Monday, July 31, 2017

Its All About the Music

Its All About the Music

At Touro Synagogue July 28-29, 2017 

by Aaron Ginsburg
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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.

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