Monday, December 22, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

On seasonal affect disorder; X-mas v. Xanuka;
and thoughts on mark again...again

I was at the Teaneck Scrabble club last week when one of our longtime members, Helga, confessed that this is her most behated time of year. It's not just Christmas, she said, but the entire season, "from Halloween to New Year's." It was cathartic to hear this from someone who is not Jewish. If I could have played PATINAE at that moment, I would have done so: It was a moment which, for me, wrapped up the entire Christmas thing with a pretty, tinselly bow.

Social workers who deal with holiday-conflicted Jews also have a package wrapped with a bow that they call the "Christmas Dilemma." It makes it easier for them to treat, suffer or tolerate their vitamin D-deprived semitic patients during this joyous season of merrymaking and goodwill toward men. I was married to an Irish Catholic who converted to Judaism, and I can attest firsthand that at no time was there any conflict in our lives that had to do with religious practices and holidays. His mother sent us the best Hanuka cards in the world. She had a real instinct for what worked.

I confess that I don't really recall Mum sending me anything much during Hanuka. There was a tacit understanding that money was available in small portions for presents for the children. Or perhaps Mum and Dad spent a holiday with us from time to time. Not a great reciprocator, I was always successful beyond my wildest dreams in assuring that I sent out greeting cards late, or that the plants or gifts I gave were vastly underwhelming, or sent some sort of mixed message to the recipient.

I'm not here to kvetch. I would, however, like to state that perhaps due to my upbringing I have zero understanding of gift-giving or gift-appreciating. I can send out a successful mass mailing fund raising letter, but I don't really know how to send a personal card to special someone/s who might really need to hear something intimate and tender from me. Classic example: I have not really considered presents for my kids this year, nor have I sent them any sort of touchy-feely cards or greetings. I've been pretty clammed up, in fact. Not gonna lie; not proud about it; just gonna shout about it.

Notwithstanding my inability to be gracious and classy in the gift giving department, the Xmas/Xanuka dilemma has never been my bailiwick. Christmas was part of our life when I was a child. Every year Mum would dust off the plastic holly and ornaments, and we would hang all of it around her ladies' wear store in the West End.

There was the annual Christmas party at the store during which Mum's right-hand employee, Ciel Mackenzie, brought in her fruitcake. At this point, if you are a conflicted Jew or a Christmas-celebrating Christian, you know that:

  • No one eats it
  • It never goes stale
  • It's the Picture of Dorian Gray: Somewhere hidden away is a fruitcake, sagging and wrinkly.
  • You should carbon-14 date it before it goes anywhere near your mouth

Ciel's fruitcake was different. It emitted an intriguing, chest-melting fume. Hers was pickled in brandy and sopping wet to the touch. A little whipped cream on top and coupled with a spiked eggnog, and the youngest amongst us was flying high. No wonder we had so many people stopping by the store, including the cops, security, Mum's competitors, too. And Mum always brought in a vast quantity of corned beef, pastrami, rye bread, pickles from Schmerl's Delicatessen, and a bottle of Crown Royal. Nothing was left but crumbs, year in, year out.

Despite this very sweet memory, December sucks for me. I thought I was over it, at long last. It's been a great month so far, filled with good things. I aced my semester and maintained my 4.0 grade point average. I met lots of new and interesting people at school who have been stimulating my mind and spurring my creativity. I wrote. I baked. I read. I listened. I made stuff. I guess it's still not enough. I cannot get over certain dates, long behind me, dates that visit upon me like unwelcome guests, especially when I can't see the sun for the threatening skies, and when the descending claustrophobia brings time to its knees in my brain:

  • Dec. 5- official date of death of Mark Balshin, 23, biggest love of my life
  • Dec. 8 - murder of Israel Ehrlich, Holocaust survivor, 50s, close family friend, by a 15-year-old boy and his 14-year-old girlfriend
  • Dec. 9 - accidental death of Rachel Tenenbaum, 12, school and camp buddy, who stepped out in front of a truck after school
  • Dec. 22 - Mark's birthday

I want to dedicate this column to Mark because not a day goes by when I do not think about him and remember him as though he were still here. I still dream about him. In those dreams, he is very much alive, clear eyes lovingly gazing into my own, much like they did back then. I hear all the words from so many others about how he was, but I only remember how he was to me. Special cosmic connection. Then suddenly you are left alone to carry on, and what a void that leaves. Changes you. Maybe that's what I hear in "Love Hurts" as sung by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.

I keep saying I want to medicate myself if only to speed up the clock and give me a little leg up. Then, like a miracle, January 1 rolls around every year and this white noise in my head just stops cold. For your reading pleasure, here is a poem that I recited quite often on the circuit, and which I had written only a couple of weeks after he left this earth.

It predates kd lang, so you could say yes, I did write it in the e.e. cummings style. It was intentional, not having anything to do with affect. I was so alone at that moment, so completely down. For me, every letter of the alphabet was also flying low to the ground. There could be no superstar letters. There could be no elevation. Here it is. Happy holidays.

thoughts on mark again

when the fire in your veins

turns to ash

and you can’t answer

to your given name

and nobody’s on the phone

when you can’t comfort or be


when you cease

to recognize love

when you don’t feel needed

and nobody wants you

when your ears are deaf

and you stop trying

when the hope in your heart

turns to rust

when you won’t be home


when the sun leaves

your eyes

and you turn off the world

when the fridge is empty

and the oven won’t work

and nobody emptied the ashtray

when a thousand eyes

are weeping

and one candle is burning

when a sympathetic word

can’t stop the pain

when an image visits

in the night

with starry eyes

and kisses the memories

when the truth beats down

in the morning

and there’s frost on

the newly turned earth

when your song is on the radio

and nobody will tell you

when your magazines

beg to be read

when your clothes ache

to be worn

when you don’t care

and your love is no more

and you leave a hole

when people were afraid

when your signals crossed

and you made a mistake

that you can’t take back

now your pens don’t write

and your secrets are

no longer sacred

and the only witness

is your pillow

and the blankets

refuse to give a statement

and the air is thick

with confidential information

and the curtains

are acting dumb

and the television

didn’t hear a thing

when questions are answered

and answers are questioned

when you’re alone and

you don’t understand

when everybody’s talking

but nobody’s saying anything

when people you didn’t know

are apologizing

when everyone asks why

and you’re not one to say

and you can be oblivious

and you dare to

be silent

when you stop creating

and start destroying

when you need help

but won’t reach out

and you’re depressed

when you can’t show love

and you can’t take it

when you can’t remember

the last time you had fun

when laughter doesn’t

come so easy

and contentment is impossible

when humanity is

a mere abstract thought

and living doesn’t matter

when ceasing is

a good exit

and dying and escape

are the same damn thing

and you would actually do it

and not worry about

others’ feelings

when your mother can offer

no excuse

and you will never apologize

when all the tears and

hurt and anger and burning

and money and screams

won’t bring you back

when you will never ever

call me again and say

“i’m back”

to wake me from this nightmare

when all the poems

throughout human history

offer no condolence,

what will i do

what will i do


Friday, November 28, 2008

My daughter loves your son, Kate!

TEL AVIV -- Last Wednesday we were treated by Miriam to Rufus Wainwright at Mann Auditorium. The show was sold out to an exuberant crowd of adoring fans. I will not bother you with my preamble. Here, in Miriam's words, is how it went down.

Where to even begin? It's shows like this that remind me how much I wish I were part of the Wainwright/McGarrigle family. He looked great - love that suit, and I was thrilled to see it make another appearance! - and sounded spectacular. Really, his voice was perfect - one of the best shows I've seen. He hit every falsetto note effortlessly, beautifully. He slipped up a couple of times on lyrics, but recovered seamlessly - and besides, that's what we love about him! I was amazed at his performance considering how jet-lagged I know he is; there's a 7-hour time difference between Israel and New York.

