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Monday, September 27, 2004

Yom Kippur at the Shteeble

The group at the Shteeble is getting to be a little too heimish. I go there mainly because the davening is more streamlined (ie shorter) and I can focus better and get into the davening more. I've known the people who daven there for 17 years now. They mostly started off at the Shul, but migrated over to the Shteeble for various reasons.

It's a small group, and with the exception of a few newcomers, we're all pretty comfortable with each other. We're very informal. Nobody stands on ceremony. For the past two years, they've given me Maftir Yonah (I can count the amount of times I've gotten any maftir at the Shul on one finger). But sometimes, we could stand to be a little more...organized. Here's an example of how this years service was less "awe-inspiring" than it could be:

We got up to "vechol maaminim", which is a pretty solemn part of the mussaf. At the Shul they spend 30 minutes on it. We usually launch into the Carlebach "Tov Lehodos" tune and get through it pretty quickly. About halfway through, I noticed (because I was standing right in front of him) that the Chazzan was just singing "nana nana...naNA" over and over. He had lost his place. The guy standing next to him, our other "Chazzan", started singing the words really loud, in an attempt to get him back on track. But the Chazzan wasn't having any of it. So the other guy tried to get louder, and I joined in too, hoping we could help him find his place.

At this point, the second guy started to lose his place as well. I think it was because the Chazzan's son had suddenly entered the room with two armfuls of towels. The Chazzan looked up at him and started shaking his head vigorously, still singing "Nana nana, NANA." The kid (who's like, 20) shrugged and said, "You told me to do this!" Then backed out of the room hastily. At this point I had lost place too. We were going like a runaway train, and no one knew how to stop it. I was fighting the extremely strong urge to start laughing like a loon, but I was stuck up there, since I had psicha.

Eventually, the Chazzan bit the bullet and picked a stanza and sang it, and we continued from there. His son came back in with a stack of paper napkins (the fancy, colored kind), to which the other Chazzan said, "They don't match!"

Well, a little humor helps the day go by. Wouldn't trade it for anything.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Arachnoacrospheksophobia

Yes, Sukkos manages to combine my 3 favorite fears: spiders, heights, and wasps, all in one!

THRILL to the sight of dozens of spiders crawling out from among the bamboo poles! Watch out for the egg sacks!
CHILL at the sight of the ground 8 feet below your feet as you attempt to nail down the crossbeams!
SPILL your wine all over your psycho toddler as you do the spooky "wasp in the Sukkah" dance!

Inspiration

Why does it seem that inspiration usually seems to hit me at inconvenient times? Like on the first night of a 3 day Yontif?
I figure, if I can remember it long enough to write it out after Yontif, then it's a good song. If not, it's best left forgotten. I wrote Shalom Aleichem on the way to a friend's house one Friday night. And my wife reminds me that I wrote the reggae tune Baruch Hashem, which was later recorded by Shlock Rock, on the first night of Yontif.
Then there was this.
Some things are better than others, I guess.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

The Great Escape

My 14 year old son has figured out that in the 45 minute break that he has during the day, he can bike away from the Yeshiva and make it to the public library. There, he can get on the internet for a few minutes, before he has to bike back to Yeshiva. Mostly he's been using the time to email his brother. Lately he figured out how to install Yahoo Messenger, so he's been IM'ing either me or my wife. The conversations usually go like this:

Him: r u there?
Me: no
Him: ...what??
Me: Just kidding. I'm seeing patients.
Him: I have to leave in 2 minutes.
Me: Do they know you left the yeshiva?
Him: I think so.
Me: I have to go see a patient now.
Him: aight cya

You could argue that it's not a very productive use of his time. But it's nice to hear from him during the day. And he's put more miles on his bike this past week that in his entire lifetime thusfar, so that can't be too bad.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Mechilah

People who come up to me and ask for my Mechilah (forgiveness) prior to Yom Kippur usually fall into two categories:

1. Sincerely pious people who have done nothing to offend me but ask for my mechila anyway; and

2. People who are trying to act pious but actually have offended me, but either aren't really sorry about what they did or refuse to admit to themselves that what they did was wrong.

