Monday, November 28, 2005

Jews in Alabama Podcast

Well, Eric isn't going to brook bris discussion for a month, but I had a thought about this I have to post -- on the podcast, Eric and Raya have talked about their being pregnant. Eric is not sure if he wants to have the baby bris'd if it's a boy. So there's been discussion.

One of the things I said was that I was uncomfortable at his being a convert and having bris issues. I acknowledged it wasn't fair of me, and surely lashon hara and all sorts of other things, but it was an important reaction to note.

He reacted by saying it wasn't as if he was saying Jesus or the Rebbe was the Messiah, to which I replied, well, to me, not having your boy bris'd is worse than saying Jesus or the Rebbe is the Messiah. Which Eric disagreed with to such an extent that he says we perhaps both can't be Jews because the positions are so different. And he was terribly emphatic and certain that you can't be a Jew and believe in Jesus. Which is interesting, coming from someone who is saying this in the context of saying it's OK and appropriate to question all the mitzvot.. How one can be so emphatic about a belief while not being so emphatic about practice? Is this a sensible approach? Now, do I think that being Jewish and believing in Jesus is compatible? No. But is not getting your son a bris comparable in seriousness as believing in Jesus? Oh, you bet it is.

Saying that Reform don't require a bris, as Eric did, helped me see the truth in my odd little argument. I'm not looking towards Reform as the example I should follow. On anything. So when Eric says that perhaps we can't be in the same religion, I start to agree. I get the point of the Orthodox who insist that non-Orthodoxy is not true Judaism. And now I have to decide if I will be in Orthodox, or in the Judaism-is-whatever-we-want-except-you-can't-believe-in-Jesus (at least not THIS decade--- who knows what the uncircumcised Jews of a few decades will decide is appropriate Jewish behavior--).

I think this whole thing has been useful for Eric because I don't think he was aware of how the bris issue is really about as close to a third-rail issue as any in Judaism, and while it's possible to find Jews who don't get it done, it's an issue that stirs up emotion like few other.

That being said, I have a last point to make about WHY saying Jesus is the Messiah (or the Rebbe is) is right up there with not giving your kid a bris. I actually have many, but this is the main one.

The early believers in Jesus were Jews. What did they stop doing that directly led to their identification as Christians and not Jewish believers in Christ? Mainly dumping the mitzvot, two in particular. Kashrut went out the window when Peter had that cool dream(all the animals on the big tablecloth), and Paul won the argument against Peter re: no circumcisions for the new believers. With these two main mitzvot gone, Paul was free to get believers more easily, and we got Christianity. If the Jews like Peter who thought Jesus was the messiah had continued the Jewish practice as they were doing at the beginning of Acts, they would have ended up like the believers in any number of other false messiahs-- after a few generations, if that, they would have forgotten about their failed messiah and ended up back in the normative Jewish fold. When you stop the mitzvahs, however, you tamper with that which is central to Jewish identity. It is not so much falling in with a false messiah as stopping the mitzvot that sets you down the path away from Jewish identity and practice. Once they're gone, it's hard to bring them back, whereas beliefs are comparatively easy to take up and lay down.

And this is a big problem with all non-Orthodox Judaism... we are tossing the mitzvot that kept us Jews till today. That has done a lot more damage and led to a lot more assimilation than someone's beliefs in one person or another as a messiah --- a LOT more people convert to Christianity because they grew up secular, without practice or mitzvot, and fell in love with a Christian than converted due to deeply held belief. That's certainly why I did.

Oren Bloedow and Jennifer Charles -- Lamma Badah

This is a gorgeous CD, La Mar Enfortuna .Not only because of the very pretty cover, but because it's Sephardic love songs in Ladino as done by Bloedow and Charles Very, very cool. Some are done traditionally, others are done with English lyrics and jazzy sounds... Jennifer Charles has one of the neatest voices ever. Her voice is one you want to drape over yourself at night, because it's so warm and snuggly, except it's also arousing and teasing, so you won't sleep a wink. This is important, because I can't understand Ladino and so have no idea what's going on, except when the words are the same as Spanish and in my limited vocabulary. That Jennifer Charles sure can sing.

