Monday, July 31, 2017

Its All About the Music

Its All About the Music

At Touro Synagogue July 28-29, 2017 

by Aaron Ginsburg

Touro synagogue last weekend was all about the music.

On Friday evening Professor Jonathan Glasser, an associate professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia spoke about his work. The son of Morton and Irene Glasser, he said, “I am a historical anthropologist whose work focuses on modern North Africa, with particular attention to Algeria and Morocco. My current projects draw on ethnographic and archival work to consider the entanglement of materiality, personhood, and temporality in the urban, Arabic-language musical and poetic practice known as Andalusi music.” 

Jonathan doesn’t just study and write about this music. He also performs it through the through the William and Mary Middle Eastern Music Ensemble. So we had a bargain: a professor and a musician! It’s like having a bottle of relish mixed with mustard. And we experienced both flavors!

As Jonathan described it,

“I talked about two connected research projects, said Jonathan. The first was a project about the revival of what is sometimes called Andalusi music in Algeria and Morocco starting around 1900--an urban classical music that is associated with al-Andalus, medieval Muslim Spain. Jews played an important part in this musical revival, and were prominent producers and consumers of this mainly secular, Arabic-language poetic and musical tradition. The project resulted in my book The Lost Paradise: Andalusi Music in Urban North Africa, which was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2016.

“The second, current project is a follow-up to the first, and looks more closely at relationships between Muslims and Jews around music, mainly in Algeria and its borderlands. This project is focused on both the Arabic-language Andalusi traditions and the more religious genres, in Hebrew and Arabic, that are considered offshoots of this repertoire. There are lots of interesting and sometimes surprising connections between Muslim and Jewish musical practices in North Africa, and we had the chance to taste a few of these connections through a musical demonstration that involved audience participation.”

Was the Andulsi revival was part of the rise of Arab Nationalism under the pressure of French domination and the need to create or recreate a secular culture with roots to the past? North Africa in 1900 was far removed from the glory of medieval Spain. It is not surprising that Jews participated in this revival. Their ancestors were active participants in its creation, and they were just as much a part of the culture as their Muslim neighbors. 

On Saturday morning about 60 people attended services. The weather was surprisingly cool. The fans were running full blast, and rather than trying to be near them, many of us hid from them. There weren’t enough columns to hide behind. I will bring my gloves next week, just in case.

Rabbi Marc Mandel mentioned our upcoming trip to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, to see an exhibit there on the Holocaust about the Lodz Ghetto,

“This weekend we are joined by a group that is focusing on defining moments [which sponsored Kiddish]. Certainly the Holocaust was a defining moment in Jewish history.

“…There are those who believe that the proper time to mourn the Holocaust is the day on the Jewish calendar designated to commemorate Jewish tragedy which is Tisha B’Av, which begins this Monday night. Tisha B’Av is already a day of fasting and mourning-

“Unfortunately there are many things to mourn in Jewish history including the loss or both Temples and the burning of the Talmud. Today Jewish communities round the world face many challenges. How do we respond?

“This week the New York Times had an article about how to build resilience. Let us find comfort in the words of Erica Brown, scholar in residence for defining moments [who has talked and written about Daily Inspiration for the 3 weeks from the fast of the 17th of Tammuz to Tisha B’Av]. Let us find optimism in the activism of visitor Howard E. Friedman
[President of AIPAC from 2010-2012 and very active in the Baltimore Jewish AND NATIONAL community]. Let us find inspiration in the leadership of Jeannie Schottenstein. 

“We have to practice optimism, support other people, and go out of our comfort zones. This is what the State of Israel does all the time…

“These people will help us define our lives in a meaningful way as we all move ahead on our life’s journey. 

“Let’s us hope that the Jewish people will not experience any more Tisha B’Avs!

“Shabbat Shalom!”

Tisha B’Av caused several changes to the service. One sentence of the Parsha, Devarim, Devarim 1:12, “How can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden, and the bickering!” 
אֵיכָ֥ה אֶשָּׂ֖א לְבַדִּ֑י טָרְחֲכֶ֥ם וּמַֽשַּׂאֲכֶ֖ם וְרִֽיבְכֶֽם׃  was recited to the tune of Aicha (Lamentions), which is read during the Tisha B’Av service.

At Kabbalat Shabbat, “Lecha Dodi" was sung to the tune of Eli Tsiyon  אֱלִי צִיּוֹן, one of the kinnot (dirges) we sing during Tisha B’Av. On Shabbat morning, Adon Olam was sung to the same tune.  

I asked my friend Janet Zucker to reprise Adon Olam. Although it is purportedly mournful, I suspect you will join me singing this catchy tune in the shower. It’s very appropriate for Touro. The faster its sung, the better it sounds, and the sooner the Kiddish is served.

