Noah and the Covenant

Another brilliant commentary by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg.
Enjoy, and repair the World!
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Parashat Noah 5781
R. Yitz Greenberg

The Torah inherited a Mesopotamian cultural consensus that a Great Deluge had wiped out almost all of humanity. In the Gilgamesh epic, the gods (Anu and Enlil) inflict this catastrophe arbitrarily in a display of their power, but later defend their actions both as deserved punishment and designed to curb population growth. According to the older epic, Atrahasis,
Enlil, and the gods are troubled by the rapid growth of human population and offended by the noisy, raucous human behaviors. They use the flood (and then shortened life span) to drastically reduce human presence on earth. Rearticulated through the Torah’s revelation, the Flood is explained as inflicted because of widespread human wickedness, especially
violence and oppression. God, who wanted Earth to be a living paradise of justice and peace, is so disappointed and angered as to decide to undo the initial Creation with a flood of watery chaos and try again. The Lord determined to wipe out the corrupt human race and renew humanity, building it on righteous Noah and his family.

But the crucial departure and revolutionary moral path of the Torah is expressed in the day after the Flood—which may well be the most transformative religious moment in Judaism’s history. God pledges never to inflict such a catastrophe again. Attributing a cataclysmic flood to willful action by God would define the Lord as a perfectionist who cannot tolerate the flawed and wayward human nature acting out badly, and so rejects the world and starts again. Alternatively, such a flood would reveal God as a punitive Ruler who ruthlessly wipes out those who disobey divine instructions to be good.

Instead, the Torah reveals that God is a loving Lord who is deeply distressed at the sight of widespread devastation and death. To wipe out people for the sin of disobedience and violence is so coercive that even if people do the right actions thereaer, there is no dignity or genuine morality in their behaviors. A loving God wants people to be good out of free will and
love of others. Therefore, God permanently renounces the threat of inflicting catastrophe: All powerful but loving God self-limits and offers humanity a covenant or partnership.

In this committed partnership of love, humans will join with the Divine in building a better world and filling it with life. But they will do so out of free choice and doing their best, not out of terrorized submission to divine dictates. In the covenant, there is full allowance for human weakness in the form of lower, “compromised” expectations—at least along the way to the final goal. Even bad behaviors are provided for by mechanisms of repentance, milder punishments, and divine forgiveness. God still wants Creation and society to be perfected. However, God loves humans and wants them to mature and become fully images of God—that is, independent creatures who are infinitely valuable, equal, and unique. God wants humans to live lives of dignity and creativity in partnership. That is more important than humans building God’s desired paradise while living lives of robotic conformity to divine instructions.

In entering covenant, omnipotent God self-limits, out of love, to allow humans their freedom and the chance to grow into full dignity. How? First God establishes the natural order as independent and irrevocable process, never to cease or be disrupted (Genesis 8:22). The Talmud explains: “Olam ke-minhago noheg, the world follows its custom” (Avodah Zarah 54b). The objectivity of the natural order means that nature will not differentiate between stolen and honestly acquired seeds—both will germinate. The sperm of adulterous intercourse can conceive a child just as much as sperm emitted in moral or legal sexual relations. Nature will not hound or punish those doing evil. In God’s world, humans freely choose to do good or bad. By choosing to do good, humans exercise—and earn—their freedom. This means that God upholds human freedom (with the risks of bad behavior) ahead of obedience or guaranteed preferred outcomes.

The divine self-limit means that humans must pick up the slack in creating life and repairing the world. Rather than confer a paradise by miracles, God binds God’s self to depend on human actions to complete the world. By upholding the human role and making the divinely desired outcomes dependent upon human behavior, God enables human freedom. People
must participate in their own liberation or they remain imbued with a slave mentality. If paradise is simply bestowed, humans are likely to remain dependent, or even spoiled children, rather than repair their own world and become mature masters of their own fate.

The covenant mechanism protects against the two most widespread pathologies that flow from the human encounter with God. One is to neglect this world or even allow it to rot and instead pray for God to upgrade it miraculously (Footnote: Thus religion became in Marx’s critique the “opium of the masses” which enabled an unjust status quo to persist of necessity and established culture.) The other is to turn to God and to ritual life in order to escape from this world, with its challenges and burdens, into the timeless, perfect heavenly realms. The covenant tells humans that they have a companion or partner or helper, but that they must do their share. They must fulfill their commitment by creating life and doing good in this mortal realm.

Our parashah illustrates the covenantal method of working for tikkun olam, the repairing of the world. Out of deference to human needs and nature, society takes small and compromised steps toward the ultimate goal. The ideal diet of the Torah is vegetarianism; no creature should live by taking the life of other creatures. In the Garden of Eden, all living animals including humans were vegetarian (Genesis 1:29-30). However, after the Flood, allowing for human hunting for food and human need for protein, permission is given to eat meat. (Genesis 9:3).

The covenantal goal of a final peaceful world is upheld by restricting meat eating. All humans are prohibited from eating blood of the animal. Blood is seen as the carrier of life (Leviticus 17:11). The prohibition is a reminder that the ideal remains not to take another life. Not consuming blood is humanity’s acknowledgment that it is “violating” the sanctity of life—out out of necessity and established culture. The prohibition goads people to try to ultimately reach the vegetarian ideal.