Oren Bloedow and she are also Elysian Fields, but this is a side-project thingie they did for Tzadik Records a few years ago. I read about it when it came out and I wanted it, but it wasn't anyplace I could get it online, and I don't buy real CDs anymore -- it's too cost-prohibitive. Then earlier this month, apparently, all the Tzadik Records releases got onto, which is really exciting stuff. There's tons of great music I'll be downloading the next few months.

So much happened over the Thanksgiving break:

Harry Potter
The fourth movie is the best one so far. As my g/f says, it's still not our kind of movie, but it was good stuff.

Currently I am putting aside my vegetarianism for Thanksgiving and Pesach. Thanksgiving we had a great spread and great family. I was the only guy there... the rest was my mom, daughter, sister, g/f, and her friend and her friend's two daughters. It was a great time. And lots of turkey.

My body was totally thrown off by so much turkey... I ate turkey at every meal until breakfast Sunday. Now I'm back to eating vegetarian, and none too soon. I had very odd intestinal issues.

I love the beach in the fall and winter. Perhaps it's because my grandmother lived at the seashore in England and I remember when we lived there. But being near the ocean is important, and all the better the colder it gets. So we took a nice long walk along the ocean. Because it was so cold, it was deserted, and all the shorebirds were out, enjoying the solitude. The ocean smelled so clean... and the Santa Monica Bay doesn't always smell that good, trust me.

I fell asleep on this movie, it was so boring. But my daughter liked it. SO there you go.

The Drowsy Chaperone
This is a new musical at the Ahmanson. It's apparently Broadway-bound, and is a great choice for people who love musicals or hate musicals, because the neat conceit is that the audience are guests at this nebbishy guy's apartment and he's playing us the soundtrack of this old 20s musical... so it's a typical silly 20s musical but with the added dimension of the guy making all sorts of comments and stopping the action to tell us what became of the actor playing this character and that character, all sorts of stuff like that. It was a gloriously fun and interesting musical, which is a lot coming from me, because I am easy on plays but terribly hard on musicals. Almost a year ago my g/f took us to see Les Mis and I didn't like it at all. Anyway. Good stuff. Expensive -- but good stuff. All of a sudden the past few years we've been seeing a lot of plays and musicals and I'm almost thinking perhaps it's worth the cost.

Real Food Daily

I love this restaurant -- vegan AND kosher, in West Hollywood. A nightmare for my daughter -- she is happiest eating steak and potatoes and green beans, and finds anything else a real challenge, but I didn't mind that much yesterday. I had a great seitan fajitas thing... very different than turkey and stuffing and cranberries and gravy...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Matisyahu -- Got No Water

I seen the ways of the world intoxifying on pride
Young man don't you know drugs impurify your mind
When Israel left mitzrayim four fifths got left behind

I just downloaded Matisyahu's Shake Off the Dust... Arise a few days ago, and it's good stuff. How else can you learn Torah while listening to reggae? And the above part of "Got No Water" interested me. I hadn't heard that 4/5 of the Jews in Egypt didn't make the Exodus, so I googled it, and found that this interpretation comes from one of many possible ways a single word in a single line of Torah can be read... Shemot 13:18 says "...And Children of Israel were armed" and Rashi says that the word for "armed" can also be understood to be derived from the word "five" and this implies that one out of five departed Egypt and the other four fifths died in the plague of darkness. And earlier, when this plague is discussed, apparently the Jews who didn't want to leave Egypt died... so this would mean that four fifths of the Jews in Egypt didn't want to leave Egypt and died as a result. But how many of us can really say we honestly want to leave Mitzrayim today? After all, we never really left. That's why we are still doing the Haggadah every year. That's why we say Next Year in Jerusalem. That's why Jews living in Israel are still really in exile...

This reminds me of what our rabbi said on Shabbat about the real crime of Sodom and and Gemorrah (as opposed to the Christian idea that it's all about non-vaginal sex, which seems to spring, as many Christian ideas do, from poor translation of the Hebrew). So, according to the rabbis, what made Sodom so terrible? That they believed "What's mine is mine, and what's yours is yours." Simple. And scary. After all, isn't that basic common-sense property law? Isn't following this idea what defines one as "law-abiding?" The Sodomites forgot that they were wealthy because G-d had blessed the land and made it fruitful, and they started to think it was from their merits, and they wanted to keep from having to share any of their wealth. So this is the real reason the crowd came to Lot's house to harrass the guests -- it wasn't a crazy gay sex party, it was to basically beat the shit out of the guests because they wanted to discourage visitors and immigrants who would be a drain to their treasure. They were so greedy they did things like fence in fruit trees, even the tops so that no one, not even birds, could get at their fruit.