The amazing thing is, I never thought I'd get to see Rufus at all this year. I'm studying in Jerusalem this year, so I expected this to be a painfully Rufus-free year. I did notice a Facebook group called "Bring Rufus to Israel!" but I never thought it'd come to anything. When I discovered that he'd be doing a show here, I couldn't believe the coincidence: the one year that I'm here, Rufus decides to come to Israel! And of course, seeing Rufus definitely eased the pain of missing Thanksgiving.

Part of Rufus' brilliance, I think, is that certain songs take on a completely fresh, magnetic quality when he performs them solo (i.e., "Sanssouci"), and that he revives old songs beautifully (i.e., "Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk," and everything else from that record). It almost seems like he's performing a new song - until you remember that there's a little electric guitar here, some drums there.

And then, a surprise - Kate! She looked radiant, with a great dress and chic new haircut. And she came out [i]barefoot[/i]! She's just amazing. They bantered and chatted; they tried to remember in which key they usually do "If Love Were All;" they tried - and failed - to remember all the words to "A Foggy Day;" Kate corrected Rufus' lyrics to "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" and reminded him that it's "Kate & Anna McGarrigle," not "The McGarrigle Sisters," as he referred to them. Last night as always, it's magical to see the two of them on stage together. [i]Magical[/i].

The Mann Auditorium is a great venue with fantastic acoustics - Rufus even said so himself! The balcony doesn't hang over the orchestra, cramping the theater; instead, the orchestra sweeps gracefully upward to the balcony seats, leaving plenty of open space to be filled by the sound on the stage - perfect conditions for Rufus' HUGE voice.

I managed to capture Rufus' banter in between each song. Here it is:

- Grey Gardens -

"I feel very appropriately dressed for such an - interesting - building (laughter)...Yes, the proper term is, like, 'formal-Jewish' (laughter) - you know, all this pizazz (indicating his suit)!"

- Pretty Things -
- Beauty Mark -

"All right, I know I'm gorgeous, but no more pictures, please (responding to too many camera flashes)!" and "This is my first time in Israel, playing here...I've already put on 5 pounds, eating my way through Jaffa today...I'm a hummus monster...!"

- Nobody's Off The Hook -

"This next song I wrote about a beautiful palace near Berlin called Sanssouci...It started off as an architectural fantasy - well actually, it started off as architecture and then it quickly turned into fantasy: the palace went from being an actual place to my subconscious, where you can eat as much hummus as you like (laughter) and do all sorts of other things which we won't talk about in this very fancy concert hall! Then, of course, there's a moral to the story: at the end of the song you open the doors to the ball and there's nobody there. But I heard that's not the way it is in Tel-Aviv: I heard all the balls are always full (laughter)! So anyway, here's a little bit of austerity for you..."

After a few lines of Sanssouci, he sang the wrong words: "...Gently polishing my - oh, wrong words! Let's start this again...There are these two girls dancing and I..." - and then something about their dancing affecting him like a "normal person..."

- Sanssouci -

"I'm kind of excited to do this song in Israel because you guys are still waiting for your messiah - except for the beard people...So maybe this is who it'll be!"

- Gay Messiah -

"This next song is from my new album, Release The Stars...uh, is that my new album? (laughter) Or is the Judy album my new album? I can' know, whatever, they're two separate - things - of this incredible body (laughter)...I have to do that so people won't be disappointed if I don't make a fool of myself (laughter)...So yeah, this one is a sad song (shrug) (laughter)...I'm just trying to confuse you: first I make you laugh, then I make you cry...Then I make you believe!"

- Not Ready To Love -

"So before playing this next song, I just have to preface it with a couple of things: one is that, let's start off by being really really happy and joyful about the fact that Obama won the election! (cheers!) Very very excited about that. But on the other hand, let's be a little bit sad that in America on the same day, there was horrible, horrible legislation passed - anti-gay stuff in California and Florida about gay marriage - which frankly, I'm really not that into gay marriage, personally (applause) - I don't plan to get married, really - well, maybe I'd like the decision, maybe I'd like to be able to, or something, but that being said - in fact, I was once having a conversation with Boy George (laughter), and we were talking about policy and politicians, and somehow we were talking about politicians I like, and I said, 'Yeah, he's pro-gay marriage and anti-death penalty,' and Boy George said, 'Isn't gay marriage kind of a death penalty?" (laughter) - but that being said, I am strongly against any kind of discriminatory or exclusionary words being put in the American Constitution, I think it's terrible, so that's what I'm against (applause) - and also, government legislating your sex life, it's just terrible. So anyway, those are the two things I want you to remember."

And then he launched into Going To A Town - the newly altered version, in which he sings, "I'm not tired of you, America," "After soaking the body of Jesus Christ in blood/I'm so tired of California," "And not for thinking everything that you've done is good/I'm so tired of you, Florida."

- Going To A Town -

Following GTAT: "In a song, once I write a negative comment, it always fixes it and then everything is wonderful in about a year (laughter)...I'm just kidding, I'm kidding - I'm getting the Jerusalem Complex as I'm sitting here on stage (laughter)...but anyway, in light of all this more positive American attitude that was starting to happen with the Obama candidacy, and now Presidency, I wrote a song about New York. So this song's about New York, which everybody - every Jew in the world loves New York!"

- Who Are You New York -

"You're all so lucky tonight because I have an amazing person with me: my mother is here (cheers!)...and (as Kate walks out, barefoot, holding a camera) - are you filming me?!" She pointed the camera at the audience, took a picture, gave a thumbs-up, and sat down at the piano. Rufus: "We're gonna do this one song and then there's gonna be a little intermission, and - please come back! (shrug) (laughter) We've done a bit of New York, bit of America - we've been in America a lot, I think, and now we're gonna move over to England, and we're gonna do a song by the great Noel Coward..."

- If Love Were All -

"Well, if we sing 'If Love Were All,' we have to sing 'A Foggy Day'...well, we have to remember it does it start? It goes..."
Kate: "Uh, how does it go?"
Rufus offers a half-assed attempt that peters out at the end: "I was a stranger in this city..."
Kate mumbles a little bit, tries singing a few notes as she searches for the right chords...lots of laughter, and then Rufus says something that sounds like, "You gotta give her credit...D'you want to just start?"
Kate: "Okay - how does it start?"
Rufus: "I was a stranger in this city..." and they fumble all the words in the song, though very comedically so, with that McGarrigle-Wainwright nonchalance, until they finally get to the chorus and finish the song beautifully.

- A Foggy Day -


- The Art Teacher -

"We've done America, we've done England, and we're gonna move a little south and do some Paris. I've noticed there's a lot of French - we've been having a funny experience, my mother and I, because usually when we want to say something, you know, naughty, about someone, we usually do it in French...but everybody here speaks French - but we do it anyway!"

- Leaving For Paris - (breathtakingly beautiful when it's done live!)

...which seamlessly led into a perfect rendition of:

- Hallelujah - (the whole theater was singing along)

- California -

"You guys are a really great audience - thanks so much for being great. And now I'm gonna tell you the one - I mean, this is good, you're gonna love this - the one - well, it's an actual funny Holocaust story. It actually doesn't involve the Holocaust - at the time - but it's an amazing story that I just have to tell while I'm here. Do you all know the actor Walter Matthau? Great actor. He was visiting Auschwitz, and he was there with his agent, and they were about to enter into the gas chamber, and right before that happened, this woman came up to them and said, 'Oh my God, it's Walter Matthau! Can I have your autograph?!' And he turned to her and said, 'Madam, this is really the wrong time to ask me for this, it's totally inappropriate, and no, you cannot have my autograph. Goodbye.' So then she left, and they went into the gas chamber, saw it, and then they left, and as they were leaving, she ran up to him and said, 'I just want you to know that you ruined my trip to Auschwitz!' True story!"

