Posted on August 10th, 2011 1 comment
Hebrew Union College has been in the forefront of educating and empowering women to take leadership roles in Jewish life. 36 years ago, the HUC-JIR’s Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music invested its first female cantor. Their voices have changed prayer for all of us, women and men alike. This week’s guest post by Cantor Erik Contzius describes a tribute to the voices of Jewish women throughout the ages.
36 years ago, HUC-JIR’s Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music invested its first female cantor, Barbara Ostfeld. Since that time, women have greatly influenced the modern cantorate as well as the musical liturgy of the synagogue. Cantor Ostfeld was a true pioneer, becoming a role model to those women who immediately followed her through the halls of Hebrew Union College to today, where over half of the American Conference of Cantors (ACC) is comprised of women.
In honor of this double-khai anniversary, the American Conference of Cantors honored those female cantors in the ACC who joined from 1975-1985 at the American Conference of Cantors-Guild of Temple Musician’s annual convention in Boston in June, 2011. All of these women, each pioneers in her own right, were acknowledged for their contributions as well as their trailblazing at the convention. Presentations were made, a special service was performed, and I was fortunate enough to be included in honoring these well-deserving women.
I was initially approached by my friend and colleague, Cantor Claire Franco, who asked if I would compose a choral work in honor of the ACC’s “Imahot,” marking the occasion most appropriately with a new song. I was very flattered and honored, but initially felt uncomfortable—as a man, was it right for me to attempt to give musical voice describing the path these women traveled? Upon further reflection, in an age of post-modernism and perhaps post-feminism, I was able to reconcile being asked to write such a work, but under one condition: In lieu of selecting a text from our rabbinic heritage, which would undoubtedly be written by men, I sought to find a text in the female voice, by a female voice.
With the help of another friend and colleague, Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder, I was introduced to a very talented writer and poet, Dina Elenbogen. I explained to Dina the need for a text which would give acknowledgement to women claiming their own voice and place in the role of a Cantor. I described it as a journey towards empowerment, acceptance, and leadership. Despite having a limited deadline, Dina’s talent came through, and a poem was born which painted a very powerful image, one of female strength and artistry, equal but distinct from men, and as Dina was inspired by my ideas, I was in turn inspired by her words.
The result of this combined effort was the work, “A Woman’s Voice” (to listen see below) The choral work, written for Soprano and Alto choir and piano, was premiered in Boston by the very women whom were to be honored. They gave life to Dina’s words and my music, and the congregation of cantors and synagogue musicians was very moved by the gesture.
I’m only 42. It doesn’t seem that young, but in regard to the modern cantorate, it is. But what it means to me is that for most of my life, the cantorate has not been biased towards one gender or the other. In fact, having grown up with a rabbi who filled both the role of rabbi and cantor, I was unaware of the cantor as a profession until I met my first one at a regional NFTY convention: Cantor Pamela Siskin. I recalled this strong memory to the cantors I was conducting for the premiere performance and how that memory paved the way towards my entering the profession myself.
I anticipate that the influence and uniqueness that women have brought to the modern cantorate, and therefore to Judaism entirely, will only be magnified in the next 36 years to come. And that special voice, a woman’s voice, melded with the men’s voice which already is here, will continue to make beautiful music for the Jewish people. As it is written: “Sing a New Song unto God.” The song has become new and will continually do so as long as we see both men and women for the equals they are.
To listen to a recording of click on this link: A Woman’s Voice
A Woman’s Voice
In the beginning a whimper
Pounding of heart-steps
Whispers of open fists
Prayer notes in stone
Pounding of heart-steps
Chirps of morning songs
Prayer notes in stone
The language of angels
Chirps of morning songs
A girl stands at the threshold
Hears the language of angels
Her own music breaking
A girl-woman stands at the threshold
Chants the first words of Torah
Her own voice breaking
Into stones with burning names
When a woman chants the first words
She finds inside her own voice
Stones with burning names
A cry becomes a scream
She finds inside her own voice
A silence a sigh an exaltation
A cry becomes a scream
A song of abundance
A silence a sigh an exaltation
When a woman reaches the highest note
In her abundant song
Even the stones begin to tremble.
—Dina Elenbogen, March 2011
Posted on December 3rd, 2010 3 comments
For a while I have been thinking about doing a post on the best Jewish Apps for your handheld devices. As it happens, our conservative colleague Rabbi Jason Miller beat me to creating a list and did such a great job that this week I break from protocol and post his piece -with permission of course. I hope that these Apps bring a little light, or at least a little convenience and productivity to your lives. -Ruth
The Best Jewish Apps Of 2010
From tehillim to kosher restaurants, from kaparot to recipes, our tech guru picks the top 33 applications.
