JEWISH Culture

A style of music unique to Judaism is that of the cantor (cantorial music).

The cantor (the Hebrew term is chazzan, pronounced kah-zen) is the individual who leads the prayer service in the synagogue by singing major sections of the liturgy prescribed in the siddur (prayer book) for every congregational gathering throughout the year.  He is generally a highly trained person who is selected for his spiritual qualifications, as well as his vocal ability.  However, oftentimes the latter receives precedence over the former, since many congregations take great pride in the high musical caliber of their services due, in great part, to the exceptional talent of their cantor.

The distinctive characteristic of cantorial music is a very dramatic, passionate tenor solo voice of operatic quality, with spectacular coloratura (runs, trills, and other ornate decorations in vocal music).  The best cantors are considered international celebrities and their public concerts, to which admission is charged, are generally sold-out events.

To hear a cantor of this caliber—Yossele Rosenblatt—click on the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwxXdb8zU9c


PAST ARTICLES

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If you’re a baseball fan and have an hour to spare, you might want to check out the 2010 documentary, Jews and Baseball:  An American Love Story.  Directed by Peter Miller and narrated by Dustin Hoffman, it tells the story of the American Jews’ passionate relationship with their country’s favorite pastime—the game that was absolutely vital to their successful assimilation into American culture—as it highlights the careers of the most significant Jewish ballplayers, chronologically, from just after the Civil War into the early twentieth-first century.

The film focuses mainly on the big-name guys, including “the first Jewish baseball superstar” whom Jackie Robinson told the press was a “class act” after the two men collided on a play at first base and he encouraged Robinson to hold up under the brutal racism he was enduring; the Hall of Fame pitcher who didn’t play high school baseball until his senior year, and even then didn’t pitch an inning that season; and the outfielder who, according to historian Marty Abramowitz, “had the single best nine-inning offensive performance in the history of the game” when in 2003 he hit four home runs, a double, and a single all in one game.  Can you guess the names of these three men?

Peppered throughout the narrative are facts and anecdotes about some lesser-known Jewish players as well.  Lipman Emanuel Pike, for example, was professional baseball’s first home run king, leading the league in homers in its first three years of existence (1871 to 1874), slamming as many as six (yes, six!) four-baggers in a season.  Maurie Arnovich, an all-star outfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1938, was an Orthodox Jew who kept kosher his whole life, even while playing on the road—surely no easy task!  And finally, catcher Moe Berg studied modern languages at Princeton and passed the bar exam while with the Chicago White Sox, but wasn’t nearly as successful at the plate:  It was said that “he could speak seven languages, but couldn’t hit in any of them.”  Oy!

Even if you decide not to watch this film today, keep it in mind as you root for your favorite teams this summer.  If on any given night you find their play less than inspiring, it will provide you the perfect break from the boredom—and at under an hour long, it just might give your guys enough time to turn things around before you tune back into the action!


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Humor is a very important part of the Jewish culture, which may account for why some of America’s most famous comedians have been Jewish.  Nowhere was the Jewish domination of, and influence upon, the American comedy scene more obvious than in the many resort hotels of the Catskill Mountains in Upstate New York during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.  Nicknamed the “Borscht Belt” (derived from the name of a red beet-based soup brought with them to America by Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine and a play on the term, “the Bible Belt”) and “the Jewish Alps,” these centers of relaxation and entertainment were frequented by middle-class New York City Jews who were not welcomed at many facilities designated “for Gentiles only.”  Even more than musical acts and reviews, standup comedy sketches were the regular and preferred genre of entertainment in these hotels, providing the launching pad for many comedians and comediennes who would go on to national and international prominence.  Wikipedia lists nearly one hundred well-known personalities who got their start in professional comedy in the Borscht Belt (including Billy Crystal, Jerry Lewis, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers, Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny, The Three Stooges, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Milton Berle, and Mel Brooks).


HCF Gets Its Clock Cleaned  

When did the martial arts become so popular in America?  Was it Bruce Lee, the Karate Kid, or the current MMA craze which led to “dojos” everywhere?  It’s hard to know:  maybe Olivia Newton-John’s fitness craze, and the surge of meaningless but lucrative action films of the 80s, combined to cook up McDojos on every corner.

This is one reason why Krav Maga is so fascinating.  At least on paper, it stands out as being more authentic.  Designed for real-world situations, and real-world defense, and the real-world terror that can so quickly occur on the streets of Israel, KM originated without belts or “Katas” (elaborate, but ineffective forms of karate movements, things that a drunken attacker will not be interested in following); instead, KM was designed for basic survival.

