and foster inner healing and inspiration.”

The album features seven chants in Hebrew and includes some original texts as well as settings of Lecha Dodi, Ana El Na, and Vetaher Libenu. Many guest artists, including some on exotic instruments, like tabla, Bansuri flute, esraj, nyckleharpa, and harmonium, join Uriel and Rivlin here to create these pretty soundscapes

The music is very relaxing in an Enya-esque manner. Not specifically aimed at the Jewish market, this disc would be a nice for anyone looking for some peaceful music to set a contemplative or calming mood.

The distributor shipped this disc together with several catalogs selling tools, teachings, and audio learning courses for personal and spiritual transformation. They also included DharmaCrafts – The Catalog of Meditation Supplies and a trial offer free issues of Biddahdharma – The Practitioner’s Quarterly and Shambhala Sun.

Temple's website is Here's their MySpace page.

(You can also hear audio clips in the widget below.)

Daniel Gil – Soul Calling

A while back, the Stropkover Rebbe gave me an awesome recording of Sanz & Stropkover nigunim that he’d given out as a gift to guests at his daughter’s wedding. I’d expected it to be the usual; either a Chassidic one-man-band extravaganza, or else, a contempo Chassidic pop album ala the current Belzer releases. I was pleasantly surprised when the disc turned out to be essentially Chassidic prog rock, blending classical and rock, influences in interesting ways.

The artist behind that recording turns out to be Daniel Gil, a fact I discovered when he contacted me to send a review copy of Soul Calling, and mentioned that he also had recorded an album of Sanz & Stropkover melodies that had not been commercially released. He offered to include that disc as well, an offer I accepted. It’s a neat disc, and I’d encourage Daniel to find a way to make it available for download online, perhaps via iTunes or Amazon.

“Soul Calling” is an album of Daniel’s original nigunim. Daniel blends his classical training as composer and violinist with world music flavors and the influence of his Rebbi, the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. This album has a softer flavor that the nigunim disc, with softer instrumentation. Norbert Statchel’s woodwinds and Marquinho Brasil’s world percussion add tasteful flavor to Daniel’s pretty melodies. The vocals remind of tasteful Chassidic neginah with a worldly awareness. Nice stuff.

I’ll point out that on this disc, released in ’99, Daniel was experimenting with some Reggae influences on Ani Ma’amin, well before Matisyahu allegedly pioneered said approach.

You can hear audio samples at Daniel’s MySpace page.

Kabbalah - Kabbalah Kollection

When I was in high school, the mashgiach banned a Jewish rock album called Kabbalah. Had he not done so, I likely would not have heard it. Since he chose to make the school aware of the album, someone obtained a copy and it was surreptitiously passed around the dorm.

The album featured original rock settings of tefilah. Times have changed, and what was under-appreciated then just might get some more attention now, especially given the success of so many other Jewish rock bands.

Now available in a CD re-release featuring songs from 1986’s Kabbalah and 1987’s Kabbalah: Classic, the disc can be purchased at CD Baby.

Consisting of bassist/vocalist Mark Skier (now known as Psycho Toddler), guitarist Izzy Botnick, drummer Simcha Kagan, Moish Taubenblat (volume 1) and Brian Gelfand (volume 2) on keys and vocals, with saxophonist Adam Greebler (volume 1) and Jacob Rosenthal on guitar, Kabbalah was unashamedly a Jewish rock band playing Jewish rock music. And, they did it well.

This disc rocks. If you like classic rock, you should definitely check this out. Jewish music as influenced by the Ramones, The Kinks, Squeeze, and so many more.

This collection includes classic tracks like Shru Lo and Yismechu as well as covers of Eurovision hit ‘Abanibi” and Diaspora Yeshiva Band’s “Hakol Yoducha.” There are also two previously unreleased tracks: “Ohr Chadash” and “Shivti”. Recorded in the '80's, this album holds up very well today.

Moshe Skier - Rock of Sages

Also included in the review package with the Kabbalah Kollection, this album is what would have been Kabbalah 3, had funding come through. It features Mark Moshe Skier originals as well as one song by Izzy Botnick and one co-written with Lenny Solomon. You can check out audio samples of this in the widget below too.

Here's a widget with samples of those albums reviewed above that are available for download through

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How To Talk Yourself Out of A Gig - A Primer

Confidential to my Israeli friends...

If a bandleader calls you for a date out of town that pays really well (i.e. well above the going rate) , do not do any of the following.

1) Take the gig, and then contact the bandleader a few weeks later to say you just realized you'll be missing your morning teaching slot that day, so can you have an extra $150 to make that up.

