Take A Bite Of An Apple From The Tree Of Music

— by Mira Treatman

It was a brutally cold Thursday night at Old City Coffee as locavorish (who eat locally-produced food) arts appreciators piled into the forty-seat house to see harp-centric power folk bands: Liz and the Lost Boys and Snow Caps. The show, co-sponsored by Café Olam and Moishe House Philadelphia, was in celebration of Tu B’shvat, the birthday of the trees. This celebration is quite relevant to Café Olam because of its mission as “a cultural space that will serve as a source of engagement for the Jewish and general community to help strengthen connections.” Honoring the living things in our world, or olam in Hebrew, is a very direct way of furthering environmental responsibility.

More after the jump.
The woman behind this organization is founder and Jewish non-profit guru, Laurel Klein. This was and is a major passion project that was developed further by the Tribe 12 Fellowship in 2011. In an effort to support this emerging Jewish organization, proceeds from the concert went directly to Café Olam. Next steps for the organization are to secure a permanent home for on-sight on-site beer brewing and to continue to bring young urban Jews together. Andrew Keller, singer-songwriter in Snow Caps remarked: “The fact that the show was a benefit really made me happy. I wish Cafe Olam much success.”

Moishe House, the second of the two organizations, envisions itself as “the global leader of pluralistic Jewish life for adults in their twenties, so that they have the leadership, knowledge and community to enrich their Jewish journeys.”

Philadelphia’s house, of which your author is a resident, organizes at least seven events per month in exchange for a program budget, a rent subsidy, and other opportunities for professional and spiritual development. The concert at Old City Coffee is an example of a typical program in the sense that it celebrates a traditional festivity in an innovative way. It is unusual to an extent because it is an arts-focused event completely orchestrated by residents.

Over the last nine months, Moishe House Philly has increasingly organized arts events both at their home and at local venues such as the National Museum of American Jewish History and The Philadelphia Live Arts Festival. One house show even featured Snow Caps, which was so very exciting!  

Keller and his band mates — Spencer Carrow, Yianni Kourmadas, Darian Scatton, and Roger Martinez — opened the show with a set of original songs featuring lush string arrangements for harp and guitar and warm clarinet parts that were fittingly modal, neurotic, and introspective. Snow Caps as a full band often sounded nostalgic like twenty first century sea-faring pirate types sailing down Baltimore Avenue. Particularly haunting refrains stood out throughout the set, notably in Snow Caps’ finale song. Keller sang “make it sing, make it sing, sing a thing, make it sing” as Martinez echoed enigmatically with a wistful, rising clarinet.  At times the songs sound like regal court dances while others get down with a funky stomp driving fast-paced lyrics. Harmonic complexity reigns throughout. Keller said:

It was a treat to perform at Old City Coffee. We were overwhelmed by the amount of people there, and everyone in the audience was very attentive and patient, even between songs. It was also nice to see some fresh faces. I knew a few people, but most of the audience was seeing Snow Caps for the first time. I also just think it’s really great that there is a Jewish holiday to celebrate trees.

Liz Ciavolino, singer-songwriter of Liz and the Lost Boys, is no stranger to the Jewish community. She reflected:

I don’t feel like an outsider in Jewish communities too often. My dad’s side of the family is Jewish and so I grew up around some Jewish culture. My aunt and uncle lead a klezmer band for a long time and I celebrated a handful of Jewish holidays. Though I’m not practicing, I definitely see it as part of my heritage and I enjoy participating in it. This event in particular was very welcoming and supportive

Ciavolino also shared that some of her songs even contain biblical themes. She “grew up in a Christian home and attended church weekly for (her) entire childhood, memorized a lot of scripture, and sang lots of hymns. It’s still a part of who (she is) and always will be.” One of her songs even has a few explicit Old Testament references. “Since I grew up with it from an early age, biblical references have a strong, deep meaning for me,” she continued.

Liz and the Lost Boys features Ciavolino on lead vocals and harp with mostly original songs composed with a mathy, jazz influence with sprinkles of heartache mixed in mostly on harp, minus the uber-feminine angel imagery. This is clearly evidenced in a medley with a working title “Whole Tone/Unravel”, composed on a twelve-tone scale that boasts the lyrics “only a good man can break your heart and only the best ones will leave a star”.

In addition to her harp and piano driven songwriting, one of Liz’s other signatures is that her band of lost boys is constantly evolving. They are often literally quite lost. Performing this time were Dane Galloway and Joel Sephy of My Son Bison, Will Wright and Matt Scarano. This particular iteration of the band was especially tight. Wright on bass and Galloway on guitar were really playing with each other and seemed to be very conscious of how their intricate parts drove the songs together. Liz, sporting a gamine but powerful pixie cut, is the diva.

So what made this show Jewish other than the sponsoring organizations? What was the connection between the music performances and the holiday Tu B’shvat? The point illustrated by this concert and other similar programming from Café Olam and Moishe House, is that the Jewishness of youthful community gatherings should be constantly evolving. While this is not completely true for all members of the young Jewish community, a significant handful does value innovation in programming and observance over tradition.

For example, at a recent Moishe House event co-sponsored by LGBTQ Jewish group Spectrum Philly, event participants openly talked about their frustrations with the typical Jewish singles events and how alienating they can be. How is the future of Judaism going to work if every single self-identifying Jew isn’t one-hundred per cent included? The artistic and social success of this concert is a testament to the fact that young Jews today can both celebrate a very traditional holiday, Tu B’shvat, while also celebrating the breadth of sub-identities within “Jewish”.