I don't see how I can grant mechilah legitimately in either case, but if it makes them feel better, it's granted. If you did something wrong...STOP DOING IT!! You know who you are!
In the same spirit (your choice, 1 or 2), I humbly ask mechilah from all of you whom I've insulted or offended, on or off-line.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Car CDs

The CD wallet in my car is overstuffed again, so it's time to thin it out.
Here's what's currently on my ride-to-work playlist, from front to back:

The Clash: The Singles
Moshe Skier Band live recording from JCC
Even Shsiyah: Through Your Gates, Jerusalem
Moshe Skier: Demos and Unreleased
The Pretenders: Learning to Crawl
The Best of Missing Persons
Garbage: Beautiful Garbage
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Greatest Hits
Avraham Rosenblum: Whatever this album is called (no words on disk)
Moshe Skier Band Acoustic Sampler
Led Zeppelin: 2 disks of my custom mix
Diaspora Yeshiva Band: Land of Our Fathers
The Ramones
Brian Gelfand: Stuff He Sent Me
Moshe Skier Band: Extended
The Diaspora Collection 2 disks
Sparklifters
Bootleg of Shabbos Nachamu Kumzitz Cong Beth Jehudah
Piamenta: Mitzvah
Best of Bowie
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Bye
Moshe Skier Band at Sherman Fest 2002
Moshe Skier Rock of Sages (sensing a pattern here)
Kabbalah at Yeshiva University 1985
Best of Moshe Skier (hmm)
Yom Hadash
Kabbalah Demo and Practice
Piamenta Bootleg at The Note
Kabbalah Kollection
Squeeze: East Side Story
Even Shsiyah: The Way Jews Rock
Moshe Skier Band at The Note
Joe Jackson: Look Sharp!

Ok, so there's a lot of me. I play stuff that I like to listen to. And also I don't have jewel cases for all the burned disks, so I keep them in the wallet.

But something's gotta go!

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Shalom Milwaukee

I've uploaded some songs from the JCC Shalom Milwaukee Festival which took place on September 12, 2004 here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to hear the appropriate songs.

A word of warning: The recordings were pretty distorted, so I had to process them with CoolEdit Pro to clean them up, and they sound pretty bad. But the performances, particularly the play between the blues harp and the guitar, still come through.

Strange Dreams

Everything you are about to read is true.

On the first night of Rosh Hashana I had a strange dream. I was on some kind of Dude Ranch, in the middle of a corral. A short man on a pony got off and approached me. He said I had to play the Cowboy Guitar. For some reason, I felt very intimidated by him, and reluctantly agreed. Then he went back to the pony and got the Cowboy Guitar, which was really just a beat-up old wood guitar with twangy strings.

Then he told me to play. I really had no idea what to do. So I stood there with the guitar around my neck, in the middle of the corral. Somewhere in the distance, I heard my 8 year old daughter yell at someone, "Why don't you put your comb away!"

"Aha!" I thought. "That's what I'll sing."

So I sang a song which sounded a little, like-a this.

In the morning, my three year old told me that she too had a dream. My son had returned from Yeshiva, but it seemed that he was now a robot.

Maybe my cheese has finally slipped off my cracker.
If anyone knows what any of this means, feel free to comment.

No Men

My wife has been complaining about how the men keep walking through the women's section at the Shul to get to the kitchen. My daughter suggested putting up a sign that says, "No Men."

"Why," I said. "We already have a sign up that says, 'No Nuts', and that hasn't kept anybody out."

Overheard...

"Well, this is the last Friday night of the week."

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Bingo

Velvel somehow sums up my problem with High Holiday Services (TM).

While people from all over the planet are converging on my wonderful shul for Yontif, I'm bugging out and going to the Shteeble a few blocks away. I started doing this a few years ago when I was on call over RH and needed a shorter service so I'd spend less time in shul on the phone. But I found that I liked the davening much better. I was able to get into it much more easily.

