Friday, June 21, 2013

Stick It To Darkness: Shine Your Light!

This week's Torah Portion is Balak, one of the most extraordinary passages in the Torah.

The Midrash says that certain things were created during Shkiah, that brief portion of the day called twilight, on the eve of the first Shabbat - amongst them, the mouth of Bilam's donkey, which spoke.

Another one of those created at the very last minute things was the soul of Moshiach, that root neshama that would manifest it's soul spark throughout human history in various incarnations - Adam haReshon, Avraham Avinu, Moshe Rabbanu, King David - until coming to it's final fruition in the End of Days as Moshiach, maker of world peace, builder of the Third and final Temple, gatherer of the Jewish People, savior of the world.

Why was "the mouth of the donkey" created while the light was waning yet before darkness actually appeared? Why was the soul of Moshiach created at that time as well? Could it be that the cosmic interplay of light and darkness in primordial Time somehow flavored the future for all of us by these mysterious last-minute preparations that G*d made right before the beginning of the 7th Day, upon which He rested for the very first time?

Shlomo Katz (whom I like to call "The Cohen Gadol of Jewish Music" has some thoughts on the Parsha that will illuminate us all.

Shabbat Shalom from the Holy Land to the World!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Jerusalem Songs

   More than anything in my journey of Aliyah which began in March 2007, music has played a central and defining role in my daily life - so much so, that (as you know!) I co-founded an Internet Radio Station in Jerusalem in 2009.

Jerusalem songs - those songs which evoke such longing for the Holy City, sung by those of us who languish in the gap between Jerusalem Above and Jerusalem Belong - are part of my soul, my Jewish Neshama, and part of yours as well if you're a Jew, no matter where you are - Jerusalem, or anywhere else in the world.

Songs and compositions about Jerusalem have expressed the Jews' longing for their holy city for thousands of years. Although King David's Psalms did not mention Jerusalem often by its name, his imagery offers some of the earliest-known poetry that relates to the capitol of the Jewish nation and people.

Specific early references to Jerusalem occur in Divrei HaYamim -- Chronicles I -- which records David's purchase of Har HaBayit. Samuel 6:5 and Psalm 122 capture the majesty of the time when King David brought the Aaron -- the Ark of the Covenant -- to Jerusalem and housed it on Har HaMoriah in a tent.

David's son, King Solomon, built the first Temple in Jerusalem, referenced the city continuously in his Song of Songs. In Shir HaShirim -- Song of Songs -- he wrote "I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and by the hinds of the field, that you awaken not, nor arouse love, until it pleases."

Perhaps the most famous literary reference to ancient Jerusalem is recorded in Psalm 137 "by the rivers of Babylon" . When the Babylonian captors asked the Jews to 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion' the Jews responded "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my chief joy." This quote continues to be a traditional part of all Jewish wedding ceremonies till today.

Poetry and imagery of Jerusalem continued to dominate the literature of the Jewish diaspora throughout the years of dispersion and exile. Yehuda HaLevi, in his 12th century poems, wrote of the Jewish nation's yearning to return to Jerusalem. "Beautiful land, delight of the world, city of Kings, my heart longs for you from the far-off west."

Early settlers in Ottoman and British Mandatory Palestine continued the tradition of including Jerusalem in their poetic literature. Hayim Nachman Bialik referenced Jerusalem repeatedly in his works. Naftali Imber published his poem Tikvateinu in 1877. "Our hope is not yet lost, the hope that is two-thousand years old, to be a free nation in our land, the Land of Zion, and Jerusalem." Tikvateinu became the basis for today's Israel national anthem, HaTikva.

An extensive American project, the Lowell Milken Archives, has now begun to collect many historical Jewish songs and compositions which reference Jerusalem as they trace the history and development of the region. While the majority of its work follows the progression of the American Jewish community through its music the Milken Archives also includes music of pre-State and post-State Israel, contributing, as it expands, a vast amount of knowledge and understanding of Israel and Jerusalem's history and maturity. Its founder, Jewish businessman Lowell Milken hopes to raise the spirit of American Jews through this music.

The materials that the Archive has collected examine the lives of early Jewish pioneers who settled throughout the Land of Israel. The Archive's Israel Suite includes specific compositions about Jerusalem that examine the poetry and music that has accompanied the development of the modern, multi-ethnic city.

The Milken Archive contains recordings several early composers. Two works by Julius Chajes, Adarim and Old Jerusalem are featured. These compositions reflect perceptions of early 19th century aliyah until statehood and afterward. They reflect the exotic ambiance of Jerusalem through words and musical elements. Meyer Kupferman's work The Shadows of Jerusalem doesn't mention Jerusalem by name but, in a memorial to the memory of his family that was murdered by the Germans during the Holocaust, he references the symbolism of Jerusalem as the hope for redemption and the symbol of Jewish unity.

The Six Day War inspired some of the most profound and moving pieces about Jerusalem. Naomi Shemer's 1967 Jerusalem of Gold is still recognized today as the premier composition of modern times about the joy and exhilaration that the Jewish people felt at having been reunited with their sacred sites. The Milken Archives presents an additional recording. Canticles for Jerusalem by Vivian Fine is a liturgical composition which was created for mezzo-soprano and piano using Yehuda HaLevi's "Libbi B'Mizrach" as the music's inspiration.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jerusalem - A Formula 1 City or a Formula 613 City?

Surely there is a genetic component to the madness that comes upon the male of the species whenever a racing car is in the vicinity. Old and young alike turn into little boys (regardless of age), and little boys love fast racing cars.

Hence my supposition that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat whom, up until now has received my full support for his initiatives attempting to bridge the reality gap between "Yerushalyim Lemallah" and "Yerushalyim Lemattah," has fallen into a time vortex (there are at least three of them just in my neighborhood alone!) and become, once again, an 8-year old boy.

Only an 8 year old boy would think it's a great idea to bring a bevy of Formula 1 Race Cars to Jerusalem, the Holy City, for a two-day (including Erev Shabbos!) road race reminiscent of the Long Beach Grand Prix.

Mayor Barkat - I'm FROM Long Beach, I lived there for 13 years prior to moving to Jerusalem in 2007, and let me assure you: Jerusalem is no Long Beach!

Nevertheless, the Jerusalem Formula 1 (dubbed "The Peace Road Show") has come to town, and the entire male population has lost their minds, and find themselves wandering around the Formula 1 car exhibit and the racetrack (sometimes with the sheepish excuse of "taking the kids to see the cars").

Hello - reality check!!! Are we a Formula 1 City - or are we a Formula 613 City? You KNOW the answer, folks! We're SUPPOSED to be "Ir haKodesh," the Holy City, we should be racing to perform the 613 mitzvot not racing to win a trophy.

Maybe it's a mitzvah for a grown man to act like a kid (perhaps that's covered under one of the other mitzvot, like the one commanding us to guard our health - after all, it IS healthy to think young, right?)

Oy, the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd.  Or is that the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd? Either way - it's "A Day at the Races" in Jerusalem, just another Jerusalicious adventure living in the Holy Land.