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Thursday, November 29, 2007

And Stop Calling me Hellmut

Hello, Hellmut

I've been searching for a man of my dreams, of my desire and I indeed hope that you are that person, and I have somehow fallen hopelessly and undeniably, though virtually in love with you. To be honest, I never thought I would ever utter those words, but now, they come forth effortlessly and with great sincerity. I'll be forever grateful to you if you show me just how shallow my life was. At last, I have a chance to give it depth and purpose.

It would probably be better to tell you this during meeting in person, eyes to eyes, but I knew that the proper words would escape me. I wrote you this letter instead. Please answer me http://www.********* after you read it, and we'll communicate.

Until I hear from you, I remain totally yours in thought and spirit.
Looking forward to hear from you

Juliana P

Dear Juliana P,

I'm really flattered that you feel this way about me. But I think it would be a really bad idea if we met. You see, my wife works out four nights a week, and if she caught me "eyes to eyes" with you she'd probably break my neck.

Not to mention that this is really not a great time for me to go to the Ukraine.

Thanks for thinking of me!

Your pal,

Not Hellmut

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Now Possess the Phylactery of Litheness!

Some of you may think I'm just wasting time when I play Video Games. But after a fairly involved quest in Oblivion, I was rewarded with the Phylactery of Litheness!

I now have a permanent 5 point boost in my speed! Which means I can finish Shmoneh Esrei that much quicker than before!



Never mind...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


The J-Blogosphere has two kinds of people. Those who divide the J-Blogosphere into two kinds of people, and those who don’t those who complain about things, and those who do something about them. MOChassid, as I have discovered, is both.

It was this incessant complaining that first drew my attention to the Blogosphere. While Googling for reviews of my band, I became aware of an ongoing kvetchfest between MOChassid and another Blogger named Velvel regarding the sad state of Jewish Music and their particular disdain for a genre that MO termed “Shiny Shoe Music.” I found myself agreeing with many of his points, although I suspect that there are more than a few of my own projects that would earn a place on his "hit" list.

But MO wasn’t content to just hock a chinek. He decided to do something about it, first through a series of concerts at his shul, Aish Kodesh, featuring the types of performers whom he felt represented the direction Jewish Music should be going, and then through the release last year of his first album, U'Shmuel B'korei Sh'mo.

With the release of his second album, K’Shoshana, MO is proving himself a force to be reckoned with in the Jewish Music industry. I’d plug this album for no other reason than to support a fellow blogger in his attempts to bring integrity and soul back into an industry that seems derailed by shmaltzy/cheesy/glitzy/computer-processed/homogenized/70’s Cop Show/disco/boy-band blandness.

But it helps that this happens to be a really good album, featuring two of my favorite people in the world, Aron Razel and Shlomo Katz (I’m not dissing Chaim Dovid; I’ve never had the privilege to play with him). Razel’s arrangements of 10 of Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s previously unreleased songs are clean and pleasing to the ears, and although Razel’s usual ingenuity is somewhat subdued to avoid overshadowing Carlebach’s material, it is still eminently present. Also present is the spirit of the late Reb Shlomo, A”H, whose legacy has been passed on to these three great performers. Katz, Razel, and Dovid each have quite different vocal styles, and yet they complement each other well through harmony and performance.

This album comes highly recommended and makes a great Channuka gift. In fact, I think I’m going to buy a copy for my own Rebbe, as this may be that one elusive album that the both of us can enjoy.

And don’t forget that my own Rock of Sages makes a great gift for that special, hard to please music lover.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Band Naming Poll ---->


Enough already.


I want to thank all of you for all the wonderful and goofy names you volunteered. Some were really hilarious.

However, the boys and I need to pick one that is likely to get us gigs. Maybe even some paying gigs. And although I guess technically we could use different names for different types of jobs(i.e. goofy and irreverent for college shows or cafes, and stiff and formal for weddings), we're trying to keep it to one name for the sake of sanity.

I don't know that there's one name that really fits for what we do, though. We play some klezmer, but we're not really a klezmer band. And sometimes we're just a few guys on acoustic instruments and other times we're a big band with drums and amps.