The main issue is time. If the Chazzan keeps the service moving, I keep paying attention and davening, and so the quality of my prayers improves. If I'm in a shul with a fancy Chazzan, I usually finish my prayer a few minutes before he does, and I sit around daydreaming while he runs up and down the operatic scales. (No offense to opera fans, but I can't stand the stuff, and I don't want to be tormented by it in Shul).

So yeah, the vocal quality of the Chazzan in the Shteeble isn't that good, but he sings nice tunes that we can all sing along to. And I can pay attention for the whole Davening. And it's too bad I can't be in the big Shul, because now when somebody passes out they're all going to be looking for me and saying, "Where's the Doc?" But I don't think at this point I could even stand one hour with the Chazzan, who repeats words and can spend 30 minutes reciting "Raza DeShabos", a prayer THAT ISN'T EVEN IN MY MACHZOR!

There, I'm glad I got that off my chest.

Shana Tova, everyone.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Fiddler on the Radio

I must confess that one of my guilty little pleasures is listening to the Dave and Carole morning show on my radio on the way to work each morning. It's a typical drive-to-work show on a Classic Rock station: very little music, lots of news, weather, sports, but also comedians, Hollywood Trash, weird stories from the internet, etc. The rapport between the hosts is funny in a kind of "why is the guy in the car next to me laughing" but also "keep the kids away from the radio" kind of way.

The show is also VERY Goyish. Not in an offensive way, but like most Midwesterners, they don't consider Jews to be their main target audience, and have probably never encountered an Orthodox Jew. So from about Halloween to well after New Years it gets increasingly more difficult to listen to the show. There are whole weeks devoted to Christmas, Christmas fundraisers, and of course, Christmas. But otherwise the show is pretty bawdy.

So imagine my shock when, after listening to some gossip about celebrities, I hear this cheesy shtetl violin music come on, and a baritone, sonorous voice start in, proclaiming the rich heritage of our people, and the solemn nature of the High Holy Days. The voice delivering this message is the stereotypical, deliberate, slightly musical voice one normally associates with pulpit sermons, and he implores all those listeners not currently affiliated with a congregation to join his Conservative Temple for services. And if it's not Jewish enough for you yet, he offers a discount.

Even though I'm alone in my car, and no one can hear what I'm listening to, I can't help but cringe in embarrassment. I want to turn it down. I want to change the station. But I can't. It's like staring at an accident on the side of the road. I keep thinking, "what is this doing HERE?" What will the Goyim think? Are the hosts laughing off-air? I get visions of old ladies at Borsht-belt hotels asking for more fish.

I don't think it's just the fact that they used music and atmosphere that evoked a 1940's era style of Judaism. A stale, dying type of religion that needs the violin to draw people in by visceral means, like a mouse following the smell of cheese. I can't imagine any form of advertisement that wouldn't have upset me. If someone had gotten on in a matter-of-fact kind of voice and said, "Hey, if you've got nowhere to go, check out our Shul," it wouldn't have been that offensive, but I still would have thought it doesn't belong.

Maybe I just don't want Judaism in my Hollywood Trash. I've got Madonna for that, I guess.

IM Love

Velvel posts about Instant Messaging his wife with eruv emails. And what big nerds this makes them.

Can I join the club? I IM my wife all day long. I think we spend more time chatting than talking.

Monday, September 13, 2004

MP3 recorder woes

The gig went extremely well. I'll put a post up about it soon. It was especially cool to play with Steve Cohen. We sounded a little like Blues Traveller. (Actually, is that good?) Definitely interesting to hear how the addition of one player can make these old songs, that I've been playing for years, sound so different.

Actually I'm posting to rant about MP3 recorders. In the old days, we would bring a boom box to a gig, plop it down in the audience, and press record. More often than not, it made a pretty decent recording.

As we got more sophisticated, we brought DAT recorders to gigs, and plugged them into the mixing boards. That gave us crystal clear sound, but usually a bad mix: too heavy on vocals, light on drums and bass.

Even more recently, we used MiniDisk recorders, which to date have given the best sound, but they're expensive, have unique media, and you still have to convert to analog and then reencode to digital to get them onto the computer, so not much better than cassette tape in my book.