It is noteworthy that Noah’s covenant includes a warning not to shed the blood of humans. (Genesis 9:5-6). This is an acknowledgement that compromising with nature and culture by permitting the killing of animals raises the risk of humans acting out their hunting instincts by killing people. There is an implied moral risk in every compromise of the ideal. There is a price in accommodating human beings and the status quo.
Our parashah concludes this account by reminding us of the goal of this partnership: It is to fill the world with life and so upgrade the world as to enable people to live abundantly— not constrained, not deprived, not reduced—but rooted and flourishing lives (Genesis 9:7).

Postscript: The covenant with Noah is a universal covenant with all of humanity (and other living creatures, see Genesis 9). This covenant has not received that much attention in Jewish tradition, certainly not as much as the particular Jewish covenants, i.e. with Abraham, at Sinai, on the plains of Moab at the end of Moses’ life (Deuteronomy 29-30ff).

The Noahide covenant supplies the model in the Torah of covenantal process (ideal goal, initial lowered expectations or compromise in actions, upholding the ideal through ongoing restrictions, provision to minimize the inevitable, negative side effects and costs of compromises with an unredeemed status quo and a sign/marker of the covenant; in our
parashah the sign of the universal covenant is the rainbow, Genesis 9:12-17). This model shapes our understanding of all the later laws in the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 21-23) and the rest of the Torah.

I believe that all subsequent covenants—not just with the Jewish people but, I argue, those made with other non-Jewish covenantal communities as well—are based on and draw authority from this Noahide covenant.

I call on the prophet Isaiah to back up this view. When the exiled Jews returned from Babylonia, they were wracked with religious concerns. Maybe God had rejected the covenant with Israel and, therefore, allowed the destruction of the First Temple and the exile of Jewry? Isaiah assured them this was not so. He tells them: Just as God’s covenantal pledge not to
allow another Deluge was self-evidently unbroken—it was operative and irrevocable—so they should be assured that God’s covenant with Israel would never be withdrawn (Isaiah 54:9-10). In other words, the manifest validity of the Noahide covenant and the ongoing natural process
is our assurance that our particular covenant is ongoing and eternal.

Shabbat Shalom.

The astonishing revival of Israel’s Persian fallow deer

Reposted from Israel 21c
https://www.israel21c.org/the-astonishing-revival-of-israels-persian-fallow-deer/

A nearly extinct species is slowly reintroduced into the wild, where they play a key role in the natural ecosystem.

By Naama Barak  OCTOBER 15, 2020, 7:00 AMPersian fallow deer are reintroduced to Israel after previously disappearing from it in the late 19th century. Photo by Dotan Rotem/INPA

Once upon a time, Persian fallow deer roamed freely across the Land of Israel. But by the end of the 19th century, rampant poaching led them to disappear from the local landscape. A few decades later they also vanished from their habitat in Iran, leading experts to believe they were extinct.

Then, in the 1950s, a small herd was discovered in southwestern Iran, and a few deer were transported to a zoo in Germany to be bred. A couple of decades later, two deer couples were brought to Israel, together with six female deer on the last flight from Tehran to Tel Aviv at the outbreak of the Islamic Revolution.UNCOVER ISRAEL – Get the ISRAEL21c
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One of the males from Germany didn’t survive, but the rest did, laying the foundation to what is today a population of between 200 and 250 Persian fallow deer that can once again call Israel home.https://www.youtube.com/embed/Nipt9Lo-71I?feature=oembed&wmode=opaque&autohide=1&showinfo=0

The deer were bred in the Hai-Bar Carmel Nature Reserve, and in 1996 the Israel Nature and Parks Authority began reintroducing some of them to their natural surroundings.

The big question, however, was what exactly these surroundings were.

“There was a difficult deliberation,” recounts Dr. Amit Dolev, head ecologist of the northern region in the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Back in the day, the deer in Israel lived in groves scattered across the land. In Iran, they were found in a desert area bordering a river. The experts eventually decided to settle the deer in a grove that could be supervised and that had a steadily flowing river nearby.

They chose the area of Kziv River in the Western Galilee in the north of the country.

“They went for the safest bet,” Dolev explains. “Today, 24 years later, the population is there. For the past decade or decade and a half, there’s been a reintroduction of more and more individuals from the breeding stock, 10 or more individuals every year.”A few deer brought over from a zoo in Germany and from Iran lay the foundation for today’s Israeli population. Photo by Doron Nissim/INPA

Human and wolf threats

In recent years, deer were also reintroduced to the Carmel region and the Sorek area near Jerusalem. They are still considered a critically endangered species.

The deer’s conservation success is reminiscent of that of the local ibex, which famously can be spotted around Ein Gedi near the Dead Sea.

Ibex were also in danger of extinction due to poaching, but a law passed in 1955 to protect wildlife greatly helped their numbers grow again. They are still not 100 percent safe, and nowadays the main danger they face is interaction with humans: they wander into communities where they get tangled in barbed wire or hurt by dogs, and are also harmed by visitors feeding them inappropriate food or garbage.

