Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Tiny Island in Tunisia in North Africa

The island named Djerba off the coast of Tunisia is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world.  Its synagogue., the oldest in North Africa, houses the oldest sefer Torah.   On the earth.  That exists anywhere.

Every year Jews pilgimmage there during the holiday of Lag Ba'Omer.  We just learned about this place that seems worlds apart from our cozy lives here in the U.S., and yet we are so connected.

And the population there?

Most of the Jews there are cohanim, descendants of the highest priestly tribe.  The ones who give you the famous "live long and prosper" blessing that Spock made famous on Star Trek (remember, Leonard Nimoy, too, is a cohane).  A whole community where literally all its Jews are cohanim? about holy stuff.  Our question is, when it comes time for duchening, who is sitting in the shul to receive the priestly blessing?

What is the big deal you might ask?


We recently met someone who's father's family came from this town.  The father was raised in Tzfat, one of more than ten children in his family.  For anyone who knows about the town of Tzfat, this is the epicenter of the development of kabbalah.  Many of our great mystics learned there, and many are still drawn to the town's deep spiritual roots.

Deep stuff.  Deep, deep stuff.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Did Dr. Dre ever spin the Dreidel?

Highly unlikely, but hey, ya never know.

The humble little dreidel is so part of our experience with Chanukah, and yet does anyone know why it's called a dreidel?

Ester Shahaf design

It's a Yiddish word, no doubt.

To "dre" is to spin. A dreidel spins.
When you add on the "el" that gives it diminutive, cutesy-ness element.
So it's a little spinning top.

The Whole Phamily loves Yiddish - it's part of our Ashkenasic heritage. And dreidel is in Yiddish.
But we like to say sivivon also, which is the Hebrew word for dreidel.

This is no Dr. Dre, but here's a familiar tune, "Oh Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah" in Yiddish.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New beginnings & Invisible Touch & Phil Collins (clearly not a Jewish name)

This week Jews all over the world start reading the Torah from its beginning. In Hebrew, it is called b'reishit. The common English translation for this is Genesis.

However you call it, the biblical creation story is recounted, complete with the world created in 6 days followed by the first man and the woman that was fashioned out of his rib. So the story goes. For any of you with a problem with that unbelievable-sounding story, just remember you gotta dig deeper. Not a single thing there is quite literal. But we ain't no rabbis or nothin'.

Getting back to Genesis, naturally we thought of one of our first concerts in the 80s to see Phil Collins' band (aptly named Genesis). Take a listen to their "Invisible Touch." Is it possible that Phil is belting out lyrics describing the biblical Eve? She tempted Adam, was mysterious, he fell for her, and they got kicked out of the Garden of Eden forever.

Sorry Chava (the Hebrew name for Eve), we think you weren't the best heroinne in Jewish history.

Collins is clearly not a Jewish name (wasn't that what Whole Phamily was originally about? Jewish family names?), but in a way yes you are part of the Whole Phamily too in that we think "Invisible Touch" could have something to do with the creation story, and that your band's name clearly comes from our tradition.

Finally, here is a shout out to our friend Noah who is moving on to new beginnings of his own.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Love Song to Islamic Fundamentalists (From a Jew)

We're all about the big picture, one love and one family here at the Whole Phamily.  We are all connected and want good things for our own families.

Check out Pesach Stadlin's earnest song about this very idea.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Look! There she is. Just ask the Bernsteins.

It's not a bird and it's not a plane.  It's the moon, and she's right up there waiting for you to notice her.  Recently we met a very bright young 3rd year student at the Law School  (as if there's only one) who was wrongfully convinced that the ecocult which he'd ultimately like to establish will be based around solar energy.  "The sun's bright and full of energy," he extorted as we departed our conversation on the steps of a summer camp dining hall.  Au contrare, my friend, how mistaken you are.

Lunar power is where it's at.  And she's all woman.  Any thinking woman will tell you that just as the moon waxes and wanes (gets bigger and smaller for the lunar-jargon challenged among us), so too do women have their highs and lows.  Call it what you want:  soul sistas, girl power, or women's's all the same deal.  The moon is cyclical. What goes around comes around.  Isn't that what life is all about?

Some tunes to recall at this point include Sir Elton John's"Circle of Life."  Even Disney is capable of words of wisdom.

We also recall  Harry Chapin's "All my Life's a Circle."

Finally let us always remember Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game" which, it is claimed in this YouTube's comments section, was written with Neil Young.  Don't doubt that one.