2) Call two weeks before the gig to confirm and casually mention the "price agreed to" as $50 above the actual agreed upon rate.

3) Insist that you can't bring the instrument you were hired to play (i.e. tenor), but that you can play another instrument that sounds the same (i.e. low register on an alto).

4) Don't take the date, book a gig for your jazz band for the same date, and not mention this to the office until they call you with flight/ticket information a few weeks out.

5) If you do the above, don't call the office and pretend nothing's happened and you've always planned on doing the gig, when your jazz gig gets cancelled.

I'm just saying...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"When Sacred and Sheker Collide"

World Jewish Digest has published "When Sacred and Secular Collide", an article mainly about the Lipa ban, by Saul Austerlitz.

Austerlitz interviewed a number of bloggers for this article, including me. He also interviewed Rabbi Avi Shafran. I've been very disappointed with Rabbi Shafran's handling of this affair.

Here are Rabbi Shafran's quotes (and Austerlitz's characterization).
For still others, the debate is moot because preserving the propriety of religious Jews' behavior is the only issue at hand. "As the rabbis of the Talmud put it," notes Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel, the rabbinic authority whose membership includes numerous signatories to the kol koreh, "‘One can be distasteful even within the bounds of halacha.'"
Rabbi Shafran, though, says it is important to maintain religious priorities. "Haredi Jews who truly respect rabbinical rulings respect them even when those rulings do not confirm those Jews' assumptions," he notes. "So I think the community generally recognizes that these recent happenings were statements, and valid ones, that entertainment concerns do not trump more important ones."
In the first quote, Rabbi Shafran frames the issue as moot because "preserving the propriety of religious Jews' behavior is the only issue at hand." That's a strange assertion. It's also untrue. As I've noted in my earlier coverage of this issue, one can be 100% supportive of the ban's goal and still be troubled by the abuse of process. That abuse is the underlying issue here, despite Rabbi Shafran's efforts to ignore it.

The second quote is a straw man. It's also meant to give a false impression. Rabbi Shafran's clear implication is that those who question this ruling are not Jews who truly respect rabbinical rulings. Frankly, the implication is offensive. It's untrue and Rabbi Shafran is well aware of this.

In an earlier post, "Do These People Deserve Answers?", I assembled comments from only three chareidi blogs, that raised serious questions about the ban. Rabbi Shafran is a contributor to one of those blogs, Cross-Currents. The notion that he is unaware of Chareidi criticism of the abuse of process in this case strains credulity. As well, when Hamodia felt compelled to defend the publishing of the ban, Rabbi Shafran was one of the writers tapped to write an article in defense of it. (I addressed that essay in "A Unified Chareidi Non-Response to the Lipa Ban.") Rabbi Shafran is well aware of the level of public outrage within his community. His attempts to write those upset out of the community, as it were, is in my opinion, unethical. It's certainly intellectually dishonest.

Indeed, the reality is that the exact opposite is the case. Most outside of the Chareidi community could care less about the ban. It's another minor blip on the radar. It might make an interesting NY Times story on those quaint Chareidi extremists, but there's no sense of confusion, disappointment, or betrayal among those outside observers.

To the contrary, the people most troubled by this are those, like myself, who respect the concept of rabbinic leadership and are horrified to see it so easily abdicated and/or abused.

I've had conversations with many Chareidi rabbonim, and I've heard second-hand from others of conversations they've had in which the rabbonim expressed a strong awareness of, and dissatisfaction with, the way this and other recent events in the community have been handled. Some of the rabbonim who signed the ban have acknowledged problems. Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky and Rav Belsky have both done so (in different ways) on the record. I know of others who have done so privately.

A final point. Rabbi Shafran might like to pretend that this is a minor incident, with no ramifications. He is wrong. In time, this will be viewed as a tipping point in the Chareidi communities relationship with it's rabbinic leadership. The Slifkin affair is now widely viewed to be one, mainly for the Chareidi intellegentsia and Right wing Modern Orthodox communities. This one will be seen as such by a much broader cross-section of Chareidi Judaism.

In general, I agree with Austerlitz's presentation. Except this point.
For Schmeltzer, Karpen, Slifkin and others like them, their position as intermediaries between the haredi world and the frighteningly uncontrollable secular world is being challenged by a rabbinate on the offensive.
The rabbinate is not on the offensive on this issue, although they are on other issues relating to technology. They are on the defensive here, a position they've been forced into by the duplicitous actions of the ban organizers and a fear of admitting error.

For ease of reference, my previous posts on the subject are listed here in chronological order.