It's beautiful stuff. We are all in Mitzrayim, but we are also in danger of becoming Sodomites, and we can see Sodomites all around us! We have to watch ourselves and our attitudes towards those who have less than we. We must remember that the source of all our blessings isn't our hard work, but G-d, and that G-d gives some of us more than others just so we can act as G-d's representative and properly disburse this extra money to those that need it.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Kate Bush -- An Architect's Dream


My g/f's youngest was Bat Mitzvahed this weekend. She and my g/f have been working on the various aspects of this along with the father and me and planners, etc, etc, for months and months. It's finally over. This Thanksgiving we're not going anywhere. We're getting the turkey and trimmings from the supermarket, premade. We're too tired to do anything else.

There's an awful lot of work involved -- first, there's the theme. And the decorations. And the invitations. WHo sits at what table. The menu. The entertainment. Learning the torah portion trope. ANd on and on.

ANd then there's the custom of doing custom prayerbooks for the service. So my g/f and her daughter had to pick special readings and prayers. And since the theme was "A Secret Garden" we got a good passage from the book into the prayerbook for the amidah part, and my g/f found other good garden/growth/plant-related stuff to put in... she stuck in one of my poems I'd written her years ago, and I got to do a reading-- something by Chabad rabbi Tzvi Freeman I'm sure was a reworking of something "the rebbe" said--

There are people who do many good things, but with pessimism, because to them, the world is an inherently bad place. Since their good deeds have no life to them, who knows how long they can keep it up? We must know that this world is not a dark, sinister jungle, but a garden. And not just any garden, but G-d's own pleasure garden, full of beauty, wonderful fruits and fragrances, a place where G-d desires to be with all G-d's essence.

If the taste to us is bitter, it is only because we must first peel away the outer shell to find the fruit inside.

My daughter helped me memorize and work out the phrasing, so when I read it at the bimah, I was reciting it, rather than reading it. I did a pretty good job, making good eye contact with everyone. It's a perfect shul for that, being in the round, with the bimah at the center and the seating all around on three sides. After I did the reading, as I was going back to my seat, the cantor pulled me aside and said I missed my calling and I should have been a rabbi. (Based on how I read a mystical Chabad thing to the rationalist Reconstructionist congregation, mind you. ;-) ) My reaction was "Who says I can't still become a rabbi!?"

(Part of the reason I did so well getting into that reading was that I was listening a lot to Matisyahu's CD, which is just great, great stuff for getting you into the appropriate Chabad/chasid mindset. I was finally the imperfect prophet I've alwasys wanted to be.)

Anyway, so we had a nice service, and then the party to end all parties, with all sorts of wonderful music and food and dancing, and then the brunch on Sunday, and by then I was so damn exhausted and grumpy my daughter and I spent yesterday afternoon and evening lying around doing nothing at all. The bat mitzvah girl and her mom, meanwhile, were up till 1am opening presents and making up thankyou list stuff.

So it's odd. time passing, kids growing up. Getting older. My daughter will be 13 next year. Very odd.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Kate Bush -- Pi

So. I got my new glasses -- they are cool Flexon Magnetics -- instead of 'clip-on' sunglasses, the sunglass part attaches with nifty magnets that sit unobtrusively in front of the hinges. When the sunglasses are on it's really hard to tell they are not just rx sunglasses, and you don't have as much of an irritating gap between lens and sunglass lens as you have with clip ons. The shape is a tiny bit boxier than my previous glasses. And they are matte black. My eyes had not gotten worse as far as distance, but had gotten a bit more astigmatic, so I got new lenses and frames, because my old frames were busted. And while I get a headache from new glasses, I love the odd 3-D feel I get from a new pair, when things are extra crisp and focused. I could tell especially looking at Mars last night and seeing it clearer, and seeing the Moon clearer...