So we're going to open it up for voting. The voting is absolutely non-binding. This is just for fun.

My personal favorite was West Side Shtreimel, but it was not a big hit with the boys, so we'll scrap that for the more conservative West Side Simcha. It still has that play on West Side Story going for it.

Milwaukee Klezmer Works, although it sounds like a sewage company, has that industrial revolution/garment district vibe that seems to work for klezmer so we'll leave that in. Although as I said, we do a lot of non-klez material as well.

Finally, to pay our respects to Old Goldie (and because we apparently already ran an ad under this name), I'm leaving in Goldie's Klezmer Band. No, we're not a Girl Group.

As much as I like Fakaktemus, I think it would be better used for a quirky side project (which makes no money).

Some of my favorites from your suggestions are The No Goodnicks, The Young Alter Kokers (still may use this for something), Kakamun (again with the feces), Klezmaniacs, Klezatzkah (fun to say!), Klezza Nostra (seriously, enough with the "Klezz"s), and a bunch more.

Shkoiach to all of you! Maybe some of you should form bands!

Now go to the sidebar over there ------>
Vote early, and vote often!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Book Review: The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden

I don’t like Juvenile Books.

There, I’ve said it.

If a book is a certain width, height and thickness, if the type is of a certain size, if there are more than, oh, let’s say 20 titles in a series, my brain is automatically programmed to dismiss it as dumbed-down for a younger audience. My kids have over a hundred Animorphs books at home, and despite my obsession with Science Fiction and at times (let’s face it) outright desperation for reading material, I’ve never even considered reading a single page of any of them.

Call it a bad case of literary snobbery. It’s just my personal feeling that if a kid is old enough to read more sophisticated fare, he or she should read a real book. Books with training wheels just never made much sense to me.

I found this especially true for Juvenile Books aimed at Jewish kids. Aside from fulfilling all the above criteria, they also apparently have to pass through the strainer that removes all objectionable content, anything that might raise a kid’s eyes past the blinders, that might perchance introduce the child to some concept or idea that might somehow corrupt the young soul and send him or her reeling off the path. Literature by committee. Completely bland and uninteresting. Right?

Well, two things came along that changed my mind a little.

The first was Harry Potter. Yes, I know, Harry Potter’s last few books were tomes that would rival Merriam Webster, but the first book filled much of my criteria from paragraph three, and was even published by Scholastic. And yet, when the craze swept the nation, the world, and elsewhere, when even my wife was sitting on the couch reading this, I had to take a look. And I got sucked in like everyone else. Yes, the book was aimed at a younger demographic, and yes it was completely clear of sex and bad language and even the violence was relatively benign. But it was a piece of quality fiction. It was well written. The words flowed. The story was deep, the world richly developed.

I don’t look at the Harry Potter series as Juvenile Literature any more. I view it as Literature. Period. Accessible by kids, to be sure, but satisfying enough for a reader of any age.

So where is the Harry Potter of Jewish Juvenile Literature? Our Jewish book stores have racks and racks of books which have been sanitized by the religious establishment and seem to have been published mainly to reinforce what our little ones are taught in school, and maybe also to give them something to read lest they be tempted to reach for, gasp, secular Juvenile Books like Harry Potter or even…Animorphs.

Where is the J.K. Rowling of Jewish Literature?

Maybe it is Robert J. Avrech, a Hollywood Screenwriter who recently released his first book, “The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden,” (Seraphic Press). Superficially, like Harry Potter, this book would appear to fulfill my criteria as mentioned above. Sitting on a shelf in your local Jewish book store, you might be tempted to pass it by. It’s the same size, weight, and smell as the other books surrounding it, and has as its cover a painting of a Jewish kid dressed like a cowboy with tzitzis flying in the wind. But you’d be making a mistake if you dismissed this as just another bit of religious fiction written by someone whose primary goal is to keep your kid in the shtetl.