"It's A Beautiful Day For A Ban!"
"Anatomy of a Ban"
"Kol Koreh Bamidbar, Ban New Derech Hashem"
"Ban, Baby, Ban!"
"The Silence of the Bans"
"The Times They Are A-Bannin'"
"Of Bans and Men"
"The Lipa Ban -- A Response to Rabbi Adlerstein"
"Lipa in Wonderland - 20 (or so) Ban Questions"
"You've Got (Lipa) Mail"
"A Unified Chareidi Non-Response to the Lipa Ban"
"Think People Are Talkin' Bout Dis?"
"Michenichnas Adar Marbin B'Lipa" - a pre-Purim humor post
"Do These People Deserve Answers?"
"You've Got More (Lipa) Mail - Critical Edition"
"Lipa Letters and Links"
"Zal's Continued Response"
"A Concerted Effort"
"Lipa - The Gift That Keeps On Giving!"
"Cross-Currents Digs Lipa!"
"JM Links From Around and About"
"Rav Belsky: Lipa Ban (A Little Bit) Forged"
" Post Pesach Lipa Fix"
"Matzav Reports, You Decide"

Here's a somewhat related post I wrote two years ago: "Lipa Schmeltzer and Rabbi Nosson Slifkin."

As always, I am happy to give space to opposing views. My invitation to the Chareidi leadership to present their point of view here stands. Rabbi Shafran?

Monday, May 19, 2008

5/19/08 Link Dump

In the NY Times... "The Return of the One-Man Band." No mention of C.M Schwartz, Shabsie Parness, et al.

Teruah posts "Jewish Music and Disaffected Jews", a thought-provoking post. He also posts about his failed attempt to have the DJ at his brother's wedding play some tracks from Sameach's Siman Tov Mazel Tov CD release. I suspect that had he achieved this, it would have been in direct opposition to his ideal in the other post.

He writes:
Anyway, selecting tracks for the DJ gave me a good focal point for listening to the disc and got me to remember the occasion the disc was intended for. Which was good, because from my Conservative Jewish perspective, it's a bit of a strange disc. There were the requisite jazzy versions of Yiddish standards, chuppah sets and big band sets. And Israeli disco sets.

Israeli disco? Songs like Popcorn and Electric slide side by size with Sandy Shmuely's Zodiac and Ari Pollack's Chai. In full disco horns and strings glory. Frum weddings must be quite the party if this is what gets played. It was the disco set I was hoping the DJ would play from.
The CD includes an odd mix of songs and many of the selections are not representative of what would be played at a contemporary affair. From my Orthodox Jewish bandleading perspective, it loks just as strange as from Jack's Conservative Jewish one. The predominant style is definitely disco, though. You can hear audio clips and buy the album here. It's one thing to cover Israeli disco, but to me, taking classic Israeli rock songs like Yo Ya and turning them into disco just doesn't work.

Poor Neshama Carlebach has child care issues.

Jeff Klepper writes"The Songs of Israel (Part 1).

Blog in Dm's investigative informants have discovered this footage of a "Farmers Market" rehearsal for the Goldman/Rosenberg wedding at Ateres Chynka. Apparently, the couple couldn't decide which favorite tune to requests as an intro, so they asked the band to just play all of them, a scenario that Orthodox club date musicians have been encountering frequently in recent years.

The Forward's Bintel Blog asks "What Do Gangsta Rappers and Hasidim Have in Common?"

Over at the Jewish Week, George Robinson writes "A 60th Sampler," a review of Israeli music.


Gruntig spanks Dovid Gabay for not respecting Avraham Fried.

Finally, a pair o' Shwekey acapella clips for ya'll here. No Shwekey was injured in the making of these. First clip is by the co-ed UMD group Rak Chalom. The second clip is by the appropriately named Kol Ish.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

From the mailbag...

Nomi Teplow emails to say hi. She has a new CD and website in the works. In the meantime, you can find her here.

Gil Student writes:
I entirely agree that the old man's attempt to interrupt an Uncle Moishy concert and insult the audience is wrong. I just want to point out that it is not clear to me that saying "Hashem isn't here" is heretical. I think that according to the Vilna Gaon saying "Hashem is everywhere" is heretical! See this post: Reflections on Returning from an Uncle Moishy Concert
We noted that post at the time.

Jordan Hirsch writes:
I have been a bandleader and performer in the Jewish Music business for over twenty five years. I have performed at hotels where there is mixed seating, mixed swimming, pre marital sex, and gebrokhts served on Pesach. I have performed at Reform Weddings, Conservative Weddings, Weddings with Lesbian couples singing Im eshkacheich, Weddings performed by Avi Weiss, Bar Mitzvahs with female dancers. Bat Mitzvahs with male dancers. Concerts in Brooklyn college. Concerts in Queens College. I have performed at rallies at Dag Hammerskold plaza, in sight of Bus shelters with pritzusdik advertising. I have performed at Rallies in support of the Zionist entity, where I have shaken Hillary Clinton's hand.