A few weeks ago, I played a Kumzitz and had it recorded by one of the Kollel Rebbes on his iRiver (I haven't figured out why he has one and I don't). He gave me a CD last week, and the sound was great. You could hear my guitar playing, and the singing, and the mix was clear without hiss.

My daughter recently purchased a Dell Digital Jukebox to store her massive collection of crappy music that she doesn't want me to hear (actually that's a joke; she has surprisingly good taste in music). It has the option to do "voice" recording through a built-in mic, so I thought, "Let's give it a try" and record the gig.

We put it on and left it by the sound man, far enough away so that it wouldn't be overpowered by the stage speakers.

The quality was poor. There was an intermittent crackling which occurred presumably whenever the levels peaked. This wasn't the distortion you usually get with signal overload. It's a harsh crackle overlying the music, like the sound you get with a loose wire. It mostly occurred over the vocals. So it's not too good for live recordings.

But that's not what pisses me off.

I took the little box over to my computer and hooked up the USB cable. I tried to download the file from the Jukebox onto the computer, to see if I could fiddle with noise reduction and salvage the recording. Guess what? You can't download off of that thing. All you can do is upload songs to it, or erase songs from it. What good is a voice recording function if you can only listen to it on the device itself? I tried every menu in the proprietary software, then I went to some other programs to try to interact with it, but it's invisible to most. Windows Media player only allows upload to the the device.

The only rationale that I can come up with for the omission of this obviously needed function is the prevention of piracy. You know, so I can't upload a song from my computer and then download it from the Jukebox onto someone else's. But come on, how hard would be to just burn a disk or put a pirated song on a minidrive? All this does is inconvenience people like me, who want to use it for legitimate purposes.

My friend from the Kollel also recorded part of the show on his iRiver. I'll wait and see how that turned out.

Mazel Tov!

My son put on tfillin for the first time yesterday.



Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Chazzan has a scratch...

Jewish Blogmeister posts about Sliach Tzibur's who repeat words during Kedusha. Don't get me started on that! To me it's like listening to a record with a scratch, constantly going over and over in a loop. This is the prime reason that I'm abandoning my wonderful Shul for Yontif and going to the shteebel instead.
To put it mathematically:

Boring Chazzan + Repeating words = PT moving to a different Shul

Friday, September 10, 2004

Kids in the Shul

Baynonim comments on kids in the shul. What's their role, and what should be the responsibility of the shul? That's another one of my pet issues.

BE it!!

Psycho Toddler's got a new catch-phrase:
"BEEE ittt!!!"
Then she hands you some object and you have to "be" it.
It's getting to be like the Celebrity Matchup of Toddlerdom.
You never know who she's going to pair up.

Yesterday it was a Stormtrooper action figure and Scooby Doo. Fortunately, I got to be the Stormtrooper (though I do a pretty mean Scooby). I was talking tactics with Scooby, but all Scooby wanted to do was rag on Shaggy.

Next up:
Bob the Builder vs. Lt. Uhura

Thursday, September 09, 2004

MOChassid closes shop

One of my favorite bloggers, MOChassid, has decided to take a break from blogging. The decision seems to have stemmed from a particularly nasty discussion on Chassidus that went on in the comments for one of his posts.

This has always been something that has bothered me about the internet, whether it be newsgroups (in the good old days), websites, and now blogs.
The anonymity that is afforded by this medium strips people of their inhibitions to keep the discussion civil. We're not face to face with our adversaries anymore. They know nothing about us, not our names, not where we live, not what we look like. And as a result we write things, in public, that we would never say to or about other people in the real world.

I try to keep this blog positive and lighthearted (except when I rant about the Middle East), and I think in these days before Rosh Hashana we all should take a deep breath, relax, and understand that whether or not we mention names or know the people we rag on, they still are affected by what we write, and we will still be held accountable for it.

MO, whatever your name is, I'm going to miss you. I may not have always agreed with your opinions, but I found you to be an insightful and entertaining writer. And a good source of Mussar, too.

A happy and healthy New Year to you.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Culture of Death

This is a great editorial that someone sent me. I can't express this any better, so read here.

