We are ‘Jewish’ Stardust

By Avraham Rosenblum of the Diaspora Band

On January 4th, 1971, I disembarked from the EL AL Boeing 707 at Lod Airport, suitcase and guitar in hand, in need of a change of scene. What I didn’t expect was the total change of direction I would take from following my dreams as an up-and-coming teen-aged rocker on the Philadelphia (my home town) and New York music scenes. But I need to back-track a little, to mid-August, 1969.

I was driving up the New York Thruway in my little brown Austen-America, heading to Montreal to drop in on some friends. I was running away from two heartaches; breaking up with my high school sweetheart, and my band, Valentine, falling apart. It was a great band. Philadelphia loved us. My girlfriend didn’t ‘get’ me anymore and so we broke up. Missing her gave me some good songs, though.

Somewhere around Yonkers I picked up a hitch-hiker whom I almost immediately poured my heart out to because, well, he dressed like me, had long hair, and had the same goofy sense of humor. As we got ‘goofier’ he asked me if I might want to distract myself at the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, starting the next day near Monticello, NY. I had heard about it but had not planned to go. “Hey, dynamite idea!” I said.

‘By the time we got to Woodstock’

It was still pretty early on that Thursday, the day before the concerts started, when I parked near the festival site, somewhere just below Happy Avenue, one of the roads leading to the sloping, expansive meadow of Max Yasgur’s Farm. Along the upper ridge were the campers, tents, artisans and vendors, where it felt like a medieval village populated mostly by jesters. At the bottom of the meadow stood the huge hand-built stage, and the speaker towers. You could hear a band jamming in a closed rehearsal area. My passenger soon drifted away never to be seen again, and as I waded into the growing sea of happy people who also dressed and talked a lot like me, I got an epiphany that this was going to be a life changing event. “Far out, man!”.. I thought.

I was elated to be part of this new social order. I belonged in it. I had worked hard to forget my origins as a First Generation Yiddish speaking Holocaust Survivors kid from Northeast Philadelphia. My music and this culture were my way out and into the melting pot of America. My band-mates and friends were mostly children or grandchildren of Italian, Irish, and Scottish immigrants. Few were Jews. We were all looking for the same thing. And, me being me, I interpreted my Woodstock experience as spiritual, in the sense that our generation was in search of peace, love, harmony, anti the Vietnam War, and I was very impressed by the well-known turban clad swami who gave the opening benediction. For those few days we all partied, heard some great musicians and bands, and sang, “Come on people now / smile on your brother!/ everybody get together / try to love one another right now!” Peace brother! The swirls of images of ‘Woodstock’ that remain in my mind are proof- to myself – that I was there. Years later I even caught a glimpse of me in an early scene of the movie. See – I really was there!

One thing led to another quickly; the crowd got larger (500,000!), the music more intense, the weather rainier, and my sense of direction- which normally was quite acute – limited to ‘up or down’ mode. On Saturday night, after some hours of searching, I found my car. Six very helpful hippies helped me roll it out of the mud. I clearly remember feeling grateful to ‘someone’ that my guitars and belongings were still there. I was wet, chilled, and hungry, and stupidly determined to continue northward to Quebec even though the hour was getting late. But a few miles up the road I realized that the snaking center line was not a good sign as my head began to hurt and I started to feel feverish. I turned around and ‘somehow’ found Monticello General Hospital where, after a cursory look by a staffer, I was very kindly shown to a chair in the waiting room, in which I fell asleep.

‘My Yiddish Kite’

I awoke as people began to enter the room at 9 AM. I noticed a number of them were “frum” (although in those days I had no clue about Chassidim vs Misnagdim or Sefardic vs Ashkenazic. But I knew my family was from Vilna and that that made me a Litvak). So there I was – my unwashed shoulder length hair, love beads, well-worn denims, and muddy shoes on display, when I caught the glance of one young ‘yeshiva bochur’ whom I instantly greeted:

“Shalom! Vos machts du?” (Peace! How are you?)
“Vos tust’DE doh?”, (What are YOU doing here?) he asked with surprise.
“Ich hob kekumen tzu Woodstock!” (I attended Woodstock!) I answered forthrightly, as if to impress him.
“Un vus host’du gezucht bei Woodstock?” (And what were you looking for at Woodstock?) he asked with some genuine interest.
Switching to English, I said something about finding G-d in the big experience of unity, and not being limited to a synagogue. Unfazed, but needing to fulfill his mission of visiting a sick friend, the yeshiva bochur apologized for not having the time to continue our conversation and wrote down a phone number and address on a piece of notepaper which he handed to me while recommending “If you’re really looking for G-d and spirituality check this out. Shalom. Zei Gezundt!” (Be well!)

