Washington Jewish Music Festival Sound Byte: The Afro-Semitic Experience

A lot of lip service gets paid to the historic alliance between African-Americans and Jews. The actual experience of that history is a lot more complicated. All it takes is something like the recent media circus surrounding Reverend Jeremiah Wright to remind us that tensions below the surface can come gurgling to the surface with an intensity that evokes strong reactions and escalating rhetoric. By the time the shouting dies down, the gulf of misunderstanding has grown that much wider.

Warren Byrd and David Chevan of the Afro-Semitic ExperienceEnter The Afro-Semitic Experience on June 5th as part of the Washington Jewish Music Festival to narrow that gulf, if only a little. Led for nearly a decade by Warren Byrd and David Chevan, TASE not only talks the talk, but walks the walk by responding to racism and anti-Semitism with its unique fusion of Gospel, Klezmer, Jazz, Niggunim, Spirituals, Swing and straight-up Funk. Granted, the premise seems tailor-made to produce cheap warm fuzzies of racial tolerance–but TASE brings the chops that imbues their polyglot sound with artistic validity that is impossible to deny.

The only way to become a believer is to take a listen for yourself. The track below is “Nefesh” from This Is the Afro-Semitic Experience.

Tickets are on sale May 1 for the Washington Jewish Music Festival. The Festival begins June 1 with the Capital Celebration of Israel @ 60 on the National Mall featuring Regina Spektor, Mandy Patinkin and Mashina.

In Case You Were Expecting to see J.D. Salinger…

This post was an April Fools joke. I think it was pretty obvious, but people have believed more ridiculous stuff they’ve read on the internet. So just in case you didn’t notice there was no such date as April 31–there will be no reading by JD Salinger at the 16th Street J…this week anyway.

Yom HaShoah–Making Memory Meaningful

This week marks Yom HaShoah, the day set aside for remembering the victims of the Holocaust. It is around this time every year that I receive an email from some well-meaning friend or acquaintance that goes something along the lines of, “keep forwarding this email remembering the six million until it has reached six million Jews and we’ll have had our revenge on Hitler.” I may be getting the details wrong, it may be the goal to send it not to six million Jews but to sixty million people. It may not say anything about having “our revenge on Hitler,” it may be a tad less dramatic, something about, “keeping memory eternally alive.”

I don’t forward these emails. Hitting forward may fulfill a desire for active memory for some, but not for me. No thanks. Then again, I can’t quite bring myself to hit delete either. Who am I to tell people how they should remember? Is it worse that they should remember through chain emails than not remember at all? Is deleting one of these emails, over-wrought though I find them, akin to aiding and abetting a creeping complacency in historical amnesia?

We’re showing a film tonight, The Last Fighters about the living remnant of a moment in history at once tragic and heroic. It won’t grant us some sort of revenge on the many evil and many more complicit people who conspired to make a place like the Warsaw Ghetto a reality. It certainly will not lessen the burden of finding ways to remember the genocide of the Holocaust without becoming enslaved to that memory. And in the years since Warsaw, we’ve witnessed Cambodia, Darfur and Bosnia, so we know that our memory alone cannot prevent future genocides from taking place.

What we can do is draw on the memory of those who were lost, those who fought and those who survived in the unending work of repairing a badly broken world. An email can’t do that alone. Neither can a film. But it’s a start. As long as it’s not the end.

This Week at the 16th Street J

With Passover in the rear-view mirror this week, things can start getting back to, ahem, regular. Sorry. Couldn’t resist. Here’s just a sample of what’s available this week at the Washington DCJCC:

Monday, April 28

7:30pm–The Screening Room presents: The Last Fighters. This documentary film follows the lives of the last six surviving members of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising fighters. The uprising was the best known and most legendary act of armed Jewish resistance (though not the only one) to the Holocaust. The film follows these old veterans and reveals the legacy of their valor, the weight of history and the personalities beyond the legends. The program is supported by the Helen and Milton Covensky Fund of the Washington DCJCC and will include a post-screening discussion with: Aviva Kempner, co-writer and producer of The Last Partisans of Vilna; Dr. Marsha Rozenblit, Professor of Modern Jewish History at University of Maryland; and Estelle Laughlin, Warsaw Ghetto Survivor.

Tuesday, April 29

6:00pm–Boxing Circuit with Kristen. Kick ass and get in shape for spring.

Wednesday, April 30

7:00pm–Class: The Art of Storytelling. Become a storyteller and connect to a powerful oral tradition. When you tell or hear a story, you are participating in one of the most basic and intense of human experiences. Instructor: Noa Baum.

Thursday, May 1

Washington Jewish Music Festival tickets go on-sale today for 16th Street J members only.

6:30pm–LGBTQ Ballroom Dance class with Peter Pawlak. Co-sponsored by the 16th Street J’s Kurlander Program for Gay and Lesbian Outreach and Engagement (GLOE).

Saturday, May 3

10:00am–Spring Yoga Workshop with Samantha (Sam) Caplan. A 90-minute introduction perfect for those who just started practicing or those interested in finding out what yoga is all about. This class will cover yoga fundamentals such as breathing techniques and meditation, as well as break down the proper alignment of some basic poses.

Shabbat Surfing–Can I Get a Pizza Yet?

Answer: Not yet. Sunday night. But relax, it could be worse, you could be stuck in a city known for its amazing pastries during Passover. Perhaps we should consider making it shorter?

Tastes great with latkesWhile we’re on the topic, ever wonder which imaginary animals are kosher? Looking forward to a little Aigi Kampoi (fish-tailed goat) the next time the frum Dungeons and Dragons club gets together. Perhaps with a little mint jelly.

Are you running low on matzah? One blogger made a special appeal to those not commanded to eat the bread of affliction.

