New Time and Place for the Washington, DC Jewish Music Festival

Jewish-East Asian fusion band Sandaraa performs at the Washington, DC Jewish Community Center / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Jewish-East Asian fusion band Sandaraa performs at the Washington, DC Jewish Community Center / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Although we just did this song and dance in June, the re-tooling of the Edlavitch Washington, DC Jewish Community Center has shifted some things around. The 18th annual music festival started on October 26; they’re also moving the film festival to May instead of the winter.

Similar to the event that I attended at the last music festival, the one last Tuesday was a double feature of a documentary and a stage act. Paul Thomas Anderson, famously known for such films as There Will Be Blood and Steel Magnolias, directs his first documentary—an unassuming, 54-minute accounting of musicians practicing their craft in an ancient fort in Rajasthan, India.

The 2015 film, Junun, follows Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood to southeast Asia for this collaboration project with the Indian ensemble, the Rajasthan Express. Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur rounded out the group and added some Hebrew influence to the music. I loved the notion that different people could share and transform their cultural expressions. It’s a hopeful message in and of itself about coming together in common purpose.

The documentary was recorded with occasional shaky cam and had little narrative structure; however it transcended any limitations by staying true to the emotionality of music. We laughed at the casual moments where the camera caught a musician picking his nose or making jokes about faulty electricity in India. But the real power came through juxtaposing images, like sweeping panoramas of the Indian environs or a pigeon roosting among the musical equipment, against the musical numbers. I heard people commenting on specific scenes after the film ended, to rancorous applause.

Following a brief intermission, we then listened to an hour and a half-long set, roughly, from the band Sandaraa. Like with the musicians in Junun, this band is a cultural collaboration, started by Pakistani vocalist, Zeb Bangash, and klezmer clarinetist, Michael Winograd. Most of their other band members hail from Brooklyn, many of whom have klezmer backgrounds. The music they played had a South Asian mentality, ranging from traditional folk songs to original compositions set to Urdu poetry, but some of the instrumentation hinted at Jewish influence.

The event went a little long—from 7:30 to 10 pm—and a sizeable portion of the audience left during the last half hour or so of Sandaraa’s performance. But the film and the music went so well together, thematically, that I understand why the festival paired them up. Perhaps it would have been better suited for a Sunday afternoon timeslot, though the house was packed at the EDCJCC either way.

The music festival ends on Nov 5 with another fusion project–Odessa/Havana. Check out my past coverage under the “annual events” tab.

A Belated Ringing In of 5777!

5777 break fast at Adas Israel / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

5777 break fast at Adas Israel / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

We may be most of the way through Sukkot now, but g’mar chatimah tova anyway.😛 Hope you had a meaningful High Holiday season. Here are a couple of my highlights from Adas Israel:

  • I joined Adas Israel’s flash choir on Rosh Hashanah day 2 to sing a pretty, Hebrew, SATB-harmonized version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Hoping to do that again next year!
  • The “Return Again” Kol Nidre service was held in the parking lot rather than in front of the synagogue, to accommodate larger crowds. I found it a little more difficult to hear, but Rabbi Holtzblatt gave a good sermon about harnessing the evil inclination, yetzer hara and living with the good inclination, yetzer hatov.
  • Israeli settler Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and and Palestinian Ali Abu Awwad returned to Adas for the Yom Kippur afternoon talk to plug the Roots Project, an inter-communal nonviolence initiative in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria. Here at home, this program heralded in the iEngage Series, a set of Sunday classes concerning narratives about Israel, which will be led by Rabbi Steinlauf. The first event is on Oct. 30.

The EDCJCC has shifted its schedule a bit, and the 18th Washington Jewish Music Festival starts on the 26th. I’m excited, but guys…you’ll be rescheduling the Literary Festival (traditionally held around now) sometime soon, right? *puppy dog eyes* Ah well. At least I can always hole up in my sukkah with a good book.😛

Simchat Torah begins on Monday evening! Check out what local synagogues might be doing by clicking here.

DC High Holiday Classes and Events 5777

Jews performing taschlich in this Aleksander Gierymski painting / photo courtesy of wikipedia

Jews performing taschlich in this Aleksander Gierymski painting / photo courtesy of wikipedia

L’shanah tova! A new year is upon us—and my favorite holiday.😀 I you are looking for tickets to attend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services in the DC area, check out my last post.

Washington also offers classes and events to inform you and get you in the spirit of high holidays! I’ve gathered up a few offerings from Sixth & I and the Edlavitch DCJCC and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Please leave others in the comments!