A while ago I bought a book by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, "Growth through Tehillim" and now I am reading it as part of my lunch break. Pliskin has written all sorts of books I guess would be considered "mussar" in that they are all based on self-improvement. One my dad gave me years ago is called "The Gateway to Happiness" and is all about how being happy is a mitzvah. There are parts that detail why it's a commandment to be happy, and then there are parts that are all about how to become more happy... anyway, it's like regular self-help books but about twenty times as dense and more useful for learning Torah, since everything is based on some written or oral reference.

Anyway, so now I am reading a psalm a day and Pliskin's bit on that Psalm. To be organized, I'm starting from Psalm 1. I like Psalm 1 because it has a nice image of the tree deeply rooted next to brooks, so it's well-watered. Also, like Pliskin says, it purposely emphasizes positive behavior, when it starts out "Praiseworthy is the man who walked not in the counsel of the wicked..." rather than "Cursed is the man who walks in the counsel of the wicked..." That's always my weak spot when I parent -- I fall too easily into taking good behavior for granted and commenting on negative behavior, rather than commenting on positive behavior, for instance. And with me as well as with my daughter. And Pliskin points out that sometimes, doing mundane stuff, we feel like we aren't doing anything positive. And he points out that in just being occupied doing something mundane, we aren't at that moment doing anything wrong. And in avoiding evil, we are for all intents and purposes doing a mitzvah. That's my big struggle. It's really easy for me to lose focus at work and get distracted by stuff. Like blogging, for instance!

Maybe with my new glasses I can keep these lessons in better focus. Couldn't help that one.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Kate Bush -- Nocturn

Most of the lyrics are very good on this CD... my favorite so far is "Nocturn":

Sweet dreams...

On this Midsummer might
Everyone is sleeping
We go driving into the moonlight

Could be in a dream
Our clothes are on the beach
These prints of our feet
Lead right up to the sea
No one, no one is here
No one, no one is here
We stand in the Atlantic
We become panoramic

We tire of the city
We tire of it all
We long for just that something more

Could be in a dream
Our clothes are on the beach
These prints of our feet
Lead right up to the sea
No one, no one is here
No one, no one is here
We stand in the Atlantic
We become panoramic

The stars are caught in our hair
The stars are on our fingers
A veil of diamond dust
Just reach up and touch it
The sky's above our heads
The sea's around our legs
In milky, silky water
We swim further and further
We dive down... We dive down

A diamond night, a diamond sea
And a diamond sky...

We dive deeper and deeper
We dive deeper and deeper
Could be we are here
Could be we are in a dream
It came up on the horizon
Rising and rising
In a sea of honey, a sky of honey
A sea of honey, a sky of honey

Look at the light, all the time it's a changing
Look at the light, climbing up the aerial
Bright, white coming alive jumping off the aerial
All the time it's a changing, like now...
All the time it's a changing, like then again...
All the time it's a changing
And all the dreamers are waking.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Kate Bush -- Pi

Oh. I never manage to look at the cam in Antartica when it's daylight down there. I always think of Antarctica when it's summer here and winter and sunless there. But today I remembered, and it looks positively balmy!

Kate Bush -- A Coral Room

You know, last week I was reading a lot of Chabad-related stuff, especially about the apparently-prevalent belief that Shneerson, their last Rebbe, was Moshiach, and how Chabadnicks tend to believe one of the following three things as well about their Rebbe-- 1) the Rebbe isn't really dead at all 2) the Rebbe is dead, but is coming back to life as Moshiach 3) not only is he coming back, but he's Divine to boot!

Now, last week, this all seemed insane. It seemed like every Lubavitcher was some variant of kook. I mean, he was nice and all, but Moshiach? Where's the lamb lying with the lion? Where's world peace? Where's the rebuilt temple? But at the very same time, something odd was happening, something so magical and unexpected that it totally changed my opinion.

For Kate Bush fans, the last twelve years have been a long, long, long, long time. The wait for the next Kate Bush album even inspired a book called "Waiting for Kate Bush" that appears to be about a fan who puts off killing himself if he can be assured that Kate Bush releases her CD within six months -- he'll still kill himself, I think, but after hearing her new CD. And for me, I'd been waiting for such a long time, and seeing such sketchy information on the web, that I hadn't even been paying attention this year. I'd given up hope, I guess. She had her man, she had a little boy, she was probably too happy. It was just as well.

