Tuesday, April 19, 2016

No pressure but...

A very young kid in a very large Borsalino just walked into traffic to hand me this important piece of election literature. Stakes are high, as this kid reminded me. Still time to have your say! Vote!

More Proof That Yiddish Is Not Inherently Funny or Radical NEW YORK PRIMARY EDITION

An informant in Israel sent this to me and it was too good (ok, not good, but MIND BOGGLING) not to share right away. Go here and listen to the Yiddish language jingle now playing in support of a certain orange candidate.

Style: Mashup between contemporary badkhones and a used car commercial
Vocab: Shtitsn-support; Vote- vote (hasidish Yiddish isn't known for it's purity of vocabulary)
Political Context: Hasidim and the ultra-Orthodox in New York are generally considered a reliable voting bloc for conservative candidates.

Listen, laugh, cry, scrub your earballs, and then l'man hashem, go and vote for someone with a D after his or her name.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

On why I can't stand the word 'secular'

More blasts from the pasts... Today on Twitter I had a brief exchange with writer Dan Mendelsohn Aviv about the exquisite whims of our Jewish philanthropy billionaire class. The question of 'secular education' came up. Predictably, I rolled my eyes and (digitally) exclaimed WHAT EVEN DOES IT MEAN? AND DON'T SAY SPINOZA!
I told Dan I had an essay somewhere in the archives (from way way back in the day, in the previous incarnation of this blog) that touched on my very heated up feelings on 'secular' as a category of analysis.
I'll be real: this essay is almost ten years old and if written today, would probably be a bit different. But, if you're interested in some (a lot of) push back on the religious/secular thinking as usual, give it a read.

The New Generation Gap- What Synagogue Jews Can Really Learn from Secular Jews 

In "The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Secular Judaism", Professor Jonathan Sarna attempts to find a continuity of Jewish American secularism. This continuity includes the Revolutionary War era Free Thinkers, Louis Brandeis and, most importantly, the political Yiddishist movement of the 20th century. But there is no real connection between them, at least not in the way Professor Sarna proposes. In fact, Sarna misrepresents who the political Yiddishists were by associating that deeply Jewish, and successful, movement with individuals like philosopher Baruch Spinoza and the occasional Jewish Free Thinker. 
The political Yiddishists get a double insult from Sarna, because he also misrepresents the complex reasons (both internal and external) for their inability to maintain a mass movement into the 21st century. It's my belief that that misrepresentation is part of a larger narrative, one which reveals our failure to maintain a truly substantive, fulfilling Jewish American culture. It also reveals a desire to conflate the Yiddish language and the political Yiddishists, and then sweep them both into the dustbin of irrelevance as we say borekh shepotrani (the blessing said by a father on his son's bar mitzvah) for any responsibility to the continuity of Eastern European Jewish culture.

Sarna's so-called Jewish secular continuity supports an increasingly untenable fallacy: that for American Jews, cultural=secular=atheist=assimilated. In this equation, of course Louis Brandeis can be understood in relation to the political Yiddishists. But Louis Brandeis was a Jew in the only ways he knew how- eating pork, celebrating Christmas and visiting his Frankist grandparents when they laid on the guilt. With all due respect (I myself am a Brandeis grad), Louis Brandeis was about as Jewish as a Wonderbread bagel. It's well documented that Brandeis was very uncomfortable with overt Jewishness and a lot more comfortable with Pilgrims than Jew-ish Jews, especially those from Eastern Europe. In his book Are We One: Jewish Identity in the United States and Israel, Professor Jerold S. Auerbach notes that "Brandeis easily discovered so much in common between Zionism and Americanism because he knew so little about Judaism." Brandeis was able to discover the formula for American Zionism because that formula depended upon a conception of Jews, and future Israelis, in which Jews and Israelis were modern day Pilgrims who embodied the highest Enlightenment ideals of the West and specifically of the United States. But just because Brandeis believed (or wanted) Jewish values to be identical to American values didn't make it so.  
Louis Brandeis obviously felt a connection to other Jews and that connection motivated his political work on the behalf of Zionism. But his kind of Jewishness, (essentially kinship networks and political Zionism) left little chance for Jewish continuity. There was precious little Jewish substance to his kind of Jewish 'secularism.' Sarna points out that Brandeis found his own particular and individualistic Jewish identity "hard to transmit to his children." Why is this a surprise, to Brandeis, or to us? And why does Jonathan Sarna claim Louis Brandeis for the secular Jewish continuum at all?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Purim is Coming - A Reminder from Me and Golem

My favorite high intensity klezpunkers GOLEM have a new video and it is awesome. The song VODKA IS POISON is from their latest CD, TANZ and I cannot recommend it enough. Also, obviously, highly appropriate for the holiday.