- Rebel Prince -

Saying that he comes from a musical family...talking about Kate: "...and she, of course, is an incredible singer, part of a classic duo called the McGarrigle Sisters - I hope you go out and get all their records - and also my sister, Martha Wainwright, is a singer, and I have another sister, Lucy Wainwright Roche, who's a singer, and my father, of course, the great Loudon Wainwright, is a singer, so we're all - and there's even others - so I'm from a - I'm basically from the circus (laughter), and this next song sort of touches on's about wanting to be just a member of the family - even though it's the circus."

- Want -

Kate comes back on stage: "It's not the 'McGarrigle Sisters,' it's 'Kate & Anna McGarrigle."
Rufus: "Oh, I'm sorry...!" (laughs)
Kate: "And it's not a circus, either."
Rufus: "Ohhhh...."
Kate: "Circuses are FUN..."
Rufus: "Okay, mother...(feigned innocence) Irish mothers are sort of like Jewish mothers. (laughter) We're gonna do one of Kate's songs now - why don't you tell us a little bit about it?"
Kate: "It's called 'Mendocino,' which has a whole complicated story that I'm not gonna go into now...Do you remember how it goes?"
Rufus: "Yeah, I remember."
Kate: "Do you remember your part better than the way I remembered your part in the other song?"
Rufus: "Uh...we'll see...This IS the circus...and nobody knows what'll happen..." After a few moments of Kate finding the right chord: Do you remember YOUR part?"
Kate: "I do. (laughter) We've never done it together before on piano -"
Rufus: "Okay."

And it was gorgeous, obviously! What a beautiful song.

- Mendocino -

"Mendocino" leads into "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." Rufus sings: "Somewhere over the rainbow/Skies are -"
Kate quickly corrects him: "Way up high -" and Rufus quickly recovers, amid laughter. The rest of the song is stunning.

- Somewhere Over The Rainbow -

Kate kisses Rufus, leaves the stage.

- Zebulon -


- Complainte de la Butte -

"We're gonna bring my mother out again, we're gonna do another song...We thought that with all of this, sort of, cultural mishmash that is the world, we would do an Irish song. Since we're Irish - sort of. Half-Irish. She's very Irish - you're very Irish, right?"
Kate: "I'm half - I'm five-eighths -"
Rufus: "Five-eighths Irish. Which means you're very, VERY Irish. (laughter) Another reason I wanted to sing it is that this morning I woke up early and went to breakfast, and they had this incredible breakfast at the hotel, and I stuffed my face, but then I was like, 'There's one thing really missing,' and I couldn't quite - 'What's missing?' and I was like, 'Of course - bacon! There's no bacon!' (laughter) And this next song, sort of, is about bacon. (laughter) It's an ode to bacon - and the Irish, if there are any Irish people out there. And also, we were thinking about how - nobody knows this song - it's probably American, actually - we were thinking, written by Irish Americans, but then we thought it was probably actually written in the Brill Building, which in the '20s, or something, is where all the songwriters in New York wrote their lyrics - and it was probably written by Jews! Because most of those songwriters were Jews. Whatever. So who knows? But there's a connection there, somewhere. (laughter) It's called, uh...what's it called?"
Kate: "It's called, uh...I don't know the name of it..."
Rufus: "I don't know...It's called BACON! (laughter) It's called the Little Pigs. It's called the Little Pigs. Okay, let's go."
Kate: "Wait - what key do we do it in?"
Rufus: "Da-na..." (trying out a key)
Kate: "Too high..."
Rufus: "Ohhhh! (trying out another key) No, that's not too high. I can hit that note. I want to hit that note...(whining)"
Kate: "Well, if you think it's not too high..."
Rufus: "Yeah, I can hit it." (cheers!)
Kate: "Now you're being Irish - you gotta hit that high note."
Rufus: "I know, I know...Get high, hit the high note..."
Kate: "Get high and hit the pavement."
Rufus: (laughing) "Hit the high road...Give me a little intro...As I went out one evening in Tipperary town/I spied a fair...(looks to Kate for assistance) mavourneen -"
Kate: "- I spied a little colleen -"
Rufus; "- I spied a little colleen/Amongst the heather brown...."

Kate leaves the stage, but first grabs the microphone and says, "I got this dress from Marc Jacobs - I paid nothing for it."

- Poses -


By the end of the night, I'd gone from being a lonely expatriate with Rufus-less prospects, to saying hello to him at the stage door! I've been lucky enough to meet him after other concerts in the U.S. (plus a chance - or was it by divine providence? - meeting on the street in New York!), and didn't really want to bother him with pictures and autographs - so I just said, "Go and see La Traviata - I just saw it, and it's wonderful!" He said, "Oh, okay! Okay!" and it may have been my imagination, but he did seem to have recognized me...!

Meantime, my mum had gone over to Rufus' van, where Kate was already seated. My mom's a musician by trade who's played at various folk festivals over the years - including Mariposa, in Canada, which was a big gig of Kate & Anna's back in the day. Unfortunately, the year my mom was invited to play, the McGarrigles canceled because one of them was pregnant. Still, they have a few mutual friends from the music world, and when my mum went over to their van last night, they started talking and reminiscing...Kate was thrilled to hear the names of some of her old friends - I'm sure a little bit of familiarity while on the road must've been nice - and at one point, my mum quietly said, "You know, my daughter really loves your son," and they both beamed and shared a beautiful moment of motherly pride. "It's rare for a mom to be so involved with her kids in this business," my mum later told me.

I agree that Rufus may not have expected such a receptive audience. I think he was a little bit surprised by Israel, to be honest. Like most people, probably surprised to find that while it is the Jewish state, it's not all about religion and Judaism.

Finally, I'd like to add that there IS bacon in Israel! As demonstrated by a little pizza shop around the corner from the theater that served bacon-topped pizza! (I even have a picture to prove it!)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Do not miss this show!

The Dan Sheehan Conspiracy was scheduled to play a full-band, all-out rock show at Desmond's Tavern in Manhattan this Friday night, but we will instead be playing an EVEN MORE SPECIAL acoustic set featuring Dan and Gianluis (our new bassist). Our drummer Bobby unfortunately had a death in his extended family and cannot peform, but rather than cancel we other 2 guys decided to offer this special treat.

Says Dan of the change of plans, "It just so happens that I just came back from a solo acoustic tour in Arizona, so I'm certainly in gear for the stripped down thing. Those shows, and other acoustic shows I've played lately have had a lot of energy to them as I've learned to make up for sparse instrumentation, and having Gian contributing his bass and vocals is going to make it all sound nice and full, and display the craft of the songs perhaps more than our electric shows where underpaid sound people botch up our mix.

"PLUS," Sheehan adds, "folks can bring their parents, grandparents, and folkie friends who otherwise might mistake our electric guitar and drum-laden shows for Ozzfest."

So there you have it, folks. Come on down to Desmond's Tavern, 433 Park Ave South (bet. 29th & 30th) Friday night with $7 or more and check out this unique DSC experience!!!

8:00 Ryan Voster
8:45 All Out Riot
9:30 Dan and Gianluis of the Dan Sheehan Conspiracy
(212) 725- 9864

Friday, October 24, 2008

"Search For Heroic Beings" Art Show and Reception
Connected to "The Golem"

The Teaneck Festival of Arts, co-sponsor of "The Golem" screening with orchestral accompaniment at The Teaneck International Film Festival on Nov 15th, is presenting a related art show, "The Search for Heroic Beings" which will be on display at the Teaneck Public Library for the month of November.

The Art Show will consist of more than a dozen adult visual artists’ interpretation of the theme, along with masks created by 5th and 6th graders at Teaneck’s Community Charter School headed by Master Mask Maker from Teaneck - Howard Berelson - who worked with the students in Ms. Beverly Cooper’s art classes.

