Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Cantorial Music Catching On

Yitzchok Helfgot

Cantor Helfgot was born in Tel Aviv, Israel. At the very young age of five, after hearing Moshe Koussevitzky's recording of "Akavia Ben Mehallel" Yitzchok Meir knew what his life calling was to be.

At age eight, Cantor Helfgot recorded his first works. He spent the majority of his childhood and teenage years studying voice and Nussach (The Art Of Prayer). He married at the age of twenty. At age 23, Cantor Helfgot held his first concert, he performed three great works, Zilbert's "Mimkomcha", Kwartin's "Tiher Yishmael" and Rosenblatt's "Ad Hena", all of which were masterfully executed, not to mention extremely well received by those in attendance.

It was at this point the world began to realize it had been given a gift from above in Cantor Helfgot, a reincarnation of cantors Rosenblatt, Koussevitzky and Kwartin rolled in to one. Truly living up to his name Helfgot, which is defined as someone who helps G-d, he accomplishes this with his golden voice.

The first position formally held by Cantor Helfgot was at "The Great Synagogue" of Bat Yam, Israel. At 26, Cantor Helfgot was called to be the Head Cantor of "The Central Synagogue" in Frankfurt, Germany where he spent five years until he was recruited to be the Cantor at "The Shule" in Bal Harbor, FL.

Cantor Helfgot regularly appears for Shabbatot around the world where he routinely draws record crowds. Leading the way in the revival of Liturgical Music, Cantor Helfgot has given concerts, spanning six continents. He is currently booked for Shabbosim and concerts through the Spring of 2005. His most recent recording, entitled "Borchi Nafshi“ - Bless O My Soul" has broken Jewish recording sales records. A new album has just been released, "Habeit Mishamayim".

Cantor Helfgot resides in Israel with his wife and six children.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Nostra Aetate / Debru Emet

Conference recalls historic Vatican document.

Jews and Catholics must continue with interfaith dialogue and educate their co-religionists on their historic rapprochement that began a scant 40 years ago, a day-long conference at the University of Toronto heard last week.

After nearly two millennia of hatred, oppression, vilification and annihilation of Jews by Catholics, the last four decades of reconciliation are "just the beginning of the beginning," and there’s much work to be done, more than 100 Christian and Jewish participants heard at last Thursday’s seminar, which marked the 40th anniversary of a landmark Vatican document that laid the foundation for the Catholic Church’s improved relations with non-Christians, especially Jews.

Nostra Aetate, (Latin for "In Our Time"), issued by the historic Second Vatican Council on Oct. 28, 1965, represented a turning point for the Church. The document deplored Christian anti-Semitism, stated that God’s covenant with Jews is irrevocable, and repudiated the age-old deicide charge that blamed Jews for the death of Jesus.

Another major achievement of Nostra Aetate has been that Catholics no longer missionize to Jews and have abandoned the notion that Judaism is a failed religion that has been replaced by Christianity. Christianity has not replaced Judaism, but improved it.

In 2000, scholars produced Dabru Emet ("Speak the Truth"), a Jewish response to Nostra Aetate that suggested Jews should view Christians in a better light. Many Jews, he said are "unaware" of the respect and friendship for them that Nostra Aetate produced. "For that, we need education."

Opening the archives "will remove suspicions and contribute to a more mature understanding," he said, but he didn’t indicate when or if that would happen.

While Jews and Catholics disagree on who is the messiah, what unites them is the shared belief "in an unredeemed world that needs a messiah," Cardinal Cassidy said.

A gloomier picture was painted by the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, who said that Catholics tend to regard Jews "like a beautiful piece of silver on a shelf to be shown to guests, but not as a vibrant religious people that has a mission and strength."

The two faiths have had 40 years to implement mutual respect, but Rabbi Di said he can’t agree that "the era of suspicion is finished."

Adapted from an article by Ron Csillag staff reporter to the Canadian Jewish News

Hebron Massacre 1929

Hebron preceded Jerusalem as Israel's first capital under King David.

