Sunday, November 28, 2010

Klezmer Music -Its Beginnings and Today

Tanta Golda,
A klezmer band is coming to our area next month and I was wondering, what is klezmer? Is it a type of musical instrument?
Humming to the beat of a different drummer
Dear drummer,
Klezmer music started out as folk music of wandering itinerant musicians in Eastern Europe and reflected an amalgamation of cultures. As such, it was strongly influenced by Roma and Russia folk music. Many of the sounds are intended to replicate the human voice, so you may notice sounds that remind you of laughter, sobbing or wailing. The melodies are mainly dance tunes and instrumental pieces for weddings. Though with all that wailing you might find that hard to believe!
When some of our Yiddish mishpachah immigrated to this country during the migration of 1880-1924, the music once again adapted to a new country. Originally, the music was passed on aurally - now dear let Tanta Golda be clear, that means by ear, not by reading the person’s aura. Unfortunately, this meant that much of this rich musical tradition was lost with the Holocaust.
Klezmer music in this wonderful country of ours saw a revival in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s and today’s Klezmer reflects influences of Jazz and touches of classical music. 
So now that you know what drum to beat to, I hope that you go and listen to this wonderful trio of young men!

What is an Aufruf?

Dear Tanta Golda,
I’ve heard that two young people in our congregation are getting married soon and that they’ve decided to have an Aufruf. I don’t think this has anything to do with dogs, so I’m hoping you can fill me in.
Feeling in the doghouse of ignorance
My dearest pup,
No need to feel hounded by your lack of knowledge! To begin with aufruf is Yiddish and means ‘coming up’. You may ask who is coming up and what are they doing? On the Saturday morning prior to the wedding ceremony an aliya - the honor of reciting the Torah blessings - is given to the intended. In Reform, Reconstructionist and many Conservative shuls this honor of ‘coming up’ is granted to both the bride and groom, among the Orthodox it is restricted to the grooms alone. In the Sephardic tradition this honor occurs on the Saturday morning after the wedding. Tanta Golda has also heard that some congregations encourage the young man - or woman - to also give a d’vara Torah (a teaching on the weekly Torah portion) so that he can impress his future in-laws with how much Torah he knows. I believe that our young man will be enlightening us. How exciting!
After the couple recites the final Torah blessing the rabbi will often say a misheberach or a special blessing over the couple. As they leave the bima they are then showered with candy, raisins and nuts. These are said to symbolize the wish that the couple’s married life be sweet and fruitful. Now my sweet, by sure not to aim at the young couple’s heads - putting an eye out before the wedding is not a good way to start them off!

** Follow up: Tanta Golda has been asked if aufrufs are ever done on Friday nights. Traditional customs revolve around the Torah, which is only read on Saturdays, Mondays, and Thursdays. So, traditional aufrufs would occur on one of those days. Tanta Golda has learned of some Reform congregations where Aufrufs are done on Fridays, and it may be possible that some Conservative congregations do something they call an Aufruf that doesn't involved the Torah, but this is outside TG's scope of knowledge.  Thanks for keeping me on my toes! TG

Friday, November 12, 2010

Unveiling a Headstone

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Dear Tanta Golda,
Next month my family and I will be unveiling our father’s footstone. Are there any special prayers or rituals we are supposed to observe?
Trying to be a dutiful mourner, N.

Dear Dutiful,
First please let me extend my condolences. Death of a parent is never easy. Traditionally, the head or footstone is unveiled eleven-twelve months after the deceased’s burial. In many parts of the world there is no ceremony associated with the unveiling, but in this country it is customary to have some kind of graveside ceremony. This can be done with or without a Rabbi. Usually several psalms are recited, the El Malei Rachamim is chanted (found on page 530 in Mishkan T'filah, or 647 in the blue Gates of Prayer), followed by the mourner’s Kaddish. Orthodox tradition holds that one needs a minyan to recite Kaddish, but one is not mandatory in the Reform tradition. It is usually a simple ceremony that includes only close family and friends. I did not find a list of any specific psalms (psalm 23 is a common one as is 121), but Tanta Golda’s advice would be to pick 1-3 that seem meaningful to you, or relevant or the deceased. The ceremony should not be considered a second funeral, but rather a time of personal reflection of one’s memory of the deceased.
I will conclude with the English translation of the El Malei Rachamim. I hope that your trip to your father’s gravesite will not be one so much of sadness, but of celebration of his life. 
With thoughts of comfort and blessing, Tanta Golda
El Malei Rachamim:
Exalted G-d full of compassion, grant the fullness of Your peace to the soul of _________, who has gone to his/her rest. May s/he share in the glory of the upright, the luster of whose purity is as the brightness of the firmament. Her/his memory lives in the hearts of his/her dear ones as an inspiration to the deeds of charity and goodness. May s/he be granted the bliss of eternal life. Shelter her/him forever, merciful G-d, under the wings of Your protecting love, and my his/her love be bound up in the bond of eternal life. G-d is his/her possession. May s/he rest in peace. Amen