The INPA uses on-site cameras, tracking collars on some of deer and dung surveys to learn more about the freely roaming deer. According to a 2018-2019 survey of the deer reintroduced to the Western Galilee, the biggest threat was wolves.

Another difficulty facing the deer is roads. They can be killed in traffic or unable to expand their habitat because of roads blocking their movement.A few deer brought over from a zoo in Germany and from Iran lay the foundation for today’s Israeli population. Photo by Doron Nissim/INPA

An ecological role

And yet, the efforts to reintroduce the deer to their ancestors’ habitat are ongoing.

“Beyond the desire to look after a special and beautiful animal, it has an ecological role,” Dolev explains. “It’s a wild animal that eats plants, and this process has great importance in the food chain.”

And, he adds, “It’s the only animal that naturally knows how to open up groves in areas that goats, sheep and cows don’t reach.”

Upcoming plans for the deer include reintroducing more individuals into the wild.

“We continue to reintroduce every year, and I expect that this upcoming winter we’ll reintroduce more Persian fallow deer, both female and male, to the Upper Galilee, the Carmel and Sorek,” Dolev says.

The goal, he says, is to establish a stable wild population and to use the example of the Persian fallow deer to highlight the importance of nature conservation.

Naama Barak

Naama Barak is a writer at ISRAEL21c. A PhD student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, she loves all things history and politics. Food and fashion come a close second. Prior to joining ISRAEL21c, Naama worked for Israel’s leading English-language dailies and cutting-edge startups.

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Creation – Parashat Bereshit: R. Yitz Greenberg – 5781

A wonderful 10-minute listen or read from Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, bringing together ancient and modern thinking in one amazing and convincing text.

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Creation

R. Yitz Greenberg

Parashat Bereishit 5781

Rashi famously suggests that if the Torah is primarily a book of laws—after all, it contains hundreds of laws—then the Five Books of Moses should start with the first law given to the whole people of Israel (Exodus 12:1-2 “This month [Nissan] is the first of the months of the year…” i.e. the commandment for the courts to designate the months of the year and the dates of the holidays). But this verse is preceded by 62 other chapters! And, by Rashi’s logic, if the Torah is primarily the story and history of the Jewish people (on which it focuses most of the time), then the text should start with the story of Abraham, the first Jew. This occurs in the eleventh chapter of Genesis, v. 26 ff.

What then is the Torah telling us about its primary message by beginning with the story of Creation? Why does the Torah begin with the very first moment of existence of the whole world? What does the idea of Creation mean for us?

The Torah is presenting itself as the book of human destiny. It offers a revelation of the meaning of existence and a guide to the mission of humanity to upgrade this world. Chapter 1 of Genesis is not telling us the actual facts of Creation. We know from contemporary physics that there is a process from Big Bang chaos to radiation to matter and the emergence of order through galaxies to stars to planets. In fact, the idyllic portrait the Torah offers in chapter 1 is not how the earth looks initially but how the planet will look when Creation is completed and this globe will be turned into a paradise.

By focusing on the beginning of the world, the Torah intends to reach all of humanity. In its opening it offers the idea of Creation itself. This idea has been one of the most influential Jewish teachings in world civilization. Creation means that this world is not the outcome of a blind and random physical process that has no values or goals and will end in oblivion. Rather it has an intended outcome. “It was not created to be void; it was brought into being to be filled with life” (Isaiah 45:18).

Creation means that there is a shaping Creator, an Infinite Consciousness that knows every one of the endless number of stars (Psalm 147:4) and loves every one of God’s creatures (Psalm 145:9). This Creator is called Elohim in chapter 1—focusing on a high intensity, unlimited energy Power that is capable of creating and sustaining an infinite universe. Despite the incredible variety and conflicting forces in nature, there is only One God or Universal Force. All of reality is unified and governed by a universal natural process. This Jewish teaching of unity in Creation has profoundly shaped religious understanding and scientific thought.

By instructing us to see the world as a Creation of the Ultimate Artist, the Creator, the Torah guides humans to approach life and existence as we would a work of art. We should not glance casually or look routinely. We should seek out patterns of beauty, and connections that enrich the view. We will discover juxtapositions that add depth dimensions that ravish the eye—and the soul. Seeing the world as a created work of art, we instinctively explore: What is the artist’s message to us? What has the artist seen to which she seeks to open our eyes?

Through the lens of Creation, we approach the world with wonder and seek out the “Wow!” factor in every creature and in every human being that we meet. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote of experiencing radical amazement in encountering the Divine Presence. In other words, religion, prayer—indeed all human experiences and relationships—are not maximized out of logic and proof. They should grow out of emotional encounter and openness to life in all its dimensions.

There is another implication of Creation. This world is good (Genesis 1:31). This mortal life is real—not an illusion, as some other religions would have it. Living this life and repairing this world is an eminently worthwhile pursuit of human beings. Humans are called by God to work this creation and guard it (Genesis 2:15).

