Envision yourself walking down a street in Jerusalem, (or Boro Park, NYC) and seeing people, both young and old, dressed as anything from Jesus, to a clown, to a Power Ranger, to Raggedy Ann. Shops are full to overflowing with every kind of costume for both child and adult, and the bakeries are selling small triangle-shaped pasteries called Hamentashen. It is not uncommon to walk through the Orthodox neighborhoods and see inebriated men both young and old, because, on this holiday, one is actually supposed to get drunk!

What? You may ask, is all the fuss about? Is it Halloween in the wrong season? Nope. It is the Jewish festival of Purim. Purim is the commemoration of the Biblical story of Esther, and it is a festive time in which both the secular and religious dress up, drink, and meet together to read through the entire Book of Esther.  Drunkenness is encouraged on this holiday and the Babylonia Talmud actually says that “It is ones duty, levasumei, to make oneself fragrant (with wine) on Purim until one cannot tell the difference between ‘arur Haman’ (cursed be Haman) and ‘barukh Mordechai’ (blessed by Mordecai). So basically one should no longer be able to tell the difference between Haman and Mordecai. While there are different interpretations of exactly how drunk one is required to get, many people take the commandment very seriously.

This year Purim begins at sundown March 20 and ends the following evening. Purim is generally a light-hearted and fun holiday. Synagogues are full of people who gather for the reading of the book of Esther. Everyone has some sort of noise maker and every time the name of Haman is spoken, people boo, hiss, and make lots of noise.

Here is a picture of a traditional pastry that is seen around Purim. This cookie has a very interesting and confusing history which this article explains better than I ever could! ttps://www.chabad.org/holidays/purim/article_cdo/aid/2872815/jewish/The-History-and-Meaning-of-Hamantaschen.htm

Stay tuned for real-time pictures from Purim 2019!

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Interesting Headgear

In the Jewish and Anabaptist worlds there is a whole culture of head wear for both men and women. While many differences may appear subtle or even unnoticeable to the untrained eye, those little differences can be a very big deal among different sects or denominations. Some differences are cultural, while some differences are held to be more or less conservative. One could write volumes on this topic so I am only going be be touching on a very small and specific item–the Shtreimal.

What, you may ask, is a Shtreimal? This is a large fur hat usually worn by married Haredi Jewish men on Shabbat, and special weddings or Holidays or certain other special occasions. It is also worn by a groom for the first week after his marriage. This hat is very important for a Jewish man and can sometimes cost several thousand dollars and is meant to last for years. It is often made of sable fur.

An Orthodox man wearing a Shtreimal.
A traditional Shtreimal.
Group of Hasidic men at a wedding.

Jewish men traditionally cover their heads which is directly opposite from Anabapstist men who believe that New Testament Scripture teaches that when a man is praying of prophesying he should have his head uncovered.


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United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: A Review.

So here I am posting for the second time in a week! Hopefully, I am starting a trend of more frequent posting! As I said in my last update, I am in Bethesda, Maryland for some medical treatments until Friday. Bethesda is right outside Washington D.C. so I have had ample opportunity to do some exploring around the city. This past weekend I hit four different museums and the Washington National Cathedral (visit this place-it is like being transported to England)! However, for the purposes of the blog I am choosing to post a bit of a personal review of the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Obviously, this was the one place that I knew for sure was at the top of my list to visit while here in DC. So, Saturday morning I met up with an old friend from college to tour the museum. We got there at the opening at 10 am and stood in line for only a few minutes. There are a few exhibits one can explore at will, but for the permanent exhibit you have to get (free) tickets. We went early enough in the day that we didn’t need to wait but were ushered directly to the exhibit. One complaint I did have about the museum was that it was freezing cold, so be sure to bring a sweater (or a winter coat and wool scarf)!

As you begin the tour you are given a small identification card which looks like a passport. Inside it contains the story of an actual person who lived through the horrors of the Holocuast.


You are then ushered into an elevator where the museum employee gives a bit of background before being set loose to explore the exhibit on your own.

I have been to several Holocaust/Jewish museums and World War II and Holocaust history are passions of mine, so most of the information was familiar to me. However, I thought it was very well done and would be quite informative especially for someone who was not very familiar with the history of the war and surrounding events.

It is a self-guided tour beginning with a history of the period leading up to the war. I felt that it did a good job with documenting the entire course of events beginning with the years after the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI. Often Americans tend to think of WWII as the time in which the US was specifically involved, but the stage for the Holocaust was set many years before the war actually began. The museum gives an excellent and extensive background of the events and political climate in the years leading up to when Hitler actually came to power.

