New Work by Philadelphia Cantor Premiers in Germany

Hazzan Jack Kessler

Hazzan Jack Kessler

The Interreligioser Chor (Interfaith Choir) of Frankfurt, Germany commissioned and performed a setting of Psalm 90 for choir and Hazzan by Philadelphia-based Hazzan Jack Kessler.

The premiere performances were held on On June 1, 2015 at the Gemeindezentrums in Frankfurt am Main, and June 4 at the große Halle in Stuttgart. The Hazzan/soloist was Hazzan Daniel Kempin, the well known singer of Yiddish repertoire who is Cantor of the Egalitarian Minyan of Frankfurt, ordained in 2015 as Hazzan through the ALEPH Cantorial Program.

The Interfaith Choir of Frankfurt was founded in 2012 with the goal of opening new avenues of interfaith dialogue through music. Led by Protestant Church Cantor (organist and choir director) Bettina Strübel and Hazzan Daniel Kempin, the all-volunteer choir presents two psalm projects each year. Each concert is a program of multiple settings of one Psalm from different faith traditions. This year Psalm 90 תְּפִלָּה לְמֹשֶׁה אִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים A prayer of Moses, the man of God, was the featured Psalm.

The Psalms are an important bridge between Judaism and Christianity. For centuries musicians of both religions have created a wealth of new musical settings for liturgical use as well as for the concert stage.

The choir has also attracted Muslim singers, who know the Psalms as “az-Zabur.” Rehearsals as well as concerts offer a platform for intensive interfaith exploration of music and theology. During the concerts music is interspersed with interfaith podium discussions on the featured psalm.

Said Hazzan Kessler; “Psalm 90 presents a range of challenges to the composer, especially when commissioned to compose a for presentation of the entire Psalm, not merely excerpts. It is one of the longest psalms. The text moves through a series of moods: recognition of God as eternal supreme Presence; exploration of the humility needed to receive the Presence; fear of God’s anger; and finally a majestic call for God’s grace. In this piece the hazzan begins unaccompanied, with a stirring a cappella solo and each section opens with a dramatic call to the chorus. Then the chorus responds with a musical expansion of the text. The last section of the piece is a reprise of one of the opening themes of the piece in contrapuntal treatment by solo quartet, and the coda is sung by the hazzan, once again with the unaccompanied voice alone.”

Bettina Strübel, director of the Interrelgioser Choir: “Your composition was the highlight of the program. Some of the chorus members have expressed sadness that the Psalm 90 project is over, as they loved rehearsing this piece. The audience responded with tremendous enthusiasm.”

Hazzan Daniel Kempin, soloist for the premiere performances added: “This is powerful and affecting music! I was deeply moved by the way you explored the different moods of the Psalm. After the end, where my voice sings the finale by myself alone, there was a moment of magical silence in the hall before great applause!

Hazzan Jack Kessler was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and went on to have a twenty-year congregational career. He has a Master’s degree in voice from Boston Conservatory and pursued studies in composition in the graduate department of Brandeis University. A lyric baritone, he has performed opera, oratorio, and premiered new works, in addition to his ongoing career as a singer of hazzanut, the cantorial art, and other musical projects. He directs the Cantorial Program of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal for which he teaches the multi-year core hazzanut curriculum and coaches students in the cantorial art.

CeaseFirePA To Hold Day Of Action Against Gun Violence

— by Rabbi David Straus and Adam Kessler

The horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary was a tragedy that has been a jarring reminder of the disturbing prevalence of gun violence in our country and culture. Our outrage has stirred us from our complacency and we will not wait for the next atrocity to finally act.

As the nation mourns, we must also look forward and dedicate ourselves to preventing a future massacre. Yet, despite the media attention given to such mass shootings, we must remember that nearly 1200 Pennsylvanians lose their lives, and thousands are injured due to gun violence every year. Nationally, over 31,000 people die from gun violence each year. If the civil rights movement was the moral issue of the ’60s for our community, eradication of gun violence in our society ought to be the moral issue of our time.

More details after the jump.
We ask that you join us and CeaseFirePA at the Capitol Building in Harrisburg on Wednesday, January 23, 12:00 PM for a Day of Action as we take a stand against gun violence. This is the first joint session in Harrisburg since the shooting in Connecticut.