The Creation concept also teaches us that, while physical existence is real, that is only the tip of the iceberg. The encounter with the Creator/God makes us realize that there are important dimensions of existence that are not measurable or touchable—yet are as real and important as the visible. The whole internal life of humans—love, emotions, relationships, imagination, creativity—is validated. They exist at one of the various levels of being, built into the Creation. Over the course of history, the encounter with God moves from the external to the internal realm. In our time, we know the Lord through intuition, emotion, relationship, and through plumbing the depths of reality to meet the invisible Deity. If we drill down to that level, we meet the Lord in whom the image of God is rooted and who is present in the depth dimension of life.

Finally, the Torah’s narrative of Creation calls our attention to three rhythms that the Lord has embedded in the unfolding universe. In the Torah’s language, the world is moving, first of all, from chaos (tohu va’vohu) to order (Shabbat), where everything is completed and in its proper place with no clashing natural forces or conflicts between creatures. Second, the world is moving from non-life to life (in each of the first four days there is no presence of life, except vegetation on the third day; on the fifth and sixth days, life explodes). Finally, life is moving and developing from lesser developed forms into far richer, more capable, more evolved forms—from the vegetation on day three (a limited non-mobile form of life), to the fish of the sea on day five, to the birds, climaxing in the human, who is so developed and capable as to be God-like (“You made him only a bit less than a Divine being,” Psalm 8:6). In chapter 1, this third movement is defined as from less to more like God and climaxing in the human who is so advanced as to be in “the image of God” (Genesis 1:27).

The limited human lifespan obscures these truths. We think of ourselves as moving from life to death, from birth to end of life. In our daily pursuits, we perceive our schedule and our desks as going from initial order to growing chaos. The Torah’s Creation account tells us to view life and the world from the divine perspective. Cosmically, the world has moved from the Big Bang’s total chaos to orderly galaxies, stars, and planets. On this planet, viewed from the divine perspective, we have moved from non-life to life in 14 billion years. Then in 1-F billion years there has been a flow and explosion of life in all its forms. The Creation account tells us this so we can see the world sub specie aeternitatis, from the point of view of the infinite. The Torah guides us to identify the three rhythms of creation and join in. Humans should live our lives on the side of (life sustaining) order as against chaos. In all our behaviors, we should be choosing to create and uphold life as against non-life and death. Finally, in unfolding the potential of life—starting with our own—we should act to increase the quality of life in the world, especially of humans, created in the image of God. In so doing, the Torah teaches us that we become partners in Creation.

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The Art of Gefilte Fish – A Personal Memoir…

What is Gefilte Fish?

This photo to the right is not gefilte fish!  Gefilte fish does not come in a jar! Not where I come from.  Only in America!  “Gefilte” means “stuffed”. “Gefüllter karpfen” in German, “carpe farcie” in French, stuffed carp in English.  “stuffed” means stuffed into the fish, not in a jar!

First, get the fish!

When I was young, living in Belgium, my grandmother, who had emigrated from Poland, was in charge of making the gefilte fish for the high holidays.  Many folks eat gefilte fish at the Passover Seder, but we ate it at Rosh Hashannah, preceding the chicken soup and the rest of the holiday meal.  First, my grandmother Bajla went to the fish store about two weeks before the holiday and ordered two good size live carps. Other, fancier fish could be used but my grandmother stuck with carp, the people’s choice!  The fish store was a small ordinary shop on Rue du Mouton Blanc in the Carré area of Liège, my home town.  Waiting to the last minute was too risky, ordering early meant that you would get the right size fish, about 4 lbs each, and getting live fish meant it would remain fresh to the last possible moment!

My grandmother would bring the fish home alive – how?, I don’t remember – and place it in a large round galvanized steel tub that was used years before to wash and starch clothes.  My grandmother kept the tub in the courtyard of our suburban row house.  Not much room for the carp but they did not seem to mind as far as I could tell.  Then the dreaded moment came!  My grandmother grabbed one of the beasts, wrapped it in a large kitchen towel, and banged its head on the table which rendered it unconscious, or worse…  Same for the second fish.  The poor cyprinus carpii were then promptly moved to the kitchen and gutted.

Time to cook!

Now it was time to cook.  The following recipe is borrowed from a couple of sources  together with personal recollections.

Heads are cut and scales removed.  The fish are gutted and cleaned from the neck down by holding the tail so as not to damage the skin and the tail. If necessary, make a very small incision under the belly without piercing the bile. The fish are then sliced into 2-cm or half-an-inch thick steaks. 

Meat is carefully removed between the skin and the bones from each slice using a small sharp knife.  Keep the central ridge connected to the skin, leave flesh against the bones if necessary. do not hesitate to leave some flesh.

The meat is set aside for the “stuffing” with about four lbs of extra fillets.  Mild white fish such as hake or cod can be used. Pike or whitefish were old country favorites.  

Let the slices marinate with coarse salt overnight in the refrigerator then wash the salt off.  In the morning, chop the fish set aside for the stuffing, along with eight browned onions.  Small fish bones are removed.

Eight eggs and half-a-pound of matzah meal or bread crumbs are mixed in, with salt, pepper and a little bit of oil.

Now comes the “gefilte’ing”

A large cut-up onion and two carrots are laid at the bottom of one or two large pots then filled with cold water half way to the top and brought to medium heat. 

Peppercorns and a bit of sugar are added, no salt.  Fish slices are gently filled with the stuffing mixture and cautiously lowered into the simmering bouillon. 

