The Grand Lady Of Jewish Jazz

Come and enjoy the musical stylings of Israeli performer and composer Zlata Razdolina as she presents original compositions, based on the blending of her personal style with traditional Klezmer jazz. The program will include dynamic dance pieces with elements of jazz, as well as compositions dedicated to Israel, such as “Israeli Rhapsody,”” Tel Aviv,” among others.  In addition, Zlata Razdolina will perform Jewish folk songs in Yiddish, popular songs in Hebrew, and powerful original songs about Israel.   To add to the magic of the evening, a jazz band will be accompanying Mrs. Razdolina’s performance.

Zlata Razdolina has been one of the leading composers and pezlata razdolina jewish jazzrformers of Klezmer Jazz for many years. Razdolina was born in Leningrad (St. Petersburg), where she also gained her musical education. An acclaimed artist, she is a laureate of many national and international music competitions, as well as the author of over 600 musical pieces in various genres. Zlata Razdolina’s compositions have been broadcast on BBC and on various radio stations worldwide.

Zlata tours internationally with her original compositions, which effortlessly combine different worlds and cultures. Today, Zlata Razdolina is happy to share her incredible gift with the world by performing her music for a live audience. We are delighted to be able to host her, so join us in celebrating this talent!

Being Jewish During Christmas: 10 Easy Steps

Photo by Joe Goldberg https://www.flickr.com/photos/goldberg/

Photo by Joe Goldberg

Being Jewish in the diaspora is especially difficult during Christmas. Christmas is such a shiny and beautiful celebration, that it is hard for Hanukkah not to be eclipsed by it. I decided to rise to the challenge. Here is how I did it.

1) Acknowledge the beauty of Christmas

Honesty is key. The Christmas decorations and lights are lovely. There is no harm in saying so. My family enjoyed admiring them all around us. At no time were christmas decorations allowed in our home, and my kids were never permitted to help their friends decorate a Christmas tree.

2) Control the radio and television

As soon as Thanksgiving is over, the broadcast media inundates everyone with Christmas music and movies. We made a point of listening to Hanukkah and Israeli music, and to watch movies about Hanukkah. We created our own Hanukkah bubble, which was surrounded by Christmas.

3) Instill pride with the retelling of the story of the Maccabees

Tell your kids the story of the bravery of the Maccabees. Use whatever resources you have at your disposal to bring it to life. Most kids are fascinated to discover that the weapon of mass destruction during their time was the war elephant.

4) Make Hanukkah crafts

We made our own beeswax candles and hanukiot. It was so much more meaningful for the children to light a menorah they had made themselves.

5) Participate in community celebrations

Your family may join an ice menorah sculpting and lighting happening, or go to the Latkepalooza to taste non-traditional latkes. Communal menorah lightings and celebrations are a wonderful way to feel part of your People during Hanukkah.

Photo by MathKnight https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:MathKnight

Photo by MathKnight https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:MathKnight

6) Create your own Hanukkah fun

We celebrated Hanukkah by making our own gelt, preparing latkes and sufganiot, and hosting at least one Hanukkah party. It is fun to serve Israeli foods during a Hanukkah party, as well as Sephardic treats and specialties from other Jewish communities. Of course, no Hanukkah party is complete without the dreidel game.

7) Light an olive oil menorah

Lighting an olive oil menorah transports you back in time to the Temple in Jerusalem. Your family can relive the rededication of the Temple after the victory of the Maccabees, and the lighting of the pure oil.

8) Give great presents!

If you examine the reasons young children are envious of Christmas, one of the main ones is that gifts are involved. This one is easy to solve. I told my kids that while children who celebrate Christmas get gifts during only one day, kids who celebrate Hanukkah get gifts during eight nights. Then, I went out and bought eight great gifts for each of them. They had something to look forward to every day. When Christmas and Hanukkah were over, all the kids at school compared what they had received. My children were satisfied with their gifts.