A Meet the Artists Reception co-sponsored by the Teaneck Public Library with the unveiling of an Art Video created by Film Editor Liz Celotto, based on the display, will be held in the Library Auditorium on Sunday, November 2nd from 3-5 pm. In addition, a special arts partnership has been formed with characters from WINTUK by Cirque du Soleil that will come decked out in the wintry colors of WINTUK which opens soon at Madison Square Garden's WAMU Theatre. Participants at the reception will have a chance to win a Family Four Pack of tickets to one of their upcoming shows. The quartet of joyful ambassadors will be a feast for the eyes and will stilt-walk, play, and clown their way into the hearts of young and old alike. (see photo enclosed)

The Art Reception is free and open to the public. Tickets for "The Golem" being shown at Theater One at Cedar Lane Cinemas during the Film Festival on Nov 15th at 8pm, are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. The art video will be displayed at 7:30pm. Advance tickets can be purchased at Brier Rose Books, 450 Cedar Lane; the Teaneck Public Library; Cedar Lane Cinemas after 6 pm; and Simply the Best, 472 Cedar Lane, Teaneck or by calling 1-800-811-2909. Tickets can also be purchased on line at For more info on the Art Show go to

Teaneck Festival of Arts and the Teaneck International Film Festival are both projects of the Puffin Foundation, Ltd. located here in Teaneck.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Rosh Hashana festive cuisine a la Kraar

Yona has great sway over us -- we're going veggie. So great news about that: the challah can be dairy. Here's our menu, which I'm posting in case you need some inspiration in the kitchen right about now.

No one said that meat had to be the boss of you!

Choc. chip/currant challah
Veg. Shepherd's pie
Masha's kugel
Xmas apple sauce

CHALLAH -- THIS challah will have five cups of flour, including rye, soft, hard, whole wheat, handful of corn flour, and unbleached, all mixed together, whatever I had leftover from my JohnVince adventures. I'll also chop some unsweetened Bakers Chocolate in the processor, add a generous handful of tiny dried currants, sugar in place of honey, canola oil in place of olive oil, and milk to make up half the quantity of water. Why? Because it's half-cake, half-bread. Think of the french toast we will have afterward! You can butter it with real butter! During dinner!

SHEPHERD'S PIE -- The main meal is veggie shepherd's pie using several kinds of veggie meat, some of which will be processed in the grinder.

SWEET POTATO KUGEL -- And Masha's incredible sweet potato kugel (again, write for recipe) with marshmallows on top, just how Marty loves it.

SALAD -- Salad, of course, in Masha's famous salad spinner. Whatever is in the fridge goes in the bowl.

X-MAS APPLESAUCE -- And home-made apple sauce made from the cheapo bin apples for a buck a bag. Peel, core and cook. What makes it special is you put it in a clear glass serving bowl and set aside while you shuck a pomegranate in the sink. Clean up the seeds, then throw as many as desired into your cooled apple sauce. In the light you will see these beautiful red luminescent orbs in your all-natural dessert, shining like Christmas bulbs. Try it!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thanks, Jeff Rosen and the Canadian Jewish News!

I have a piece in the CJN about the Hadassah Bazaar in this week's edition. Visit me again a little closer to Bazaar time to see the piece with a couple of pictures from way back when.

Read the CJN story here.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Oct. 27/99
Hadassah Bazaar

I was digging around in search of some photos from my late mother's collection, and I came across three sheets of note paper stapled together, a first draft of a vignette that she had written about the famous Hadassah Bazaar. I thought that since this is the Bazaar's last year, I would share with you this colourful little piece that I was so fortunate to stumble upon.

For most of my childhood, my mother spent much of her free time devoted to Massada, her Canadian Hadassah Wizo chapter. Although she was a full-time career woman who owned her own dress shop in the west end of Toronto, nothing could tire her out enough to miss a Hadassah meeting with the thirty or so ladies who made up the chapter. They were like a family -- these Holocaust survivors, most of whom were from Poland, many of whom had kids my age, and some of whom worked in their husband's businesses. The organized teas, they canvassed for things to sell at the bazaar, they had garage sales during the year. They argued, they irritated each other, they roared and then they roared with laughter. The stories I'd hear! But in the end, what they were doing was "for a good cause," and that was what it was all about. And we all counted down the days to the bazaar. It was the most exciting day on the calendar -- like a holiday, but without synagogue. It always fell just prior to Halloween, and there was a bit of a Mardi Gras feel to it, very festive and free, with live music, a car raffle, off-track betting, and even a high-tone auction.

I loved it best when young male students would approach the Massada chapter tables, and the members would run to coddle them, dress them up, tell them what was the right length, what matched their eyes, and what was a good bargain. There were also mountains of kids' clothes, some quite "vintage." We loved dressing up the little moppets who tagged along with their mothers.

How many times did I see my mother shaking her head from side to side, and then I'd overhear her say to someone, "It's not flattering. Come over here to this rack, let me show you something that is more suited to your frame."

My job was to create ensembles and then mount them high enough for the throngs to see. I would put a blouse on a hanger, puff it out over a snazzy belt and pin a pair of slacks to it from behind. We also sold these "models" first. Toward the end of the day, one of the members would announce, "Fill a bag for five dollars!" and again, the huddled masses would storm the tables.

I cannot recall how many times over the years my mother prayed for someone to relieve her of her role as chapter president. On those nights she would put the gavel in a plastic bag, along with her binder, and go out the door, gone for hours. Invariably, the next morning, the gavel would reappear, like a bad penny. She was the perpetual Hadassah lady, toiling away for the benefit of a far-off hospital in Jerusalem that most members saw maybe once or twice in their lifetime.

I was saddened to hear that Hadassah was pulling the plug on the bazaar, although intellectually I do understand it. Back in 1999, my mother also saw the writing on the wall at the Automotive Building of the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, which was the gargantuan home to the bazaar in its heyday. Nothing could compare then, and nothing will, ever.

(Pictured above: former Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman with my mother. Pictured below: Several members of the Massada chapter in front of the massive booths at the bazaar)


Oct. 27/99
Hadassah Bazaar

by Ann Szedlecki
My late, wonderful mother

Our blue smocks come out of the closet once a year. They identify us as members of Hadassah Wizo, the women's organization. Massada, our chapter, is thirty-five years old.

Finally the preparation is over and we wait for 9 a.m. That's when the doors open and a sea of humanity surges forth. They waited outside in the line for hours.

Ours was a large chapter. The members either housewives or career women, bringing up young children.

We watched them grow up, go to high school and institutions of higher learning, and on to their chosen professions. We, the members of Massada, attended their simchas, and also shared in their losses. Over the years it became evident that we were aging, and the chapter could not stay as active as it had been before. We joined the organization and attended its conventions, either in Israel or in Canada. We did the best we could, because we felt that as Jews we work for a worthy cause, benefitting Israel.

Who could forget vivacious, funny Molly, always with a joke. Even with an oxygen tank she attended our meetings and never felt left out. Or Frances, a wonderful generous person who was always willing to volunteer for tasks that were hard to fill. They are both gone now.

The rest of us are less able to do the job, but we are trying.

We are flooded with memories of the bazaars past. One man changed his mind and got his back up for a pair of pants. In one of the pockets we found twenty dollars. We took the money, but for the sake of public relations we returned ten dollars. A lady offered eight dollars for a piece of material that we had priced at eight dollars. Obviously she did not hear.

People attend the bazaar every year and we see familiar faces. We never heard a negative word about Jews or Israel, even though most of the customers were not Jewish. My daughter, who lives in New Jersey, drove all day Tuesday with a nine-month-old baby, and left Thursday early, so eager was she to be here, where she attended so many bazaars over the years.

Everybody in the chapter brings a bag of food, drinks, fruits, so that, G-d Forbid, we wouldn't starve. Our own coats get stored in boxes under the tables. Some of them get sold (by accident!), my own jacket included!