The back of the heads may be stuffed.  Bones and other fish parts are added to the broth to increase the amount of gelatin.  Lower the heat at the first boil and remove the foam.  Let cook for two and a half hours, adjusting seasoning after a while and at the end of the cooking period.

Let the bouillon cool down, and gently remove the portions onto one or more large dishes, and decorate with carrot slices.  Fill the eye cavities with carrots too.  Strain the broth and refrigerate all overnight.

A Unique Twist

My grandmother added her unique and amazing twist to this recipe:  Over the summer, she collected seeds, also known as stones, pits or kernels from peaches, plums and especially apricots.  These pits have amazing and complex aroma.  Stone fruit seeds contain amygdalin which is believed poisonous when eaten raw but looses its potency when cooked.  Grandma Bajla sliced or broke the dried seeds and added them to the broth while the fish was cooking.  Wow, I never heard or saw this done anywhere else.  Genius, grandma!

At the Family Table

Finally, the large platter is brought to the holiday table, covered with gorgeous slices of gefilte fish, each one a marvel of Old Country cookery and engineering, surrounded by sweet broth jelly and garnished with carrot slices. Red horseradish is not far.  The holiday meal has started but not a word is said or heard.  A reflective mood?  No! each of us is savoring the delicate and rich flavors and watching for sharp bones!   

Happy holidays! 

 

Anat Fort’s Story

From a blog article published by Yotam Ziv on the Israeli newspaper Haaretz website March 28, 2019. (The article was translated and edited) Disclosure: I am a big fan of Anat Fort! See links to other Israeli jazz artists at the bottom of this post.

Anat Fort and her ensemble
Anat Fort and her band

After 20 years of relentless and uncompromised persistence, Anat Fort became the first Israeli to be signed on the prestigious ECM jazz label. Her story is a story of great passion and Israeli daring . In an interview on the occasion of the release of a new album, she talks about being a female jazz artist in an almost-exclusively male field. “There’s something very cool about feminine energy that is sometimes lacking”, she said, “something that inspires young musicians,”

“We have about 10 percent of female students at our Stricker Conservatory, about the same as when I was a student there.

Women are ready and want to enter the field just like men do, if it were not for the discriminatory ‘bullshit’ that they have to endure.

What do you mean?

“Our trio played a double performance for a German radio station, together with another all-male band. We all sat in the bar where I was the only woman, as usual. One of the men from the other band sat next to me. He saw us play beforehand and knew that I was the band leader on my side. ‘What cool pantyhoses’, he asked me, ‘where did you buy them? Maybe I’ll buy the same for my group.’

“It’s like some of the BS in jazz that demeans women”, Fort said, “it’s like testosterone that rules the world, the solos have a lot of show-off, which is an essentially masculine trait, and I’m less connected to that, and there is a lot of gender talk among musicians, even I am culpable of that! It’s a fact that there are almost no successful instrumental women in this field”.

But hopefully, that may be changing for the better as more successful models are emerging. ”

Fort, 49, began playing at the age of five and asked to join a military band while serving in the Israeli Army. “Towards the end of high school, I realized that my classical music studies were going downhill, and I looked for other musical avenues.” I applied for the Army bands. When I entered audition room, Yoni Rechter, one of the judges, asked me if I knew how to play chords… John Coltrane, I was in shock, I never heard such music before!”

After release from the Army, Fort traveled to the United States to try to get into a jazz school that had never accepted foreign students before. She was not deterred. She asked for an audition, persevered and was eventually accepted. That is when she started to learn what it feels like to be a woman in a man’s world. “My first job after school was to accompany actors at the Lee Strasberg school,” she recalls. “Because of my versatility as a pianist – classical, jazz, cabaret and musicals – I was able to survive in New York, meet people in my field and play jazz, sometimes two or three gigs each night. I swallowed all the jazz that New York had to offer.

The opportunity for Fort to play her own compositions came when she met singer-composer Vered Dekel. “My relationship with her inspired me, and Vered wrote a lot of original music which was very significant to me, In 1999, I recorded my first album, alone, independently, real indie, which was also arund the time when when musicians started to record without the backing of a record label .”

Paul Motian – A class about my music at his house

The album was passport to exposure and performances of sorts. But a significant leap came after a musical encounter with Paul Motian, one of the greatest jazz drummers and a former member of the Bill Evans’ partner trio, one of the best jazz bands of all time. “I went to hear him wherever he played and eventually I found myself playing with bassist Ed Schuler who knew him. I approached Ed with my typical Israeli hutzpah and asked him what I needed to do to play with Paul Motian. Paul agreed to hear my music. He said he really liked it and might record my stuff. I almost fainted with my jaw wide open! A class about my music at Paul Motian’s place?! “

Motian did not record Anat’s music in the end, but refered her to Manfred Eicher, manager of the ECM jazz label. “Even then it took another three years for the ECM album to come out, which is one of the reasons why it was called” Long Story, “says Fort,” Eicher did not accept material that he was not involved in. I felt responsible for being the first Israeli to be signed on this special label. This gave me tremendous exposure to new markets, and it opened up the Whole World to me where people started to buy my albums, it was a breakthrough in every way. “

About 10 years later, Anat went back to Israel, and it seems that her return has only done her good. She continues to teach, record and perform non-stop. Her compositions have been celebrated for 20 years now. Although members of her trio its have split geographically, Fort in Israel, drummer Ronald Schneid to Germany and bassist Gary Wang in New York where he remained. This makes producing music a bit more complicated, but here (in Israel), a new album – Color – is about to come out and a tour around the country is about to start…

More fun stuff about Anat Fort

Listen to NPR’s Anat Fort’s ‘Long Story’ from New York

Listen to NPR’s Why Are So Many Jazz Musicians From Israel These Days?

