Friday, July 30, 2010

Tu B'Av in Mitzpe Ramon

Tu B'Av (the 15th of the month of Av) passed quietly and uneventfully in Mitzpe Ramon. Although there are many vineyards surrounding the town, no dancing girls were to be found therein. There was, however, a Birthright Tour that passed through town with some cute girls in attendance.

Cute Birthright Tour girls sunbathe in Mitzpe Ramon on Tu B'Av

While these girls sunbathed, some of the rest of the tour group played frisbee.

Playing frisbee in Mitzpe Ramon

All in all, Tu B'Av passed quietly without any great new love stories to be told.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Love Songs for Tu b' Av - III (Operatic)

If opera is about anything, it is love. What to choose for Tu B'Av? The only two tenors I would consider for this role are Franco Corelli and Luciano Pavarotti, for lovers are always tenors, and those two were peerless in the 20th century. Corelli is not well served on YouTube, but that hardly makes Pavarotti a second choice. In fact, I consider him the preeminent tenor of the 20th century. His seemingly limitless power, range, and clear, bell-ringing high notes probably make him the greatest tenor in history. He was a hard act to compete with, the Three Tenors notwithstanding.

Calaf's aria, Nessun Dorma ("None Shall Sleep") from Puccini's Turandot.
Nobody shall sleep!...
Nobody shall sleep!
Even you, o Princess,
in your cold room,
watch the stars,
that tremble with love and with hope.
But my secret is hidden within me,
my name no one shall know...
On your mouth I will tell it when the light shines.
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!...
(No one will know his name and we must, alas, die.)
Vanish, o night!
Set, stars! Set, stars!
At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!

At his valedictory performance at the opening of the Turin Olympics in 2006, dying from cancer, Pavarotti's voice still has its incredible power, but the ringing top is diminished, replaced by the most powerful emotions of a man aware of his mortality, saying good bye to his beloved art and audience.

Pavarotti's final performance of Nessun Dorma.

O Mio Babbino Caro ("O My Dear Papa") hardly seems the stuff of one of the most beautiful love arias ever written, not the least of which because it is sung by a daughter to her father. The lyrics themselves hardly seem to inspire the lovely melody, which comes straight down from heaven. The essence of the lyrics is, Oh my dear Papa, I love him so much that if you don't let me marry him, I'll throw myself from the bridge. Huh? And from this Puccini made sheer magic!

Translation in English
O mio babbino caro
Mi piace, è bello, bello
Vo' andare in Porta Rossa
a comperar l'anello!
Sì, sì, ci voglio andare!
e se l'amassi indarno,
andrei sul Ponte Vecchio,
ma per buttarmi in Arno!
Mi struggo e mi tormento!
O Dio, vorrei morir!
Babbo, pietà, pietà!
Babbo, pietà, pietà!
Oh my dear papa
I love him, he is handsome, handsome
I want to go to Porta Rossa
to buy the ring!
Yes, yes, I want to go there!
And if my love were in vain,
I would go to the Ponte Vecchio
and throw myself in the Arno!
I am being consumed by the torment!
Oh God, I'd like to die!
Papa, have pity, have pity!
Papa, have pity, have pity!

Here is Angela Gheorghio singing the aria from Puccini's only comedy, Gianni Schicci.


Love Songs for Tu b'Av - II (Longing)

It seems that we are always longing for our beloved or lamenting our beloved's loss. What, no songs about love requited? Seemingly not, such a boring subject.

Here are the Ronette's singing one of Pop's all time classic songs of yearning, Be My Baby, written by Ellie Greenwich, who passed away a little less than a year ago at the age of 68.

Here is John Lennon's completely different take on Be My Baby, complete with a driving, syncopated bass rhythm.

The young Supremes sing Baby Love. It's pretty funny to see dorky, rhythmless,  white teen-agers dance as the future super stars sing.

What every teenage girl wants to know, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? One of Pops most enduring songs of longing, made famous by the Shirelles, who here sing it live.

There have been many renderings of this classic song. Here is Slutty McSlut, Amy Winehouse, singing it more like a threat than a question.

Here Minnie Driver sings it sweetly and tenderly from her movie, Beautiful.

The number 1 Pop song, for me, of love unrequited is Unchained Melody, sung live here by the Righteous Brothers, who made it famous. The climax which begins at 2:47 makes my blood run cold every time I hear it.