Also, in the spirit of my rant on the media legitimizing terrorists by calling them anything but what they are, here's Daniel Pipes.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The "Can I help you?" riff

I'm working on my "Can I help you?" riff.
For those of you not versed in the wisdom of Wayne's World, that's the musical line that you play when you pick up a guitar in the music store that invariably leads to an employee coming up to you to ask, "Can I help you?"

I've been listening to a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers, and I'm teaching myself the bass line for "Higher Ground". Lotsa slapping. Slapping's not really my thing, but that's because I've never been good at it. I did teach myself to Pop and Slap when I played with Sam Glaser a few years ago, and I was rewarded with a sore thumb for a few weeks.

But I've found that the only thing that really impresses the people at the music store is Slapping. And the key to getting them to allow me to fool around on the basses there (without buying one) is to keep them impressed, so....I'll try it out tonight.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Set List Settled!

One of the annoying things that comes with running a band is the responsibility for coming up with the set list, the list of songs to play at the show. Unlike some bands, we play almost a different list every time we perform. This is because we have a wide variety of music, from soft to loud, mellow to hardcore, acoustic to distorted, and the venue dictates what will go over best (I've learned this the hard way).

With the advent of email as a way to communicate with band members, I've taken to emailing set lists out to the crew, and revising them as necessary.

This upcoming gig has been a real challenge, though. We're playing with a blues harmonica virtuoso who's never played with us before. I arranged the initial set list to include a heavy number of original and cover blues tunes, and some Zeppelinesque songs that sound good with harmonica. I sent him a CD to listen to. He emailed me a message that he didn't want to play on any of the blues tunes, but picked an unusual trio of songs that I wasn't anticipating. And he wants to do them all at the beginning. And one song is the one I had pegged to be our "closer". So, out go the heavy blues tunes (some of them).

Then there's the issue of playing with my daughter, since this event is a parent/child themed event. Not that I need that excuse, since I like the way she plays and she fills us out nicely. But she's playing acoustic guitar when I play bass, and bass when I play guitar. So we want to minimize switching back and forth.

But some of the songs that the harmonica guy wants to do are ones where my daughter plays bass and...

Well you get the picture. The emails have been flying back and forth with almost daily revisions of the song list, moving things on and off the list, beginning to end, etc. And on top of this, my daughter is trying to learn the stuff, and I can't commit to which songs she'll play.

Then there was last nights rehearsal, in my basement, where I think we sounded the best we have ever sounded (there's something to playing with the same guys over and over...). The extra guitar (or bass) that my daughter played really added to things, and we tried out a few songs that we haven't played before, and they sounded great.

So this afternoon I wrote out a completely different list, which includes never-before played songs from my solo album and a blues tune from Ruby Harris, and I'll try to sucker the harmonica player into playing on that one. If you're in town September 12, stop by the JCC. This is going to be a great show.

Overheard

From the family that brought you, "You gonna eat that robot?"

Things we said to our toddler today:

"Stop talking to the toilet paper."
...
"See, your pants aren't wet. That's just a noodle in there."

You can't make this stuff up.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Priorities

I'm trying to figure out what takes the highest priority:

Learning before Davening
Going to the Mikvah
Filling out a Minyan so someone can say Kaddish

I wish I could say that I was the one battling to complete all three, but I can only seem to get one of those done. I'm actually more interested in what the priority should be for other people.

Confused? I'll try to clarify.
My profession is one which requires me to be at one or more hospitals pretty early in the morning, before getting to my office to start my real work. About a year ago, we started a 5:45am "Working Man's" Minyan at our Shul. Which is great, because it's the first time I've been able to make a weekday Minyan in...well at least during the lifetime of my last couple of kids. The Davening is still a little slow for me, which means I usually have to cut out early, but I can catch Kedusha usually, unless my hospital load is unusually heavy.

The problem is that the Minyan has always been poorly attended. Not that many people have to be at work as early as me, and I think a lot of the regulars do it for other reasons, like to allow our mourner to say Kaddish, or to be more stringent and allow more time for learning or other things before work. But bottom line is that we often are sitting there with 8 people and can't do Barchu.