We have the moon to thank for those.

The moon may be smaller than the sun, but she's a lot smarter and got her head screwed on straight.  She ain't the one in the news on a seemingly daily basis.  With the current energy crisis, the words climate change, global warming and greenhouse gases are all connected to the sun and enough to drive any middle American batty.  Just the other day, the White House said no thanks to solar panels.  Uh oh, we're in big trouble.

If you are a girl or woman, stare at the moon for as long as you can every night.  Once we locate the moon, that's when we usually say, "look, there she is!"  For Jewish women, it is a way of participating in the celebration of Rosh Chodesh, the new month in the Jewish lunar-based calendar.  At this moment, the moon is waxing gibbous, getting fuller and fuller to that point next week when she's a glorious full moon and Jews the world over will rejoice during the harvest festival of Sukkot  (note to self:  check out sukkah city), also known as the "time of our happiness"  (remember our blog post referring to Joy at its end?   Same deal).

If you want to get all astrological and womyn and some say wiccan about it, you can even check out We'Moon.  How interesting that their publisher is called Mother Tongue Ink.

In Yiddish, mother tongue is rightfully referred to as  mamaloshen.  Now that's something to talk about.

Just ask Inigo Montoya.

Mandy Patinkin will belt it out in the mother tongue at Queensboro Community College on September 26th.   Maybe the Bernsteins want tickets? 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Shake Sugaree and how nice it is to be with your brothers and sisters, including Matisyahu

Not to be confused with (fellow MOT) Danny Meyer's Shake Shack (no doubt:  treif and not kosher, but you can learn how to make their Shack Burger at home), tonight, in memory of Jerry Garcia (he died 15 years ago, August 9, 1995) we were listening to the Dead's Shake Sugaree.

 I got to thinking how the Dead sang about themes such as American love, loss, and heartbreak, and how this song is connected deep deep within our roots.

Elizabeth Cotten wrote the original Shake Sugaree. This woman knew how to sing and write the blues.  She was a real southern church-goin' mama. 

Here is a nice blog about Elizabeth Cotten.
She must've been connected in some way to the generations of African American women who followed the drinking gourd and had wisdom from their mamas and just by being connected to the earth.

Speaking of being connected to the earth, The Topsy Turvy Bus,

we have heard, plans to be in the lots for the 8/17/10 Phish show at Jones Beach theater.  This will be a great time to learn what the Jewish Climate Change Campaign Tour was all about.  Or maybe what Teva Learning Center is all about (shh...this visit to enlighten Jews and the world about caring for the earth is officially off the books and not really a Teva event...I mean, where is the bus even to be found on the home page?  That's another story...)  We could always chat with the folks about Eden Village Camp.  Maybe we could give each other a hug.  Or be nice.  Or just Speak Nicely

Here's a little history of the bus, with an interivew with Ben Cohen from Ben & Jerry's, at the end.

Or maybe, before the show, we can hang out in front of the bus and sing a good old fashioned hinay matov, arm in arm, camp-style.

Now if we could only beat-box like Matisyahu, we'd be golden..

Monday, February 22, 2010

Katz = Cohen...Live Long and Prosper

We have decided to return to our roots and reinstate the Whole Phamily as a blog about Jewish names.  Names that you've heard.  Names that you haven't.  Ashkenazic names.  Sephardic names.  We will focus on one Jewish name per blog post, and perhaps bring up a person, business, work of art,  or all of the above that bears this name.

To say that Katz is a vintage Jewish last name is an understatement.  If you're from New York, or simply a deli maven, you know Katz's Deli.  Many folks say that their pastrami is the real deal.

Katz's Deli, NYC

We were blown away when, many years ago, we learned that Katz is a priestly name.  Saying Katz is just like saying Cohen, but in German.   Do you recall Spock's Vulcan Salute in Star Trek?

Leonard Nimoy as Spock giving the Vulcan Salute

  Ask a random male Katz today, and he will tell you that the traditional blessing he says in synagogue (be it once in a while or every week) that was passed down by his father is eerily reminscent of the Vulcan Salute.

Shlomo Katz, Israel-based musician

Another Katz of note is Shlomo Katz, a musician bringing on down some of the most beautiful Jewish-infused (hint:  Torah) music out there today.

We heard him perform tonight at an intimate evening of music and story.  We bless him that his music should spread far and wide among alle yidden!