A few weeks before he died Elvis did a concert tour which was recorded for TV. Here, looking bloated and ill, he gives a tour de force solo performance of Unchained Melody extemporaneously from the piano. At 1:45 he flashes one of his trademark smiles that can still light up the whole hall. One can begin to see the crushing weight of adulation that finally brought on his untimely end. (This is worth watching in full screen mode.)

Love Songs for Tu b'Av - I

There were no greater festivals for Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur. On these days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out... and dance in the vineyards. And what would they say? "Young man, raise your eyes and see which you select for yourself...." -- Talmud, Taanit 26b
What would the beautiful ones among them say? "Look for beauty, for a woman is for beauty."What would those of prestigious lineage say? "Look for family, for a woman is for children." What would the ugly ones say? "Make your acquisition for the sake of Heaven, as long as you decorate us with jewels" (Talmud, Taanit 31a).

This is the first record I remember owning and listening to over and over. It was a 45 with a paper sleeve. I don't remember what was on the "B" side. Or maybe this was the "B" side. I listened to it on a small, portable, blue and yellow record player whose lid opened to reveal a speaker, volume control, turntable, speed control (78-45-33), and a solid looking tone arm. It also had an AM radio that I listened to the Jack Benny Show and the Fibber McGee and Molly Show on. After listening to this I knew that girls were the best thing G-d ever created, a fitting crown to creation and much better than men. Many, many years later I would sing this song to little Shoshana F., and it would give her night fears for many months. Sometimes things just don't work out with women.

If Mr. Sandman can't bring your love by night, perhaps Mr. Postman can do it by day. The refrain "wait a minute, wait a minute, oh yeah" recalls the yearning for a word from one's beloved "so far away". "You've got mail" just doesn't do it.

The Fab Fours' cover of Mr. Postman, with their trademark harmonies, is one of my favorite renderings of this classic.

...and sometimes, even if Mr. Postman does bring the letter, a cruel lover can spurn its delivery. Here is Elvis' Return to Sender. An SMTP return header just doesn't compare.

Then there is the touching plea, "Love Me Tender, Love Me Sweet", sung by the incomparable, the original, The King, Elvis Presley. Was there ever such a snarling smile in all of history?

Elvis, as we now know, was halachically Jewish through matralineal descent via his great-grandmother, Martha Tacket (1852-1887). He wore a Chai necklace and a Chai medallion off and on throughout the '70s, and had a Mogen Dovid carved on his mother's tombstone, along with the much more prominent cross, because after all, they were still Christian.

Elvis Presley's family tree.

Elvis' Chai Necklace.

Star of David carved on Gladys Presley's Grave.

Much of this information was explored in depth in Elaine Dundy's excellent book about Elvis and his mother, Elvis and Gladys.

I grew up in Memphis in the '50s and '60s. Elvis' mansion, Graceland, was in Whitehaven on what was then Highway 51, way out in the sticks. It was on a large tract of land with a colonial-style home that had a colonnade front, and surrounded by a fence whose most prominent feature was the wrought iron gates with large musical notes and guitars. As a tenn ager, I used to drive by the house and run in to learn a blat Gemorah with Elvis. I usually brought a black skull cap for him to wear. I remember commenting on how well it looked on his slicked-back duck tail hairdo, which he made all the rage. But he never took to it, thinking it squished all the  air out of his hair making him look flat-headed. "Ahrah, Ah mahy be a Jew," he used to declare to me, "but I showh as heck don'wanna lukh lakh won."

After he died, we would often return to Memphis during August, the month of his Yahrzeit, to visit family. There were always hordes of Elvis fans at the airport who would come to town mid-month to commemorate his Yahrzeit, keeping vigil outside of Graceland where he is buried, holding candles throughout the night and day of his passing.

Elvis at the famous music notes gates of Graceland.

Later in life we bought a tshatshke ash tray with his photo on it at the Memphis Airport and kept it in our living room, not far from a photo of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. We would tell people we had two Kings in our living room: The King of Rock and Roll and HaMelech HaMashiach, one technically Jewish, the other who made more technical Jews really Jewish than anyone else in the world.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Error of the Miraglim Repeated in Our Day - A Post for Tisha B'Av

The Miraglim (spies) were the leaders of the tribes of Israel - their chief and best men, the wisest among them, the equivalent of today's national political leaders. Yet due to their sin in speaking calumny against the land of Israel and spreading defeatism among the people, the Children of Israel were condemned to wander for 40 years in the desert until the Generation of the Desert was obliterated.