The next posting will be about the trip to the Museum of Fine Arts.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Leadership and The Red Herring

Tomato herring, Kutsher's photo by John Margolies

Leadership and The Red  Herring

At Touro Synagogue

July 1, 2017

For Jewish Newport 
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On Shabbat, Touro Synagogue had a full house. It was so crowded that I sat in a corner, until I realized that the corner was the one place in shul where there wasn’t a cross breeze. No more corners for me.

Another week another parsha! Today it was Parashat Chukat, Numbers 19:1 - 22:1.  Rabbi Marc Mandel said there was a lot of action in the parsha. For starters, there was the red heifer. The related commandment is difficult to understand. The Rabbis wisely threw up their hands and said it was a command from Heaven. 

I think Rabbi Mandel agreed with the sages. There aren’t many things that flummox our Rabonim, but this is one of them.

What else is red and difficult to explain? “Red herring” comes to mind.

I turned to google for help:
noun: red herring; plural noun: red herrings
  1. a dried smoked herring, which is turned red by the smoke.
  2. something, especially a clue, that is or is intended to be misleading or distracting."The book is fast-paced, exciting, and full of red herrings.”

When herring is cured (smoked and salted), the story goes, it turns red. Fugitives from justice put a red herring on the trail to distract the dogs that were tracking them.

And a green herring? Nathan Ausubel’s, “A Treasury of Jewish Folklore” has the answer,

“What’s, green, hangs on a wall, and whistles?
“I don’t know.”
“A herring.”
“But a herring isn’t green.”
“It could be painted green.”
“But a herring doesn’t hang on a wall.”
“It could be hung on a wall.”
“But a herring doesn’t whistle.”
“Nu, so it doesn’t whistle.”

Enough about herring!

In his words of Torah, Rabbi Marc Mandel focused on Moshe’s leadership style. He started with a pithy quote from Warren Bennis,  “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.”

Peter Drucker, a management pundit, has this to say about leaders,

“All the effective leaders I have encountered-both those I worked with and those I merely watched-knew four simple things:

“1. The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers. Some people are thinkers. Some are prophets. Both roles are important and badly needed. But without followers, there can be no leaders.

“2. An effective leader is not someone who is loved or admired. He or she is someone whose followers do the right things. Popularity is not leadership. Results are.

“3. Leaders are highly visible. They therefore set examples.

“4. Leadership is not rank, privileges, titles, or money. It is responsibility.”

“How did Moses measure up?” Rabbi Mandel continued,“Well, let’s see. Moshe sent out twelve men to evaluate the land of Israel – which resulted in the people panicking and wanting to go back to Egypt: that was not the right thing to do; not good leadership, not a positive example

“In today's parsha, Moshe strikes the rock, instead of speaking to it. That was not the way he was supposed to do it, and it was not good management.

“In our own lives, are we good managers? Do we manage our lives effectively or do we just run from one crisis to the next–can we learn how to be better managers in midlife?”

Visiting Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, the founder and principal of SAR High School spoke at the Kiddish, which was sponsored by friends of Touro Synagogue. Last month, Rabbi Harcsztark won the Covenant Award for excellence in Jewish education.

Not that Rabbi Harcztrark planned to speak at the Kiddush. When Rabbi Mandel senses that a tasty herring is at Touro Synagogue, he pounces. If you are a piece of herring, warning given!

After our plates and palates were sated, he also spoke about Moshe hitting the rock, which led God to prohibit Moshe from entering the promised land. 

As a teacher, Rabbi Harcsztark shared with his students the many commentaries about Moshe and the rock. Although he did not understand it, he could not avoid teaching Maimonides. For Maimonides, Moshe’s transgression was his anger, shown when, before striking the rock, he said, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?”

Many years later students who were graduating made a display which included the work of each student. At the bottom of his display, one student wrote, “Rabbi Harcsztark, thank you for giving me a second chance.” 

One of the duties of school principal is dealing with students who misbehave. In this case, Rabbi Hartcszark had calmly expressed faith that the student would get his act together. But until he saw the student’s thank-you note, he didn’t realize the impact that he had on the student.

In a relationship, such as teacher to student, parent to child, or in any relationship, how we react to a situation can have a profound impact on the other person. Do we lose our tempers?  Are we overly critical? Are we demeaning? What we say to someone, and how we say it, may have a profound effect on their self-image, an effect that may last for years. 

Moshe’s punishment was for his anger, and for expressing it by angrily calling the Children of Israel “rebels.” When we are critical, our tone and our emotions can have as much or even more weight than our words.

Shabbat Shalom!