Nine o'clock, doors open, and we are open for business. Everything so neatly displayed on tables immediately gets messed up by people browsing for bargains. We don't bother to straighten anything -- the next person will probably find what they were looking for at the bottom of the pile.

Time goes fast. Another sandwich and another coffee. Some members go home to be replaced by others. A few, including me, stay until the end in order to provide return transportation for the other members.

The loudspeaker announces closing time. Some of us have been on our feet since seven this morning, and it is around nine o'clock at night now. Tens of thousands of people have been through our three continuous booths, loaded with used clothing, and some new things, such as shoes and clothes that have been donated by our suppliers. Even fur coats. The leftovers are picked up by other organizations to be sold again.

So this is it? Where did the time go? Maybe, just maybe, we'll be able to do one more bazaar in the year 2000. That will mark a double-chai for our chapter. Allevay!!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Summer Roundup

It's been a very eventful summer, to say the least. Little GuitarGirl is all growed up with one daughter on staff at Camp Shalom and the other one moving up the ranks and now ensconced at Camp Solelim. With autumn in the wings, Miriam is set to go off to Israel for the year and Yona starts high school.

My mother's memoir is getting ready to be published, and I'm busily working away at the one-woman show based on her life in Siberia, as well as transcribing Dad's oral history. It's premature, but I've picked out the appropriate props for Mum's show. They include: her first kitchenette set (circa 1954); a modest writing desk; and the chair she bought from Suzette's dad's furniture store the year she separated from Dad and lived at 12 Rockford Road in Willowdale. Those are the remnants of her life in Toronto that I've stored away in a little cubby in Englewood, NJ. I've also picked the music, including much vintage Polish and Russian stuff from the military and movies of the WWII era. I've also included Hollywood favourites of hers.

We went to Israel for a couple of weeks on what was to have been a productive business-meets-pleasure trip, but which became my struggle with a very nasty stomach virus. There was much of that going around Jerusalem, where we were headquartered. That knocked the wind out of my sails for around 10 days. I mostly slept, ate dry rye toast and drank tea.

When my energy level somewhat returned, I convinced Marty that we needed to go to the desert, away from the intensity and noisy continuum of Jerusalem. I wanted to look out and see magnificent sandy dunes, Sodom apple trees, crevices where the flash floods rage in winter, flocks of goats along the side of the road, and the Dead Sea in the background. I wanted to hear the sound of God, unencumbered. I wanted to feel the breeze that comes at 5.30 p.m. when the night air starts to blanket everything and forgive the baked ground its crusty summer blister.

We researched and found a bed and breakfast in Arad called Beit Ahuva. Since that was my Hebrew name, I thought it was worth a try -- if only to go down to the desert and consort with the locals and forget the noise and the congestion of the city. And all the English that dilutes the Middle Eastern experience. We were not disappointed. In fact, we were embraced by Yoel, the proprietor, who invited us to a barbecue he was having for a few friends at home that evening. We decided it would be easier if our new friends called us by our Hebrew names, so Ahuva and Moshe it was. In Yoel's crowd there are three people named Moshe, so it got more interesting as the beer and booze flowed, and as the platters of food came out. I even found a fellow Siedlecki in the crowd, who happened to be the daughter of a woman from Siedlec who married someone named Siedlecki. We immediately became fast friends.

I had been off meat for a good while by then, but the smell was irresistible. The Moshe who was called Mussa (Arabic for Moshe, despite the fact that like me, he is a Polish Jew with Lodz roots) was grilling away a mixture of beautiful cuts of tenderloin, chicken and some other fresh-cut and marinated meats. All things being equal in the Holy Land, the meat was neither kosher nor hallal, NOR shall I tell you from which Levantine brother this meat was purchased. This is how it is in the desert. There are no TV cameras here, showing you hordes of angry religionists gargling to God while threatening death and destruction to their enemies (that's about an hour away from here, which is considered pretty darned far). Everyone here is friendly; everyone has a gun. But these things are never discussed. What's more of interest these days are the upcoming Israeli elections, the new plant that got approval in a very hush-hush manner, the new mall that is supposed to be happening. You can get a villa overlooking the desert here for $125,000. Or a lot for much less. They are not eager to bring the masses from the city down here. That's just a lot of talk.

Back in Jerualem, after this wonderful getaway, we made some progress catching up with work, rescheduling meetings and seeing people we had been trying to see. There was nothing on TV: My football team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, was off. But then I got word of a Betar Jerusalem v. Wisla Krakow game that sounded interesting. I felt a low-level excitement. There was a buzz in the air about this match. We hit a local sports bar in a trendy neighbourhood of Jerusalem where the sound was turned up as the first game, at Teddy Stadium (just up the road) was taking place.

The bar went quiet. We shouted at the TV. We were tense. We were quiet, and then we shouted at the TV some more. At half-time, Jerusalem was down and it looked like the Krakow team would take the game.

But surprise of surprises when the next morning the paper came, heralding a Betar Jerusalem victory over the Polish team. The city of Jerusalem sprung to life. The game had stimulated great discussion. What was our fascination with this game? It seemed to affect the Eastern European Jews more, but the Sephardic Jews were also empathetic.

We would have a few days to play "Monday morning quarterback" and figure out what went right, what went wrong, and how "we" were going to prepare for Game Two, which was to be played at week's end in Krakow. Fans bought their tickets and made their way to Poland. The team was delayed due to a mechanical, and arrived to Poland exhausted. The management took a trip to Auschwitz to pay respect to Holocaust victims. There was a murmuring about the anti-Semitic nature of the Poles, and particularly of the Polish fans.

Game Two was the elimination round for a face-off against Barcelona. I was torn. I didn't really know where my loyalty lay. Was I going to be faithful to Poland, or to Israel? Could I be objective?

I joke about the nature of football, calling it "a man soap opera." But in fact that's just a front for how I really feel. It's about gaining power in the international arena for a fleeting moment -- to feel almighty and to represent your people, to lift their spirits, no matter how powerless governments and armies make them feel.

According to Wikipedia:

Two Jerusalemites, David Horn and Shmuel Kirschstein, decided in 1936 to form a local football team. David Horn was the local chief of Betar, the youth movement of the Revisionist (liberal nationalist) Party, a pre-statehood Zionist movement. To this day Beitar fans are generally identified with that movement's successor party, the Likud or other right-wing groups. The leaders of the youth federation saw this as a project to produce a football club with Beitar's self-defined qualities of Hadar (self-respect) and Hod (glory). The earliest squad was composed entirely of Beitar youth members, including a future government minister, Chaim Corfu. They played initially at the "banana field" close to Beitar youth group's "nest."

Beitar's association with the Revisionist Party quickly brought them into conflict with the British authorities of that time, as well as the fans of Hapoel Jerusalem, a team connected with the Jewish socialist Israel Workers Party (Mapai) in the years 1939-48. Most Beitar players were also secretly members of the Revisionist-affiliated National Military Organization (Irgun Zva'i Leumi) or Freedom Fighters of Israel (Lehi), two groups in open rebellion against Britain's control over Palestine. In the 1940s the British arrested most of the group's players, exiling them to Eritrea and Kenya along with many Irgun and Lehi leaders. Part of their defiance (which also included legendary prison escapes) was the forming of the Beitar Eritrea side that included Micah Aharoni, Corfu, and the goalkeeper Moshe Baruch. In 1948 the British Mandate ended and the interned players were repatriated to the new State of Israel.

As for Wisla Krakow, Wiki says:

The history of Wisła started during the fall of 1906, when (probably in October) Dr. Tadeusz Konczyński organised the Krakow Błonia, the first football tournament in the city. He also founded four teams (among them one came from the Second Real School) and football uniforms which came to him from England. The school's team (also called Szkolnikowski's team) was given light blue shirts with a black bowl on their chests, which was divided by a blue belt. This is why they were called "The Blues". Their first captain, and also the person to coin the name "Wisła" was Józef Szkolnikowski - goalkeeper. Prof. Tadeusz Łopuszański was the club's first chairman.