Rabbi Jason Miller
Special To The Jewish Week
As more Jewish people acquire the latest in handheld technology – think iPhones, iPads, Android-powered smartphones, BlackBerrys and tablet PCs — there will be more Jewish-themed applications available for download.
Some of these apps will be utilities for checking the Hebrew date or learning about the weekly Torah portion. Other apps will be novelties like making shofar sounds for Rosh HaShanah and grogger sounds on Purim. With many Jewish developers around the world, you can be certain there will be no dearth of Jewish apps in the coming year.
What follows is a roundup (in no particular order) of the top Jewish-themed apps from the past year. This is far from an exhaustive list as there are hundreds of other Jewish apps available, including Jewish and Israeli newspaper versions, apps that let you donate to particular charities, a Gematria (Jewish numerology) calculator, and a guide for keeping kosher at Disney World. Check outwww.jewishiphonecommunity.org for a comprehensive listing of Jewish apps as they are released.
POCKET iSIDDUR – Free: This free iPod and iPhone version of the prayerbook comes with every version imaginable, from Sephardic to Ashkenazic. The new version has adjustable font size. iPad version also available. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
SIDDUR – $9.99: RustyBrick’s version of the siddur for Apple’s mobile devices is expensive, but impressive. Comes with real-time zmanim (prayer times) for each day based on your location. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
iPARASHAH – $4.99: Created by JACA Software Solutions, this app gives you the weekly Torah portions in the palm of your hand. Search for any parsha by name or date with this app. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
TANACH FOR ALL – $3.99: Get the whole Jewish Bible on your iPhone, iPod or iPad. Developed by Yaniv Kalsky, the latest version includes Parshat Hashavuah and an onscreen Hebrew keyboard. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
MILA-4-PHONE – Free: Learn basic Hebrew on your iPod thanks to Birthright Israel NEXT, which just released this free Hebrew word flashcard app. Developed by Rusty Brick, this free app makes building up a Hebrew vocabulary quick and easy. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
TEFILAT HADERECH FOR ALL – $0.99: Another app by Yaniv Kalsky. This provides the English and Hebrew version of the traveler’s prayer for travel by air, sea, and long car trips. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
iBLESSING – $0.99: Not sure which blessing goes with which food? This app will remind you which blessing to say. If you’re Hebrew reading isn’t very good, just listen to the app say the blessing in Hebrew or English. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
iZKOR – $0.99: This app provides the text for the mourning rituals in Judaism that are said in all prayer services as well as at funerals and memorial services. Just input the name of the deceased and it will generate the memorial prayer for the individual.All of the following are available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
KOSHER – $4.99: Find the nearest kosher restaurant from the exhaustive Shamash.org database with over 2,000 trusted restaurants to choose from.
TEHILLIM – $1.99: The entire book of Psalms with linear translation.
iTALMUD – $24.99: CrownRoad developed this expensive English translation of the Talmud complete with thousands of footnotes, references and insights. You certainly get what you pay for.
PIRKEI AVOT – Free: The teachings of Pirkei Avot, the ethics of the sages, available in Hebrew and translated into English, Spanish and Portuguese.
KITZUR SHULCHAN ARUKH – $14.99: The entire Jewish legal code laid out in a beautiful format. Developed by RustyBrick, this app allows for quick keyword searches for specific laws and bookmarks to save texts for later.
HEBREW/ENGLISH TRANSLATOR – Free: RustyBrick’s dictionary is easy to use and accurate. For a free Hebrew-English dictionary, you can’t do better. Great onscreen keyboard and copy/paste functionality.
HEBREW CALENDAR – $4.99: Functions just like iCal, but with the luach (Jewish calendar) including all Jewish holidays, z’manim (special times for prayer including sunrise and sunset), event-setting feature, and easy switching between Hebrew and Gregorian calendars. Easy to read fonts on all screens.
KOSHER COOKBOOK – $2.99: Choose meat, dairy, or parve meals and this app guides you to the perfect recipe. Also develops the shopping list for each recipe and allows you to email the shopping list to others.
Available from jewishsoftware.com:
JASTROW DICTIONARY – $14.99: The complete Talmud dictionary with over 120,000 entries and bi-directional Hebrew-English and Aramaic-English references.Available from jewishsoftware.com
Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store:
iMENORAH – $2.99: Developed by Matthew Parrot, this virtual menorah lets you light candles with the touch of the screen and then watch them burn down on each night of the holiday. Perfect for small children and dorm rooms where lighting candles is not allowed.