28. However, the people who inhabit the land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified, and there we saw even the offspring of the giant. כח. אֶפֶס כִּי עַז הָעָם הַיֹּשֵׁב בָּאָרֶץ וְהֶעָרִים בְּצֻרוֹת גְּדֹלֹת מְאֹד וְגַם יְלִדֵי הָעֲנָק רָאִינוּ שָׁם:
29. The Amalekites dwell in the south land, while the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountainous region. The Canaanites dwell on the coast and alongside the Jordan." כט. עֲמָלֵק יוֹשֵׁב בְּאֶרֶץ הַנֶּגֶב וְהַחִתִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי וְהָאֱמֹרִי יוֹשֵׁב בָּהָר וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי יֹשֵׁב עַל הַיָּם וְעַל יַד הַיַּרְדֵּן:
30. Caleb silenced the people to [hear about] Moses, and he said, "We can surely go up and take possession of it, for we can indeed overcome it." ל. וַיַּהַס כָּלֵב אֶת הָעָם אֶל מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמֶר עָלֹה נַעֲלֶה וְיָרַשְׁנוּ אֹתָהּ כִּי יָכוֹל נוּכַל לָהּ:
31. But the men who went up with him said, "We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we. לא. וְהָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר עָלוּ עִמּוֹ אָמְרוּ לֹא נוּכַל לַעֲלוֹת אֶל הָעָם כִּי חָזָק הוּא מִמֶּנּוּ:
32. They spread an [evil] report about the land which they had scouted, telling the children of Israel, "The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature. לב. וַיּוֹצִיאוּ דִּבַּת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר תָּרוּ אֹתָהּ אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר עָבַרְנוּ בָהּ לָתוּר אֹתָהּ אֶרֶץ אֹכֶלֶת יוֹשְׁבֶיהָ הִוא וְכָל הָעָם אֲשֶׁר רָאִינוּ בְתוֹכָהּ אַנְשֵׁי מִדּוֹת:
33. There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes. לג. וְשָׁם רָאִינוּ אֶת הַנְּפִילִים בְּנֵי עֲנָק מִן הַנְּפִלִים וַנְּהִי בְעֵינֵינוּ כַּחֲגָבִים וְכֵן הָיִינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶם:

Because the Children of Israel cried for no reason on the 9th of Av because of the report of the spies, G-d punished them saying, "Because you cried for no reason on the 9th of Av, I will give you reasons to cry on that day throughout history." And so it has been.

And so the leaders of Israel today continue to perpetuate the error of the Miraglim then. Here, in uncannily similar language, is a letter that then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wrote to the Israeli Rabbinical Congress for Peace dated July 18, 2005:

"I believe that today, the benefit, peace and security of the Nation of Israel require the evacuation of the Gaza Strip, an area in which there is no chance of establishing a Jewish majority and which everyone knows will not be part of the State of Israel in a permanent accord,” Sharon wrote.
“At the same time, we are transferring the brunt of our efforts to the most important areas for safeguarding our future: the Galilee, the Negev, Greater Jerusalem, the settlement blocs and the security zones.

“I initiated the Disengagement because it is the best vehicle for a basic change in the national situation of the Jewish people. The departure from Gaza will have a decisive positive influence on all fields of life in Israel: security, economy and the quality of life in the country.”
Of course, just the opposite happened and continues to happen. We need to learn the elemental lessons from these mistakes.

We hope and pray for the coming of Masicach every day, but especially on Tisha b'Av, but tragically our leaders continue to make 3300 year old mistakes that forestalled the coming of Masiach then and continue to do so now. May Hashem give them the wisdom to make the right decisions: Chazak, chazak v'nitchazek!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On the Way to Ein Saharonim (or En Saharonim as Israelis write it)

Ein Saharonim is one of the magical, mystery places in Machtesh Ramon. Located at the eastern edge of the crater, it is the only all-season source of natural water (hence its name - Saharonim Spring) in the machtesh, at an elevation of just over 1000 feet is the lowest point in the crater, at 220 million years old is the location of the oldest geological rocks in the crater, and is the location of one of the oldest Nabatean ruins in the crater. It is full of an ineffable Magnum Mysterium and a throbbing energy that can be felt all around.

Birds-eye view of Machtesh Ramon and Ein Saharonim (blue marker). Note the heart-shaped form of the machtesh and the septal point just above the blue marker where Har Ardon rises. You can explore this area further here on Google Maps.