In September 1907 "The Reds" (Jenkner's team) merged with Wisła, and soon after "The Pinks" did the same. That is when Towarzystwo Sportowe Wisła officially began. The Blue shirts were changed to red, but the black trousers remained. When the first uniforms arrived from Berlin, two light blue stars were present on the shirts. It was decided that only one would remain, though its colour would be changed to white. This is how "The White Star" became the recognized symbol of the club. From that time on the club had its ups and downs, winning national championships and gaining European qualification. The club was also relegated on three occasions to the second division.

The fateful day came when the two teams met in Krakow. I watched the match. I knew from the instant Betar took the field that they were not equipped to deal with this very focused, very professional team on their home turf. At the end, the pundits said, "I told you so" and the headlines would read, "Habayta (homeward)" in the papers.

It was hard to watch that game and not think about the dual loyalty - how some people may want Jerusalem to beat Poland because it's about Jews against their former neighbours. On the other hand, it was clear that this was football - plain and simple. And that Wisla Krakow was going to win and face Barcelona no matter what, because that's what was on their minds. The Israelis seemed distracted and beaten down by the end of the first half. The overwhelming sound of the Wisla Krakow fans was deafening, even from all these miles away.

The Israeli commentators did their job with great resignation in their voices, but they were intent to note that there was nothing anti-Semitic about the behaviour of the fans, the Polish news stories, etc. This was purely about the best athletic team. And Krakow was it. And the Brozek brothers are truly amazing athletes that deserve our respect and praise. Period.

My gut was that I would now root for Krakow to overtake Barcelona. Which I did.

Nothing left to do but get ready for September.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Scrabble enthusiast Maurice DeCanio, 66, of Bergenfield

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Bergen Record Staff Writer

Qat. Xu. Vug. Twa. Nidi. Khi. Qaid. Zebu. Oot. Zerk. 

Photo caption: Maurice DeCanio of Bergenfield with his grandson Anthony Marco. A friend called him "one of the great gentlemen of Scrabble."

They look like typos, but they were things of beauty to Maurice DeCanio.

The Bergenfield wordsmith and retired automobile upholsterer, who died June 13, enjoyed Scrabble for much of his 66 years.

He played frequently and proficiently. He mastered the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. He knew that the anagrams for his first and last names are URAEMIC and CODEINA. And he shared his passion for the venerable crossword game with others in the National Scrabble Association's Club 251.

Maurice, known for his warm smile and neatly trimmed goatee, was "one of the great gentlemen of Scrabble," said club member Paul Mistrette of Little Falls.

As director of Club 251, which meets Thursday evenings at the Rodda Community Center in Teaneck, Maurice kept the matches moving, paired players according to skill level, adjudicated word challenges and patiently gave advice to novices, such as, "Don't squander that blank! Don't waste that S!"

And if there was an even number of people on a club night, Maurice would pull up a chair and play.

"Maurice was never less than gracious to everyone, from nervous newcomers to the old timers," said club veteran Marian Calabro of Hasbrouck Heights. "And Scrabble is a hobby that can attract - how can I put this? - some odd people."

Lynda Kraar of Teaneck joined Club 251 seven years ago. She learned the words and board strategy. And before venturing onto the tournament circuit, she asked Maurice to critique her play.

"I'd sit with him and play a game, and he'd tell me how I could've played it differently," Kraar said.

"Maurice was really happy to see how I progressed. All the ladies in the club are afraid to play me now."

No one was happier than Maurice when Kraar broke 500 for the first time.

It didn't matter to Maurice that he was Kraar's opponent that game.

But that was the great thing about Maurice: There was nothing cutthroat about him.

How does a person become a Scrabble maven?

Maurice DeCanio wasn't into book learning at Teaneck High School, said his wife, Joyce, but he did play Scrabble as a kid and was a lifelong reader.

Give him a novel, and he'd devour it in two days.

He just loved words.

A 40-year resident of Bergenfield, Maurice worked as a lithographer and then owned a couple of bars before settling into automobile upholstery.

A clue to his trade: His everyday Scrabble board is set in a turntable of blue imitation leather.

Maurice kicked his hobby up a few notches when the Teaneck Scrabble club was formed 20 years ago.

Like all serious players, he studied laminated lists of anagrams and bizarre two-, three- and four-letter words. He kept the lists "all over the house - the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room," said his daughter Lauren Marco, a special education teacher at Hackensack High School.

Marco said she used to play Scrabble with her dad - "until he got too good."

Maurice also squared off against unseen opponents.

"He played online every day," Joyce DeCanio said. "He got the program that allowed him to play people from all over the world - in Fiji, in Australia … "

Maurice's official Scrabble rating, based on his performance at sanctioned tournaments, was 1556, just below expert level. Putting 1556 into perspective, the world's top player is rated 1978; beginners clock in at, say, 600.

On June 12, a Scrabble night, Maurice ran the club as usual, got home at 11 o'clock and went to bed.

He died in his sleep of a heart attack.

"That was the last thing Maurice did - attend a Scrabble club meeting," said Joyce DeCanio, mourning a husband who appreciated good food, good wine, good company - and good tiles. "I hope he got to play."

Monday, June 02, 2008

Thank you, New York!

What a fabulous feeling to be playing to a full house at Symphony Space. It was a thrill. See you there again next year!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Jewish People's Philharmonic Chorus
brings Yiddish song to Symphony Space

NEW YORK CITY -- After years of packing smaller houses around the city, the Jewish People's Philharmonic Chorus will make its debut at NYC’s 700-seat Peter Norton Symphony Space for its 86th Annual Spring Concert on Sunday, June 1, at 4 pm.

Peter Norton Symphony Space, which has already signed up the JPPC for 2009, will enable a much larger crowd to hear the Chorus' century-long repertoire of rare and popular Yiddish music, directed by composer/conductor Binyumen Schaechter.

And yes, there is a new wave of people from all walks of life, ages, and religions who are becoming enthusiasts of this 1,000-year-old “mame-loshn (Yiddish for mother tongue) ” spoken by Eastern European Jews, and the music that helps keep it alive.

Founded in 1922, the all-volunteer JPPC boasts members ranging in age from 20s to 80s and has made guest appearances at Alice Tully Hall, Shea Stadium, Ground Zero, the Museum of the City of New York and, most recently, at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The Chorus’ membership includes students, grandparents, Canadians, Israelis, a Brit, gays and straights, all of varying levels of Jewish observance. Some people speak Yiddish, such as the adult children of Holocaust survivors and late Yiddish poets and thinkers. Some speak no Yiddish at all, but love the music. Conductor and Manhattanite Binyumen Schaechter is himself the progeny of the illustrious late Yiddish linguist Mordkhe Schaechter.

There are lawyers, retirees, recent college grads, and veteran journalists from The New York Times and the Financial Times. There is even the gifted soprano whose jaw-dropping rendition of "A Brivele Der Mamen" could rip your heart out, and who spends her life devoted to Yiddish culture and music. Not Jewish.

This unlikely army of Yiddish singers gathers once a week at the social hall of an Upper West Side senior residence to rehearse its dynamic repertoire -- no less diverse and interesting than the singers – from exciting oratorios and comic operettas to labor anthems, beloved folksongs, and popular tunes.

In its June concert, the JPPC will spotlight the songs of the "Father of Yiddish Theatre," Abraham Goldfaden, who is famous for his lullaby "Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen" / "Raisins and Almonds." It will also perform Wolf Younin and Maurice Rauch's rarely heard folk oratorio,"Fun Viglid biz Ziglid" / "From Lullaby to Song of Victory," tracing the lives of two Jewish children before and after the Holocaust. English translations will be provided.