The tour guides you through the early years when the political climate began to turn in Germany and walks you through the various stages of Hitlers rise and expansion. One thing I found fascinating which other museums haven’t put much focus on was the American response to the refugee crisis. In light of current events it was very though-provoking. You can go through the permanent exhibit at your own pace and it can take about 1 to 2 hours depending on how many of the visual presentations you want to sit through and how extensively you read the information.

While the permanent exhibition is the main thing to see, when planning your visit don’t forget that there are other exhibits on display as well. There is also a candle-filled memorial room to sit and contemplate the enormity of what you have just seen and heard. The purpose of this museum is to educate, document, and memorialize these horrific events in an attempt to keep them from happening again. Given the state of the world today I can’t state how important it is that we educate the next generation about these things. In my opinion, with parental supervision, this is a perfectly acceptable place to bring your children. Can I even say it is a NECESSARY place to bring your children. These things happened to real people and they are happening still. The sign outside the museum reads…

“The next time you witness hatred, the next time you witness injustice, the next time you hear about genocide, THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU SAW.

Places like this help to insure that we don’t forget. So when planning your trip to DC, put this one at the top of your list!

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I’m still alive: A long overdue posting!

Shalom Havarim! (Hello friends) I am rather ashamed to look at the date on my last posting and realize how much time has passed. To say that life has been crazy would be an understatement. After having surgery in February I stayed with my family in the Shire for about a month before returning to Brooklyn. I am currently back in Maryland for two weeks of continuing treatment. However, this time I am not confined to the hospital and am quite at liberty to explore the area to my hearts content.

High on my list of things to do in DC is to take in the Holocaust Museum. While I have been to several, including numerous visits to Yad Vashem in Israel, I am curious to see what this one will be like. Be looking for an update in the coming days.

In honor of my being back to the world of blogging, and the fact that a Mennonite Choir which I sang with a few years back is currently on tour. I will leave you with a video of Oasis Chorale singing some amazing music!

I hope to be blogging more in the coming days, so stay tuned! And I would also be interesting in hearing topics you all would be interested in reading about.

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Interesting Hebrew Facts!

Even though I haven’t been at home in NY, I have still had some interesting adventures and met some interesting people! One of the physical therapists I met with over the course of my time at the National Institute of Health in Maryland was a Jewish man originally from good old Brooklyn! He had also spent time studying and living in Israel and was curious to know about my experience living in the country and studying the Hebrew language. In one of our conversations he informed me of a fact regarding the language which I found fascinating and somewhat amusing.

Apparently, as Americans, if Benjamin Franklin had had his way, we could all be speaking Hebrew right now! When the US broke away from England and wanted to sever ties with the nation, the founding fathers contemplated what should be the national language of this new country. Good old Benjamin Franklin suggested Hebrew because it was a language that virtually no one was speaking! Obviously, his idea was never carried through, but it is interesting to think what it would be like if all the other leaders had agreed with him!

Hebrew is an ancient language, but it nearly died off years ago. Daniel Bensadoun wrote an article published on www.jpost.com on the revival of the language. He said that Hebrew had not been spoken as a mother tongue since the second century CE, but now it is one of the official languages of the nation of Israel. This process of revival was started by a man name Eliezer ben Yehuda who, along with his friends, agreed to exclusively speak Hebrew together in their conversations in an attempt to reawaken the ancient language. Ben Yehuda also raised his son exclusively in Hebrew, not wanting him to have exposure to other languages and Bensadoun says that “It is said he once reprimanded his wife for singing a Russian lullaby to the child. As a result, his son Ben-Zion became the first native speaker of Modern Hebrew.”

Hebrew is a complex yet extremely beautiful language. However, modern spoken Hebrew contains differences from Biblical Hebrew, so knowing one does not necessarily mean you will be fluent in the other. It is one of the three official languages of Israel including Arabic and English. If you are considering learning Hebrew a term you will probably come across is the word Ulpan. This is a class which is dedicated exclusively to the learning of Hebrew. While you might find some in other countries (I know of several here in NYC) there are many throughout the country of Israel. These are very popular among returning Jews who have made aliya and are hoping to start a new life in the Holy Land but need to learn the language as quickly as possible.


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Never Forget: Holocaust Remembrance Day

Tomorrow, January 27, is Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day that many people overlook as they go about their everyday lives, but I believe it is a significant day that is incredibly important to observe!

It has been said that when we forget history, we are doomed to repeat it. This is one reason it is vital we are educated about the past and are intentional about teaching the next generation the truth about what mankind is capable of doing. It is also important that the victims and the heroes be remembered and their stories told. Here a several resources that are good tools for teaching and learning.

