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Beat This: Still Drumming at 75
Last February, The Klezmatics won a Grammy in the world music category. Now klezmer—that newly hip 500-year-old music tradition—is earning broader recognition.
Klezmer drummer Elaine Hoffman Watts (left) recently received a 2007 National Heritage Fellowship courtesy of the National Endowment for the Arts. As with the 11 other folk artists—including a Native American basket weaver, a freestyle haiku poet and a third-generation New England stonecutter—given a fellowship, Watts was awarded $20,000 at a special ceremony on Capitol Hill.
Considering her heritage, one could say Watts, born in 1932, was destined for a career in klezmer. Her grandfather, who immigrated to the United States from Ukraine, was a cornetist and bandleader; her father was a member of a klezmer band in the 1920s; and her uncles were professional musicians as well. She became the first woman graduate in percussion from Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music.
Watts, who still lives in the Philadelphia area, performed and taught for more than 40 years and still plays with the all-female band KlezMs.
A Child’s Beast Friend
Meet the three Kabbalistic Beasties, stuffed creatures sure to delight children at Hanukka or anytime. Sold at FAO Schwarz (www.fao.com), they are the brainchild of American oleh Ken Goldman, a resident of Kibbutz Shluhot. Each doll features a different texture and color: Sanoi is covered in soft green velour; Samonglif’s fiery-orange “fur” recalls Polarfleece; and Sansoni is adorable in a nappy blue fabric with pink eyes.
Goldman brought the idea of plush re-creations of kabbalistic amulets to an FAO open toy audition in New York. He had originally created the trio of angels—which reputedly date back to the 9th century, when they were hung over children’s beds for spiritual protection—as large fabric sculptures for a show at Mishkan LeOmanut Museum in Ein Harod. After the success of the exhibit, it didn’t take him long to realize the potential of his inventions.
“The [ancient] designs and their remarkably modern look intrigued me,” says Goldman, a father of four. “We are all familiar with soft stuffed animals that are a child’s most comforting friend and never far off when going to sleep. I felt that translating the angels into plush dolls would be the perfect solution.”
New Colitis Survey
Jews are two to four times more likely to suffer from ulcerative colitis than non-Jews; additionally, American and European Jews have higher rates of the disease than Israeli Jews.
Now, a survey conducted by a maker of two common UC drugs to learn how patients are coping shows that those afflicted with this chronic-immune disease report a greater psychological toll than sufferers of asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and migraine.
“These findings sound an alarm because a diagnosis of UC shouldn’t mean patients are settling for the level of burden reported,” said gastroenterologist David Rubin, a professor at the University of Chicago Medical School who helped design the survey.
The results point to depression, noncompliance in taking medication, “normalizing” flare-ups and not consulting a physician as well as lack of public awareness as the biggest hurdles. Read more UC news at www.uc normal.com.
Place Your Bets: Games and Other Modern Judaica
Here’s a new spin on Hanukka: No Limit Texas Dreidel. The game combines the rules of poker with the Hebrew letters on the dreidel. The player with the best hand wins chocolate gelt.
Jennie Rivlin Roberts and her husband, Webb, invented the game two years ago for their annual Hanukka party. After it received an enthusiastic response, Roberts had the idea to reinvent outdated pieces of Judaica; the result is www.moderntribe.com, where she sells modern designs from artists in Israel, Europe and America aimed to attract younger Jews.
Featuring unique holiday gifts, jewelry, menoras, mezuzot and tzedaka boxes, Roberts says she hopes “to create more desire” for Judaica by offering “beautiful, meaningful and appealing” products.
—Sara Trappler Spielman
Conversion in the Ranks
In Jerusalem classrooms, immigrant soldiers are learning about Jewish history and holidays. Most emigrated from the Former Soviet Union, and although they put their lives on the line for Israel, many are not considered halakhically Jewish.
A program called Nativ is smoothing a path toward conversion for thousands of soldiers. Since its inception in 2002, Nativ has converted 2,000 men and women; a ceremony was held last Sukkot to honor the latest batch of converts inside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s official sukka.
Once Nativ participants finish the initial seven-week course, over 80 percent sign on for more study necessary for conversion. Civilian conversion in Israel can be difficult and bureaucratic. As soldiers, a beit din run by the Army’s chief rabbi confers conversions. “We say, ‘In the Army conversion is more friendly,’” said Haim Levinovitch, who helps run the program.
The Band Plays on—But Not in Cairo or Abu Dhabi
An Egyptian military band arrives in Israel in the early 1990s to perform in Petah Tikva, but ends up in a godforsaken desert town. Bikur Hatizmoret (The Band’s Visit; www. thebandsvisit.com), the debut film of Israeli director Eran Kolirin, depicts the adventures of this lost group in a lost town.
Bikur Hatizmoret was to have been the first Israeli movie screened in an Arab country, originally at Abu Dhabi’s Middle Eastern film festival in October and then at the Cairo Film Festival last month. But after Egypt dropped the film, citing a sex scene between an Egyptian and an Israeli, Abu Dhabi backed out.
The film’s United States release is set for February 8, 2008.
Tree of Life
The hollowed-out birch tree that saved Jakob Silberstein during the Holocaust has been given a place of honor at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem.
Silberstein (above, standing with the tree in the Czech Republic before its removal) was his family’s sole survivor after two years’ internment at Auschwitz. He escaped from a death march with three young men and found refuge with Jana Sudova in the village of Sunychl on the Czech-Polish border. After the other three left in search of the advancing Russians, Silberstein hid in the tree in Sudova’s backyard to avoid capture by the retreating Germans.
“I was afraid they would chop down the tree with me inside, or that they would burn it,” he recalled.
Silberstein, 83, who lives in Israel, never knew Sudova’s name or the name of the village, but after more than a dozen trips to the Czech Republic he located her daughter, Anna Gerlova. In 2006, Sudova was recognized posthumously as a Righteous Among the Nations. In October, Silberstein brought two tree segments to Yad Vashem, where they were placed in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations in Gerlova’s presence.
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