There will be a noon rally and press conference in the East Wing of the Capitol. After the rally and press conference we will visit the offices of our State Representatives and Senators to make our presence felt and our opinions heard.

If you have special ties with either your State Senator or Representative, please contact Robin Schatz, our Director of Government Relations, so that we can let them know that you will be coming by their office on Wednesday afternoon.

CeaseFirePA advocates for sensible laws like more effective background checks for those legally purchasing guns, mandatory reports of lost or stolen legal firearms, national sharing of relevant data, closing loopholes that enable evasion of our laws, and working to remove assault weapons from being sold in Pennsylvania.

Please RSVP to Salena Camara by Wednesday, January 16 with your name, address and phone number, and please indicate if you would like to travel by bus or would prefer to go on your own. Based upon your response we would like to order a bus and travel together for a very minimal fee.  

Desperate Lies From So-Called “Emergency Committee for Israel”

— Sari Weintraub

Earlier this week, the so-called Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) released a robocall featuring a “debate” that never occurred between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In reality, it was a mash-up of speeches and phrases from different times during the last three years.

ECI’s robocall was quickly debunked by JTA’s Ron Kampeas, and then it received “Four Pinocchios” from The Washington Post — in addition to a scathing review from Tablet.

We at NJDC thought that it would be fun to follow ECI’s absurd lead and create our own recording featuring ECI Board member Bill Kristol, but using an extended excerpt from a recent speech noting how he really feels about the President’s policies. Click here or on the audio player below to listen. Note: unlike ECI, we’re not subjecting unsuspecting Jewish households to this recording while they’re trying to eat dinner. And unlike ECI’s recording, Kristol said these things during the same speech. Go figure.    

Details after the jump
This week, The Washington Post fact-checked a robocall message sponsored by the so-called Emergency Committee for Israel and rated it “Four Pinocchios” for its blatantly misleading messaging. The content of the call is portrayed as a “debate” between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, using snippets of dialogue from several different speeches over the last three years. The result was a call which the Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler called “one of the most ridiculous attacks” of this campaign:

In sum, the Emergency Committee has twisted the meaning of Obama’s and Netanyahu’s words. An Obama statement condemning Iran’s government is rendered into weak-kneed ‘respect’ for Iran, while a Netanyahu expression of U.S.-Israel solidarity on Iran is turned into a point of disagreement…

There is no excuse for such an Orwellian descent into falsehoods and misrepresentation.

Ron Kampeas at JTA first noted the deceiving robocall, saying that “the deceptions in this one are a little stunning,” and Tablet’s Adam Chandler agreed, calling ECI’s latest attempt to smear the President on Israel “sad” (emphasis added):

The first deception came when with the robocall’s ID, which led callers to think they were being personally phoned by ECI Founder Bill Kristol — the veritable dream scenario for maybe 14% of American Jews. But when callers actually answered there were treated to recordings of a fake ‘debate’ that never actually took place between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, using spliced quotes and half-uttered sentences…

The desired effect is to create hysteria among voters who may not exactly know what’s going on and mislead them into thinking that President Obama’s positions are not what nearly four years of his policy have reflected. The result is kind of sad.

It’s this season for cheap and dirty politics, yes, but this is actually a metaphor for what’s wrong with the conversation happening about Israel in American politics right now. It is a triumph that the issues surrounding Israel’s strength and security enjoy such widespread support among American leaders. But with efforts like these robocalls in mind, the farther away that Americans are from understanding what’s really driving the discourse on crucial issues like Jerusalem and Iran’s nuclear program, the greater the difficulty there will be in forging the necessary bipartisan support required to honestly confront these issues in the future, no matter who wins on Tuesday…

But rather than make substantive points, the ECI seems to prefer to act as if Americans are stupid. It doesn’t seem like an exaggeration to say that provoking this hysteria hurts Israel in the long run.

Miracles & Meals: Recipes From The Holocaust

— by Ronit Treatman

Philadelphia resident Ruth Kessler is featured in the new cookbook Miracles & Meals, a compilation of 115 stories and over 250 recipes collected from Holocaust Survivors around the world. Miracles & Meals may be purchased from her website.