And so, as I found myself straddled by a 250-pound smiling man—who probably works in a cubicle all day long—who was vigorously simulating smashing punches to my groin, I had to grin.  “Are you familiar with Krav Maga?” he asked.  This was in response to my saying, “You have to love KM:  the main technique we are working on here is the groin punch.”  He went on to reiterate the main purpose of KM:  it’s real-world self-defense, and although Bruce Lee never smashed anyone’s nether regions, his movies might have been wrapped up—mercifully?—much more quickly if he had.

Still, we began with some classic calisthenics, and I worked up a sweat.  There was very little “Yes Sensei!!!” yelling, and occasionally a few people would make an “eesh!” sound (a few were sad that not more people did), and the “studio” was, overall, pretty quiet.  Looking around, I noticed people from all walks of life were there:  men and women; lots of big guys, lots of small guys; some old guys, and lots of middle-aged guys.  If I had to guess, these people seemed drawn to KM for the same reasons as I was:  it was good self-defense training, a good workout; they were also, perhaps, drawn by a curiosity about the Israeli connection, and you didn’t have to pretend you were Jet Li.  (As one instructor told me, “People talk about Israelis and say, ‘He’s ex-military,’ but of course in Israel, that’s everybody.  Everyone’s ‘ex-military!’”)  Even the head black-belt leader shocked me with how unassuming he was.  Slight and soft spoken, he had a very kind way about him, and spent a good amount of time discussing—with a mom in the lobby—the sleeping habits of what appeared to be his new baby girl.  She made an appearance at the end of my lesson, and he was walking around holding her.  Dolph Lundgren?  No.

Still, these guys mean business.  We moved into a footwork drill, following a partner around to keep a close striking distance as you would tap his shoulder.  Instructions were clear, simple, but implied very high expectations.  I kept feeling like the guys with whom I was training were humoring me, especially when one guy told me to follow through with my simulated “haymaker” punch.  “If you hit me it’s my fault,” he smirked.  Rock on!!  (We were simulating how a guy in a bar may take a drunken swing at you.  As an aside, here’s one simple self-defense takeaway:  if you do not go in bars, you are, like, 95 percent less likely to ever have to defend yourself.  How many “scuffles” take place because people are “enjoying themselves” in bars?)

Throwing my haymakers, and practicing 360-degree blocks and close blocks (gripping my ear and holding my forearm against my face to block a close punch) was followed by the aforementioned straddling.  Since the popularity of MMA, many attackers have taken to the brutal position of straddling an attackee and punching him in the face.  Of course, unfortunately, this has happened in schoolyards since the dawn of time.  Now, we were to practice defending against these punches and flipping the fellow who was attacking us.  All of these moves seemed very intuitive, though clearly they would require practice to do instinctively.  Still, that seems to be the beauty of KM—that it comes naturally, and if you mess up, you don’t stop and start again to “get the move down.”  You keep going till you can get away, and then you run away, to safety.  Of course, you must punch someone in the groin first, though.

The people of this class were the most striking element of the evening.  There was a soft and candid camaraderie, a sense of humor, a sense of high expectation, and authentic diversity.  At one point, I blurted out to one of the higher ranking students, “You’re all so normal!”  I’m not sure if he knew what I meant.

After discussing the cost of lessons for me and my son (who loved it and wants to go back) I was reminded of something that Scottish-born preacher Alistair Begg said in a sermon years ago. He noted how much evangelism could be done by just going to Starbucks.  Sitting there (after you buy a coffee), he said, you will find that people like to talk, and when they talk, they discuss things that inevitably lead to the cross, and that is where our ultimate point of conversation is to arrive.

Could not the same be true for KM?  Surely there are Jewish men and women drawn to KM, not only because it is a clear part of their heritage, but because every person who serves in the military in Israel (and that is every man or woman who lives in Israel, since service is mandatory) has been trained in KM, so could this not be an unusually likely place to find either Jewish men or women, or at the very least, people whose hearts are softened to things connected to Israel?  Indeed, if I am burdened for the Jewish people, my heart ought to be tuned to the things to which they are tuned, and KM may be such a place where things may turn spiritual—eventually.  But first, one would need to be ready for a serious trouncing.  If he has a true interest in learning KM, and if he loves people, and if he loves Jewish people, and if he is committed to long-term friendship evangelism, that man or woman may have a ripe mission field in a sweaty-matted room in an unlikely place where the harvest is indeed plentiful.