Not one, but two alternative seders organized by the Washington DCJCC are featured in a Washington Post article about the same. To see pictures from the GLOE Stonewall Seder, become a fan on Facebook.

There was a little kerfuffle (don’t you just love that word?) over Ami Eden’s post on his JTA blog about a Q&A feature that ran in the Boston Globe with a Jewish doctor who specializes in treating transgendered children. Cole Krawitz, blogging at JVoices objected to Eden’s inclusion of a response quote to the Q&A from an conservative activist which was pulled from a Christian news service and which he framed as a Jew vs. Jew conflict. Eden has also revised his post to clarify. My take? Krawitz may have come down a little hard on Eden’s post, which, as in all good news coverage, likes a good conflict. His larger point that the “Jewish angle” in this case creates a false parity of expertise between a medical professional and an anti-LGBT activist is well taken.


Jewish Ids in the News: Norman Mailer’s mistress has sold papers describing the graphic details of their sex life to, wait for it…Harvard University.

DC’s Big Read–The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great GatsbyThe DC Public Library is participating in the National Program The Big Read by encouraging everyone in DC to read The Great Gatsby and holding a series of events and discussions between now and May 24. There was some chatter on other blogs about the choice of this particular novel, but moving past that for the moment, let’s dive-in and get reading!

My first step will be to see if I can recover the copy I’ve had since college–or maybe it was high school? It is going to be interesting re-approaching a work I haven’t read in a very long time, but think I enjoyed the first time through. Growing up in the 80s with Reaganomics and the corporate raiders on Wall Street I recall finding the book to be very relatable. 

Anyone else out there reading?

Bacon Nation–Getting Uncomfortably Close

As part of our continuing effort to keep the public updated on the rise of bacon as the balsamic vinegar of the aughts, I bring you the following:

On my way home from Pesach I stopped at a high-end Whole Foods (is there another kind?) that had a special section devoted entirely to chocolate and confections. My wife pointed to a display of chocolate bars and my eyes went wide as eggs-over-easy: Chocolate Bacon! Or is it Bacon Chocolate? The Bacon Menace SpreadsEither way this is a disturbing new twist in the aggressive bacon expansion in our culture. Bacon vodka, bacon lollipops, bacon bras and now bacon in our chocolate! And friends, this is not some abstract threat limited to the green room of Iron Chef America, it is right here at our back door as reported this morning on 14th and You.

Ladies and Gentlemen. We do not object to this bacon uprising out of petty religious parochialism (although I hate feeling left out of a culinary craze that at once indulges my basest cravings and still somehow manages to make me look sophisticated). We object because it is gross. We object because, really, isn’t obesity enough of a problem? We object because, what starts out as satire ends up as reality…

Regina Spektor Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg for the 2008 Washington Jewish Music Festival

I had in my hands for a short little while today the final printer’s proof of the program for the 2008 Washington Jewish Music Festival. It is going to be awesome. The hard copy won’t be back for a couple of days, but you can check out the program on-line here.

The Festival’s opening day is June 1 and if you read regularly, then you already know about Regina Spektor headlining the main stage at the humongous (and free) Israel @ 60 Capital Celebration on the National Mall. Oh yeah, and it also includes Mandy Patinkin–I hear he can sing a little. And Mashina, Israel’s long-standing kings of rock. Oh, and Oscar the Grouch with his Israeli cousin Moishe Oofnik— and we all know that there’s nothing cooler than Sesame Street, and no one kicks it old school better than His Grouchiness.

It is sort of impossible to write an over-view post covering the entire festival, so for the moment I’ll focus on the performer who I think has the most in-common with Regina, and that would be Rachael Sage. Rachael SageShe’ll be performing on Wednesday, June 4 at DC9 Nightclub. Both Regina and Rachael share roots in the New York folk (or anti-folk) scene and combine vivid lyrical styles with a musical adroitness that is at once accessible without sacrificing melodic ambition. What exactly do I mean by that? The music sounds as good as the smart lyrics that accompany it. While both are mainstream artists, neither has shied away from their Jewish identity, neither in their musical subjects (Spektor’s “Samson” and Sage’s “93 Maidens” being just two examples); nor in their public personaes, Spektor’s cover photo for Begin to Hope features her prominently wearing a Star of David necklace and Sage’s press materials describe her early musical efforts thusly: “When I started I was writing a lot of music that sounded like Elton John – if he’d been a nice Jewish girl from a long line of Russian cantors.” Rachael Sage is being presented in partnership with the 16th Street J’s Kurlander Program for Gay and Lesbian Outreach and Engagement (GLOE) and Regina Spektor will be back in DC later in June for the True Colors tour which raises awareness and funds for various GLBT organizations.

Take a listen for yourself and check back often for more information about the 2008 Washington Jewish Music Festival.

Click below to hear Rachael Sage’s My Word from her upcoming album, Chandelier

Good For the Jews in NoVa

Just in case Israeli film isn’t your cup of tea, may we recommend our dear friend Rob Tannenbaum performing tonight at Jammin’ Java with his duo Good For the Jews. If you’re not familiar with their brand of humor, I think the poster says it all…

Putting The Ass Back in Passover

Chametz on Screen–Completely Kosher: Hit Israeli Film “Noodle”

We won’t go into the reasons here, but pasta is one of the foods commonly forbidden during Passover. However, as with so much else in Jewish culture, I will argue that these laws do not apply to Chinese food. Or Israeli movies. Or Israeli movies in which large quantities of Chinese food gets consumed.

In that spirit, don’t miss Noodle this Tuesday, April 22, 7:30pm at the Washington DCJCC. Please note, the following trailer is in Hebrew without English subtitles (but you get the point anyway) and is only kosher for Passover if you refrain from licking the screen.

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