More after the jump.

Ruthie and Erika Kessler

Ruthie Kessler was born in Vienna, Austria in 1933. She lived with her older sister, Erika, and her parents, Henry and Lotte. Following the Nazi takeover of Austria in March 1938, things began to deteriorate for the Jews in Vienna. In 1939, Ruthie’s parents placed her on the Kindertransport to England ,in order to save her life. For various reasons, Ruthie’s sister, Erika, was not included on the Kindertransport. The Kindertransport was a rescue operation that saved 10,000 children from Nazi terror. In May, 1939, Ruthie waved goodbye to her family at the train depot. With tears in her eyes, she shouted to them, “Will I see you soon?”  Ruthie traveled by train across Europe and then boarded a ship. Bewildered, confused and with nothing but what she wore, Ruthie set sail for Liverpool, England. During the war, Ruthie lived with a foster family in London. To avoid the German air raids and for her own safety, she was temporarily sent to a hostel at the northern tip of England.

While Ruthie escaped to Great Britain, her father fled to the United States with the only authorized visa for the family. He intended to obtain additional visas for Ruthie’s mother and sister, but the American Consulate failed to produce the promised visas, even after her father had met the many bureaucratic demands. Meanwhile, Ruthie’s mother and sister were deported to Poland in 1941. Letters sent from the ghetto there were smuggled out with the help of a former family maid. The last letter received from her sister was dated July 1942. It is believed that they were either killed outright or transported to a death camp, where they both perished.

Chocolate Chip CookiesAfter the war, Ruthie came to the United States at her father’s request, but he, unfortunately, could not support her. By the time she was 16, Ruthie had lived in five foster homes and attended 15 schools. She eventually settled in with her uncle and aunt in Philadelphia, where she completed her education. Ruthie and her husband, Lou, have three children and four grandchildren and still live in the Philadelphia area today.

Chocolate Chip Cookies (parve or dairy)

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 stick butter or margarine
  • ¾ cup cake meal
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/3 cup & 2 TBSP brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup potato starch
  • 1 tsp orange juice
  • 6 ounces chocolate chips

Mix butter (margarine) and sugar until just blended. Add eggs. Add all dry ingredients (except choc chips) and mix until blended.  Add vanilla & juice.  Stir in chocolate chips. Bake at 350 degrees on a greased cookie sheet for 10-15 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Jewish apple cake
Jewish Apple Cake (parve)

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 1 cup oil
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp vanilla

Apple mixture

  • 4 granny smith apples
  • Handful raisins
  • Handful walnuts
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 6 tbsp sugar
  1. In a separate bowl peel and pare apples and add all other apple mixture ingredients.
  2. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Alternate dough with apples mixture making sure that apple mixture is on the tops.
  4. Bake for 1 ½ hours

Attacks by Romney and ECI “Hollow” and “Galling”

— by Max Samis

Following another series of deliberately misleading ads from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and the Emergency Committee for Israel attacking President Barack Obama on his record with Israel, a number of prominent journalists have condemned the attacks as “misleading,” “hollow,” and “galling.”

Beth Reinhard of the National Journal took the Romney campaign to task for refusing to acknowledge “a more nuanced and honest” look at the Obama administration’s achievements and efforts in Israel. Reinhard wrote:

But Romney’s most recent ad is particularly galling because it seeks to suggest the president is anti-Israel or anti-Jewish. ‘Who shares your values?’ the spot demands, chiding Obama for failing to visit Israel during his first term and for ‘refusing’ to recognize Jerusalem as the capital. Romney should have touted his own recent trip to Israel-though it was light on policy details-and stopped there. But instead, he put money behind advertising that implies something sinister behind Obama’s policies, even though plenty of news outlets cried foul when he first started raising these issues.

Former Republican Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan never visited Israel during their presidencies, and George W. Bush didn’t go until the last year of his second term. And like his Democratic and Republican predecessors, Obama has described Jerusalem as the capital but signed waivers putting off moving the U.S. embassy because it would inflame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Romney’s campaign clearly knows these facts but can’t be bothered with a more nuanced and honest criticism of the administration’s failure to broker peace in the Middle East. That’s a shame.