I understand that we can't expect that people who don't have to be up that early should come in just for the Minyan. My problem is that I often see other people in the Shul anyway who are not helping the Minyan. Some are sitting and learning alone. Others are in Chevrusa. Others are on their way down to the Mikvah. And others are just wandering around, "preparing" for Davening in the main Minyan, which starts at 6:45. We often try to drag a few in so we can keep going, but they often give us a hard time about it, like it's not their fault that we can't make our Minyan and we shouldn't bother them.

I can totally understand their point of view. They're there early because they've made a commitment to do something extra before davening, like learning or going to Mikvah, or to get in the proper spiritual state to pray with feeling. And we're trying to hijack them into our Minyan.

But it's not like there are 3 other Minyanim happening all at the same time, and we're just another "me too" Minyan. Some of us would not be able to Daven with a Minyan without this one. I would think that allowing someone like me to be at a Minyan, or the mourner to say Kaddish, would take precedence over any other personal commitments.

Maybe I've been listening to "Minyan Man" for too long, but imagine if the guy in that song said, "I'd like to help be the tenth guy at your Minyan, but I made a commitment to learn a Blatt instead."

Thursday, September 02, 2004

One Week

What a difference one week makes. Seven days ago, my 14 year old son went off to Yeshiva. Last night, he called. You would not believe the excitement this caused.

His two brothers, who couldn't wait to get rid of him, who practically packed his bags for him, fought each other to get on the phone with him.

"Let me talk next!"

The Psycho Toddler was yapping so much for me to give her the phone that I couldn't hear anything anyway, so I just gave it to her. Her conversation was like this:

"Hello? Hello? It's The Bubbie!! Hello?........Hello?.....It's meeeee!!!"
"Ok, Bubs, say goodbye already."
"Goodbye!...Hello??"

Mostly the other conversations were about what he was eating and if he had run out of underwear yet, but we also talked about his chevrusah and his learning, and he's doing ok.

You never really appreciate something until it's gone, I guess.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Velvel about to be lynched!

Velvel posts a link to an entertaining thread on the Jewish Music Yahoogroup, where he criticizes one poster's opinion that Showtunes are appropriate fodder for Jewish Music, whereas Punk and Rock are not. He gets some heated responses.

Velvel, this is the same old argument about:
a) whether there actually is such a thing as Jewish Music and
b) whether said music should be influenced by Secular Music.

I obviously have my own ideas about this, but I agree that you really should pick a side and be consistent. If you think that some Secular Music is appropriate for Jewish use, then you really can't justify a position that says that other Music is inappropriate, simply because you don't like that style. And if you think that Secular Music should never influence Jewish Music, that there is something inherently Jewish about the music itself, and traif about other music, well, then I think you're wrong, but you're entitled to your opinion. I guess.

As for me, I've always found that there's something magical about putting my fingers on a guitar and having music come out. I don't really see why if I play some notes, the music is Jewish, but if I play others, it's traif. I'll leave that for greater minds than my own.

Terror does pay

Beheadings and torture broadcast by Arab satellite media and posted on the internet.
A woman blows herself up in Moscow, killing 10.
Two busses explode in Beer Sheva, killing 16 and wounding over 100.
Muslim terrorists storm a school in Russia, taking over 200 children hostage and threatening to kill them.
All in one week.

How can this continue to occur in this day and age?
Two reasons that I can think of:

1. Irresponsible, evil Muslim Clerics who encourage their followers to commit murder and torture, promising them eternal joy in Heaven as a reward.
2. Because it works. They see results. Governments change foreign policy, troop deployment, and pressure democratic countries to cave into the demands of the terrorists.

How will this end? Only if the two reasons above can be reversed:

1. We need to see the emergence of a benevolent, responsible Muslim clergy that will get up, in public, in Arabic, and condemn every act of terror, without qualification, and tell their congregants that the reward for murder and terror is eternal damnation, not 70 virgins in paradise.

2. We absolutely must not ever allow those who instigate and perpetuate these atrocities to benefit from them. No pressure on Israel. No foreign policy change. No withdrawal of troops. Hit them back and hit them hard. Make them lose far more than they would ever gain.