The year 1929 dealt a heavy blow to the Jewish settlement with the killing of many of Hebron's Jews by Arab rioters. The assault was well planned and its aim was well defined: the elimination of the Jewish settlement of Hebron. The rioters did not spare women, children, or the aged; the British remained passive. Sixty-seven were killed, 60 wounded, the community was destroyed, synagogues razed, and Torah scrolls burned. However, those who remained did not surrender and 35 families went to resettle in 1931. The community slowly began to rebuild itself, but everything was again destroyed in the upheavals of 1936. On the night of April 23, 1936, the British authorities evacuated the Jewish inhabitants of Hebron. The Jewish settlement of Hebron thus ended and only one inhabitant remained there until 1947.

After 1948. In 1948 Hebron was incorporated into the kingdom of Jordan. It was captured by the Israel army in the Six-Day War of June 1967, and Jews again returned to visit Hebron. The old Jewish quarter was found destroyed and the Jewish cemetery almost obliterated.
According to the 1967 census, conducted by Israel, Hebron had 38,309 inhabitants, all of whom (excepting 106 Christians) were Muslim. Hebron has a smaller percentage of Palestinian Arab refugees than most other places of the West Bank.

Rabbi Meir Kahane

The Jewish Defense League is the most controversial and effective Jewish identity, human rights, and activist organization. Founded in 1968 by Rabbi Meir Kahane, HY"D, the JDL has been responsible for confronting the all too real dangers presented by the white supremacy, neo-nazi, and fifth column movements in the United States and elsewhere.

The JDL works tirelessly to expose and defeat anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred, while building Jewish pride, self-confidence, and power in our People. The JDL continues to stress the absolute necessity for Jews to be learned in self-defense techniques of all kinds as though their lives depended on it, and has stood its ground in support of the Second Amendment.

Never Again, the JDL motto, often bumps up against the "mainstream Jewish leadership" attitude that Jews shouldn't make waves or fight back when are under attack. Such an attitude was sold to the Jews of Europe 65 years ago and the result was the murder of the Six Million.

The Jewish Defense League actively confronts the forces of Anti-Semitism, racial hatred, and bigotry, whenever, wherever, and by whatever means necessary within the limits of the law, while fighting for Jewish human rights guaranteed all people under international law and the Chosen People under our Torah.

Larry King interview with Rabbi Meir Kahane

Surfing Rabbi

Rabbi Nachum Shifren is a Southern California native. A disciplined athlete, competitive swimmer, runner and triathlete, he served for 10 years as a Los Angeles County Lifeguard and received a commendation from the Mayor for lifesaving water rescue.

At the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War he became a kibbutz volunteer, and in 1977 emigrated to Israel. Shifren served in the Israeli Defense Forces and received a degree in Combat Fitness Training at the prestigious Machon Wingate Institute for Sports in Netanya, Israel.

Shifren received a Bachelor of Arts degree from UC Santa Barbara in Spanish and German Literature. He continued graduate studies in West Germany at the University of Goettingen. Rabbi Shifren is a language teacher and is fluent in Spanish, German, Hebrew and Yiddish.
Rabbi Shifren attended Toras Chayim Yeshiva in Jerusalem and Yeshivat Tomchei Tmimim in Kfar Chabad, Israel, where he received his rabbinical ordination in 1990.

He has been featured in People magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The Jerusalem Post, GQ magazine, The Jewish Press, Surfer magazine, The Jerusalem Report, as well as Le Figaro, The Manchester Guardian, Sud-Deutsche Zeitung, and other international media. He has appeared on ABC's Good Morning America, CNN, Phil Donohue, NPR radio, JTN, Fox TV, Deutsche Welle TV, Dutch, Spanish and Canadian National TV, KNX Radio, KBRT, and KFI Los Angeles.