Douglas Bloomfield of The Jewish Week also found himself puzzled by Romney’s attack, noting that by the ad’s standards, the only presidents who had an acceptable record on Israel were Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton – both Democrats. Bloomfield wrote:

According to an ad just put out by the Romney campaign, only Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter qualify among the last six presidents over the past 35 years as leaders who ‘recognize the cherished relationship the U.S. has with Israel and stands with our allies.’

How can that be? Why do only these two Democrats make the grade?  Because Romney’s standard is a first term presidential visit to Israel, and that’s something Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama (so far) never did.  Reagan didn’t go in his second term, either, and Bush 43 only went late in his second term.

Only Carter and Clinton visited Israel during their ‘first four years as president,’ something Romney has said he would do and castigates Obama for following the example of Reagan and the Bushes.

The 30-second ad also criticizes Obama for ‘refusing to recognize’ that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

All three Republican presidents – like all other Republican and Democratic presidents – also did not officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, which means moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv. Any number of presidents have said they’d like to be able to do that, but the fact is none ever did it, and none will, as noted in this space earlier, until the Israelis and Palestinians make peace and agree on the location and borders of their capitals.

In checking both Romney and the ECI’s ads for honesty, The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler assigned them two Pinocchios. Kessler went on to note that “the basic frame of the [ECI’s] ad is misleading,” and that Romney’s attack echoed a “hollow talking point.” Kessler wrote:

Only four of the last 11 presidents visited Israel during their presidency, and two — Nixon and George W. Bush — waited until their second term to make their first trip. In both cases, they visited in the last year of their presidencies (Nixon resigned because of the Watergate affair shortly after his trip.)

Only Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, then, visited Israel in their first term. And of the last four presidents, two never visited Israel, one visited in his second term and one visited in his first term.

Thus Obama’s failure to travel to Israel thus far is not unusual at all.

The Emergency Committee ad also suggests that Obama has visited Arab countries rather than Israel. But the State Department records also demonstrate that every president who traveled to Israel had previously visited Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The ad also incorrectly says Obama has ‘traveled all over the Middle East.’ Obama visited just Turkey and Iraq in April 2009, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia in June 2009. The stops in Iraq and Saudi Arabia were barely a few hours long – and Obama has not traveled at all to Middle East in the past three years. (Many of the images in the ad of Obama with Arab leaders are from international confabs held outside the Middle East…)

Meanwhile, the Romney ad also knocks Obama for not recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital ‘as president.’ As we noted last week, Obama, just like Romney, said Jerusalem was Israel’s capital during a 2008 trip there as a presidential candidate. But Obama, following the path set by previous presidents, has held off official recognition by the U.S. government pending the outcome of peace talks. Romney has never pledged that he would direct the State Department to immediately recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, so thus far this is a hollow talking point.

Pollak is correct that the Emergency Committee ad does not directly say that Obama’s travel record was unusual for a president, but it certainly suggests that. While there may have been good political reasons for Obama to make a trip to Jerusalem, the basic frame of the ad is misleading, especially the claim that he’s traveled all through the Middle East at the expense of a visit to Israel.

The Romney ad also misleadingly suggests Obama’s failure to visit Israel is unusual since it asks, ‘Who shares your values?’

Obama may have failed the Woody Allen test, but his travel record to Israel is par for the course for American presidents.

Mitt Romney Feels The Heat in New Hampshire Debate Marathon

If you missed last night’s ABC debate, here is a round up courtesy of TPM.”

And here is today’s NBC debate in 100 seconds.

Last night the Republicans faced off for a 2-hour debate on ABC, and this morning is round 2 as they debate on NBC. Mitt Romney, the putative winner in Iowa and the projected winner of New Hampshire, is feeling the heat as he is being attacked from all side as the Suffolk University tracking poll shows  his support dropping for the fourth day in a row.

“Taking two positions on every issue, one on the left and one of the right, doesn’t make you a centrist. It makes you a charlatan.”
— David Axelrod, in a conference call with reporters.