In short, I am everything a right thinking person knows is wrong with Jewish Music. Why the hell didn't I make the ban??!!!
Noam Greenberg writes:
I'm writing to let you know about two exciting projects we've been working on at the Israeli Consulate in New York in honor of Israel's 60 Anniversary which I think will be of interest to your readers.

We've hand picked dozens of Hollywood celebrities to film personalized greetings in salute to Israel. The A-list celebrities include: Tom Cruise, Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Brooke Shields, Harrison Ford, Jason Alexander, Michael Douglas, Dakota Fanning, Sir Ben Kingsley, among many others. Their quirky and creative birthday greetings are featured on billboards in Times Square during the entire month of May. I'm attaching a link to a video of the celebrity greetings. (The video wasn't produced by the Consulate.) Please let me know if you’d like any further information.

Additionally, to highlight the multicultural and multi-ethnic mosaic that is Israeli society, the Consulate General of Israel in New York, in cooperation with the Salute to Israel Parade, has initiated a banner campaign entitled, “Faces of Israel” in honor of Israel’s 60th birthday. Beginning May 4th, and in advance of the annual Salute to Israel Parade on June 1, banners will line New York’s Fifth Avenue from 46th to 97th Streets. Each banner will feature the face of an Israeli citizen of different origin and will be topped with a display of Israeli and American flags. More information on the banners and the people who are the “Faces of Israel” is available at
Naftali forwards a link to a video of a Melave Malka with R Nissan Kaplan

Letter About Loud Music

Today's Hamodia has a letter by Suri Frenkel complaining about loud music at a Chol Hamoed concert that was "deafening to the point of causing pain." We were at a similar event, (perhaps a different night in the same hotel?) that had the exact same problem. To be precise, it wasn't just painfully loud. It was also muddy and unclear. We left during the second song. It's a real shame that people will spend so much to have a nice event and then ruin it with poor sound mixing and excessive volume. This has been an ongoing problem for years, even at high-ticket Orthodox JM productions. In this case, there was no justifiable reason for why the sound was so bad.

She also complains about the dangerously loud music played at simchos and makes the following seven suggestions.
1) Before booking a band for a simcha, discuss this issue and demand that the music be in the normal decibel range. Do not accept excuses such as "This is what the kids want." The kids aren't paying the bill, you are. If the band won't abide by your wishes, find one that will.

2) Bands that will play music without blasting out our ears should advertise their willingness to play "safe" music. They can only gain by it.

3) Eliminate half the amplifiers and speakers.

4) Turn down the volume on the amplifiers. We shouldn't need earplugs.

5) Schools should teach hearing safety at every grade level. Just as we educate our children about the dangers of smoking, we educate them about the dangers of loud music. This will decrease the demand for unsafe loud music.

6) Start a gemach and purchase decibel meters. Lend them to baalei simcha to monitor decibel levels at their simcha.

7) If the music is too loud, walk out. Don't be embarrassed. If this happens often enough, the musicians will get the message.
We like suggestion number three and are thinking of taking a buzz saw to the ol' powered mixer this afternoon. Hey, ten channels is more then enough and since we'll only be using one speaker from now on...

Friday, May 02, 2008

Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum On Rabbinic Sensibility

Rabbi Jonathan Rosenbloom revisits the issue of Pesach Hotels, a topic he'd written about previously. (We'd linked that post here.)

Here's an important point:
But most disturbing to me was the suggestion of one reader that "the rabbis" should just place a ban on Pesach hotels. No, no, no – a hundred times no. Once we recognize that there are perfectly valid reasons for some people to go to hotels no ban is possible. The rabbis would soon find themselves not only dealing with Pesach shaylos and selling chametz, but with Vaadim L'Inyanei Hotels.

More important, the bans would be widely ignored. Chassidic rebbes can enunciate and enforce sumptuary laws on their own communities because their authority is unquestioned. But outside those courts lies an Orthodox world of infinite variegation, in which no figure commands universal authority. Our rabbonim are wise enough to know that commands that are widely ignored only serve to lower the esteem of Torah.
Now to convince the frequent ban signers of this...

Looks like Rabbi Rosenblum has his work cut out for him.

Hat tip, Hirhurim.

Matzav Reports, You Decide is reporting on the story behind the scenes of the Lipa ban.

The reporting raises more questions than it answers. No time to go into it now, but, for example, it doesn't address the process failure at all.

