Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Post Shoah Posts

Yesterday was yom hashoah, the holocaust memorial day, and fans of the Jewish blogs should not be surprised as to how we chose to commemorate. David over at treppenwitz gave a wonderfully poignant post (get the tissues ready before you read) on one man's story of survival, while dovbear links to an insider-joke satirical piece. Me? I caught a show.

Well, not an entertainment piece. My shul (synagogue) put on a staged reading of Address Unknown, Kathrine Kressmann Taylor's powerful short epistolary novel describing the rise of the Nazi movement and its devastating effect on two men. I found the staging to be generally effective, but I thought that the most powerful sight of the evening was before the first line of the show was even said. Prior to beginning, the two performers lit six candles in the middle of the stage (a long-standing practice at Mt. Sinai, commemorating the six million Jews killed). Immediately, an elderly man sitting near me, a genial neighborhood dentist with a practice probably going back forty years or more, starting quietly sobbing in his seat, his face wracked in indescribable pain. Address Unknown has an incredibly powerful ending (I sat numb the first time I read the novel's last page), but it was the start of this performance, and that man's look of devastation, that I will carry with me.

There's no shortage of "phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes" imagery used to describe the post-holocaust revitalization of Judaism. Zionists point to the state of Israel, the "ultra-orthodox" point to their ever-expanding population growth and thriving yeshivas, and secular Jews point to the prominence of proud Jews in prominent positions in the worlds of art, science, politics, and what-have-you. To me, though, a most fascinating look at how far we've come came from yesterday's news. When the Satmar Rebbe, the leader of a generally isolationist chassidic sect, died last Monday, thousands of mourners flocked to Kiryas Joel, a major Satmar enclave. The Times Herald-Record reports, that, to keep traffic moving and ensure the safety of those attending:
... the funeral procession was led by New York City police to the Yonkers-Bronx border, where state police took over the escort... At the first word of the rebbe's death, first responders fanned out to staging areas throughout Southern Orange County... State police, the sheriff, the county executive and other top officials had begun to gather in the county's Emergency Operations Center by 9 p.m. to coordinate the response... Firefighters and emergency medical technicians mustered at firehouses and ambulance garages in the Monroe area.

Two generations ago, in an advanced and civilized nation, police officers and public officials tormented, tortured, and killed religious Jews. Yesterday, a group of Jews who are far more "outsider" than those in Germany and Poland, received service and protection from officials and officers who will never understand their ways, yet strive to protect their ability to keep them. It's become traditional to ask G-d to bless America during the seventh inning stretch of baseball games, but there's no question that He's already blessed us who are here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Matzah, Matzah, Man

Ugh... two sedarim and about forty tons of unleavened bread going through the digestive system make for a very sleep-deprived Efrex.

Baby 'frex is now consistently rolling from his back to his front, which I suppose after the three thousandth time will cease to elicit squealing, cheering, and serious consideration of future Nobel prizes, but hasn't just yet.

Y'know, I'm almost hoping the Mets start losing, so that we can have decent conversations in the office again. We're so scared of jinxing the current winning streak that we've hardly talked baseball at all. This is a very dangerous thing, as it means that now I can start talking Scrabble with Richie. When we're not working through the legal anagrams for "sedarim1" (itself a legal word, by the way), we're busy yakking it up about the nutjobs who play this game. Someday, I guess I'll get back into working on my competitive skills; I'm still on the club email list, and it's interesting to see people who I know get better and better (one guy whom I've played twice looks to be getting ready to jump into the "big head" division at the club, and a couple of other people have been placing regularly at the top of the weekly tournament ranks). They handed my you-know-what to me when last I played 'em over a year ago; I shudder to think about how I'd fare against 'em now.

1SIDEARM, MISREAD, and ADMIRES, in case you were wondering.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Chag Kasher VeSameach

(Translation: "A Kosher and Happy Holiday")

Exhaustion from Pesach (Passover) preparations, work, school, kid, etc. Looking forward to eating matzah with the fam tonight and tomorrow, and trying to stay awake. All the best to the five people who still read this thing :)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Signs of Age: Songs of Youth

As I slide further into old fogeyhood, I can at least take comfort in the fact that music publishers recognize my disposable income by releasing music collections that I simply must have.

First, Rhino Records finally released an Allan Sherman box set, letting me regale my son (and torment my wife) with the borscht-belt-era parodyist's great work.

Lest you think that I am neglecting my son's general music education, we also obtained The Sesame Street 35th Anniversary CD Set, so the little one can get his first Big Bird, Ernie, Oscar, and Grover experiences. Actually, the heck with the little one... When you've got a mix that includes Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Hootie and the Blowfish, the Goo Goo Dolls, REM, Madeline Kahn, James Taylor, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Tony Bennett, you've got my kind of CD, even if the orange abomination known as Elmo has to be included. Cool/scary moment: finding out that the female voice on the REM cut ("Furry Happy Monsters" to the tune of "Shiny Happy People;" don't groan, it's actually quite good) is Stephanie D'abruzzo, who would later find fame... okay, maybe not fame, but recognition, as the Tony-nominated lead actress/puppeteer in Avenue Q.

"Wait!" I hear you cry. "You mean you bought a bunch of music without including showtunes?" Of course not, silly; purchase #3: Sondheim Sings, Volume 2, a collection of early songs performed by the master between 1946-1960, was released just for obsessive theater queen nerds like me (yes, apparently there's more than one... I'm equally horrified at the prospect, believe me). As opposed to the first album in the series, which mostly consisted of early versions of reasonably well known songs, this one's got stuff that virtually nobody's heard: songs Sondheim wrote in college, a little joke song written for a friend's birthday, assorted snippets of spoken recordings made for "Ockie" (Oscar Hammerstein), this is truly minutiae of minutiae, but oh, is it wonderful.

Now, where did I put that iPod?

Monday, April 03, 2006

To Dream the Possible(?) Dream

I have a colleague, Jimmy, who is probably my polar opposite: Christian, and politically conservative to the point where he's not sure if Rush Limbaugh is a moderate. He had me dismissed as "another liberal" the first time he saw a cast recording on my desk, and when Bill O'Reilly ranted about how dare Jews complain if someone wishes them a "Merry Christmas," guess how he greeted me on December 24th?

In about two hours, though, if the weather holds up, that won't matter a bit. Tom Glavine will throw a baseball, and Jimmy, myself, and three or four others in my office (including, thankfully, my boss) will be drawn together in the great bond of brotherhood known as being a Mets fan. We will reminisce about the great year of 1986, when a young (but still pretty ugly-looking) Jesse Orosco struck out Marty Barrett, and the late Bob Murphy hollered for the second time in 25 years: "The Mets have won the World Series!" We will cautiously allow ourselves to dream that Willie Randolph (one of the few Yankees we can abide) and crew can take us back again to our days of glory.

I was eleven years old then, watching the seventh game, the only game of the series I could watch (school and Jewish holidays interfered with the others) at an upstairs neighbor's apartment, and I just remember falling off the couch to my knees, arms in the air, mimicking Orosco as Shea Stadium went into bedlam. My best friend the Yankees fan graciously called me to wish me congratulations, a tradition that I would have to grudgingly reciprocate four times since.

Twenty years it's been, now. People born in 1986 have graduated college, gotten master's degrees, and are holding jobs making more money than I do. I don't care, though. I remember when garish blue and orange went with pinstripes (geez, and folks wonder why I have no fashion sense), when "Let's go, Mets!" was the cheer of the town, and the world was right.

Let's go, Mets!