Check out the Café Olam website to learn more about it. To stay up to date with Moishe House Philadelphia events, connect with the calendar and social media here. Snow Caps albums can be listened to and purchased here. Their album “Baby Bird” is sold out, but the stellar “Moonbreak” is still available. Liz and the Lost Boys, who are releasing a new album in June, have music here. The host venue for this concert was coffee roaster and café, Old City Coffee. Check their website for information about beans and treats, happenings and tastings.  

Michael Solomonov and A Sustainable Lag B’Omer on the “Beach”

By Hannah Lee

Medford, New Jersey is the home of the largest Jewish day camp in North America (according to the Wikipedia) and that was the venue for Hazon‘s “Beach, Beer and BBQ” celebration of the holiday of Lag B’Omer on Sunday, May 22nd.  Lag B’Omer is the 33rd day — lag being the gematria for (numeric equivalent) of 33 — of the counting of the barley offerings (the quantity being an omer, about two quarts)  in the ancient Temple, commencing with the second day of Pesach (Passover) and culminating with the giving of the Torah on Shavuot.  Traditionally, it is celebrated in Israel with bonfires.  As observed by the Chassidim, the bonfires commemorate

“the immense light that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai introduced into the world via his mystical teachings. This was especially true on the day of his passing, Lag B’Omer, when he revealed to his disciples secrets of the Torah whose profundity and intensity the world had yet to experience. The Zohar relates that the house was filled with fire and intense light, to the point that the assembled could not approach or even look at Rabbi Shimon.”

For everyone else, it is a joy simply to be outdoors.  For Hazon, it was an opportunity to link a ancient holiday to a celebration of the trendy– and important!-goals of a sustainable future.
I was eager to attend because Michael Solomonov, the chef and owner of the Philly restaurant Zahav was scheduled to serve as chef for the event.  Earlier this month, he’d won the prestigious James Beard Award as Best Chef of the Mid-Atlantic region (and one of three Jewish chefs to be so honored this year).  Last Wednesday, the Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan invited Michael to his Live Chat feature.

LaBan chatted with Michael Solomonov  and I got to post my comments to him: “I’m looking forward to the Hazon event that you’ll be “cheffing” for this Sunday.  One reason is that your restaurant, Zahav, is not kosher!  I want to be able to eat your food too!  Was your nuclear family (parents, siblings) ever kosher?”  Michael wrote back: “I grew up in a kosher-esque household so we didn’t eat pork or shellfish in the house.  We did, however, turn into bacon zombies the moment we stepped OUT of the house.  Seriously, if “kashruting” our restaurant wasn’t such a “balagan” in the States, we might have considered it more.  But my mission is to expose and celebrate Israeli food, in its entirety, and we would seriously limit our reach if we were kosher.  We don’t serve shellfish or pork or mix dairy and meat on any plate, so we call it “kosher style”.”  My 22-year-old daughter who is usually critical of “kosher-style” catering later commended Michael for his response.  Upon meeting the Chef that evening and identifying myself, he said that I was much nicer than some of the other posters who did not pass censure or decency for their comments.  So, I was all agog to go and I’d signed up my husband as driver and our teen daughter.

The JCC Camp in Medford has plenty of sand for the “Beach” as advertised.  It occupies 120 acres in Burlington County in southern New Jersey and it boasts of a lake too.  A small fair of vendors offering organic and sustainably sourced products kept us engaged until supper time.  I greeted Toni Price, whom I’d seen earlier in the day at Headhouse Square, the largest farmers’ market in Philadelphia.  Toni is a retired English teacher whose husband, Steve, is the chief beekeeper for their Busy Bee Farm located in the nearby Pine Barrens in Tabernacle, N.J.  Last year, their farm was awarded a Pollinator Habitat Grant from the New Jersey National Resource Conservation Service and the USDA.  As a Master Gardener of Burlington County, Toni handles the care and use of the farm’s lavender and other herbs, as well as her flock of free-range pet chickens.   She invited my family to visit on lavender harvesting days.

Negev Nectars was also on hand to offer taste tests of their gourmet products from small-scale Israeli farmers.   Their olive oil comes from trees nourished from an underground aquifer of brackish (salty) water- sparing the scarce “sweet” water from Lake Kinneret for human consumption.  I bought several jars of their kosher confitures, spreads, and honey for use as hostess gifts, in particular the items from Kibbutz Neot Smadar, since my husband’s sister is named Smadar.

Jack Treatman, Coffee Buyer and Vice President of Old City Coffee was on hand to explain how their coffee was harvested and culled by hand, with colorful photographs to illustrate his point.  The coffee beans, really the seeds of the plants’ “cherries”, are then raked into fields that resemble sand for drying.  The kosher certification comes at the point of roasting and Jack says that the only reason Old City Coffee is not certified is that its store in the Reading Terminal Market is open on Saturdays.

So, the BBQ dinner!  Michael’s food was a celebration of the flavors of Israel, executed with a modern flair and a gourmet spin.  I loved everything, especially the roasted cauliflower (even my non-crucifer-loving hubby enjoyed it!) and the grilled eggplant.  I cannot report on the meat– chicken shislik and chicken cooked al ha’esh from Grow and Behold Foods — which I didn’t eat because I’m a vegan-wannabe.   Dessert was s’mores made with marshmallows toasted on sticks over a real honest-to-goodness bonfire and chocolate from Holy Cacao,  which is made in small batches by observant Jews on the hills of Hebron “at the edge of the Judean Desert” in Israel.  Electric Simcha’s http://www.facebook.com/Electr… Hasidic rock music and Israeli dancing added to the ruach (lively atmosphere).  I was so inspired by the whole celebration that I volunteered to work on the next Hazon event in Philly, especially if it involved Michael Solomonov.  And I’m happily married!