I did continue looking for G-d for the next year – in a small Jewish-Buddhist-Christian cult and through the Timothy Leary – ‘Doors of Perception’ method, while writing and performing songs written in that vein. But by September of 1970, when my last American band, Freehand, was getting good reviews in New York at the most notable Village Gate, in Greenwich Village, I was a mess and felt lost. I quit the band and within a month I reluctantly went home to my family back in Northeast Philadelphia. They were actually quite glad to see me. But the family dog, Dolly, was not happy to meet my cat, Thumb, who disappeared soon after.

I had one last encounter with possible fame that December, when a show business contact personally introduced me to legendary songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (“On Broadway” and more) who took an interest in me for their new record label.

‘A Greener in a Green Land’

Well, I actually took that trip to Israel in 1971 with my mother, Edith, Aleha Ha’Shalom, and my Aunt Helene, Aleha Ha’Shalom. The family thought it would be good for me to get away from ‘everything’ and I decided that taking a break to see some of the world couldn’t hurt before I resumed my career. I called Barry and Cynthia to postpone my test sessions in New York for few weeks, which they were OK with.

When we landed all I could think was how green and fresh everything looked. It was in fact a brand new country – only 23 years old! I was 20. Something began to stir. I was excited to be there. Why? I wasn’t observant. I hadn’t gone to synagogue in years. What could it mean? I did try to volunteer to go to Israel in 1967, during the Six Day War. I was only 16 so the consulate rejected me. That was it. I also went to my Godmother’s funeral around that time too. That was Jewish, but.. Yes, I was feeling all kinds of feelings, seeing things I didn’t expect to see, asking all kinds of questions, and hearing the sounds of bubbles frequently bursting.

One afternoon as I walked along Rehov Allenby near our hotel, I noticed another guy carrying a guitar case. He looked American, the case looked like it might be carrying a quality instrument, and so I flagged him down. I was right on both counts, and soon Sam from Chicago and Allen (my English name) were jamming our way across Israel on buses, at Hebrew University Campus, and one cloudy but enlightening afternoon in the back of an Old City Arab smoke-shop, where we got “hookahed up” and played some good ole boy country music for the un-country-like, loose garbed patrons – and they loved it! From there, Sam led me to my first encounter with The Wailing Wall (which of course I now only know as The Kotel HaMaaravi) and a rabbi who had me put on Tefillin for the first time since my Bar Mitzvah. The sounds of Hebrew prayer all around me woke something up, and as the rabbi attempted to coach me in reading the blessings, my mouth had already formed the words – that flowed sweetly out across my tongue: “Shema Yisrael / Ado-Shem Elokeinu /Ado-Shem Echad…”

Just like that. What a long, strange trip it had been.

End of Part 1.

It’s All in the Details

By Azriela Jaffe

The difference of just two words can make all the difference. I learned that today.

I’m the college professor of English, journalism, and public speaking for Yeshiva at IDT, a yeshiva program for bochurim who learn Gemara in the Beis Midrash in the morning, and earn a bachelor’s degree in the afternoon. I travel two days a week from my home in Highland Park to the IDT building in Newark, NJ, which is a 90-minute journey each way.

Since I don’t have a parking pass, and you have to wait till someone dies to get one (or you have a very good friend you can borrow one from), I park my car about a half-mile away from the station where it’s legal to park, and walk to the station, toting my overstuffed briefcase and dreaming of parking passes the whole way.

My good friend, Vicky Krief, works for IDT. She is the fortunate holder of the coveted parking pass, so she is able to park in the train station. If I’m lucky enough to be on the same train as her coming home from classes (which happens often), she gives me a lift to my parked car, saving me the walk when it’s cold, dark, and my feet hurt from teaching all afternoon.

