Music is magical. We can’t see it, touch it, smell it or taste it. We can hear it and magically it can transform our mood and take us to other places in our imagination. We all know about love songs (a billion), break-up songs (2 billion), songs of tribute (“Starry Night” about Vincent Van Gogh) and patriotic songs (“La Marseillaise”and “HaTikvah”). All our secrets can be unearthed (“Killing Me Softly”) and raw emotion can be exposed (Stravinsky’s compositions).
Music is a beautiful union of art, science, math, and imagination. I remember a friend of mine- a physicist- being amazed and unbelieving when I told him I loved music. “How is that possible? ” he asked. “You’re an artsy.” I was really surprised by that comment because I had always thought that music was art and emotion. That was when I found out that there is a close relationship between science and music.
Music is an integral part of joyous Judaism. In the Torah portion B’Shalach we read “The Song of the Sea”. It is Moses’ song of praise to God that was sung after the Israelites safely crossed the Red (or Reed) Sea, and were saved from the angry Egyptian army. The women, led by the prophet Miriam, sang and danced and made music on their “tof”, a handheld drum. There is a beautiful painting of the women led by Miriam playing their drums in The Golden Haggadah, and another lovely rendition in The Sarajevo Haggadah.
This Bible reading describing the escape into the desert, across the sea, and the ultimate Song of the Sea is paired with an adventure story in the Book of Judges. Led by the prophet Devorah the Israelites won a battle against Sisera’s Army. A woman named Yael completed the defeat by killing Sisera. Devorah then sang a song of praise about the triumph and Yael’s conquest.
When we are happy, when we are sad, when we want to remember or forget, when we want to meditate or pray, be left alone or celebrate with others we often turn to music. Because it is a comforting, joyous and spiritual medium the most beautiful parts of prayer are often paired with music. The painting at the top of the page shows biblical instruments mentioned in “psoukei d’zimra”, prayers we say in the morning.
On this Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song, pay attention to the songs and music composed by Moses, Miriam, and the prophetess-judge Devorah. Enjoy the art, the sounds, and the music around you and have a Shabbat Shalom.
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This year is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. For the past 35 years Toronto has hosted “Holocaust Education Week”- a week of lectures, performances, and discussions. Some of the presentations are given by survivors of the Holocaust- Jews who survived unimaginable misery- persecution, labour camps, death marches, death camps, and witnessed the murders/ executions of friends family and neighbours.
This year’s theme is “Liberation: Aftermath & Rebirth”. The title is promising, after all rebirth is something positive. However the pain and trauma continues even when there is rebirth.
The presentations have been extraordinary. (for the list of programmes go to http://holocaustcentre.com/HEW) On Wednesday night, November 4, I attended a panel discussion entitled, “Holocaust Legacies: Born in Bergen -Belsen”. The four panelists, all of whom are Jewish, were born either in Bergen Belsen before the liberation or in the Bergen Belsen DP Camp (Displaced Persons Camp) after the liberation. They immigrated to Canada as small children. At the presentation they shared their experiences of being raised by parents traumatized by the Holocaust.
photograph of young children at the Bergen Belsen DP camp, from the JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee archives. http://archives.jdc.org/history-of-jdc/?s=archivestopnav
Their parents didn’t have families to support them emotionally. They had to process their trauma by themselves without guidance or mentors. It wasn’t until the very public Eichmann trial in 1961 (http://remember.org/eichmann/intro ) that the extent of the Nazi atrocities became public knowledge. Until the trial survivors usually kept their stories to themselves. Often the stories were too atrocious to be believed or the survivors couldn’t bear to tell their stories. Although the blanket of silence was lifted by the trial in 1961, a majority of survivors continued to keep their pain and scars secret, causing emotional hardship for themselves and their children.
In a film clip shown at the lecture one “Bergen Belsen baby” related how people don’t understand the depth of horror of the Shoah (Holocaust). People say, “There have been other genocides and mass murders- Hiroshima, Rwanda, Cambodia, and more…” Pondering the difference between those genocides and the Shoah are clear. The Shoah was the only genocide that was carefully planned to be the international destruction of an entire religion. It was the only genocide that degraded people to the level of a commodity to be killed and resold- reusing the clothing of victims, using hair as cushion stuffing, bones as soap, skin as lampshades, human beings as science experiments. Unbelievable, yet that was the depth of the depravity.
HEW is an amazing and important programme. We are given the opportunity to hear stories and witness history. We see before us heroism, strength, courage, optimism and growth.