9) Bond with other Jews

There is a special bond that forms in December between Jews. There are enough of us in the Philadelphia area that together we share a special Christmas tradition. Have dinner at a restaurant in Chinatown, and then go to a movie. Check the Jewish community listings for special activities and events scheduled on December 24 and 25. Single people in our community should go to the matzah ball where they can mingle with other eligible single Jews. Even when Christmas and Hanukkah don’t overlap, non-Christmas feels like our own special holiday.

10) Be genuinely happy for your Christian friends.

I always wish my Christian friends a happy Christmas, and I mean it. I love hearing about their different traditions and recipes. I have modeled this behavior for my family.

My kids are now young adults. I asked them what they thought of their Hanukkah experience growing up in the United States. They told me that Christmas is a beautiful holiday, and that they feel so lucky to be Jews celebrating Hanukkah.

Essen: A Little Jewish Bakery in South Philly

photo (7)As the aroma of freshly baked challah wafts down Passyunk Avenue, South Philly is returning to its Jewish roots. The source of the heavenly smell is Essen, a new Jewish bakery. “Essen,” which means, “eat!” in Yiddish, is the creation of Tova du Plessis.

Tova du Plessis, originally from Johannesburg, was dutifully studying to be a physician. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in biology, she pivoted toward her true love and attended culinary school. Ms. du Plessis honed her craft at Citron & Rose, Le Bec Fin, and The Rittenhouse Hotel. After the birth of her first child, she felt ready for another new challenge, and decided to open her own shop.

Serendipitously, the proprietor of her local bakery decided to pursue other opportunities. Tova du Plessis was able to rent the bakery with all of its equipment. She tapped into the memories of preparing Shabbat dinners with her mother in South Africa. Then, she tweaked the recipes a little bit.

13122909_487661448094640_5776031625427631548_oThree types of challah are baked at Essen. There is a fragrant, slightly sweet plain challah, a saltier seeded challah, and an exotic za’atar challah. Fresh labaneh with olive oil and za’atar is available for purchase to pair with the za’atar challah. These challahs are soft, chewy, moist, and pareve. I bought all three for Shabbat dinner. When my father bit into the plain challah, he told my mother, “this is just like the ones you bake!”

Jewish apple cake, chocolate chip – sea salt cookies, and cheese cake with house made strawberry preserves are baked on the premises. The crowning cakes of the display case are the babkas. These delicious yeast cakes are baked with cinnamon and hazelnuts or chocolate and halva.

13112996_484225865104865_1420751969339691223_oI must confess that the chocolate-halva babka was so wickedly decadent that I knew that it would be a sin for me to tempt anyone who knows me with it. This is why I sat at a table in the corner of Essen’s cozy café and ate the whole delicious slice by myself.

Essen Bakery
Address: 1437 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Phone:(215) 271-2299
Hours:
Friday 8AM–6PM
Saturday 8AM–6PM
Sunday 8AM–3PM
Monday Closed
Tuesday Closed
Wednesday 8AM–6PM
Thursday 8AM–6PM
https://www.facebook.com/essenbakery/

Theater Review: Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters” at the Arden Theatre


Left to right: Sarah Sanford, Mary Tuomanen and Katherine Powell. Photo by Mark Garvin.

The world premiere of a new translation of The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, playing at the Arden Theatre until April 20, is a vibrant, well-acted, well-directed production that should not be missed this season.  

Chekhov’s influential story about a family’s unrealized aspirations was translated by Curt Columbus, and is directed by Terrence J. Nolen.

“Chekhov isn’t easy — there’s not a tried and true method to make his work speak to modern audiences,” stated Nolen, Arden’s producing artistic director. “But no other playwright speaks more eloquently to the essence of the human condition, and that challenge is irresistible to me as a director.”  

Through research, workshops, readings, and travel, the play is the culmination of a two-year exploration of the master storyteller’s work that took the theater company from Moscow to Providence, Rhode Island to Philadelphia.

More after the jump.

“The Three Sisters” was originally performed at the Moscow Theatre in 1901. It is a classic four-act drama that examines the lives of the three Prozorov sisters and their brother Andrei, who have lived for 11 years in a small provincial town, where their late father had commanded a brigade. Unsuited for provincial life, the sisters long to return to Moscow, their childhood home and idealized haven.  