This is an excellent documentary which gives a LOT of history not only on the Holocaust itself but on the history of Jewish persecution throughout history. It is a very good resource for learning some basic information that EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW!

This is the true story of one of the heroes of the Holocaust named Sophie Scholl. This girl and her brother displayed incredible courage and moral character in peacefully standing against the Nazi regime.


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More on Liturgical Music…

As I mentioned before, I wrote a paper on Jewish Liturgical music for a class I was taking last semester. I found the topic very fascinating and had some interesting experiences while researching! The paper was quite long, so I thought it might be interesting to post a few re-vamped excerpts. Enjoy!

Judaism is complex because it is not only a religion but a nationality as well. It is an identity the Jew feels the weight of wherever he goes, and this affects every aspect of his daily life. The life of an observant Jew is centered around his religion, which is highly based on liturgy, ritual and tradition not only in the synagogue itself but in the everyday rhythm and schedule of the daily prayers. The music of the liturgy is based primarily in the synagogue and so this is where one must start when looking at the development of this particular art form.

Music has played a role in the Jewish worship service since Biblical times, and so this liturgical development begins in the Middle East where we see the first origins of Jewish music.[1] Much of what we see in Jewish music today stems originally from its surrounding countries and has changed and developed along with the history and cultures of those countries.[2] The music we see and hear today is based on what Jewish music scholar Abraham Idelsohn describes as “semitic-oriental.”[3] Idelsohn was one of the first notable authorities on Jewish music still referenced today, and because of his extensive research, collecting, and documentation of topics pertaining to Jewish music study we have a starting point for what we know today. In his writings he gives us some basic characteristics of this musical style. This music is characterized by modes which are made up of motives, giving 16 basic modes which he says are popular in the Near East,[4] and other characteristics he references are, absence of rhythm, focus on ornamentation, basis on quarter-tones, an absence of harmony, and a highly improvisational style.[5] The modes historically have been mainly vocal, orally transmitted, and have traditionally excluded women.[6] With this type of music the minor is not considered sad, but the “moods are rather expressed by the rhythmical construction of the motives.”[7]

The Jewish Talmud states that “…the Bible should be read in public and made understood to the hearers in a musical, sweet tune.”[8] In the synagogue we see the use of what is known as cantillation. Miriam-Webster defines this as “to recite with musical tones.”[9] In his book Concepts of Jewish Music and Prayer, which is a compilation of essays based upon his extensive research and expertise as scholar and teacher, Macy Nulman, who has lectured and taught in musical capacities at both Yeshiva University and Brooklyn College highlights the necessity of this idea when he states that “Biblical Cantillation, the oldest source of Jewish music, is required for anyone who reads the Scriptures without a tune shows disregard for them and their laws,” and “Moreover, it is through the medium of melody and song that the Sabbath brings joy and peace, enriching the mind and gladdening the soul.”[10]

Traditionally, there are specific modes which are used for specific parts of the liturgy, and there are Biblical modes for chanting the books of the Bible while there are also prayer modes for the specific prayers of the liturgy.[11] Even inside of these different modes one sees further differentiations inside the Torah as well as different styles based on different countries and regions.[12] Ismar Elbogen, a prominent Jewish scholar of the late 19th century authored a detailed history of the Jewish liturgy which is still referenced today and gives considerable insight into both the musical and nonmusical aspects of the liturgy. His book, Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History, has been called “…the most exhaustive compendium of factual information about the Jewish liturgy.”[13] This work, while first published in the early 20th century, remains an authority on the subject, and its relevance to music scholarship today is clearly seen with its extensive historical information as well descriptions and examples. Raymond P. Scheindlin, who translated the work in the late 1990s, describes it as “…a work of pure scholarship, yet at the same time it is a contribution to the urgent debate on the future of Jewish religious life.”[14] Elbogen speaks to the modal differentiations in saying that the Torah is chanted differently from the books of the Prophets, and books such as Lamentations and Esther are different as well, along with even further variations depending on specific passages and days.[15] There are significant markings in the text which indicate the manner in which it is to be sung and many prayers and special Sabbath and festival portions have relegated melodies and modes.[16]

The Jewish liturgy itself is a complex body made up of many different parts whose development and codification has taken a tremendous amount of time and does not remain static today. There is not one specific word for the whole liturgy, but the different parts are each labeled according to their function and meaning.[17] There are “benedictions and prayers (berakhot and tefilot) established, according to the tradition…” and they “…designate prayers of every type.”[18] These are contained in the Siddur, or prayer book. There is not one universal prayer book, but countless translations and editions, and these also vary from denomination to denomination. A Siddur used by an Orthodox Jew will be different from one seen in a Conservative or Reformed synagogue. There is, however, an official and prescribed order of liturgy and statutory prayers which are largely universally similar with the biggest changes being seen in the service of the Reform movement.”[19]