Listen to NPR’s Anat Fort On Piano Jazz on
MARIAN MCPARTLAND’S PIANO JAZZ

Read my blog post about 33 great Israeli Jazz Artists

Please like my post if you enjoyed it 🙂

The Beth Elohim Synagogue and Solomon Nunes Carvalho

Immigration

Most of us know about the massive Jewish immigration to the United States from Central and Eastern Europe that started in the late 1800’s.  But less is known about earlier movements to North America.   

Jews began to settle in Charleston, South Carolina in 1695, 25 years only after the English founded Carolina.  These Jewish immigrants were mostly Sephardim who came to Charleston from England, by way of the Caribbean islands. They were attracted by the burgeoning commercial opportunities but also for the religious freedom and personal rights offered and tolerated by the colony’s Lord Proprietors. (Virtual Jewish Library.)  

Ca. 1812 drawing, KK Beth Elohim Synagogue, built 1792-1794, burned 1838. In 1825, South Carolina architect Robert Mills wrote, “It is a remarkably neat building, crowned with a cupola.”

The first Charleston synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE), or Holy Congregation of the House of God, was opened in 1749.  The congregation followed the Sephardic minhag (liturgy) of the Spanish-Portuguese communities of London and Amsterdam.  By 1764, the synagogue had moved to a third and larger structure. (College of Charleston.) 

One of the KKBE congregants was Solomon Nunes Carvalho. Carvalho was born in Charleston in 1815 to parents who were themselves born in England, and had moved to Barbados, then to the United States.  Solomon studied photography – a new technology back then! – with his father who opened workshops in Charleston and then Philadelphia.  Solomon was also a gifted painter who later studied with famed artist Thomas Sully

The Great Fire and a Heartwarming Gift 

On Friday evening April 27, 1838, fire broke out at the corner of King and Beresford streets in Charleston, soon ravaging more than 1,100 buildings of all kinds – dwellings, tenements, boarding houses, stores, workshops, kitchens, stables and sheds, and four houses of worship. Synagogue Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim was one of them.  

Solomon Nunes Carvalho. Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, Interior, 1838; Oil on canvas. Collection of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim

Twenty-three year old Solomon immediately started to paint a highly detailed picture of the interior of the synagogue from memory.  A few months later, he presented the canvas to the Beth Elohim trustees “for such compensation as the Board may deem proper to allow”. The sum of fifty dollars was sent to Carvalho by the Congregation!

I had the thrill of seeing this amazing painting and 10 other works of art by Solomon Nunes Carvalho as part of the Princeton University exhibit “by Dawn’s Early Light – Jewish Contribution to American Culture from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War“.  In the exhibit catalog, Dale Rosengarten, co-curator of the exhibit and curator of the Jewish Heritage Collection at the College of Charleston Library remarked:

“The young painter had captured a haunting memory of the beloved temple: light pours through two rows of compass-headed windows evenly spaced along the side walls… The muted tones of the empty sanctuary capture a mood of sanctity and loss”

Solomon’s Ultimate Calling 

Carvalho continued to paint and to develop his photography business.  In June 1849, he opened a gallery in Baltimore offering both oil portraits and a variety of daguerreotypes—a new process that brought the cost of photography down.  In 1853, Solomon Carvalho was invited by Colonel John C. Frémont to join him on his fifth crossing of the continent. The primary objective of the expedition was to pass through the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada Mountains during winter to document the amount of snow and the feasibility of winter rail passage along the route.  Almost every day of the expedition, Carvalho made daguerreotypes, photographing not only the landscape but also the Native Americans and their settlements.  Fremont was thrilled with Carvalho’s work.

“We are producing a line of pictures of exquisite beauty, which will admirably illustrate the country,”

he wrote to his wife, Jessie Benton Fremont. Only one of these daguerreotypes remains. 

Freedom!

Solomon’s family fled Portugal, Amsterdam, London and the Barbados in search of a better and freer life.  The United States provided them with the religious freedom and the economic opportunities they were seeking.  Solomon’s artistic talent and his business flourished.  In an unselfish act, he left his business behind to join Colonel Frémont’s fifth Continental exploration,  leaving an undelible mark on the Country’s history.  In 1856, John Charles Frémont, now Governor of California, became the first candidate of the Republican Party for the office of President of the United States.

A haunting rendition of Lu Yehi by Yaron Herman and his trio

Israel is fertile ground for jazz.  I have covered some of the Israeli jazz scene in a previous post.