@THE KOTEL – $1.99: This app lets you put a kvittel (note) in the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem. Developed by Yoram Berkowicz, this app allows for note writing in several languages.
SHABBAT CANDLES – $0.99: Light Shabbat candles virtually every Friday night from anywhere. Great app for the business traveler who might not be able to actually light the Sabbath candles.
LULAV WIZARD – $0.99: Download this app to virtually shake the lulav and etrog in a realistic 3D motion with the blessings appearing on the screen.
PARVEOMETER – Free: Press the meat or dairy button after your meal and this app will count down for you. You can set it to your own custom for the dairy countdown after a meat meal so you won’t miss a minute of being able to eat your ice-cream.
KAPAROT – Free: The folks at PETA would be thrilled to see the custom of waving a chicken above ones head solely done virtually before Yom Kippur, but this app only provides the blessings for the ritual. It should be noted that a sack of money can be used in lieu of the animal.
GROGGER – $0.99: If you forget to bring your noisemaker to synagogue on Purim, don’t worry and just download this app. Developed by Stuart Rubin, this app makes enough grogger sound effects to impress the whole congregation and drown out the name of the wicked Haman.
iPRAY JEWISH FOR ANDROID – Free: Siddur developed by Envision Mobile for the Android. Available from www.androidzoom.com
HEBREW SONGS – $0.99: While this app doesn’t actually play famous Hebrew songs, it is great for learning the lyrics, and figuring out the source for various songs and which holiday they’re associated with. Available from www.appstorehq.com.
DAF YOMI – Free: Learn Talmud on the go with this daily page of the Oral Law for the Android. Available from www.apppstorehq.com
JEWISH RECIPES – $0.99: Developed by Brighthouse Labs, this recipe app contains the most extensive list of Jewish-themed recipes in existence. Available fromwww.appbrain.com/app/com.brighthouselabsjewishrecipe
JBLESSINGS – $0.99: The Android version to determine which blessings to say before and after various types of food. Available fromwww.appstorehq.com.
HEBREW CALENDAR WIDGET – Free: Full Hebrew calendar including Jewish holidays and z’manim for the Android homepage. Available athttp://sites.google.com/site/androidhcal/
PRAYER DIRECTION – Free: Find the right direction for your prayer. Jews in North America traditionally face east in prayer. Available from www.appstorehq.com
ANDDAAVEN – Free: AndDaaven strives to be a siddur application that is easy to use, and leverages the full capabilities of the Android platform.http://code.google.com/p/anddaaven/
LUACH HEBREW CALENDAR FOR ANDROID – $1.99: Most complete Jewish calendar program for the Android powered smartphones. Available at www.androidzoom.com.
Posted on May 11th, 2010 6 comments
The most Jewish show on TV? In my opinion it has to be Glee. Each week the songs and story lines revolve around a particular theme, musician or type of music. Excellent execution transforms a somewhat goofy concept –yes, students do just break into song in the gym- into good television. It is also a wonderful contemporary example of the value of intertextuality. Anyone who appreciates the ways in which Jewish culture rests on the ability of texts and traditions to comment on each other across time and place will relate not only to the content –which the URJ has already flagged as useful for those working with teens- but to the format.
Last week’s episode, for example, revolved around “Bad Reputations” and their rehabilitation. The story line revolved around several of the main characters and their struggles with their own reputations –both good and bad. Meanwhile, the members of the Glee club, collectively suffering from the lack of popularity that desire, are charged with task of taking a “terrific song [which] because of time or some bad press has become a joke,” and giving it new life. Not only does the challenge faced by the songs exemplify the challenge faced by the characters, but the songs themselves help bring along the broader narratives. In this particular episode, Olivia Newton John, a 1980s pop star makes an appearance to work with one of the teachers on a redo of Newton John’s 1981 song physical. It is possible to understand the story line with Newton John without having seen the original music video or knowing the ways in which the song resonated with listeners when it was originally released but without the larger context one loses important nuance that the remake conveys. There are layers of irony and history portrayed in the haircuts, color choices, and dance moves that are only apparent if one is able to recall the original work and period.