I can't embed the video (what the hell?) but you should watch it.

Also, if you're going to be in New York City, you can attend the only Yiddish megile reading (Yehoash edition) with Annette and the superstars of Golem rocking out afterwards.

Details from sponsor Folksbiene Theatre:

"Put on your wildest costume, make some noise, nosh a homentash and cut loose Yiddish Style this Purim with The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene

The evening starts with a reading of the Megiles Ester as translated by the poet Yehoash in Yiddish with English supertitles. 

Following the reading, an unforgettable concert with punk infused Rock-Klezmer band Golem.

Hamentashen provided by Ben's Delicatessen.

March 23rd at 7:30pm

Museum of Jewish Heritage
36 Battery Place
New York, NY 10280

Tickets – $20
For tickets call Itzy Firestone at 212-213-2120 x204"

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Brokhe on BBC Weekend

How gorgeous is that picture? That's Ben Rosenblatt and Yelena Shmulenson at the reading of A BROKHE, December 28, 2015 at Yiddish New York.

In conjunction with the reading at YNY, the BBC asked me onto their Weekend program (or, programme) to talk about the play, as well as to chat about the state of Yiddish today. You can also listen here. You may get a chuckle out of hearing Yiddish dissed by a Mossad dude. The universe has a sense of irony sometimes.

I'm working on getting a couple of video clips from the reading up on the blog. Check back in soon...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Reminder

A Brokhe

A Blessing

My new play.

And right now, the only place you can see it is this December 28th, 3:45 pm, at Yiddish New York. Well, you can't see the whole thing. But at least an excerpt. And me talking for an hour. So, register now.

Memory, Performance and Perets

If you were at Klezkanada this year, you were lucky. Among other highlights, we had a special focus on the 100th yortsayt of Y.L. Perets. If you weren't at Klezkanada, you can still spend some quality time with the Perets legacy. This Sunday at YIVO at 2 pm:
Y. L. Peretz (1852-1915) was the father of the Yiddish cultural revolution that transformed Jewish life in the early 20th century. The first to bring high literary talent to the workers’ movement, the first to use Jewish folklore for literary creation and the first Jewish cultural figure to enlist in electoral politics, Peretz championed a culture that embraced both tradition and modernist invention, and fought for its right to flourish in dangerous times.

If you've had enough of Perets at this point [WHAT????] there is a wonderful talk at the same time, a bit further downtown. Theater historian Alisa Solomon will be talking about her fantastic exploration of Fiddler on the Roof, Wonder of Wonders, at the Eldridge Street Synagogue. And if you thought you knew all there was to know about FotR, trust me, you don't know the half of it. Sunday, November 1 at 3 pm.
When it burst onto Broadway in 1964, Fiddler on the Roof was an instant sensation. But the show’s success went well beyond its nine Tony awards and record smashing ticket sales. Join Columbia University Professor Alisa Solomon, author of the acclaimed book Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof, for a fascinating talk about this remarkable musical. Sharing stories the New York Times called "as rich and dense as chocolate babka," Solomon gives us an inside look at the talented team who clashed, collaborated, and created this most celebrated of shows and explores how a musical about shtetl life became a cultural touchstone for audiences around the world.
Looking further ahead...

Coming up on Tuesday, November 10 is an event with a very personal connection for me. My friend Isabelle Rozenbaumas has spent the last few years researching the education of the girls of inter-war Telz, Lithuania. The education the girls received there was remarkably broad and demanding. I'm pretty sure I would have struggled to keep up with the Yavne curriculum.  I often think of the girls of Telz when working on my play. A Brokhe centers on the post-war lives of two young women who came of age in Eastern Europe but must now adjust to America and the American educational system. Isabelle's work is my link to the lived experience of ambitious Jewish girls of Eastern Europe.

