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Jewish Standard

Music Kept Them Going

An interesting Jewish Standard article about an orchestra of survivors:

From the article:

Vivian Reisman can picture the emotional Friday night get-togethers at her early childhood home in Weehawken as if they were yesterday.

"They always started out so cheerful, with all the music and the singing and eating everything my mother cooked. Everyone brought instruments. It was an impromptu concert," said the Englewood Cliffs resident.

But as the evening wore on, and they sat around the dining room table reflecting on all they had endured, Reisman, the oldest of Henny and Simon Gurko’s three children, said, "they always ended with the same horrible sobbing."

Lerner’s mother, the youngest of the three siblings and in training to be an opera singer before the war, was fluent in eight languages. Years later, after raising her children, Gurko completed the education that was interrupted, earning degrees from the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University. She eventually went to work as a Hebrew school teacher.

[Rita] Lerner recalled that her mother filled their home with music. "She was never negative or bitter, even though life was hard for them here at first, not knowing the language and without any help. Anything she could possibly sing, in any language, she sang for us."

Read the article here:

Jewishness in Steve Reich's music

I wanted to share this article about a lecture I attended given by Steve Reich and his collaborator and wife Beryl Korot, on the Jewish influences in their work. The program was called “A Theater of Ideas: Exploring the Life and Legacy of Abraham through Video, Music, and the Spoken Word” Reich had not really worked with video until he met Ms. Korot, a pioneer in the field of video art. Their presentation described their joint work on a documentary video opera they made, "The Cave."

From the article:

For “The Cave,” Reich interviewed Christians, Jews, and Arabs about Machpelah. As he was recording those interviews, he wrote down melodies.

. . . While Mr. Reich’s Jewish identity was not yet fully awakened when he composed his earlier works, today he is a shomer Shabbat Jew. His piece “Tehillim,” created in 1981, “is arguably the first one in which he draws extensively from his Jewish background.” A later piece, “Daniel,” composed in memory of the murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was based on verses from the Book of Daniel.

“His [Jewish] literacy enables him to do so much more to instill his Jewish values into his music,” Mr. Marans said. “He is the first person to have gotten to this point – a proud, learned religious Jew who is using that to create his music.”

From the article, an interesting comparison between Reich and Schoenberg:

Pointing to the composer’s many accomplishments, Mr. Marans noted that Mr. Reich was a pioneer of minimalism, which started in the 1960s and ’70s. Breaking with the tradition embodied by such composers as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven – who based their music on the idea of a melody, and people harmonizing with that melody – Mr. Reich chose a different path, following in the footsteps of Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg.

Contemporary classical music does not necessarily provide “an easy listening experience,” Mr. Marans said, adding that while the old forms are still available, “if you’re doing that, you’re not as original as you can be. People are constantly adapting and changing things.”

For example, after learning music theory and harmony, “Schoenberg began to radicalize his understanding,” creating serialism, or patterns of melodies and rhythms in a self-contained series, Mr. Marans said. Toying with Schoenberg’s idea, Mr. Reich, who studied philosophy as an undergraduate and eventually moved on to study composition at Mills College, “also started to rethink how we envision composition.”

And on the Jewishness of Steve Reich's music: 

“Conceptually, Jewish music revolves around the idea that the artist is putting his Jewish self into his music,” Mr. Marans said. “Different Trains,” for example, incorporates Holocaust music. But it is not sad; instead, it tells a story, juxtaposing the composer’s own experience traveling on trains when he was young with the use of trains during the Holocaust.

Max Weinberg on "tikkun olam"

Bruce Springsteen's drummer, Max Weinberg, is from New Jersey! I love what he says in this article about using music to fulfill a calling: “Whenever I’m asked, and when I’m around, I’m happy to do it,” Weinberg said. “I can’t point to one specific moment in time when I said, ‘I’m gonna do this’ or ‘I’m gonna do that,’ but in our religion there’s the concept of "tikkun olam” — Hebrew for “repairing the world” — “which I embrace seriously and took to mean any way you can do it. My way of doing that was through music, and specifically drumming."


“I embraced my religious training in a humanist way,” he said. “I try to be nice to people, I live by the golden rule, I try to bring joy through music to whatever audience I find myself in front of. In Hebrew school I took the idea of tzedaka (charity) and tikkun olam very seriously.”

Read the whole article here:

Operation Last Chance -Efraim Zuroff

“There is a greater consciousness of the Holocaust in Western society than ever before, and Holocaust education can help in the fight against xenophobia and racism.”

"Jews don't get to decide who is Jewish."

The Jewish Standard has a thoughtful review of the recent Amazon series "The Man in the High Castle," based on Philip K Dick's story with the premise that the Axis powers won the war. One quote cited in the article that stood out to me is "Jews don't get to decide who is Jewish." This is something that resonates with my godmother's memories from before WWII, when she was categorized as a "Mischling" with no consideration to how she personally identified.

Read the full article here:

From the article:

...It is a Holocaust story that doesn’t downplay the Holocaust.

Frank, Juliana’s boyfriend, had a Jewish grandfather. Brought in for questioning by Japanese cops about his girlfriend’s disappearance, he’s accused of being a Jew. When Frank complains that he isn’t, his Japanese interrogator tells him that “Jews don’t get to decide who is Jewish.”

Just how many Jews are left in this new world is unclear, but there seems to be a Jewish underground. Following the Zyklon B gassing of his sister and her family, Frink is contacted by one of her friends, who whispers “to life” in his ear. It kindles a memory of his grandfather. Eventually, the friend recites Kaddish for Frank’s family.