The idea that old texts, ie. songs, can resonate if we work to reinterpret them is a very Jewish notion. But in reality, Glee does this kind of reinterpretation each week. The songs chosen, whether based on a theme or an artistic body of work, harken back to the original context and ways in which they were presented. Much like Torah study, the ability to understand the story is greatly enhanced by knowledge of the original texts and contexts in which they existed. The ways in which music, text and meaning interact in the show shares similarities with the ways in which music adds layers of interpretation and meaning to prayer in Jewish worship. In Glee, as in midrash, stories reference each other even as they move in different directions and interpretations of the themes under consideration.
Original broadcasts of the show can be seen on Fox on Tuesday nights, but several episodes are available for viewing at anytime online. If you are a fan of the show, a newcomer, or looking to engage young teens in a conversation about Jewish intertextuality, I have put together some of the questions that came to my mind when watching last week. They can be used with the “Bad Reputations” episode but are equally appropriate with any other episode.
- How do the songs add/animate to the storyline? Do they change or advance the story line in any way? How does music add to/annimate Jewish prayer? What would this show be like without the music? What would prayer be like without music?
- How does the original song compare to the Glee version? How does the setting and story line change/add to the original intention? What do you gain about the story line by knowing something about how the theme or musician is thought about outside the context of this show? Consider how Jewish texts or prayers, like the Friday night Kiddush, draw from biblical sources and splice them together. Does this add to or change our understanding of the prayer?
- What do you think the original singer/songwriter would say if they saw the reinterpretation? (In “Bad Reputations,” Oliva Newton John does actually come back and comment on the need to reinterpret her original work.) What do you think that our biblical ancestors would say about how we understand Judaism? What about the rabbis of ancient times?
Posted on April 15th, 2010 1 comment
Solemn ceremonies. Joyous celebrations. Introspection. Advocacy.
Long gone are the days when marking Yom Hazikaron, Yom Haatzmaut, and later Yom Yerushalyim were marked with relative ease. Political complexities both in the United States and Israel complicate our ability to talk about Israel. Facilitating conversations about Israel demands the ability to hold on to multiple narratives about Israel’s past and present. It means allowing different opinions but demanding civility. Additionally, it can be challenging to know how to interpret the myriad of news stories about Israel that come to us through traditional and new media sources.
One of my favorite resources for engaging with Israel is the collaboration between the Haaretz newspaper and Makom. Mokom is a relatively newcomer to the Israel education scene. Based in Israel, it specializes in helping those living in North America connect with Israeli culture and current events. The organization promotes questioning and discussion on all elements of Jewish life but provides particular focus on the arts and on challenging contemporary issues. The collaborative Haaretz and Makom site combines the headline news with opinion pieces, arts commentaries, and forum for discussion.
Jewish professionals will find the vast array of educational resources of great interest and use. There are film guides, text studies and book group guides. For example, Makom has collaborated with the UJA Federation of New York to create a booklet for chevrutah study on the words L’hiyot Am Chofshi that is visually and intellectually engaging. There are wonderful explorations of contemporary music, including study guides and interviews with musicians. Videos are used to create virtual tours of monuments.
As you plan to engage with your congregations around Israel in the coming weeks or at any time, I recommend that you check out the site and make use of its resources.
Posted on August 4th, 2009 1 comment
Mishkan T’filah has helped fuel awareness of the diversity of ways Jews can pray and the ways in which liturgy can be at once traditional and creative. One of the oldest examples of this marriage of creativity with traditional themes is the art of Piyut. Taken from the Greek word for poem, poietes, the earliest piyutim date back to the 3rd century, as much of Jewish creative expression was connected to liturgy or ritual through the middle ages the piyutim took on the form of religious liturgical poetry. Even as some piyutim became fixed within the liturgical cannon, the form allowed for creativity and inspired Jews in many communities across the centuries. The vast body of piyutim serves to highlight the diversity of Jewish ethnic and prayer experiences.
In 2006, the Israeli Singing Communities project launched the website An Invitation to Piyut a site dedicated to the celebration of the art of piyyut. Reporting on the launch for Zeek, Basmat Hazan Arnoff wrote that the impetus for the site came from the desire of its founder, Yossi Ohana, to promote Mizrachi culture and tradition. But Singing Communities’ work in the field of piyut has far exceeded that critical early vision.
Whether you are new to the field of piyyut or already possess a deep appreciation for the form, this site has much to offer. The user interface, which is best viewed on an Internet Explorer browser (it did not function well at all in Firefox) allows for exploration of the world of piyutim and provide spiritual and intellectual enrichment. There is much to interest those with interests as disparate and overlapping as liturgy, folk customs, history, and of course music. Read the rest of this entry »