Yaron Herman

Yaron Herman is ירון הרמן‎ is a French-Israeli jazz pianist now living in Paris. After a few years of piano study, he attended the Boston, MA Berklee College of Music at age 19. He then moved to Paris, France, where he began his recording career at age 21.  He is inspired by such jazz legends as Keith JarrettPaul BleyLennie Tristano and Brad Mehldau – my favorites too!   His website can be found at http://yaronherman.com/ 

BBC’s Kevin LeGendre reviewed Herman’s Muse album, where Lu Yehi is featured, in 2009. “Melodically gifted as he is, Herman is no slouch as an improviser and a fleet, precise right hand unfurls a number of sparkling, at times Chick Corea-like statements in which the Spanish-Arabic flourish is strong.”

Herman’s cover of Lu Yehi follows the song’s haunting melody but introduces a jazzy dissonance that evokes the hurt, chaos and uncertainty of war.

Lu Yehi

The famous Israeli song LU YEHI – לוּ יְהִי  (May It Be) was written and composed by Naomi Shemer during the Yom Kippur War (1973).  Naomi also famously wrote “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (“Jerusalem of Gold”) in 1967 after Israel won the Six-Day War.  In “Lu Yehi”, Naomi Shemer hopes for a quick end to the war and for the safe return of IDF soldiers (“This is the end of the summer, the end of the road, let them come back.”)

[see other Israeli Jazz-related posts: Anat Fort and 33 Israeli Jazz Artists ]

Lyrics in Hebrew and English (from Hebrewsongs.com)

Od yesh mifras lavan ba’ofek
mul anan shachor kaved
Kol shenevakesh – Lu Yehi.

Ve’im bacholonot ha’erev
Or nerot hachag ro’ed –
Kol shenevakesh – Lu Yehi.

Lu Yehi, Lu Yehi, Ana, Lu Yehi
Kol shenevakesh – Lu Yehi.

Ma kol anot ani shomei’a
Kol shofar vekol tupim
Kol shenevakesh lu yehi

Lu tishama betoch kawl eileh
Gam tefila achat mipi
Kol shenevakesh lu yehi

Lu yehi…

Betoch sh’chuna ktana mutzelet
Bait kat im gag adom
Kol shenevakesh lu yehi

Zeh sof hakayitz, sof haderech
Ten lahem lashuv halom
Kol shenevakesh lu yehi

Lu yehi…

Ve’im pit’om yizrach mei’ofel
Al rosheinu or kochav
Kol shenevakesh lu yehi

Az ten shalva veten gam ko’ach
Lechol eileh shenohav
Koll shenevakesh – lu yehi

Lu yehi………

There is still a white sail on the horizon
Opposite a heavy black cloud
All that we ask for – may it be

And if in the evening windows
The light of the holiday candles flickers
All that we seek – may it be

May it be, may it be – Please – may it be
All that we seek – may it be.

What is the sound that I hear
The cry of the shofar and the sound of drums
All that we ask for – may it be

If only there can be heard within all this
One prayer from my lips also
All that we seek – may it be

May it be…

Within a small, shaded neighborhood
Is a small house with a red roof
All that we ask for, may it be

This is the end of summer, the end of the path
Allow them to return safely here
All that we seek, may it be

May it be…

And if suddenly, rising from the darkness
Over our heads, the light of a star shines
All that we ask for, may it be

Then grant tranquility and also grant strength
To all those we love
All that we seek, may it be

May it be…

Rabbinic Judaism: A Missed Opportunity?

This post is a companion to my post on twenty notable rabbis coming later today.  One of the conclusions of my research for the 20 rabbi post is that Rabbinic Judaism, with a few notable exceptions, missed an opportunity to make significant contributions to World theology and to mankind, and at the same time, isolated the Jewish people and failed to protect it from persistent persecutions from other nations.

In the beginning…

The genius of Judaism, or Hebraism (Note 1) I should say, is the idea of One God.  Maybe the original Hebrews borrowed the idea from another place or another tribe in Canaan or in the Euphrates region, but Abraham and his cohorts made it work.  Monotheism became and is now the leading and most successful World theology.  The Rabbinic system of Judaism took off after the second destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 BC and replaced the priestly system that was in place then. The early rabbis felt that they needed to rebuild the religious foundation of a people who had just lost its land, power and temple for the second time in 600 years.  One of their priorities was to write down and discuss Jewish laws (Halakha).

The good…

Positive

Rabbinic Judaism has some important and positive attributes: it values intellectual honesty and justice, it is (or was) largely a merit-based, democratic system (no central authority.) Rabbinic Judaism formed the basis of a Jewish education system long before other nations, providing opportunities for dissenting opinions, and generally advocating a positive, life-affirming approach.

