Israelis live a bifurcated existence. On the one hand they wearily read the morning paper, always knowing someone who is affected by a bomb, or the closing of businesses caused by the bomb. On the other hand, they go to bed dreaming of childhoods in Toronto or Paris or Arad, worrying about unfinished paintings, or remembering a first kiss behind the chicken coop near the abandoned kibbutz.
Is the Torah true? Does the God of Exodus really exist? And if the answer is no, is it a theological catastrophe or business as usual?
These existential questions underlie the striking range of newspaper commentaries on the Conservative movement's impressive new Chumash, Etz Chaim, its first new publication of the Torah and Haftorah readings since the 1930s.
I’ve been fascinated with the origin, influence and texture of Jewish humor for as long as I can remember, but have resisted writing my thoughts on the matter given that, 1) no one knows exactly how humor works, Jewish or otherwise, and 2) such a column would inevitably be unfunny.
In the first scene of “Angels in America,” Tony Kushner’s 1993 Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning magnum opus, a rabbi appears on stage to eulogize an old Jewish woman he has never met. Standing on a bare stage with the coffin, he tells the assembled mourners that although the era of “Great Voyages” has passed, American Jews will still never quite be at home in America.
He was the last of the great cantors of the Golden Age and, perhaps, the greatest. So it is fitting that in their efforts to revive classic chazanut, Cantors World’s latest concert is a tribute to Moshe Koussevitzky. His brilliant tenor voice was stilled by death on Aug. 23, 1966, but for former students and colleagues, it still rings in their ears.
“His voice was like a violin, but with the strength of a pipe organ,” says Cantor Benjamin Siller.
You don’t need to be a genius to see that the music industry, like the other branches of the media, is driven almost entirely by desire for profit. Perhaps that is not an entirely bad thing, but with the continuing consolidation of media companies, the bottom line really means bottom, as in lowest common denominator.
Perhaps because it is the liturgical music with which I am most familiar, perhaps the emotions of the occasion are always so heightened. But for whatever reason, I believe there is no music in the Jewish tradition more powerful than the various versions of the High Holy Days service, whatever its provenance. Composers as various as Ernest Bloch and Max Bruch have been drawn to this music and for a cantor it is undoubtedly the crown of the year. Below are six new recordings that speak directly to tradition and a seventh which comments on it obliquely but passionately.
This year produced 16 five-star recordings, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. However, because of space limitations, I am forced to choose a 10-best list. That doesn’t mean the rest are anything less than wonderful, and I have listed them all here.
“Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish People of Uganda” (Smithsonian Folkways)