"Two seasons ago, the JPPC’s selling point had been Sholom Aleichem and I.L. Peretz, whose names themselves sold tickets," explains Schaechter, referring to two of the most renowned and best-loved Yiddish authors of the past century.

Last year, the Chorus featured works by beloved Yiddish composers Mordecai Gebirtig and Mark Warshawsky, who are not exactly household names, Schaechter says. "But as soon as you mentioned ‘Afn Pripetshik’ or ‘Es Brent’, the crowds came running.”

This year, two of the top Yiddish hits, “Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen” and “Afn Pripetshik,” will round out the JPPC’s spring concert, which will also feature lesser-known but equally spellbinding material into which Schaechter has breathed new life.

The JPPC will perform at Peter Norton Symphony Space on Sunday, June 1, at 4 p.m. Tickets are $25 and $15. Symphony Space is located on New York City's Upper West Side, at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street. To buy tickets, visit either or, or call the Symphony Space box office at 212-864-5400.

All about Binyumen Schaechter

Binyumen “Ben” Schaechter is an award-winning composer of musicals, revue songs and cabaret songs which have been performed in theatres and cabarets everywhere. Represented off-Broadway by his musical Double Identity, and in four revues: Naked Boys Singing (now nine years running in New York; also performed throughout five continents, with a film version released on DVD last year); Pets! (published, Dramatic Publishing); That’s Life! (Outer Critics Circle nomination); and Too Jewish? (with Avi Hoffman), for which he was also the Musical Director and on-stage pianist/back-up singer (nominated, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards). Too Jewish? was also seen on PBS TV stations across the nation last year. Other musicals include: The Wild Swans (ASCAP's Bernice Cohen Award for Outstanding Achievement in Musical Theatre; Eugene O'Neill National Music Theatre Conference) and Dinner at Eight (2001 BMI Foundation's Jerry Bock Award for Outstanding Achievement in Musical Theatre).

Ben’s music has been sung by Nancy Dussault, Tovah Feldshuh and Andrea Marcovicci; featured on PBS, ABC and NBC; and recorded on nine CDs, including five original cast albums and IT HELPS TO SING ABOUT IT, all songs with Ben Schaechter’s music. He is an alumnus of the BMI Lehman-Engel-Musical Theater Workshop, and a member of ASCAP and the Dramatists Guild.

Now in his "bar mitzvah" 13th year of musical direction with the JPPC, Schaechter’s arrangement of “Borukh Ate,” and original composition , “Ba Di Taykhn Fun Bovl”, will be performed during the June 1st concert.

The skinny on this year's concert’s composers

Jacob Schaefer, founder and "patron saint" of the [formerly Communist] Yiddish Choral movement. Born 1888. Celebrating his 120th anniversary with compositions and arrangements including: “Tsigayner-lidm Nishka,” “Tsum zig” two very different songs by the same name of “Viglid,” “Kirchn-glokn,” “Komunarn-lid” and “Dunay.”

Abraham Goldfaden, father of the Yiddish theater. Died 1908. Commemorating 100 years since his passing with “Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen,” and medley of “Tsu Dayn Geburtstog,” “Flaker Fayer [melody of “Haynt iz Purim”],” “Drey Zikh,” “Di Milekhl [melody of later "Drey zikh du dreydele"],” and “Gekimen Iz Di Tsayt.” The chorus will be singing the medley in the dialect of Goldfaden and the Yiddish theatre, known as "Voliner Yidish."

Wolf Younin, known Yiddish author and teacher. Born 1908. Celebrating 100 years since his birth with “Fun Viglid Biz Ziglid.”

Mark Zuckerman, great a cappella arranger of Yiddish choral music. The JPPC has sung many arrangements of his through the years, including “Dolye Mayne,” “Unter Dayne Vayse Shtern,” “Vilne,” “In Kamf,” “Mayn Rue-Plats,” and others. Born 1948. Celebrating 60 years since his birth with his composition “Mir Zaynen Do Tsu Zingen” and arrangement of “Amerike di Prekhtike.”

Marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish State of Israel, the Chorus will also perform two Hebrew compositions sung in Yiddish for years, including “Ba Di Taykhn Fun Bovl (By the Rivers of Babylon/ Al Naharot Bavel)” and “Af A Bergl (Galil Melody / Alei Giva Sham Ba'Galil).”

Thursday, April 17, 2008

From the GuitarGirl industrial kitchens high atop Teaneck, NJ....


My mom's recipe...delicious when warm and will keep for days in a zip-lock bag. You can double/triple up the recipe to make lots for company.

2/3 cup water
1/3 cup oil
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 cup matza meal
3 eggs

Bring oil/water/sugar/salt to a boil in a pot on the stove. Remove and add matza, stirring thoroughly. Let mixture cool. Preheat oven to 375 F.

Once the mixture has cooled, add one egg at a time, stirring through until thickened.

Spoon directly onto cookie sheet or put 1-2 tbsp. per bagel in a muffin pan. Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes. They are done when nice and brown, and they should be hollow and airy inside.

Suggestion: Serve warm with a teaspoon of strawberry jam inside the popovers.


Preheat oven to 350 F.
Small bowl for frothing the egg whiltes
Larger bowl for yolks and cake mixture (you will be folding the whites into this bowl)
10-inch tube spring-form

7 eggs
1.5 cups sugar, sifted
1.5 tsp. grated lemon (or orange) rind
1.5 tbs. lemon (or orange) juice
3/4 cup potato starch
dash of salt (not more than 1/8 of a tsp)

1. Separate six of the eggs. Beat the whites with a dash of salt until frothy and nearly stiff. It should make a nice peak.

2. Beat the yolks plus the 7th egg until frothy and creamy yellow. Gradually add sugar, juice and rind. Then gradually add the potato starch and be sure to froth it through the mixture.

3. Fold the whites into the mixture gently.

4. Place in ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees F) about 55 minutes or until cake springs back when touched gently with fingers. Invert pan IMMEDIATELY and cool thoroughly before removing cake.
Six degrees of musical separation

Our house in Teaneck, NJ, was built in 1922, and for a significant part of its life it was a church. It is on the historic registry in town, and one can find information about it at our local library. Every so often someone will stop by and tell us that they spent their early childhood in our basement, which was once a daycare centre, or that they recall the years that our house was a church, or that they remember the lovely family from whom we purchased the house.

One summer evening, about a year ago, a lithe, beautiful woman with a long, silver ponytail and a very attractive younger woman with two tots appeared at my door. The elder woman said that she grew up in our house in the days when it housed the church. I invited her inside and wanted to hear everything. We had always had a lot of questions and very few answers. She would open up the walls for us and let them speak their volumes.

As she entered our den, she sighed, "This was the organ room," and, pointing to the TV, "Yep, that's where the organ was."

She saw not the packed bookshelves that adorn the room, my thousands of record albums or my wool stash behind the reupholstered chair that Dad had once rescued from the trash in Toronto. She saw her childhood. It was the first time in at least 40 years since she had been in the house.

In the year that has passed since that encounter, we have learned a lot about each other. She is a talented artist who makes and exhibits dolls from her base in Maine, and she is the mother-in-law of a Russian operatic singer who is appearing this week at Weill Auditorium in New York City.

Here's how The New York Times described his Tuesday performance, which is being repeated tonight:

French Ingredients, Russian Dressing

The baritone Anton Belov accompanied by Steven Blier in “Obsession à la Russe” at Weill Hall.
Photograph by Erin Baiano for The New York Times


April 17, 2008

The mutual attraction between France and Russia, which began in the 18th century when Peter the Great’s daughter the Empress Elizabeth became fascinated with all things French, was a marriage of opposites: musically, the weighty, mournful Russian sound often contrasted with French transparency and spirit. But a program called “Obsession à la Russe,” presented by the New York Festival of Song at Weill Recital Hall on Tuesday and enlivened by the witty commentary of the able accompanist Steven Blier, challenged some of those musical stereotypes. When planning the event, Mr. Blier said, he noted how Russian the French composers could sound — “in their own diaphanous way” — and vice versa.