With the cruelty being enacted in the world around us we can learn from the victories of those who survived. The lesson is: be strong. Do good things. Don’t stand idly by. And I think we also have to endeavour to look at the world and see the beauty around us every day.
And this is one of the best times of the year to enjoy the beauty around us.
Have a Shabbat Shalom and remember to appreciate your family, friends, freedom and the beauty of nature.
Elul and August are interesting, almost “limbo” or liminal months. August heralds the ending of summer, freedom for children, outdoor meals. It is the entry to autumn and responsibility. Elul follows the serious month of Av and is accompanied by the haftarot of consolation. Elul is the precursor to Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur- days of self reflection and repentance.
But what about joy? My lovely cousin Gwen shared the idea of bringing joy to each day of Elul. I found joy among the weeds.
Rose Hips by Laya Crust
I am lucky enough to live a five minute walk from a beautiful ravine. As I walked there this week I looked around at all the tiny bursts of colour we tend to overlook as we walk.
The first amazing sight was a mullein. It is a weed that has grown to about 2 1/2 meters- about 8 feet high!
So many lovely flowers- how many can you name?
Walking through the woods seeing weeds, flowers, thistles, berries, seed pods and brilliantly coloured leaves was its own holiday. If we look around and notice the nature around us we can leave our worries behind for a few minutes and feel joy. Being outside with these natural things- whether we are downtown or on a trail surrounded by trees and bushes we can feel the sun or rain or breeze and allow ourselves to abandon seriousness for moments of peace of mind.
Go ahead and do it! Bring joy to each day of Elul! Hug a tree, smell a flower, or pick up a pretty leaf.
And let me know if you recognize all the flower/weed photos I took.
Numbers: ch 8- ch 12 Zechariah: ch 2:14 – 4:7 Zechariah was a prophet in Jerusalem around the year 520 BCE. The Jews had been exiled to Babylon but under King Cyrus were allowed to return to Jerusalem. Zechariah and Haggai encouraged the people to stop being so despondent and start rebuilding their destroyed temple.
Zechariah by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel
This haftarah is replete with angels- angels talking to Joshua and angels talking to and waking Zechariah. Zechariah tells the angel that he has had a vision of a golden menorah flanked by two olive trees. A bowl above the menorah has seven pipes funneling olive oil to the menorah. When the angel realizes that Zechariah doesn’t understand the symbolism of the vision he explains that the trees represent the leadership of Joshua and Zerubbabel in building the Second Temple. The angel says, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” meaning that the reestablishment of the Jewish people will come through faith, not war.
Cervera, Spain, c. 1300
My illustration at the top was based on this beautiful manuscript painting from Spain, with the menorah panted in gold leaf. The menorah was a central fixture in the Temple and was lit by the Kohanim. The wicks of the menorah were arranged to shed light in one flame. That light can be seen as the light we bring to the world.
Interestingly, is is the menorah that is the symbol of Judaism and the emblem of the State of Israel.
On that thought , may you have an illuminated week and weekend, full of flaming conversation and bright ideas.
The prophet Ezekiel was unique (to say the least) with incredible visions and amazing conversations with Gd.
On the second day of the holiday of Shavuot we read a section where the prophet Ezekiel describes a fantastic vision. “And I looked, and behold, a storm wind came out of the north, a great and a fire flaring up, and a brightness was about it. And out of the midst of it, as it were, the colour of electrum, out of the midst of the fire.”
Wow! What a vision! After that Ezekiel describes four living creatures, each of whom have four heads. One is a man, one a lion, one an ox, and the fourth an eagle. These beings not only have faces, legs, hooves and wings, they propel themselves on elaborate wheels within wheels.
The holiday of Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Ezekiel’s vision parallels the scene on Mount Sinai.
art by Laya Crust
It was a cataclysmic event with flames encircling the mountain, and lightning and thunder in the air. The description of “Revelation” doesn’t include a four headed being, but that description encompasses different types of strength and humanity. This text gives a different perspective to the wonder and amazement the people at the mountain must have experienced that day.
The text is so fabulous that it has also been immortalized in song. The link below is a real treat- a rendition of “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel” by the Charioteers. They sang together from 1930 – 1957. I’ve also added a link to the same tune sung by Woodie Guthrie.
Music is magical. We can’t see it, touch it, smell it or taste it. We can hear it and magically it can transform our mood and take us to other places in our imagination. We all know about love songs (a billion), break-up songs (2 billion), songs of tribute (Starry Night about Vincent Van Gogh) and patriotic songs (Le Marseillaise). All our secrets can be unearthed (Killing Me Softly) and raw emotion can exposed (Stravinsky).