You'll be pleased to hear that the people who signed onto this farce are "working on it."
A meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisroel of America was convened to discuss a plan of action for the future. Most rabbonim expressed that concerts may be held, but there must be a set of guidelines to be followed regarding the performers, the style of music, intermissions, and separate seating. The rabbonim said that they cannot decide what should or should not be allowed in Eretz Yisroel. The gedolim there will deal with the issues in that country. As far as America is concerned, however, they see the challenges facing our communities, the diverse backgrounds, the issue of kids at risk, amongst other important matters. The rabbonim felt - and still feel - that there is a strong need to provide kosher outlets for members of our communities, especially children and young adults.

There were some rabbonim who expressed their feeling that any gathering of many people that is not for the sake of Torah should not be held at all. However, most of the gedolei harabbonim did not concur with this view, and maintained that if our generation were holding on such a high level, it would indeed be a wonderful thing. The reality, the rabbonim said, is that this is simply not the case. If there would not be kosher outlets, people will seek sources of entertainment elsewhere and will find options that are far worse to their spirituality.

The question remained, however: How can this issue be rectified peacefully without creating another tumult?
Gee, I can't imagine how else to avoid another tumult. Anyone have any ideas? Like, perhaps taking responsibility for one's actions, speaking up publicly if a ban you've signed doesn't reflect your view, following the halachik process, and just practicing basic mentshlechkeit!

There are some interesting tidbits here like:

1) A letter of sort-of approbation of Sheya Mendlowitz from Rabbi Belsky

2) Contrary to the banner's promises, the financial losses to the tzedakah mossad and the concert organizers have not been recovered. (This is an important point. Part of the justification cited by some of the ban signers for their aggressive tactics and refusal to compromise was predicated on the fact that the financial losses would be covered.)

3) There is no compelling explanation for why these rabbonim --through commission and omission -- didn't allow an alternate revised program. Contrary to the article's claim, it was quite possible to put a new event together.

4) With the exceptions of Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky (who did so immediately) and Rav Belskey (who did so about two months later), none of these rabbonim, who allegedly feel bad about aspects of a ban they helped perpetrate have come forward publicly. Its just sad.

5) It seems like they're going to attempt to regulate the style of music permissible at concerts. I hope they talk to some klezmorim and ethnomusicologists before they issue pompous statements that will also inadvertently prohibit the music they feel is appropriate. Although, from a humor perspective, such proclamations are great!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Comment Droppings

Recently, on April 16th, I linked to Jeff Klepper's new blog. Later that day, someone left the following comment on Jeff's post about his participation on the editorial committee of Mishkan T'filah, the new Reform Movement siddur.

Here's the comment:
The siddur is an ancient artifact- a tradition. the anshe kenset hagedola distributed the first sidurim as a answer to the people's request 'how do we pray.' Obviously it's been added to since the time of the Bet Hamikdash but to think some am haarotizm sit around in bend and break it to fit their whimsical social mores is perverse to me. I'm not a hateful person- but your sidur is destructive to the Jewish people, open door 'conversions' are destructive to the Jewish people. Unfortunately, the faltering reform movement is self destructive.
I'm pretty sure that poster found Jeff's blog via my link. Contrary to his assertion, he seems to be a hateful person who lacks basic derech eretz. What was the point of leaving the comment? In the post, Jeff did not invite people to express their views of Reform liturgy and the post wasn't critical of Orthodox tradition. Even if he had, leaving that kind of comment, in both content and tone, is simply not mentshlich.

So, to whomever that was, please don't use my blog to help spread your hate.

Of Mice and Luftmenschen

Oh dear! The loons in Israel (Luft and Blau) are upset their most recent attempt to intimidate JM performers in Israel was unsuccessful. So, now they've issued a letter publicizing an issur on MBD, Yaakov Shwekey, and Yochi Briskman. The letter proclaims a ruling from "Gedolei Yisroel" prohibiting their recordings, hosting them at events, and also prohibits newspapers from advertising their events. Do those alleged "Gedolei Yisroel" whose support is claimed really have that much free time?

To go along with the letter, there's an accompanying list of other JM singers who perform at concerts and Chazzonim who sing for mixed audiences. It's prohibited to publicize any event they participate in, even if it's a "Kosher" event. My fave banned artist is "Anonymous" (spelled in Hebrew, natch!) You can see the letter at the above link.

Hey, they left out Uncle Moishy! What gives?

I've commented on Luft's foolishness in the past.

While we're on the subject of bans...

Chananya Weissman has an article in the current edition of the jewish Star titled 'Banning The Bans." You can read the article on page 1 of the paper which is available in PDF format here.