recommended on amazon Jewish Mourning Process

Wearing of Tallit part II

Dear Tanta Golda,
My friend is being called up as a Bar Mitzvah this month and he told me that his grandmother will be presenting him with a Tallit. Why do Jews wear tallit? Do they just wear them at their Bar Mitzvahs? 
Tentatively curious
My darling Curious,
Ah, a boy’s first tallis…
It is written in the Torah They “shall make themselves tzitzit (fringes) on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations.” (Numbers 15:38) Later in the passage it says, “and you shall see it,” implying that tzitzit are only worn during the daylight hours. Furthermore Deuteronomy 22:12 states, “make twisted cords on the four corners of your covering.” 
Now, one must keep in mind that in ancient times, many garments were four cornered, usually made from a simple rectangle of cloth which was worn as a cape, tunic or toga. Since today’s clothing is fashioned very differently, we wear special garments to fulfill this mitzvah.
Most people you know probably don a large rectangular piece of cloth which they drape over their shoulders like a shawl. However, more observant men wear a garment between their undershirt and regular shirt called a Tallit katan. This is a single piece of material one cubit (approximately 18-24 inches) square on each side with a hole cut in the center for one’s head allowing them to fulfill the mitzvah throughout the day, everyday (not just on their Bar Mitzvah!)
Tzitzit are composed of four strands of string which are inserted through holes in the corners of the garment, and tied in a specific way. They are meant to help the wearer remember G-d’s laws, and not let their heart and eyes lead them astray. (Remember my kinder, focus, focus, focus.)
Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Tanta Golda, why did you just mention a boy’s first tallis?” Well my sweet, tradition holds that since the commandment to wear tzitzit is  time bound, women are exempt. (Because their many obligations to family make adhering to such time sensitive issues difficult.) However, in our modern age, many women - mostly in the Reform and Conservative movements, have begun wearing tallit, and you will notice this at our Temple.  While Orthodox rabbis tend to frown upon this practice, it is not forbidden, and a few Orthodox women have been know to take up this mitzvah as well.
I have been told, that in some communities unmarried men do not wear tallit, some say this is so that unmarried women can tell who is still eligible for marriage!
I hope I’ve answered your questions, and enjoy your friend’s Bar Mitzvah!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What's in a Melody? Torah Trope Explained

amazon link to books on  Torah cantillation plus Trope Trainer software

Dear Tanta Golda,
Recently I went to a Bar Mitzvah at a Sephardic temple. I was surprised that the chanting of the Torah sounded so very different from what I’m used to hearing. Is there a set way to chant torah, or are their different melodies, just like we have different melodies for the prayers we sing?
Musically perplexed.
Dear Perplexed,
First, Mazel Tov! I’m sure the young man did a wonderful job.
Now to answer your questions – yes and no.  Trope, or niggun, are used by Torah readers to sing/chant readings from the Torah, Haftorah, and Megillot. The cantillation (chant) notations are a series of dots, squiggles and straight lines found either above or under the words. Like the vowel marks, neither are found in the actual Torah scrolls, but are memorized by the reader.
The physical appearance of the notation is the same everywhere. How they are sung however, varies. The form you are most used to is the Polish-Lithuanian melody, which is the most common worldwide. The melody you heard was probably the Jerusalem Sephardic, which is the second most common. Here at Tanta Golda's Temple we have a family of Moroccan decent, and they sing yet another melody. (I had the privilege of hearing Torah chanted this way and it was beautiful, let me tell you!) All together there are eight widely recognized ways of chanting, yet the trope are the same for all!
Now you may be asking: Tanta Golda, why are these trope so important? Ah, good question! Trope have several functions, the most important being to act as punctuation, much like commas and periods. Second, it gives a clue to the underlying meaning of the text. For example, in Genesis, when Potifar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph, we read that he refuses. However, the chant is drawn out, implying that he hesitated, more than briefly, before answering.  Conversely, when we read in the Megillah about the death of Haman’s sons, their names are read very quickly – in one breath- for while we are relieved that our enemy meets his end, we do not rejoice in his sons’ deaths. 
There is a great deal more to this topic, and if you are interested my darling niece Geri has found the following link at Wikipedia to get you started:  If you would like to learn how to chant with Torah she has two recommendations. URJ press has put out an excellent, user friendly book called: The Art of Torah Cantillation: A Step-by-Step Guide to Chanting Torah [Book + CD] . The other resource is a computer program put out by Kinnor Software called: Trope Trainer
Much love, and singing your praises for another excellent question,
Tanta G

amazon link to books on  Torah cantillation plus Trope Trainer Software

Why Do We Put Rocks On Headstones?