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Ongoing
Celebrate Character Day Online! JHSGW

Wednesday, September 21
The Holiness of Anger Management, 7:30 pm, Sixth & I
https://www.sixthandi.org/event/holiness-anger-management/

Thursday, September 22
Get Carded, 7 pm, Sixth & I
https://www.sixthandi.org/event/get-carded/

Sunday, September 25
Repentance, Forgiveness and Personal Change, 2 pm, DCJCC
http://thejdc.convio.net/site/Calendar/1308838773?view=Detail&id=152578

Wednesday, September 28
Sorry, Not Sorry, 7 pm, Sixth & I
https://www.sixthandi.org/event/sorry-not-sorry/

Thursday, September 29
Confessions: A Storytelling Interrogation Show, 7:30 pm, Buckeye and Bear/DCJCC
http://thejdc.convio.net/site/Calendar/1308838773?view=Detail&id=152678

May you have a sweet new year!

DC High Holiday Tickets for 5777 and some closer events!

Yemenite style shofar / photo courtesy of Olve Utne and wikipedia

High Holidays are late this year (October 2-4 for Rosh Hashanah and 11-12 for Yom Kippur) but it’s never too early to square things away with getting your tickets. J-Connect has in depth detail concerning fees, schedules and more for DC and area MD and VA synagogues. Gather The Jews focuses more specifically on young adults, and has links to services and other activities to help this cohort connect.

But the Hebrew calendar this year leaves us with strange gaps in late summer and early fall! The newly minted Edlavitch Jewish Community Center won’t host its annual end-of-year book sale until September 14!😦 But Zemer Chai has already opened its auditions for the next season! 😀 They’re particularly looking for male singers, fyi.

And the Israeli-American Conference is coming to the Marriot Marquis in Washington September 24-26. Several famous guests, from politicians to journalists, activists and artists, have been confirmed to speak. You can register to attend by clicking here.

The long, humid days of August will recede soon enough, and I’ll be back to highlight some local high holiday classes. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Jewish Life in Unusual Places

Basque synagogue in Bayonne / image courtesy of culturecommunicacion.gouv.fr

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival takes place every summer, bringing amazing world cultural events to the National Mall! Every year has a specific theme and in 2016 they’ve been focusing on Basque, a country that spans between northern Spain and southwestern France.

Doubtless the Festival has done a great job in covering many aspects of this nation. But allow me to expand on their efforts! For the last several years, inspired by our local Folklife tradition, I have researched and brought attention to the widely diverse world Jewish communities. Jewish culture has touched almost every region of the world, and of course vice versa. So let us begin.

Basque

The Jewish Encyclopedia details life for the Tribe in the Basque provinces of the middle ages, when they were under Spanish jurisdiction. Jews lived in Vitoria, the capital of the province of Alvira, and in 1203 were moved to a special street called “Calle Nueva” or “New Street.” They chiefly worked as moneybrokers, though in 1332, Alfonso XI of Castille issued a decree that forbade Jews to take promissory notes from their Christian neighbors. These antisemitic decrees continued into the fifteenth century. After August 21, 1482, Jews weren’t permitted to enter the Franciscan monastery until after mass. Later in the year, Christian girls and women were permitted from entering the Jewish ghetto without male accompaniment. They were also prohibited from acting as a Shabbes goy, that is, cooking or lighting fires for Jews when they couldn’t due to Shabbat restrictions. Jews were also forbidden from working publicly or in Christian homes on Christian holidays, and Christians were forbidden to sell fruit in the ghetto, take services with or live with Jews. Finally, in 1484, Jews were forbidden from reading ecclesiastical edicts or serving as lawyers in lawsuits.

All of this, of course, was leading up to the official Spanish expulsion of the Jews in 1492. On June 27 of that year, prominent Jews of Vitoria came before the city council on behalf of the Jewish community, and were granted their cemetery, “Judimendi,” (Jews’ hill) so long as they didn’t plow it. Jews left Vitoria and went to the neighboring province of Navarre and elsewhere. Vitoria took possession of their synagogue and turned it into a classical school. “Calle Nueva” briefly became known as “Calle de Puenta de Rey” (Kingsbridge Street.) A year later, Marranos (Christian converts who often secretly practiced Judaism) were ordered to leave this street and live among other Christians.