According to the Huffington Post, Romney’s first event in New Hampshire after the Iowa Caucus “offered a rude awakening”:

Three of the first four questioners were openly hostile to Romney, although one of them was an Occupy Manchester activist. And even the endorsement and appearance of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) failed to arouse much of a reaction from the Granite Staters in attendance… the tone of the event was a sharp break from the joyful mood that had accompanied the former Massachusetts governor onto a charter plane from Iowa earlier that morning, along with a swarm of press befitting a presidential frontrunner.

Romney’s Fast Shuffle on Tax Figures

FactCheck: In the post-debate analysis, the Annenberg Public Policy Center found Romney mangled facts in Manchester.

Romney, talking about taxes, said federal, state and local government consume 37% of the economy today compared with only 27% when John F. Kennedy was president. In fact, taxes now consume only 27.4% of GDP.

The Urban-Brooking Tax Policy Center has analyzed Mitt Romney’s tax plan. They “found that the plan constitutes a major tax cut for wealthy Americans. But compared to today’s rates, Romney proposes effective tax increases for people making less than $40,000.”

Meanwhile as April 15 approaches, Romney continues to refuse to make his tax returns public as is traditional for Presidential Candidates. Brian Beutler exposes Romney’s motivation for doing so:

One tax expert told TPM of “fairly sophisticated tax strategies” that would be “not available to ordinary tax payers.” A technique that puts you in a position that’s “like having an unlimited 401k account” sounds very attractive. But maybe not if you’re running for office, for Pete’s sake.

When Romney jokes that he’s been unemployed for years, he’s obscuring the fact that he’s still collecting millions of dollars of investment income, which is taxed at a much lower rate than it would be if he, like most taxpayers, took home a regular paycheck. He’s also obscuring the fact a great deal of that same income is only vaguely connected to his own underlying investments, and yet benefits from a key loophole in the tax code that allows him and other wealthy finance veterans to more than halve their effective tax rate.

Romney’s Dubious Jobs Claim, Again

“Mitt Romney, I think, is more of a job cremator than a job creator.”
— DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

FactCheck continued its analysis of Romney’s job creation claims:

Romney repeated the claim that he created over 100,000 jobs through his work at the private equity firm Bain Capital. That’s an unproven and questionable claim, as we wrote earlier this week.

Romney said that 100,000 jobs was a “net-net” figure that included jobs gained and lost at more than 100 businesses in which Bain invested. When moderator George Stephanopoulos questioned that, saying analysts had said Romney hadn’t subtracted jobs lost, Romney responded, “no, it’s not accurate.” He said he was “a good enough numbers guy to make sure I got both sides of that.” But this week, the Romney campaign sent us as support for the claim a thin list of jobs gained at just three companies: Staples, The Sports Authority and Domino’s. No other companies were included in the list, and no jobs lost were mentioned, either. We have asked the campaign again for the detailed count that Romney said exists.

A former employee of Mitt Romney

Trailer for documentary by pro-Gingrich PAC

Romney: “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”

As for the three companies the campaign has cited, it’s true that they have added more than 100,000 jobs since Bain invested in them. But does Romney deserve credit for all of those jobs? He admitted at the debate tonight that the total includes jobs up until the present day, long after Bain’s initial involvement, and that other firms had invested in them as well. As we reported earlier, The Sports Authority was started with help from Bain, William Blair Venture Partners, Phillips-Smith and Marquette Venture Partners. William Blair and Bessemer Venture Partners invested in Staples. And both companies, of course, had founders and CEOs spearheading their launches.

Romney Spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom: Romney’s claimed 100,000 job figure was undercut by his own campaign as his spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom told the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler that these were gross job creations, and not net numbers which would have to include the people Romney laid off:

Fehrnstrom says the 100,000 figure stems from the growth in jobs from three companies that Romney helped to start or grow while at Bain Capital:

  • Staples (a gain of 89,000 jobs),
  • The Sports Authority (15,000 jobs), and
  • Domino’s (7,900 jobs).

This tally obviously does not include job losses from other companies with which Bain Capital was involved — and are based on current employment figures, not the period when Romney worked at Bain. (Indeed, Romney made his comments in response to a former employee of American Pad & Paper Co. who says he lost his job after Bain Capital took it private.)

Contradictions about ads produced by pro-Romney PAC after the jump.