The bad…

Here are some areas where, in my opinion, Rabbinic Judaism fell, and still falls, short:

  • NegativeWith a few exceptions, discourse in Rabbinic Judaism has been narrow, focusing as I said above on conduct and obedience (Halakha).  Rabbis have spent millions (perhaps billions!) of hours on minute and obscure details of little or no importance to the Jewish as a whole.  One could argue that Rabbinic practices contributed to the isolation of the Jewish people.
  • I mentioned intellectual honesty as a plus, but Rabbis often use(d) convoluted, illogical and obscure arguments such as numerology or “miracles” in order to  make a point.
  • The Rabbis created a closed system of Yeshivoth where deep religious knowledge was shared and discussed within the system and rarely outside of it.  Those who attended yeshivoth often came from wealthy families who could support the students (Note 2).  successful rabbis were often connected in the community and politically astute.  They competed for lucrative positions in wealthy Jewish communities.
  • The Rabbis’ focus on halakhic minutiae has, in turn, hindered or precluded them from addressing important religious issues that could benefit all nations in the areas of morality, equality, oppression of minorities, compassion, interfaith unions, personal choices, etc.
  • To complement this thought, it is my observation that the most impactful rabbis and sages are the ones who were able to bring into their closed loop environments non-Jewish sources of knowledge, and integrate this knowledge into their own work.  For instance, Sa’adia Gaon integrated components of Greek philosophy, Maimonides was heavily influenced by Aristotle, and David Hartman used modern philosophy which he integrated with his Talmudic knowledge (Note 3).

A modern creed…

Modern-Space-Living-Room-Window-DesignCaring for strangers is mentioned more times in the Torah than any other commandment.  Yet morality is a topic seldom addressed in Rabbinic Judaism, except in the context of the law.   Early Christianity, on the other hand, was able to address some of the social and moral issues of the time while leveraging Judaism’s overall framework (Note 4.)

The Rabbinic “us versus them” model likely contributed to Jewish isolation in the World and missed an opportunity to share the strength and true meaning of the original biblical message.  Today, Judaism needs a new framework in tune with our science and fact-oriented world, a framework that focuses more on values and morality than halakhic details.  Morality has the power of truth, said Maimonides.  Judaism needs to become an open and moral religion, a modern room with windows. “Judaism beyond the (kosher) kitchen” as David Hartman said (Note 3).

Notes:

(1) One idea, attributable in part to Rabbi Leon Askenazi is that Ever (the original Hebrew), grandson of Noah, is really the founder of Judaism.  I will post on this. later.

(2) Just an example:  “At age fifteen, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi married Sterna Segal, the daughter of Yehuda Leib Segal, a wealthy resident of Vitebsk, and he was then able to devote himself entirely to study.”    Rabbi Akiva married the daughter of the Ben Kalba Sabu’a, a wealthy citizen of Jerusalem, etc.

(2) It is no coincidence that I mention Rabbi David Hartman who created the Shalom Hartman Institute.  Rabbi Hartman was a philosopher and leader of the Modern Orthodox Movement .  Some of the ideas in this post originate with his teachings and vision.  The first post on this blog was devoted to a short but critical essay by Rabbi Hartman called “Auschwitz or Sinai“.

(3) Early churches met almost exclusively in homes. These gatherings became close, supportive communities that shared resources, including money, when someone was needy. They became surrogate families. Not only that but they were radically egalitarian—something novel in the Roman world of that day. Paul made his ringing announcement that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

***

To Life! – Le’ Chaim!

Recent scientific news tell us something our ancestors already knew:  life is precious, life is rare!   On this day of remembrance, let us praise life.  Let us praise the Godly and magical concept of life that brings us all here together: humans and animals and plants.

Let us acknowledge that we are all products of life, first and foremost by smiling at one another!  Today! Smile at your goldfish, at your tomato plant, at your neighbors and at strangers.,

Let us remember kindly those who brought us life, our parents and their parents and their parents.  Let us remember the innocents of all nations and all faiths who perished at the hands of others,

Let us acknowledge our difference of opinions but recognize the miracle of life that unites us all.

To life, Le’ Chaim!

Anti-Semitism being ‘normalised’ in Poland, Jewish Congress warns

Source: Anti-Semitism being ‘normalised’ in Poland, Jewish Congress warns

The European Jewish Congress expressed “grave concerns” Thursday over an increase in anti-Semitic acts in Poland under the rightwing Law and Justice government.

“There has been a distinct normalisation of antisemitism, racism and xenophobia in Poland recently and we hope that the Polish government will stem this hate and act forcefully against it,” EJC president Moshe Kantor said in a statement.

The group cited a proliferation of “fascist slogans” and unsettling remarks on social media and television, as well as the display of flags of the nationalist ONR group at state ceremonies.

Such incidents “appear to have coincided with the Polish government closing its communications with the official representatives of the Jewish community,” Kantor said.

According to the congress, it has been around a year since a senior Polish minister met with leaders of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, which represents the fewer than 10,000 people who belong to Jewish organisations in the country of 38 million people.

Poland was once home to Europe’s largest Jewish population, numbering around three million people, or 10 percent of the Polish population in 1939.

But only about 300,000 survived the Second World War after Nazi Germany occupied Poland and set up the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau on its territory.

Earlier this year, University of Warsaw’s Centre for Research on Prejudice found that acceptance for anti-Semitic hate speech — especially among young Poles on the internet — had risen since 2014.

The study, released in January, found that 37 percent of those surveyed voiced negative attitudes towards Jews in 2016, up from 32 percent the previous year, while 56 percent said they would not accept a Jewish person in their family, an increase of nearly 10 percent from 2014.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/world/anti-semitism-being-normalised-in-poland-jewish-congress-warns/article/501334#ixzz4rN1HVOTz