Earlier today, Vicky asked me if I would be at work, and I replied that I would be, and I hoped to see her on the train, unless I caught the one before, which sometimes happens. She replied that I should wait for her because she had THE CAR. I figured that from her point of view, it was worth delaying my departure a few minutes so that I’d have the advantage of her giving me a lift from the train station.

At the end of my class period I got an email from Vicky asking if I was leaving and I replied ‘yes’, and shut down my computer and packed up to go. I walked outside and waited in the usual spot for the Light Rail that shuttles me to the Newark Train station. No Vicky, as I was expecting. I boarded the train, and then my cell phone rang. It was Vicky asking me where I was. “On the train, where are you?” I replied. She answered, “I’m waiting for you! I told you I have THE CAR. I’m in the parking lot!”

Oh, she had the car. At IDT. It never occurred to me that this is what she meant. Creature of habit, I just presumed it was the usual ‘I have the car in the train parking lot.’ Likewise, it didn’t dawn on Vicky that she had to spell it out anymore than telling me that she had the car. Wasn’t it clear to me what “I have the car” means?

As I’m on the train, Vicky is texting me over and over again, first with apologies for the miscommunication, and then with general chattiness and I’m getting really worried. I stop texting her back because I don’t want to encourage this dangerous habit, as I visualize her negotiating the highway with her blackberry on her lap, poking at the keyboard while she drives. My absence from texting only serves to fuel Vicky’s concern further that she has upset me by leaving me on the train and not giving me the opportunity for a ride home. She continues texting. Finally I spell it out. “Don’t text me while driving. It’s okay. I’m fine with the train.”

To which she texts back: “I’m not driving. Nachum ( another friend of ours who also works for IDT who understood he was driving home with Vicky) was actually driving her car home while she was texting me. I felt much better and we chatted by text all the way home, her in the car, and me in the train. I got out of the train and began my long walk to my car, and a few blocks away, there were Nachum and Vicky waiting for me in her car – so that she could give me a lift to my car from the train station, per usual. Now, that’s a really good friend.

And so, today it struck me in a visceral way why Hashem in all His wisdom, gave us the oral law. “When I instructed you to bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be totafos between your eyes, let me tell you what I really meant by that. . .

Vicky and I only had the written communication; we needed the oral as well. ‘I have THE CAR.’ What exactly does that mean?

Voting Closes Tomorrow!! Help Make A $100,000.00 Dream Come True

Please vote if you haven’t already.

My daughters are fans of Yaldah Magazine. It is a magazine for Jewish girls created, written and edited by Jewish girls. Leah Larson, who started and runs Yaldah is a finalist in Wells Fargo’s “Someday Stories” contest and she is running neck and neck to win the grand prize of $100,000.00.

Take a look at the video here; Our contestant is Evelyn from MA.

And then vote for Evelyn from MA ;(Leah’s mom) to help make Leah’s dream come true.

Hat tip: Ezzie

The Great Fruity Pebbles Fiasco

By Chaya Linn

Act I –

I’m doing laundry, the day before Pesach.
Kim’s got stupid songs playing,
Take me home, country road…
Sorry about that.
Now you’re humming it, aren’t you?
She likes it, though.
She’s dancing all around as she folds laundry.

Act II

I lost it totally tonight.
I leave for one hour to do a massage with Devorah,
I come home.
The chametz has broken out.
My son is eating life cereal at the table
An entire box of Fruity Pebbles is spilled in the pantry.
And then someone (I won’t say who)
Kicks a bag of flour,
A fine layer of chumutz dust
On everything.
My husband starts announcing
That our home will not be
Kosher for Pesach
And therefore we will not be eating any meal
In our kitchen for the entire Pesach.
And me going,
Chaim, you will kosher my kitchen back to Pesach
Right Now.
And he did.
Until one in the morning.
I make it as miserable as I possibly can for him-
Saying over and over maybe 40 times:
Are we clear, now?
There is no more chumutz, ok?
So no more sneaking around looking
For a sugar fix, right? Ok?
Right? Do we have that straight?
Good, then it’s clear now.
Then I repeat the whole thing.
I had my husband climbing the walls to get away from me.
Sorry, but that’s what I did.