The entrance is well marked and easy to find to the left of Route 40 as you head toward Eilat. But before you get there you must traverse a rocky dirt road of about 8 kilometers. This road passes over a number of wadis and broad flood plains whose flat, rippled surface shows the weathered effects of rain and flooding even during the summer months.

After a few turns you come upon a monumental wall of red, green and yellow stratified clay, at whose base is a great cirque filled with soft, red and yellow pulverized clay, littered with boulders that have dropped from the wall by erosion. Few seem to stop and enjoy the wall and the cirque, although it alone is the equal of many sights in the machtesh.

Panorama of the great clay wall and cirque on the way to Ein Saharonim. Note hikers at the base for scale. (As always, click for full-size images.)

I have no idea what geological forces acting over eons created this marvel. Watch the slanted top of the wall carefully. On occasion, late in the day, we have seen a sand cat lurking in the crevices of the wall.

At the base of the clay wall, above the cirque.

Fantastically colored rocks lie in the cirque surrounding the wall. Here we see a many-hued rock of rose, amethyst, ochre, yellow, orange, green, turquoise, jade, grey, tan and many other colors. This coloration is due to the mineral deposits in the clay as well as microbial action. (Leave what you find here for others to enjoy.)

As we continue on the road from the clay wall we immediately reach a rise from where the giant face of Har Ardon is visible. Har Ardon (Mt. Ardon) is the 2000 foot, vertical wall face of the machtesh, actually a cliff, where its heart shaped septum comes to a point.

Har Ardon rises dramatically before us as we head for Ein Saharonim.

To our left as we descend the road is the Bedouin Experience campground where visitors can spend the night sleeping in Bedouin-style tents and eating Bedouin-style food. Har Ardon looms larger and larger as we continue to approach it. The road winds on another few kilometers from here, and following the signs we eventually come to Ein Saharonim itself.


Monday, July 12, 2010

You Meet Some of the Foulest Anti-Semites Online

I love teasing anti-semites online. You run into alot of exchanges with them if you subscribe to Jewish causes or Jewish pages on Facebook. There was a news posting of something anti-semitic about the Swiss that I took them to task for in a comment. Then this first message from one "Hans Gruber" appeared in my Facebook email. My goal in all such cases is to provoke the anti-semite into a fit of rage so powerful that he swallows his tongue. I think I was successful in this case. I started answering him in Germano/Yiddish gibberish, which of coure he didn't realize was a put on. Poor fellow dies a horrible death at the end when he finally swallows his tongue.

Between You and Hans Gruber
Hans Gruber June 23 at 11:36pm Report
I don't like Israel or Jews.
America has foolishly embroiled itself in the affairs of that terrorist state for too long.
I love being Swiss :)
Ira Machefsky June 24 at 12:33am
Ich thanken der grosse Gott wie Zehr pisedoffen ghaben truen tranken.

Kish mir in tuchas,
Hans Gruber June 24 at 12:39am Report
Don't you DARE taint the German language with your Yiddish cancer.
Ira Machefsky June 24 at 1:09am
Kish mir in meiner tuchas due crapengefarten mit deiner shwester geboren bei ein disckshmeltz enhaffen bei dienen sonnerlawins prikgealtit!

Du bist fullern der sheiss fur ein lorrhafen trinken gefartz.

Hans Gruber June 24 at 1:32am Report
Hor gut zu, Judenschwein:
I am sick of your fucking bullshit.
Ira Machefsky June 24 at 1:35am
I laughed you to death.
Feeling sick yet?
You soon will.
Go greet your fellow anti-Semites in Hell!

Kish Mir duppelganger in meiner tuchas!!
Hans Gruber June 24 at 1:37am Report
Why not learn Hebrew instead of "piggybacking" on the language of "The Oppressor?"
Because Jews are better suited building pyramids and conning the Welt than producing a novel idea.
Count your fucking quarters, you piece of shit.
Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer!
Ira Machefsky June 24 at 1:50am
Do you feel your limbs becoming heavier as death overtakes you? Soon you will swallow your own tongue and choke to death.

I put the three-fold curse of Yahnnie of Carsus upon you:
Sim salah bim
Sim saluh heem;
Sim salak cheeemmmeechimchim!!!!!

You are not only merely dead, you are really most sincerely dead!
Hans Gruber June 24 at 5:07am Report
Ira Machefsky June 24 at 8:07am
Sounds like you did finally swallow your tongue.       
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