He founded Jewish Surfers International and the Surf & Soul newsletter. A movie based on Surfing Rabbi is currently in development.

Rabbi Shifren lives in Los Angeles and Israel. He is actively involved in physical fitness training, surfing and water safety. He continues to publish, lecture and teach and is known worldwide as "The Surfing Rabbi."

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Friday, November 25, 2005

Mississippi Jews

Almost every Friday at about 7:45 p.m., auxiliary police officer Joe Erber calls in "Ten-Six" (or "busy") to his dispatcher. He cruises over to West Market Street on the outskirts of downtown Greenwood, Mississippi, and strides into Ahavath Rayim, the last Orthodox synagogue in the state.

Erber grabs a prayer shawl off the rack, kisses it, and drapes it over his police uniform. Then he makes his way to the pulpit and begins the services: Hebrew with a drawl. For years, Erber has served as the de facto rabbi of Ahavath Rayim, spiritual leader to a once-thriving congregation that has dwindled down to almost nothing.

It's a story that can be found in small communities throughout the South. At the turn of the century, Jewish immigrants poured into towns like Greenwood, seeking relief from the stifling tenement life up North. They arrived as peddlers, saved money, opened up stores. By the 1930s, Jews formed the backbone of the merchant class in hundreds of these towns. Soon after, though, young Jewish people began leaving, opting for the larger cities. By the early 1950s, this small-town Jewish exodus was in full swing. Today, the exodus nearly complete.

Note: For the first time in well over 100 years, it appears there will be no minyan in Greenwood, Mississippi, to celebrate the high holy days in 2001; there are now less than ten Jewish men over the age of thirteen in the area. If you or someone you know can help Congregation Ahavath Rayim make minyan this year, please e-mail Joe Erber at

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

To Be A Torah Jew

A Jew must always ask onesself: When will my actions be of the same caliber of holiness and spirit as those of my forbearers?

Pride in ancestry is necessary and commendable. But if it only remains a matter of pride without advancing the covenant, commitments and goals of those who went before us, then that pride of ancestry is almost worthless. It leads only to assimilation, anonymity and eventually the disappearance of the knowledge of ones own ancestry itself.

All of Jewish history testifies to this truism of Jewish life, both in individual and communal terms.

Excerpt from the writings of Rabbi Berel Wein

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Chassidic Music

A People And Its Music
The Baal Shem Tov
Flies Overhead On Shabbos
The Steven Spielberg
Jewish Film Archive

Chaim Ginott

Our Education Philosophy

The late Chaim Ginott, who was a teacher, principal, as well as a psychologist, wrote the following to his teachers:
Dear Teacher:
I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness:

Gas chambers built by LEARNED engineers,
children poisoned by EDUCATED physicians,
infants killed by TRAINED nurses.
Women and babies shot and buried by HIGH SCHOOL
and COLLEGE graduates.

So, I am suspicious of education.
My request is: Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmans.
Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more humane."

Famous Quote By: Chaim Ginott, Happiness... is not a destination: it is a manner of traveling. Happiness is not an end in itself. It is a by-product of working, playing, loving and living.

Chaim Ginott died at age 51 from cancer in 1973.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Monday Night At Morton's

We are not responsible for the operation of the universe, and what happens to us is not terribly important.

God is real, not a fiction, and when we turn over our lives to Him, he takes far better care of us than we could ever do for ourselves. In a word, we make ourselves sane when we fire ourselves as the directors of the movie of our lives and turn the power over to Him.

I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters. This is my highest and best use as a human.

I can put it another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin....or Martin Mull or Fred Willard--or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of them. But I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and,above all, a good son to the parents who had done so much for me. This came to be my main task in life. I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister's help) I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years. I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him the Psalms.

This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York. I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others He has placed in my path. This is my highest and best use as a human.

Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will.

An excerpt from Ben Stein's last column "Monday Night At Morton's

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Modeh Ani

i thank you God for most this amazing day.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
e. e. Cummings