Man, you really crave something crunchy
Those few days before Pesach.

The Man Chasing the Chicken (A True Story)

On my way home from synagogue last week, I stumbled across a most humorous sight.

Here I am, living in an up-to-date city in Israel, a city comprised of many Americans who work in the high tech field and I see a small crowd of people (mainly Americans) gathered around an electric generator building talking about a chicken. When I look closer, I see a chicken running around the building. I inquire as to whom the chicken belongs and I am informed that a Russian couple living around the corner keeps him and he obviously escaped.

There is my neighbor, American born sopher (torah scribe) chasing the chicken, trying to catch it to return it to its yard. The sopher thought up a plan. Send his little daughter around the small fenced-in building to chase the chicken towards him and then he’ll catch it. That chicken knew how to run.

Its little things like this that make me laugh and say, only in Israel would such a scene happen and Baruch Hashem I live here.

I went on my way, plugged in my palm pilot, turned on my cell phone and rejoined the 21st century. I hope they caught that chicken……

From “Another Brick in the Wall” to My Wall

In our home, there are two canvas framed photographs on opposite sides of the rear dining room wall. The one on the left depicts the famous archway in Tsfas (where everyone takes pictures) near the Alshich shul. Woven through the picture by way of superimposition is the blue wall of Tsfas. The photograph on the right shows hagbah (the lifting of the torah) at Meiron. This picture also has the wall of Tsfas woven through by way of superimposition. Both pictures are the work of Yaacov Kaszemacher.

I first met Yaacov more than twenty years ago on my first trip to Israel. I wasn’t frum at the time and I was just a teenager but something about Yaacov stuck with me. Maybe it was his French accented English. Maybe it was his psychedelic, colorful artwork. More likely it was his brilliant, warm smile.

Yaacov was born and raised in what he calls a completely secular home in post-war France. He quickly fell in with the poets, artists and intellectuals in the Parisian neighborhood of St. Germain des Presand, frequented by such luminaries as Jean Paul Sartre. Yaacov, then Jacques, would likely have been considered part and parcel of the beat generation and then later perhaps a hippie flower child.
Read more From “Another Brick in the Wall” to My Wall

Maybe G-d Wants Me to Have a Hummer

A few months back, on the way to work, my car started overheating big time. I pulled off the highway and into the closest service station. Since I had a meeting to attend, I called my assistant to pick me up and left the car at the shop. A few hours later, I received that dreaded call; a blown head gasket. That basically meant that I needed a new engine, not an inexpensive proposition. (I have, figuratively, blown a gasket in the past but never realized how expensive it could be!) I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to spring for a new engine since I had just replaced it aproximately a year earlier. So, I have been renting a car and mulling over the decision. Just a few days ago, I decided I should go for the new engine but I hadn’t yet dropped the car off at the mechanic.

This past Friday morning, shortly after arriving at shul, my cell phone buzzed. Now, I’m usually pretty good about ignoring my cell phone in shul. But, I saw that it was my home number and my wife knew that I had just arrived at shul so I thought perhaps it was an emergency. (One of my kids was home with a stomache virus as well)
Read more Maybe G-d Wants Me to Have a Hummer

American Holidays – Thanksgiving Survival Guide, really short version

For the last several years I have not had to face being around my family during any of the chagim because I had lived in Israel. Saying no to attending family holidays, for many people it is an extremely difficult burden to face. How do you say no when it is family? But how can you say yes to the Pesach Family Seder that lasts about 15 minutes and the Rosh Hashanah Meal both First and Second Night that isn’t kosher or Sukkot Chol Hamoed Lunch that isn’t in a Sukkah even when it isn’t raining. It is so hard because we love our family and we bend over backwards not wanting to alienate them from frumkite, chas v’shalom. But lets face it…knowing that the chagim are all about our relationship with HaKadosh Baruch-Hu and we just can’t get “there” to the loftiest of places in a home where there isn’t Kiddusha…or at least the brand of Kiddusha we need especially on a Yom Tov.
Read more American Holidays – Thanksgiving Survival Guide, really short version