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Dear Tanta Golda,
Recently I visited a cemetery and I noticed that quite a number of headstones had rocks on them. Is this a Jewish custom? What does it mean?
N. The Wonderer
Dear Wonderer,
Indeed it is a Jewish custom to leave a small pebble on a headstone. Some learned people say it is a way to let the family know that others have visited, others say it is a symbol of your enduring love for the departed. 
You may ask, Tanta Golda, how did this custom come to be? Well my dears, some Rabbis say that by placing a stone on a grave we participate in the building of the tomb, which is a mitzvah. Still others believe that it was an ancient custom that whenever someone passed a mound of stones marking a grave, they would pick up a stone from the area that might have fallen off and return it to the pile. This was seen as a sign of thoughtfulness, since mounds of heavy rocks helped to keep predatory animals away. 
I came across another explanation having to do with the spirits of the newly departed, but I don’t wish to frighten any kinder who might be reading this!
Keep on writing,
Tanta Golda

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Chicken Soup

Dear Tanta Golda,
With all the cold and flu germs going around I was wondering: does chicken soup really help?
Congested and coughing on the couch
My darling Congested,
Why-of course! Look, a little chicken soup certainly never hurt anyone, and we do know that hot liquids are soothing to the throat and open up those sinuses to drain. Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, aka - Maimonides or Rambam (goodness, what a lot of names for one person!), a 12th century Torah scholar and renowned physician, wrote on numerous occasions on the therapeutic benefit of chicken soup in balancing the humors. 
Chicken soup is deeply rooted in the Jewish traditions associated with Shabbat among the Ashkenazi Jews in the shtetls  Europe. At a time when many were poor, a chicken, or part of a chicken boiled together with vegetables, made a soup that could be shared and delighted in for the Shabbath.
Now, if you were wondering, the Talmud describes the therapeutic value of “six foods that provide a permanent cure for illness: cabbage, beets, an extract of sisin (don’t ask Tanta Golda what this is, I haven’t a clue), the stomach of an animal, the womb of an animal and the large lobe of the liver of an animal...” (Berachot 44b)  It seems a rather limited list when we know about the beneficial properties of other foods which contain anti-oxidants, beta-cartotene, and such. And really, how could those eminent Torah scholars have left out chicken soup? Perhaps they felt it was so basic that there was no need to mention it.
So my stuffy soul, sip some chicken soup, blow your nose, and wash your hands often!
Love as always - Tanta Golda

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

When to Bow in Prayers

Dear Tanta Golda,
I have a question, but I’m a little shy about asking because I feel I should know. I’ve noticed that during certain prayers some people, but not all, bow. What are the rules about this ritual? Do I have to have been Bat Mitzvahed?  B. Pondering
My dear Pondering B,
No need to be shy my dear, remember, as I always say, the only foolish question is the one you don’t ask!
Now, It may be that some of the people don’t bow, because like you, they’re not sure of the protocol about who, how, and when. So, let me try to explain. In Judaism you become a Bat Mitzvah at 12, and a Bar Mitzvah at 13, whether or not you have a ceremony (don’t tell the youngsters!) At this point, Judaism believes that a person is ready to take on their Jewish responsibilities for themselves. What this means for you bubbula, is that as long as you are Jewish, you can participate in any Jewish ritual even if you haven’t been called to the Torah. (Though it’s never too late for you to take on this challenge, just ask those sweet girls in Cleveland who were 89-96!) Now, if you’re not Jewish you can still bow to show respect if you wish to, but there are a few other rituals you aren’t invited to participate in, such as coming up for an aliya, or reading from the Torah.
 There are six standard places in the service where most people bow. (There is no prohibition about bowing if you feel so moved in other places.) Tanta Golda’s understanding is that we do this in recognition of HaShem’s sovereignty and our humility. At our Temple two of these are during silent prayers in the Amida, so I will focus on the other four.
- The Barechu – The call to prayer (We say these same words when called to the Torah so we bow here too.)
- The first line of the Avot (Baruch ata Adonai elohaynu vaylohay avotaynu v’emotanu)
- Last line of the Avot (Baruch ata Adonai magen Avraham v’ezrat Sara.)
- The second paragraph of the Aleinu
The how-to: 
During the Barechu we bow at the waist at the word Barechu and then straighten up.
Whenever we bow for the word Baruch we bend our knees at Baruch, bend over at ata, and straighten up at God’s name.
Now when we recite the Aleinu the formula is a bit different. We bend knees at Vanachnu korim, bend over during umishtachavim umodim, and then straighten at litnay melech. I like to tell the kinder that we lift our heads at litnay (like lift-nay).
As an aside I will mention that in Orthodox shuls only men bow during prayers. Women are excused from most rituals. Tanta Golda has a difficult time with the reasons behind this attitude, but all the more reason I’m glad to be a member of TBI!
I hope I’ve answered you questions, let me know if you have any more ponderings. Tanta G.