The Encyclopedia concludes that French Jews may now inhabit Basque. According to former Bilbao resident Joaquin Carlos Caraguegguie, the Inquisition didn’t really touch Basque and Jews have always lived there quietly among their Christian neighbors. He gave an interview to Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer of Travel-Watch, claiming there used to be 60,000 Jews in the region and now there are about 10,000. He described his post-war childhood religion as an open secret in his community, where he attended public schools taught by Jesuits and everyone knew he was Jewish. Their Jewish practice was pretty nil, but they were raised to believe that the Old Testament was “their” bible.

Caraguegguie maintains a Basque Jewish difference from the rest of Spain with this:

“You notice how noisy it is in the rest of Spain? Not here. You walk into a Basque bar, it’s ‘May I help you?’ People say if they raise their voices, someone will die. They are quiet and polite. That was how my family maintained their Jewishness — they kept quiet about it. We were always told ‘Don’t push it.’”

A couple of years ago, Karen Ginsberg wrote a piece for the Jewish Independent about her travels to Basque. At the Musée Basque et de l’histoire de Bayonne, there is a special exhibit on Jews in French Bayonne since 1600, where some settled after the Spanish Inquisition. The collection includes a portrait of Augusta Furtado, who, in the 17th century was prominent in the Jewish world and also served twice as the mayor of Bayonne. Other artifacts come from a private 19th century synagogue, and there is a January 19, 1753 document, which is about royal protective orders and purportedly uses the title “Jew” rather than “Portuguese” or “New Christian” for the first time.

Ginsberg found a synagogue in the heart of Bayonne, but it was unclear whether or not it was still in use. Neo-classical in style, it was meant to be a shift from private to public worship, with the inscription in Hebrew and French: My house will be marked as a house of prayer for all nations.

A small community by any standards; nevertheless, check out Wikipedia’s page of famous Basque Jews!😛

Sounds of California

Since this is also a feature of the Folklife fest, I thought I might add some music based out of Jewish California to the list.😛 By no means meant to be conclusive, heh. But I cover a variety of bases.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival continues until July 10. Check out my past coverage of Jewish life in unique places under the “Annual Events” tab.

Poetry and Song at the 2016 Washington, DC Jewish Music Festival

Basya Schechter claimed during Q&A that stanza D was one of her favorite passages in Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s poetry collection / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

As Shavuot draws to a close, so does the 2016 Washington, DC Jewish Music Festival, ending tonight with an international Middle Eastern concert followed by discussions on art and peace in Israel.

Last Tuesday I attended a unique fusion event—the screening of a documentary followed by a musical performance and Q&A session. The documentary, Every Word Has Power, features a concert given by musician Basya Schechter, who set some of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Yiddish poetry to song. Film director David Vinik and producer Debra Gonsher Vinik also interviewed Heschel’s daughter and various other scholars.

Heschel’s poetry collection, The Ineffable Name of God, was only just recently translated and published, but he penned the pieces in the 1920s and ’30s, while he was still a doctoral candidate for philosophy at the University of Berlin. What I appreciated most about the poetry, and Schechter’s soulful interpretation, was moving past the image of Herschel as a monolith of social justice in his middle age. As a young man he expressed doubts and longings; the desire for faith and romantic love.

Schechter is the leader of the band Pharaoh’s Daughter, which blends Hassidic, Sephardic, Mizrahi and other Middle Eastern musical traditions together. (I first heard them play in the summer of 2003 at dusk in the hills of Southern California, which was aaaaawesome! :P) She performed a short set on her oud after the documentary screening, along with Tamer Pinarbasi on the Turkish quanun and Mat Tonti on strings. Tonti, a fan of Schechter’s of many years, reached out to her to play together this evening. Pretty cool!

I previously blogged about Pharaoh’s Daughter on JewishDC back in 2008. Check out my past coverage of the Washington, DC Jewish Music Festival under the “Annual Events” tab.

Michigan Genealogy and Lincoln Books for 2016 Jewish American Heritage Month

A culturally appropriate image😛 / photo courtesy of wikipedia

Welcome to May, and the tenth annual official Jewish American Heritage Month! The official website has been updated with upcoming events at venues such as the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the National Gallery of Art and the Holocaust Museum.

The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington is teaming up with two of these organizations to present events:

This seems to be a trend, highlighting Lincoln books during Jewish American Heritage Month; wonder if next year we will move on to a new president?😛

On Sunday at 1 pm, the Society is rolling out its new walking tour of H Street! Hopefully you’ve already obtained your spot if you’re interested, otherwise the link has information about being put on the waiting list.

Please feel free to add any comments about other JAHM events happening in the area. Check out my past coverage of Jewish American Heritage Month under the “Annual Events” tab.