So imagine my surprise when I stumble upon her new CD and glowing reviews all over the internet! How did this happen without me knowing? Not only did she put out a CD, but a double CD with 16 tracks and two major song-cycle thingies and songs that are as unabashedly Kate as ever but even better. She has made a CD that's so domestic in focus it even out-domesticates Bjork's Vespertine. So it's all I'm listening to. It's just amazing.

When I was a little boy, I had a nap and dreamt I had a blue balloon in my hands. When I woke up I reached for the balloon. It wasn't there. The wonder and disappointment, all mixed up, as I realized the balloon wasn't real is something I still can feel today. Kate Bush releasing an album gives me the feeling of dreaming I have a blue balloon, then waking up and having the blue ballon in my hands, smelling of ozone and crackling with static electricity from its voyage from my dream to my waking life.

So now the silly, the impossible, the heretical? Bring it on. It's all possible. But I don't want Moshiach quite yet -- I'm busy listening to Aerial, a gorgeous, unexpected gift of an album.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Genesis -- Firth of Fifth

Well, I was starting to feel that perhaps I judged Frist too harshly. Just because he wanted to investigate the leak about the torture prisons didn't mean he didn't care about the terror prisons, I thought.

Hah. Today I learn that Bill Frist is even more immoral than I thought!

Kind of figures, doesn't it? He's a doctor, and all too often, we forget that doctors are involved in the torture process. I'm sure Frist knows just where to place the electrodes and knife-edge.

Israel lives with real terror threats all the time and has strong anti-torture laws it upholds fastidiously. If they can do it, the United States can, surely.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sondre Lerche -- Things You Call Fate

Oh. Several things happened I forgot to mention.

1) The King Tut exhibit was a huge ripoff. Most of the artifacts weren't King Tut stuff. I remember when I was a kid in the early 70s they had the cool exhibit. This time, they used the sarcophagus images on ads, but no sarcophagus or anything else that was King Tut's beyond a few items buried in the sarcophagus. If they hadn't hyped it so much, it wouldn't have been a disappointment. My daughter had got it into her head that there'd at least be the sarcophagus, and of course it wasn't there. Some other Egyptian's sarcophagus was there, but of course, we were waiting to see King Tut's.

2) My g/f and I saw a David Mamet play this weekend, Romance. Very funny play. It was like a modern variant of a Marx Brothers thing. Cool.

It's raining today. In LA, that means everyone freaks out. Not only does everyone freak, but the roads tend to accumulate lots of oil and grease all summer, so until there's a huge amount of rain to clear off the roads, rainfall usually means slick roads... woo hoo!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Frank Black -- Pray a Little Faster

So. Word gets out that the US has set up prisons for terrorism suspects in former Soviet-era facilities in Eastern Europe. And the Republicans have quickly sprung into action. To denounce the US hiding its dirty work of depriving people of basic rights as laid out in the Geneva Convention? Of course not! Frist and Hastert have sprung into action to call for investigations to see who leaked. Yeah. That's effective leadership and moral character.

Oh, there's some quote about a people getting the leadership it deserves, isn't there? I am too busy to google it. So you know I'm damn busy.

Crowded House - There Goes God

This is a silly song. The best part is

Hey don't look now
But there goes God
In his sexy pants
And his sausage dog
And he can't stand
'Cos he looks so good
in black, in black

Anyway. Today is election day in California, the special election costing $50 million or so that was called for by Arnold because he's a dork. The "reforms" he argues will fix California are typical Republican approaches. I have been back and forth on Arnold. I have thought highly of him at times. Admittedly briefly, but I don't think I've ever felt positively about Bush, for instance. Right now, I think Arnold is a dork. Bush's ineptitude is dripping onto Arnold and I see Arnold as hapless more than anything else. Oh, well.