The poetry of the liturgy is known as piyyut, which can broadly refer to the entire genre itself while some of the poetry has more specific terms depending on different criterion.[20] Elbogen says that the word piyyut could denote “…every type of sacred poetry” but it has come to refer to “poems of hymnic character, poems containing praise and thanksgiving, whether of general content or dealing with nature or history.”[21] The term seliha is used for “elegies, penitential prayers, confessions of sin, and lamentations, together with the petitions and expressions of hope attached to them.”[22] While there is some controversy surrounding the development of piyyut [23] the “Period of Piyyut” is thought to have begun around 550.[24] At this time, while the statutory prayers were being codified and there was a rise in written prayer books, the piyyut continued to develop.[25] The rise of piyyut was deeply impacted by the growth of Islam and one can see heavy Arabic influence in the poetic styles and forms.[26] Since poetry is an art form, one of the complaints with its addition into the liturgy was that it sometimes overshadowed the prayers and this was seen as a problem which at times resulted in conflict.[27] However, the importance of the poetry in the liturgy was growing and had many anonymous contributors which scholars have now divided up into distinct poetical eras.[28]

[1] AZ Idelsohn, Jewish Music in its Historical Development (NY: Tudor Publishing Company, 1944), 3.

[2] Idelsohn, Jewish Music, 3.


[3] Idelsohn, Jewish Music, 24.

[4] Idelsohn, Jewish Music, 24.

[5] Idelsohn, Jewish Music, 24-28.

[6] Idelsohn, Jewish Music. 28.

[7] Idelsohn, Jewish Music, 28.

[8] Idelsohn, Jewish Music, 35.

[9] Cantillate.” Merriam-Webster.com. Accessed December 14, 2017. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cantillate.


[10]  Nulman, Concepts of Jewish Music and Prayer, 11.

[11]  Ismar Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1993), 382.

[12]  Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy, 382.

[13]  Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy, xi.

[14]  Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy, xii.

[15] Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy, 382.

[16] Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy, 382-283.

[17] Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy, 5.

[18] Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy, 6.

[19] Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy, 165.

[20] Elbogen, Jewish liturgy, 167.

[21] Elbogen, Jewish liturgy, 167.

[22] Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy, 177.

[23] Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy, 233.

[24] Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy, 219.

[25] Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy, 219.

[26] Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy, 224.

[27] Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy, 234.

[28] Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy, 239.

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In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day…

Here are the Maccabeats with some sweet harmonies…


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To the Shire and back again…

The past few months have been somewhat of a busy blur while I have attempted to keep my head above water, and this little blog has been sorely neglected! With the start of 2018, I hope to remedy this, although I am not quite sure what the next few months will entail. I was frantically working on a paper for school as well as several other articles which occupied much of my time, and it was easy to let this little site fall by the wayside. However, with the completion of my class, my excuses for neglecting this blog are dwindling.

There have been quite a few holidays, both Jewish and Christian, which I never got around to blogging about, but I figure they will still happen next year. 🙂 I wasn’t very festive this year, but I did get a first-runner-up prize in a Hanukkah baking contest! I was pretty proud of myself! 🙂  Unfortunately, for some reason, the pictures (proof) I have aren’t letting me access them, so you will just have to take my word for it!

I journeyed back to the Shire for Christmas with my family and we had a lovely time doing a lot of holiday eating and relaxing! Unfortunately, all good vacations must come to an end and now I’m back in Brooklyn for a week before heading off on a new adventure. Yes, apparently I get bored and can’t stay in one place for too long!

On Thursday of next week I will be checking myself into a research hospital in Maryland for a week of extensive testing. I’m slightly intrigued with the idea of being used for research! hehe. From there I will be journeying on to Lancaster for a short spell before returning to the hospital in Maryland for surgery on February 2. I really don’t know for sure when I will be returning to my crooked Brooklyn apartment, but I hope and pray to be back and in good health soon. And I might even get some interesting blog info…discussions of hospital food, tips on how not to lose ones mind during extensive hospital stays, and what brain surgery is like…I also hope to be posting portions of my paper on the development of Jewish liturgical music, so stay tuned for an interesting and random start to 2018!



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Mennonite Choir Music

My last post was on Jewish Liturgical Music, so I thought this week I would switch things up and give you some good post-thanksgiving Mennonite Choir music. This piece was composed by Anabaptist composer Lyle Stutzman. Check out more of his music at blueskymusic.net


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