It is a beautiful union of art, science, math and imagination. I remember a friend of mine- a physicist- being amazed and unbelieving when I told him I loved music. “How is that possible? ” he asked. “You’re an artsy.” I was really surprised by that comment because I had always thought that music was art and emotion. And then I found out the close relationship between science and music. I’ve been working on a new composition (visual, not musical) for an engineer (physics, not train). Because he is, from what I can tell, equally music and science oriented I wanted to merge the two fields in my painting. My intention is to merge the spectrum of tone, the measure of the notes and the background ordering of the staff. Here is a draft of my ideas:
Music is an integral part of joyous Judaism. In the Torah portion B’shalach we read “The Song of the Sea”. It is Moses’ song of praise to God that was sung after the Israelites safely crossed the Red (or Reed) Sea, and were saved from the angry Egyptian army. The women, led by the prophet Miriam, sang and danced and made music on their tof, a hand held drum. There is a beautiful painting of the women led by Miriam playing their drums in The Golden Haggadah, and another lovely rendition in The Sarajevo Haggadah.
This Bible reading describing the escape into the desert, across the sea, and the ultimate Song of the Sea is paired with an adventure story in the Book of Judges. Led by the prophet Devorah the Israelites win a battle against Sisera’s Army. A woman named Yael completes the defeat by killing Sisera. Devorah then sings a song of praise about the triumph and Yael’s conquest.
The painting here shows biblical instruments mentioned in prayers we say in the morning.
When we are happy, when we are sad, when we want to remember or forget, when we want to meditate or pray, be left alone or celebrate with others we often turn to music. Because it is a comforting, joyous and spiritual medium the most beautiful parts of prayer are often paired with music.
So enjoy the art, the sounds, and the music around you.
Shabbat Shalom, Laya
I would love it if you would share your thoughts or stories about music. Even if it’s lyrics to ballads by cowboys, the loneliest lyrics in the world.
Artist in Residence, The Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Textiles, Toronto
Ezekiel was a prophet who was exiled to Babylon around 597 BCE. It was Ezekiel who had the Vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones and who put two branches together to indicate that the two kingdoms of Judah and Joseph (the Northern Kingdom of Israel) would be united. His leadership and message of personal responsibility helped keep the Jews unified while in exile.
In this haftarah Ezekiel, living in Chaldea, warned the Jews not to ally themselves with Egypt against Babylon. Under Nebuchadnezzar’s rule it seemed that the Jews were allowed their own houses and lands and their own internal government. Ezekiel wanted to ensure that the Jews didn’t forget God and their traditions. But he did not want them to ally themselves with the Egyptians- because the Egyptians would be slaughtered.
The haftarah painting above parallels the parsha. In the parsha Moses brought down plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Blood, frogs, lice, flies, cattle disease and hail all “attacked” the Egyptians. In the haftarah Ezekiel likened Pharaoh to a “tanin” (alligator? dragon?). God said He would pull the “tanin” out of the Nile with hooks. The land of Egypt would become desolate as would the Nile. Rather than Egypt conquer Babylon, Babylon would decimate Egypt.
The haftarah and parsha are each about enslavement and the Jewish people not being in their own land. Jacob and his family went down to Egypt looking for a better life and ended up enslaved. The Jews in Israel were exiled to Babylon where they made as good a life as possible yet longed for return to Jerusalem.
I just came back from New York where I saw industry and construction all around me.
photographs by Laya Crust
The symmetry of the structures and the patterns they create can be hypnotic. Everything seems busy- even the scaffolding. For centuries people have been leaving other countries and continents for New York. Sometimes people go because they want an easier life, a more affluent life, or an adventure. Others are fleeing persecution, discrimination or poverty. Just as in our Torah and haftarah reading, it’s easy to slide into a new environment and begin leaving our religion and beliefs behind. Fortunately there are always special individuals who remind us of our roots and ideals.
This is an Aaron HaKodesh door designed for a family that lives in Manhattan. The Aaron HaKodesh was built to hold an ancient Torah scroll given by his grandfather to the father when he became BarMitzvah. I designed this door to express the fdamily’s joy of Judaism. The way they express their joy is through a warmth and openess to others, Jewish observance, love of Israel and kindness to those around them. These actions ensure Judaism continues- one of this week’s Torah themes. Our readings this week are about conviction, continuity in the face of difficulty, and faith in God and His promise to never abandon us.
You can enlarge the images by clicking on them. Have a Shabbat Shalom, and enjoy this week’s exciting adventures in the Torah!
Artisit in Residence for https://pomegranateguild.wordpress.com/