Although there is not a single Jew among these characters, there is something profoundly heimish in Chekhov’s play, as Diane Samuels wrote in the Jewish Quarterly:

No Jew would have inhabited this social milieu. And yet the sense of community, the emotional highs and lows, the ill-tempered humor, the corny asides, the affection, the melodrama, the poignancy, the hope, the despair, all — as actress Tracy-Ann Oberman insightfully noted when she first mentioned to me that she hoped to find a writer ready to take up the challenge of writing a Jewish version of the play — smack of something very Jewish indeed. Maybe it is the Russian background.

Still, a leap was required to find a way of extrapolating the Jewishness out of Chekhov.

This moving production’s most innovative turn takes place in the first act. We are watching a play within a play, as the actors seem to be having a dress rehearsal for a play, which is being videotaped as we watch it. Refreshingly disconcerting, the clever technique works, and by the time we get to the second act we are in the play itself, but the intimations of the video and the sense of life being a dress rehearsal linger.  

All three “sisters” are outstanding in their respective roles: Katherine Powell as Masha, the sardonic, restless middle sister; Sarah Sanford as Olga, the oldest sister; and Mary Tuomanen as Irina, the youngest sister.  

Lt. Colonel Alexander Vershinin, portrayed by Ian Merrill Peakes, is the play’s philosopher:

There will come a time when everybody will know why, for what purpose, there is all this suffering, and there will be no more mysteries. But now we must live… we must work, just work!

Fine. Since the tea is not forthcoming, let’s have a philosophical conversation.  

Chekhov might not have been Jewish but he speaks to the human condition in this sad, poignant play that embraces all of life: from the boredom of marriage to the ravages of war, from the hopes of youth to the regrets of the middle age. Near the end of the play, Vershinin reflects on that:  

In two or three hundred years life on earth will be unimaginably beautiful, amazing, astonishing. Man has need of that life and if it doesn’t yet exist, he must sense it, wait for it and dream of it, prepare to receive it, and to achieve that he must see and know more than our grandfathers and fathers saw or knew.  


The full cast of “Three Sisters.” Photo by Mark Garvin.

In “The Three Sisters,” Chekhov has written a masterwork that doesn’t reduce life to easy platitudes or resolutions, but captures the fleeting nature of life in four acts that the Arden’s production staff honors in its bold new production.

Single ticket prices are between $36 and $48, with discounts available for seniors, students, military and educators. Groups of 15 or more enjoy significant discounts. Main stage subscriptions are on sale for between $84 and $135.

For tickets, call the Arden’s box office at 215-922-1122, order online, or visit the box office at 40 N. 2nd Street in Old City, Philadelphia.

Post-show discussions will be held following the performances on March 30 at 2 p.m., April 3 at 8 p.m., April 9 at 6:30 p.m., April 13 at 2 p.m., and April 16 at 6:30 p.m.

Tug of War Over Iraqi Jewish Archive

— by Ronit Treatman

When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, American soldiers discovered an Iraqi Jewish archive in Sadam Hussein’s secret police headquarters. These documents belonged to Iraq’s 2,500-year-old Jewish community.  

When the soldiers entered the building, it was flooded. The documents were located in the basement, under four feet of water. As soon as they were exposed to the air, they began to get moldy.

With the consent of the Iraqi authorities, the archive was sent to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. for preservation.

More after the jump.
The archive includes:

  • a Hebrew bible from 1568,
  • a Babylonian Talmud from 1793,
  • a Zohar from 1815, and
  • a lunar calendar printed in Baghdad in 1972, among other documents.

Most of Iraq’s Jews left before the 1990s, due to persecution, leaving the archive behind.

When the exhibit is over, the archive is expected to be returned to the Iraqi antiquities ministry. It is not known where the archive will be stored. The experts at the National Archives trained two Iraqi preservation experts in the conservation procedures used on these materials.  