And today my body is holding a referendum on whether or not I'm getting sick. The past few days it's been considering it, and I've been achy and exhausted. Last night I slept a lot, and today I seem to be a bit better. I hope they just do an up or down vote. Sick or Healthy. One or the other.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Wolf Parade -- Dinner Bells

I know nothing of The Wolf Parade except it's a band of guys from Canada. And I keep playing their CD Apologies to the Queen. I listen to a fair amount of new CDs each year, but I don't find myself listening to them over and over. This year that's been true of relatively few CDs, like The Arcade Fire, Spoon, Bloc Party, Fiona Apple, Bright Eyes, Paul Weller, TV on the Radio, the Magic Numbers... and now Wolf Parade. There's a ton of other stuff I've listened to that's been nice and all, like the new Franz Ferninand CD, for instance, that I've never found myself pining for. Apologies to the Queen. is a CD of songs that come to me in the middle of the day when I am not thinking of songs at all.

Tonight I'm taking my daughter to see the King Tut exhibit at LACMA. She loved studying Egypt last year, so she'll really enjoy herself. It'll be a weird commute--- I'll take the train back home 30 miles to get her and drive about 7 miles west of where my work is, but hey. Life in LA is endless commuting.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Paul Weller -- Fly Little Bird

The Jam was the most interesting and exciting band to come out of England in the Punk years. Yeah, that's what I said. It wasn't just Paul Weller-- while his songs and guitar work were great, Bruce Foxton's bass and Rick Buckler's drumming were the solid base and soul of The Jam upon which Paul could hang his guitar work and lyrics. And though I will always resent Paul for breaking up the Jam (Pauls seem to break up stuff -- Paul McCartney broke up the Beatles, and Paul broke up the Jewish movement of Jesus followers and created Christians as his solo project), I do see the point of Weller partisans who say it was better for Weller to see their best work was behind them and to quit on top, rather than do a slow, agonizing slide into mediocrity. I dunno. When he started The Style Council, I hated the sound and tuned out until a few years ago, when Illuminations came out. I then went and got the rest of his solo stuff. And now we have a new CD, As Is Now, so I am a happy guy.

While many artists of the 70s haven't aged that well physically or musically, Paul Weller has. He isn't trying to be the angry young man he was in the late 70s, when Peter Townsend (one of Paul's Big influences) met him and afterwards said something along the lines of "he's a tougher egg than I ever was." You can still tell Weller's agressive guitar work immediately (if you don't know The Jam but know Peter Gabriel -- it's Paul Weller playing guitar on "Through the Wire,") but he's grown out of his youthful mimicry of Townsend's early Who tricks. And while he's still political, but it's not the raw stuff of his younger years. Here's what he did roughly twenty years ago, on the Style Council song "Money Go Round"--

The good and righteous sing their hymns
The crimpoline dresses who have no sins
Christians by day, killers in war
The hypocrites who know what they're fighting for
Killing for peace, freedom and truth
But they're too old to go so they send the youth

Watch the money-go-round, watch the money-go-round
I don't think he was an astronaut
Watch the money-go-round, watch the money-go-round
I must insist - he was a Socialist!

Perhaps not evident from this snippet but obvious from the lyrics as a whole -- he's talking about Jesus. Now, I am a Socialist kind of guy, I see the world in Marxist terms unless I work really hard at it, but when I read the Jesus narratives, I don't think "Socialist!" But thank G-d, Paul Weller did.*

And here is a bit of "Savages" from his new CD--

Savages, you can dress it up,
give it a name and a fancy uniform,
and a flag to fly, to hide behind,
can you not see the truth that's on the ground?

You have no love--
it has all gone cold on you,
you never had it so you take it out on
those whose love is growing,
that's what you hate most when you're savages.

See how much calmer and introspective he is now? :-)

Anyway. Power to the People. Except the People who watch Desperate Housewives. Or Bill O'Reilly. Or listen to Air America. Or voted for Bush. Or who care more about an embryo than a live child. Or listen to music on the radio. Or who drive BMWs. Or who have bumper stickers on their cars. Oh, forget it. Power to ME! I'll be a good dictator. You'll see.

*Socialists in England have an interesting habit of trying to recasting old stuff in a Socialist light. Billy Bragg, in his wonderful album of Socialist anthems, The Internationale, does a gorgeous version of Blake's Jerusalem. And if you listen to it from a Socialist perspective, it can make sense that way, but I doubt it's what Blake intended.