Avrech is an adult writer who writes for real people in the real world. He has written a book that can stand up to any piece of secular fiction. It’s the story of Ariel, a soon-to-be Bar Mitzvah boy (named after the author’s own son who died tragically at a young age) who lives in the American Frontier in the years following the Civil War. Ariel’s family emigrated from Russia to escape anti-Semitism and constant pogroms. And what they find in the US…well, that’s for the reader to find out. It’s not necessarily what you think. Jews will face adversity wherever they go, and even in America, the most benevolent of the many places Jews have lived, there can be found great evil. But there is also great kindness, and Ariel and his family encounter many wonderful and surprising personalities, not the least of which is Lozen, the Apache Maiden.

The friendship Ariel and Lozen develop sheds much light on their two peoples, and by highlighting the differences he also backlights the similarities. This book is a Western, but it is not your parents’ Frisco Kid. Much as I love that old film, this story is not played for laughs. Avrech researched the period well, and through the reading of the book both young and old will learn a little something about what life was like in the Old West of the 1800’s.

Perhaps to make the book easier for the younger reader to absorb, the characters are familiar. The religiously impractical father. The overbearing-but-always-right mama. The older sister who just wants to fit in. The savage-but-noble Indian Chief. And Ariel…Ariel is our avatar. We observe through his eyes. We have to make the transition, as he does, from the Old World to the New.

So much changes for Ariel in his journey across the West. How does he hold on to who he is? Through the Torah. The traditions of the Torah, and the observance of Jewish Law keep Ariel and his family grounded through the entire unbelievable experience. Their stubborn persistence in sticking to their ways makes them pariahs to some, but paragons to others.

Jews can go everywhere, Avrech says. But they are never truly absorbed. Anti-Semitism follows them to the New World. But it is the adherence to Tradition that keeps them alive as a people. That is what our Torah is for. It is a lifeline that keeps us connected to our origins at Sinai, no matter how far our journeys take us, and no matter how strange our surroundings become.

Ariel laments with Lozen about the lack of a written language that will doom the Apache culture to gradually disappear. In the end, what Avrech tells us is that for the People of the Book, it is the book itself that brings us life.

What's wonderful about this book is that Avrech doesn't have to hit us over the head with this point. Read the story and it flows. And that is why this bit of Juvenile fiction is worth reading, at any age.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fun With the SupportBot

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Name That Band!

I've come up with a few good band names in my time. Most of them have been unusable. Truth be told, PsychoToddler was originally destined to be a band name. But I didn't have a band to go with it so I used it for a blog.

Anyway, you probably already know that I've been involved with many bands over the years, and that frequently I'm involved in a few bands at the same time. What can I say? I'm a musical swinger.

My main band, MSB, is a hardcore Jewish Rock band. But sometimes I want to be...what's the word...quiet. Not so ear-splittingly loud. And sometimes I just want to strum a guitar and sing to a couple of people in a room. Or some old folks at the Home. And sometimes I want to stretch a little musically and try something new.

So for the last year or so, I've hooked up with a couple of talented guys who go to my shul, and we've been doing acoustic performances. We do a couple of my original songs, a few Chassidic standards, some Carelbach, the occasional jazz standard, and most recently, with the addition of our talented clarinet player, some Klezmer.

Now we're at the stage where we're tired of being called, "the guys from the shul" or "Mark and Adam and Bryan" and we need a name. Here are a couple of ideas:

Goldie's Klezmer Band (named after Bryan's grandfather, Nathan Goldstein, a retired NYC Cop, nice but confusing)

49th Street Klezmer Band

West Side Shtreimel

Milwaukee Klezmer Works

Mark and Adam and Bryan

Bryan and Adam and Mark

Adam and...well you get the picture

The Guys from the Shul

The Not as Loud Orchestra

Fakaktamus (this is what my daughter used to call the Plecostemus)

Anyway, we're looking for ideas. Please help us! Leave your ideas in the comments. I can't guarantee that we'll use them, but I do guarantee that we will read and laugh at them.

To give you an idea what we sound like, here are a couple of videos from a Melaveh Malka last year at the Young Israel of West Roger's Park: