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Tuesday, 24 February 2015


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David Ziklag

Let's not get too teary-eyed and chocked up about these stories of Jewish chessed to gentiles and the results produced. Colin Powell's ability to speak Yiddish did not help him pass the litmus test of honesty and truth towards the Jews. The litmus test of a person or organization's honesty towards Israel and the Jews is their attitude and response to the travesty of justice known as the Pollard case.Or as HaRav Eliyahu ztvk"l put it, Jonathan Pollard is the key to the redemption of all the Jewish People. Those who stand in the way of justice for Jonathan Pollard are not friends of the Jews, no matter how well they speak, read and write Yiddish or even Hebrew! Actions, not words, are what count.
Love your blog, Rabbi Brody. Keep up the good work! And yashar koach gadol for the Pollard & Captives prayer notice on the bottom right hand side of your blog.


Levi ben Shlomo

I can't let the post go by without the mention of one of my personal heroes, the great stride pianist Willie "The Lion" Smith.

Here is what he sound like...


Here is an excerpt from Jazz critic Nat Hentoff's article about him.


Most startling to me was something about which I had a clue in the 1950s, but stupidly never followed up on. Willie and I had the same internist, and among the displays on this doctor's wall was Willie's business card, written in English and Hebrew. I figured this was Wilie's antic wit at play � perhaps a nod to the Jewish managers, bookers and record executives in the jazz business. Was I wrong!

Willie's mother, Spike Wilner writes, was a laundress, and her son delivered the clean clothes to her customers, including "a prosperous Jewish family that treated Smith as one fo their own," much like the Jewish family in New Orleans that bought a young Louis Armstrong his first horn. Every Saturday, when a rabbi came to the family's home to teach Hebrew classes, Willie was welcomed to join in.

What fascinated Young Willie, Wilner writes, was "the chanting of the rabbi." Reading this, I was a boy again in an Orthodox synagogue in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, in mandatory attendance during the High Holidays. My guess is that the chanting rabbi Willie heard was also a cantor, or chazzan, who sang, often with improvisations, the Jewish prayers.

As I wrote in my memoir "Boston Boy," published by Knopf and Paul Dry Books, the chazzan's voice penetrated so deeply into my very being that I almost shouted aloud, as I did on a Boston street when I first heard jazz. I didn't shout in the shul so not to embarrass my father. But it was this same chrechts - the soul cry of human promise, transcendence and vulnerability - which I later found in the blues, Billie Holiday, Charles, Mingus and John Coltrane, just to name a few of the jazz chazzans I have known.

The rabbi who reached Willie as I had been reached, Spike Wilner continues, "took special pains to teach him alone." At 13 � and I had to stop reading to fully grasp this � Willie Smith "had his bar mitzvah in a Newark synagogue."

Wilner quotes the Lion himself: "A lot of people are unable to understand my wanting to be Jewish. One said to me, ' Lion, you stepped up to the plate with one strike against you � and now you take a second one right down the middle! They can't seem to realize I have a Jewish soul and belong to that faith." (Editor's note: In his 1965 autobiography, Music On My Mind, Smith also states that his birth father, Frank Bertholoff, was Jewish.)

This Lion of Judah actually later became a cantor, or chazzan, himself at a Harlem synagogue of Black Jews!

What I would have given to have heard him there! Although I've been a Jewish atheist since I was twelve, I would have become a member of that congregation. Had there been any objections, I'm certain Rabbi Smith, with the vibrant life force of his stride piano, would have told the objectors to learn the interconnectedness of us all � from music.

He knew � as he once said � "Music doesn't stem from any single race, creed, or locality, it comes from a mixture of all these things. As does The Lion."

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