This lecture will reflect on Rozenbaumas’s research process through archival documents, oral testimonies, photographs, eyewitness accounts, and yizkor-bikher (memorial books). Rozenbaumas will outline her efforts in teaching with these materials, as well as her work developing an open-space installation in the marketplace of Telsiai.

And last but not least. Just as Isabelle is doing multi-media memory work with her Telz research, for years Wolf Krakowski has been making music that integrates the soul of Polish Yiddish life with contemporary sounds. It's a lot more remarkable than that. His first album, Transmigrations, created a cult of fandom whose ranks seems to be still growing, some 20 years after its release.

A few days ago Wolf sent me this, his first video. And because it's Wolf, it's not just a performance of a new song, but a daring exploration of memory and how it lives on, and through, us. Enjoy!

Monday, September 28, 2015


The bad news: After 30 consecutive years, Klezkamp is no more.

The good news: A group of artists has organized a New York City based event to carry on in the spirit of Klezkamp. The event is called Yiddish New York and will feature many of the same world class faculty, but with a New York City twist. The program will be non-residential, which lowers the cost of participation significantly. And, because it will be taking place in the East Village, the organizers will be able to take advantage of many fantastic New York venues and locales. And for everyone who has ever said to their friends and family: 'You'd understand if you had been there' (there being Klezkamp/Klezkanada etc), this may make it a little easier to bring your loved ones into the cult-- I mean, family.

Anyway, go here ASAP and register. The faculty list is lengthy and stellar. I'll even be there, presenting on my new play, the Yiddish-English gangster ghost romance, A Brokhe.

See you in December!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Leshono Toyve

Wishing All of You a Sweet New Year 5776
(See my previous post about how surprisingly influential this wonderful little record has been.  I HOPE HOPE HOPE it will be reissued on CD sometime soon b'himeyre v'yameynu omeyn)

mir bagrisn hoykh un klor/leshono toyve a gut yor
mir bagrisn un mir vintshn/ale kinder hoykh un klor
leshono toyve tikaseyvu/ a gut yor a gut yor

tates mames dem gantsen dor/leshono toyve a gut yor
tates mames shvester brider/ kroyvim, fraynd, dem gantsn dor
leshono toyve kol yisroyel/ a gut yor

(my rough translation)
We wish you loud and clear/ a good year
leshono toyve tikaseyvu [may you be inscribed in the book of life]

fathers mothers the whole generation/ a good year
fathers mothers sisters brothers/ family, friends, the whole generation
a good year to all the people Israel

Saturday, August 8, 2015


photo by Anya Roz
In case the photo doesn't say it all, my dear friend and brilliant genius creator-man Frank London (that's him, on the plate above) wants y'all to know about this little piece of world debut art he's throwing down this Thursday in the East Village:

Salomé: Woman of Valor
Refracted in fragments of fact, re-flective factions of fiction in friction
re-taled in the toiling, tilled in the tolling, styled in the telling, Detailing, tallying – 
through history, mystery, herstory, errstory,
a mythistory to be endlessly re-told.
Poet/spoken word performer Adeena Karasick and trumpeter/composer Frank London present Salomé: Woman of Valor, their radical re-telling of the story of Salomé. This multi-disciplinary performance re-visions Salomé through a feminist Jewish perspective and translates the story not only as a narrative of violence and desire, but of scapegoating and our contemporary preoccupation with erotic and aesthetic transgression, occupying a space of otherness and desire.
The creative team for Salomé: Woman of Valor includes:
- visual landscape artist Paul Clay, who is both VJ for Basement Bhangra and the set designer of the Broadway show, RENT.  
-  super virtuosic creative musicians, percussionist Deep Singh and keyboardist Shai Bachar, performing the Jewish/Arabic/Bhangra/Free Jazz/trance score with trumpeter London.
- dancer Roni Yaari, creator of Inner Spirit Dance, practitioner of all styles of belly dance from classical, modern, Arabic, Indian and beyond. 

Thursday, Aug 13, 2015
DROM 85 Ave. A, New York
7:15 pm Doors open at 6:30. $15.00