A group of Iraqi Jews is mobilizing to prevent the archive from being returned to Iraq, and keep it in the Babylonian Jewish Heritage Center in Israel. This museum is located in Or Yehuda, a center of the Iraqi Jewish community in Israel.  

An Unknown Country: Documentary on Ecuador’s Jews

— by Ronit Treatman

Exotic, tropical Ecuador is a paradisaical destination for a romantic vacation. But who knew that it was also a refuge for Jews fleeing the Holocaust? They joined the Sephardic community, which had been there since the beginning of the Spanish colonization.

Emmy award-winning producer and writer Eva Zelig has been producing a new documentary about this community’s story, which is also that of her own family, for the last three years. The project was largely financed by a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter.  

Is Your Jewish Family from Poland Originally From Spain?

— by Aaron Biterman

My family left northern Spain, likely around the time of expulsion in July of 1492. I am unsure what path they took to arrive in Poland, but oral tradition suggests that my Jewish family settled in the town of Hrubieszow in southeast Poland (near Lublin and Zamosc) by 1600. The surname they eventually adopted sounded much more Eastern European than Spanish. I talk more about the origins of the surname below. It’s possible my family was Ashkenazic and migrated west to Spain from another place, and then migrated back east after expulsion from Spain, but it seems more likely that they actually were Sephardic.

More after the jump.
Evidence that the family was Sephardic includes:

  • Dual Hebrew names (Yehuda Aryeh ben Yosef Tzvi) is a Sephardic practice. Ashkenazi tradition is “Yehuda ben Yosef.”
  • Concluding Shabbat davening with Ein Kelahaynu instead of Adan Olom is a Sephardic practice.
  • There may have been a synagogue in Hrubieszow before WWII which was Sephardic, where my ancestors prayed.
  • The family was religiously observant but not Hasidic even though the town they lived in (Hrubieszow) was a mostly Hasidic town.
  • There is an oral tradition of arrival in the area in Poland in the mid-1500s.

Jews had a very difficult time in Europe during the later portion of the Middle Ages. The beginnings of some of the behaviors of the Holocaust can be traced to the period in Europe from 1200 to 1500. Throughout Europe, the Jews were gradually confined in ghettos as the Middle Ages progressed. The first compulsory ones were established in Spain and Portugal at the end of the fourteenth century. Jewish ghettos existed in Madrid, Barcelona, Venice, Naples, Rome, Florence, Prague, and other European cities (Source: Jewish Displacement).

Beginning in the 8th century, Muslims had occupied and settled most of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain). Jews, who had lived in these regions since Roman times, were considered “People of the Book”‘ and given special status and often thrived under Muslim rule. The tolerance of the Muslim Moorish rulers attracted Jewish immigration, and Jewish enclaves in Muslim Iberian cities flourished as places of learning and commerce. Living conditions for Jews in al-Andalus became more difficult after the fall of the Muslim Umayyad Caliphate around the year 1030.

The Reconquista was the gradual reconquest of Islamic Iberia by the Catholic kingdoms with a powerful religious motivation: Iberia was being reclaimed for Christendom. By the 14th century, most of the Iberian Peninsula, present day Spain and Portugal, had been regained from the Moors. Overt hostility against Jews became more pronounced, finding expression in brutal episodes of violence and oppression. Thousands of Jews sought to escape these attacks by converting to Catholicism.

The Alhambra Decree (also known as the Edict of Expulsion) was an edict issued on March 31, 1492 by the joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) ordering the expulsion of Jews from the Kingdom of Spain and its territories and possessions by July 31 of that year. The punishment for any Jew who did not convert or leave by the deadline was death. Scholars disagree about how many Jews left Spain as a result of the decree; the numbers vary between 130,000 and 800,000 (Source: Wikipedia).