The first half of the concert, titled “Russia Looks West,” featured songs by Russian composers set to French poetry, beginning with Alexander Dargomyzhsky’s “Au Bal,” a Gallic-flavored parlor piece sung by the young tenor Nicholas Phan. Anton Belov, a baritone with a rich, mellifluous voice, sang two of Tchaikovsky’s “Six French Songs” and “April! A Festive Day in Spring,” an unusually cheery rarity by the teenage Rachmaninoff. Dina Kuznetsova, a soprano with an attractive, bright voice, performed selections including the passionate “Music” by Sergei Taneyev, a student of Tchaikovsky. Ms. Kuznetsova and Mr. Phan combined for three “Vocalises” by Prokofiev, one of a number of Russian artists, including Diaghilev and Stravinsky, who lived in Paris.

The Franco-Russian traffic went both ways. Berlioz, Saint-Saëns and Debussy visited Russia, and many French composers were influenced by their Slavic colleagues. In the second half of the program, “Russia Comes West,” Ms. Kuznetsova sang Stravinsky’s delicate “Two Poems of Konstantin Bal’mont” and Satie’s “Daphénéo,” from a set of three songs dedicated to Stravinsky.
Mr. Phan, whose emotional palette seemed limited, performed songs by Poulenc (the first, “Le Portrait,” an example of the composer sounding like Stravinsky, Mr. Blier said) and Ravel’s “Sainte,” whose chords evoke the Orthodox Church.

The highlight of the evening was Mr. Belov’s powerful renditions of signature songs of the bass Fyodor Chaliapin, another Russian who lived in Paris, including “Trepak” from Mussorgsky’s “Songs and Dances of Death” and the title character’s aria from Rachmaninoff’s “Aleko.” In “Nochen’ka,” a melancholy folk melody, Mr. Belov sounded particularly fine, singing with urgency and soulful pathos.

The program is repeated Thursday night at Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall; (212) 247-7800,

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Separated at Birth?

Something in these two pictures is the same. Can you figure out what it is? I'd love to hear from you when you figure it out. Bonus points if you hit on the the special thing that ties three subjects from these two pictures together.

While you're thinking on that, I would like to give a shout out to Martin Scorsese on his inspirational and electrifying documentary/concert film Shine a Light.

Ain't nothing wrong with vintage, baby.

It was the first time ever that I was able to distinguish the sound of specific equipment onstage -- guitar pickups, amps -- to actually close my eyes and know exactly what I was hearing. After following his record of music documentary making I have a hunch that this was Scorsese's executive creative call.

I don't care what kind of pickups one uses, how jumbo your jumbo frets are, or how kick-ass your groove tubes are: Most of the time you get on the stage and everything turns to mud. A hollow stage, the shape and material of the room, the placement of the equipment, screaming people -- there is nothing that will not contribute to the mud. Sometimes you get so lost in the mix that you just stand there, trying to hear your own amp.

In that case the only solution is to turn it up loud and play it through two amps. Not a bad thing: It actually makes you play more tastefully.

I feel like I've spent my career trying to find my "voice" in a club setting without simply twiddling the volume knob on the guitar and the amp. I learned from Danny Marks a long time ago a simple formula: bass at 3, treble at 7, and reverb never more than 3 (volume is a personal taste-slash-pain-threshhold thing).

To that I add a little analogue echo for the appropriate slap-back and boost the volume into just this side of overdrive for the straight-ahead rockers, some chorus for the ballads, and a super-clean Steve Cropper chunka-chunka sound for the R&B with a mid-speed echo for the reggae and ska whukka-whukka stuff. I have a couple of wah pedals that I dust off for that purpose, too. Great fun. That's mostly for the Fender Telecaster, but also applies to the more diva-ish Gretsch Chet Atkins Nashville with the Bigsby arm that does not like temperature or humidity changes.

But...once you start singing as well as playing, you get distracted by your need to look out into the audience and get into party mode, play Musical Director, and sing on key. Add a big crowd of friendly music lovers and you can forget about it. Mud.

So how nice was it to have an advocate for clean, distinct sound that was so clear I thought I was in my basement, just me and my own equipment, responding to each other's voices. I actually feel guilty for not paying that much attention onstage.

Thank you for your sensitivity, Martin Scorsese. And thanks for understanding and demonstrating how important these things are to the musicians. At the end of the day, it is the listener who is the beneficiary.

So....have you figured out the answer to my quiz yet?

Monday, March 10, 2008

I did it! I finally came out of the closet!!!

Mother of two gets high school degree
Recent graduate, 48-year-old Lynda Kraar, is the valedictorian of her class.

Teaneck Suburbanite , March 5, 2008

Mom proves it’s never too late to earn a GED

48-year-old Lynda Kraar decides to pursue her high school diploma

By Pilar Aragon

For those approaching the half-century mark, a mid-life crisis may be looming. But that doesn’t mean you should be turning in your family’s SUV for a Porsche or seeking Oprah’s latest makeover. It might just mean that it’s time to go back to school like Lynda Kraar, of Teaneck, did to get her GED.

“To those who say your hair is gray, you’ve had your best years, your race is run, make room for the new ones, I say, “Do not go gentle into that good night,” said Kraar, [quoting poet Dylan Thomas].

At the age of 48, Kraar has set her sights on getting an associate degree in fine arts for music at Bergen Community College (BCC) after getting her GED this past February 14, the day of her father’s birthday and almost five months after his death.

Nowadays, working on class assignments is a task she shares with her two teenage daughters, Yona, 14, and Miriam, 18.

“She’s a fantastic role model,” says Kraar’s oldest daughter who is a high school senior.

When asked about watching her mom give her valedictorian speech as she received her high school diploma at BCC, she responded, “It was inspirational to see our mom up there.”

“The family was very supportive,” said Marty Kraar, Kraar’s husband of 11 years. “She’ll never have to look back and say, 'I wish I had', because she did.”

Kraar’s high school education ended in the late 1970s when there was a teachers’ strike in her hometown of Toronto, in Canada. The teachers went back, but Kraar never did.

Unlike her parents who were Holocaust survivors from Poland with minimal education – her father was illiterate and her mother’s formal education ended when the Nazis forced Jewish children out of the schools – Kraar has had many opportunities including a career as a musician, journalist, music teacher and a non-profit professional specializing in communications and fundraising. Kraar and her husband recently launched a new business in Fort Lee, Kraar Associates, a consulting firm for the non-profit sector.

Despite her professional accomplishments, Kraar felt unfulfilled because she lacked formal education. After her husband became the executive vice president of the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science, she was surrounded by professionals who had multiple degrees.

“I was living deep in the closet and feeling very inadequate surrounded by people who had built their academic careers into fortresses of knowledge,” Kraar said. “I was afraid I would be found out.”

After Kraar’s mother died in 2005 and her father was placed in a nursing home, she decided it was time for her to reclaim her life and to do things she always wanted to do such as go back to school.

Most of the students in Kraar’s GED class were immigrants who never had the opportunity to finish their high school education, but were seeking to better themselves.

“She was an inspiration to everyone,” said Liz Murakhovsky, Kraar’s instructor. “Lynda was very open and honest about her needs and educational goals.”

Kraar’s next goal includes having her mother’s wartime memoir published in Canada later this year.

Photo Caption: Working on class assignments is a task Lynda Kraar, 48, shares with her two teenage daughters, Yona, 14, and Miriam, 18. Kraar is valedictorian of her Bergen Community College class, earning her GED this past Feb. 14. (Pilar Aragon photo)