Jewish Belief in Afterlife

Dear Tanta Golda,
At services a few weeks ago, the subject of the Jewish belief in heaven and afterlife came up. Two of our members had a lot to share with us. I tried to explain what I learned to a friend of mine who couldn’t come to services, but my mind got all mixed up! Could you please help me out? – Soulfully confused
My dear Soulful, 
Indeed you ask a question that perplexes most Jews. When Tanta Golda was a little girl she remembers being told ‘the righteous will sit at G-d’s right hand’ and that Jews didn’t believe in angels or hell. Like most little girls I thought, “Sitting, just sitting, all day by the old guy with the beard, oy gevult, how dreary! Now that I’m a little bit older, I have a slightly better understanding. Let me share what I have learned.
Judaism focuses on life in the here and now, so we have no dogma on the afterlife like so many other religions. The closest the Torah comes to discussing it are references that the righteous will be reunited with their loved ones after death, but that the wicked will not. Don’t get too veclempt, there are only a few sins so heinous that one is barred from this reunion.
In the Mishnah (the first written account of the Oral Law) it says: This world is like the lobby before the Olam HaBa (the world to come.) Prepare yourself in the lobby so you may enter the banquet hall (being with the Almighty.)
Rabbi Shraga Simmons, a nice boy, states that the soul G-d creates can never go out of existence. After death, each soul experiences heaven differently depending on the life lead. Some get front row seats, some the balcony. The experience depends on good deeds done in life, and on how sensitive one was to spiritual realities in life (through Torah study.) Those who were more aware, get more joy in being near G-d. 
Now, don’t dispair, according to Mrs. Sarah Levi at, every year at the yahrtzeit, the anniversary of a death, the soul ascends to another level closer to G-d. So darlings, even if you haven’t lived a perfect life, over time you earn your way closer to HaShem.
My little soulful, as well you know, if you have two Jews, you will have at least three opinions. This has been true throughout our history. The question of resurrection of the dead is no exception. Around two thousand years ago there was a bit of a to-do between two groups, the Sadducees and the Pharisees (the ancestors of Rabbinic Judaism.) The Sadducess said that since there was no explicit reference to the concept in the Torah, they rejected it. The Pharisees however said resurrection was implied. Rambam, one of our greatest sages, includes resurrection of dead in his 13 Principles of Faith, and in fact there are certain prayers in the traditional liturgy that refer to resurrection.  Once again, we have more than one opinion, and you will notice that in Reform siddurim these references have been eliminated from the Avot and Gevurot. Goodness!
Much has been written and debated on these topics, but what keeps coming up is that what really counts in Judaism is how you live you life now. So my dears, take this time as we approach the High Holy Days to think about how you are living your life in the here and now. As my son likes to say, “be the change you wish to see in the world”, certainly you will reap the rewards in the here, and perhaps the world to come. Oy, ambiguity!
- Tanta Golda

Clapping in Shul?

Dear Tanta Golda,
I don’t mean to complain about the behavior of others so close to the days of repentance, but I was quite bothered when people applauded in the Shul. I always thought that this was disrespectful. My friend agreed. Are we being too judgmental? – L&G
My lovely L&G,
While there is not prohibition against clapping in synagogue, you are right in considering it a matter of etiquette, in most temples. 
When I was growing up, it was considered ill-mannered to clap at anything during a service. A sanctuary, unlike an auditorium, is a sacred space, and clapping was seen as irreverent.
However, since my days as a girl, some synagogues have been more encouraging of musical instruments and clapping in a way to bring in more active participation.
So, my dears, I know I’ve answered your question both ways. I’d say the the general rule of thumb is that clapping during a service is frowned upon, but given the right circumstances we all should open ourselves up to experiencing the joy.
Keep me on my toes my kinder and keep those questions coming.
Tanta Golda