Migration to Poland

Toward the end of the Middle Ages, Jews lived in 85 towns in Poland, totaling 18,000 — a mere .6 percent of the total population. But the 16th and the first half of the 17th century saw increased settlement and a relatively fast rate of natural population growth of Jews in Poland. Among the new arrivals there were not only the Ashkenazim banished from the countries belonging to the Hapsburg monarchy, but also Sephardim who were driven away from Spain and Portugal. Beginning in the middle of the 16th century, Jews started to settle in the countryside in larger numbers. During the hundred years of the 15th century, the Jewish Polish population exploded from about 15,000 to 150,000. In the middle of the 17th century there were 500,000 Jews living in Poland — five percent of the total population.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, Poland became the center for Jewish learning. Between 1501 and 1648, Jews intensified their economic activity. The primary sources of income for Jewish families were crafts and local trade. The rapid development of Jewish settlement and economic activity was accompanied by expansion of their self-government organization. As in the Middle Ages, every autonomous Jewish community was governed by its kahal — a collegiate body composed of elders elected as a rule from among the local wealthiest. The kahal organized funerals and administered cemeteries, schools, baths, slaughterhouses and the sale of kosher meat. In the closed “Jewish cities”, it also took care of cleanliness and order in the Jewish quarter and the security of its inhabitants. Administering charities such as the organization of hospitals and other welfare institutions and the dowering of poor brides were also taken on by citizens or organizations within these Jewish communities (Source: Mike Rosenzweig).

There was a period when members of the Sephardic middle class could establish themselves with some distinction in Poland. This most important page in the history of Sephardic Jews in Poland began with the reign of the Polish King Sigismund II Augustus (1529-1572). At that time, one of the most influential statesmen of the Ottoman Empire was Don Joseph Nasi, a Sephardic Jew who died in 1579 (Source: Alexander Beider).

In 1588, Polish Chancellor Jan Zamoyski established a special privilege allowing Sephardic Jews to live in his own newly founded private town of Zamosc. Many advantages were offered to those Sephardic Jews who decided to move there, which prompted a number of Sephardic families to migrate to the town. During the first part of the 17th century, new settlers generally came from Italy and Holland, according to Alexander Beider. Some of the Sephardic Jews left the area; others intermarried with Ashkenazic Jews. As a result, during the second half of the 17th century, Sephardic names do not appear in the historical documents of Zamosc and Lvov. The census of 1664 showed only 23 Jews in Zamosc, most Ashkenazic.

The presence of Sephardic families in the territory of Poland during the 16th to 18th centuries did not influence the surnames used by Polish Jews during the 19th and 20th centuries. The cultural fusion of foreign Sephardic Jews with local Ashkenazic Jews, who had lived in the same area for several centuries and were far more numerous, was rather rapid. The Sephardic Jews lost their language, and their descendants used Yiddish as the vernacular. They dropped their Sephardic names and were named according to local Ashkenazic patterns (Source: Alexander Beider).

Jews lived in Russia for centuries — sometimes welcomed and other times barely tolerated. Before 1500, Jews were permitted to live anywhere in Russia. As Russia’s western boundary moved west in the 1600s and 1700s, more Jews were annexed into a country which was intolerant of Jews. In the late 1700s, Catherine the Great decreed that Jews could only live in the territory along the western Russian border, known as the Pale of Settlement. In 1772, more Jews lived in the Pale than in the rest of Europe.

Prosperity continued until the second half of the 17th century, when a series of massacres by Cossacks ruthlessly killed Jews and Gentile Poles alike. Poland was then pummeled by another Cossack uprising, two invasions by Sweden, and a war with Turkey. In the 1700s, Poland was divided three ways, and the Jews of Poland fell under the rule of Russia, Germany, and Austria (Source: Jewish Displacement).

Surname Biterman

My family’s surname of Biterman could either have Eastern European or Sephardic origins. I talk more about it on my genetic genealogy page http://chelm.freeyellow.com/bi…

A Kippah Question

There’s something sad about seeing many of our American youth wearing a kippah while visiting Israel.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not against them wearing a kippah; I am gratified by it. The reason I think it is so sad is because the vast majority of those same kids will not wear one at home in America other than when sheltered from the outside world. For example, they have no problem wearing their Jewish identity openly when going to synagogue, attending religious school or participating in a Jewish event but wearing one in the general public, well that’s a different story.
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