Friday, June 30, 2006

Cats and Greenery

First, some downtown greenery (there are even some cats in the foreground:

Downtown street

Now for the cats. For your delectation, Missy and Her Ladyship in the garden:

Missy and Her Ladyship

Missy samples a plant:

Missy samples a plant

Her Ladyship’s furry belly, with paw:

Her Ladyship’s belly, with paw

A balance of cats in the garden:

Garden cats

Catch this week’s Friday Ark up at The Modulator. The Carnival of the Cats will be up at Watermark on Sunday.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Just a Small Technical Note

Salamone Rossi was an Italian Jewish composer and musician who lived during the Renaissance. You can find out more about him here.

I first made the acquaintance of Rossi’s music last Hanukkah, when I sang one of his choral pieces during a benefit performance for a local synagogue. Well, “made the acquaintance of” is putting it a bit mildly. I was instantly blown away by this fantastic music and deeply regretted not having discovered it much earlier in my life.

So, some time later, I sent away for some CDs of Salamone Rossi’s choral synagogue music. They arrived a few days ago, and I have been listening ecstatically ever since. For those who are interested, it’s both volumes of The Songs of Solomon: Music for the Sabbath and Holiday and Festival Music. (Rossi also wrote secular music in his native Italian, which I hope to get for myself soon as well.)

But that’s not the real reason I’m writing this post.

As soon as I removed the plastic wrapping from the first CD and opened it, the following text leaped out at me from the disc:

NOTE: For optimum playback, the listening level should be adjusted so that the first 10 seconds of track 1 have an average sound pressure of 80 dB SPL A-weighted, and a peak sound pressure level of 84 dB SPL A-weighted, measured from the listening position.

This kind of remark doesn’t appear on most CDs I’ve seen. Intrigued, I opened the booklet and found an entire section of technical information, including a list of every microphone and other piece of equipment that had been used to create the CD. And as I scanned all this technical data, barely able to understand what I was reading, I closed my eyes for a moment and smiled to myself. Ray would have gotten an enormous kick out of seeing this, I thought. He would have been delighted.

You see, Ray didn’t just know about sound. Ray knew sound. I could swear that the man could see sound waves right in front of him as easily as I can see my alarm clock in the morning. He also spoke its language. As I typed the technical note above, I felt like I was copying words from an ancient and foreign tongue. But Ray was right at home in it—and he could easily translate it into a language that laypeople could understand. And his translations were always generous and gracious and fun.

In my mind’s eye, I can see what Ray would have done if I could have shown him the CDs. He would have listened to them from start to finish, figuring out which recording techniques had been used without needing even a glance at the booklet. With his amazing sense of sound, he probably would have been able to tell where each individual singer had stood in relation to the microphone. Then he would have suggested techniques of his own. And based on what I know of Ray’s work—far too little, to my everlasting regret, but enough to appreciate how amazing it was—it’s likely that his techniques would have been even better.

Come to think of it, Salamone Rossi and Ray had quite a few things in common. Both were Renaissance men (even if one of them lived during the actual Renaissance while the other lived several hundred years later), of Italian descent, independent thinkers, excellent composers and musicians and very much ahead of their time. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that my CDs of Rossi’s music arrived right around the time of Ray’s birthday, just a few days ago.

And if it wasn’t a coincidence, then perhaps I can let myself believe that maybe, just maybe, all that technical information on the CD, which for me might as well be ancient Greek, was in fact the briefest flash of a wink and a grin from the Other Side.

(Visit Ray’s website, and check out his albums, With the Help of Angels and Poor Working Slob, at CD Baby.)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Tale of Two E-Mail Lists

There are several community-based e-mail lists in Jerusalem. One, which I will call List A, is a large city-wide list with at least one thousand members. Another, which I will call List B, comprises several neighborhoods and contains only several hundred members. The stated purpose of these lists is to allow their members to advertise goods and services and share pertinent information. Until recently, I was a member of both.

Several days ago, a message appeared on List A calling upon people to pressure government officials to cancel the World Pride event, which is scheduled to take place in Jerusalem later this year. The message included some offensive and disparaging language. I was amazed to see such a post on List A, since its moderators make a conscious effort to keep it free of politics and controversial topics. So I wrote to them to protest. It turns out that I was not alone: quite a few list members had written to say that such a message has no place on a purely informational list that is open to everyone regardless of their religious beliefs, political preference or sexual orientation.

The moderators of List A responded admirably, promptly deleting the offending message from the archives and issuing an apology. They also offered to help people on both sides of the issue to start their own dedicated e-mail lists, for and against the event, in order to satisfy their desire for self-expression while keeping List A free of controversy.

List B, which is much smaller than List A, is also meant to be an informational, non-political list. So when a similar message appeared there recently, I wrote another letter of protest. (Afterward, two people wrote to me off-list to say “Right on!”) The following day, the same person who had sent the first message to List B sent another, stronger one calling upon people to send protest faxes to government officials. The second message suggested several talking points for use in these faxes, one of which read as follows: “The police would cancel the parade if they thought they could not protect it properly.”

If they thought they could not protect it properly. That phrase set off alarm bells in my mind. Just how does one convince the leaders of a democratic country’s police force—one that has decades of experience dealing with terrorists, to boot—that they cannot protect a civilian event properly?

Why, by violence, of course, either actual or threatened. How else?

I wondered whether the ones behind this message remembered that last year, a man stabbed three people at the Pride Parade downtown. That man is now serving a twelve-year prison term. Oh, and the joke’s on him: the man he stabbed was not even gay.

Feeling that threats of violence—and actual instances of bloodshed—are much worse forms of sacrilege than the most flamboyant parade, I wrote another, stronger letter of protest. As a result, I was kicked off the list without warning or explanation.

I felt a bit disappointed, but not surprised.

Thank goodness for List A, whose moderators are menshes. As for List B: good riddance.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Kitty in a Tree

This cat and this tree have been together for quite some time. I see them frequently when I leave work at the end of the day.

Kitty in a tree

Kitty, kitty in the tree,
What secrets do you have for me?

(Check out today’s Friday Ark at The Modulator. This week’s Carnival of the Cats will be at Pets Garden Blog on Sunday.)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Bloodless Fight Scene, Finally

No actors were harmed in tonight’s performance, thank goodness.

Last night we had another injury: the same cast member who, during the final fight scene several days ago, had gotten a cut on his finger that required several stitches, injured his head during last night’s fight scene. Fortunately it was a minor injury, though bloody; he got medical treatment and now he’s fine. Tonight, the entire cast watched the fight scene silently from the wings, hoping and praying that this time it would go well and there would not be any injuries or blood. To our relief and joy, the scene went smoothly and bloodlessly.

Our only casualty this evening was a sword, which broke while the two actors were practicing the final fight scene before the performance. The sword was repaired and relegated to costume-only status—it can be worn, but never used in a fight again. Fortunately, nobody was hurt by any flying sword parts.

I seem to be coming down with some kind of sinus cold, so I didn't go out with the cast after the show tonight. I could have gone for a bowl of hot soup, but I’m just not up for a late night tonight. A friend of mine who came to see the show brought me home, and I’m headed very soon for bed.

We have two performances left. I will be sorry to see the production end; it’s been a lot of fun.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Encounter on Agrippas Street

I was coming from the open-air market downtown, loaded with shopping bags and heading for the bus stop to catch a bus home, when I heard them: at least four excellent singers, two young men and two young women. One accompanied the group on guitar. Like a small choir, they sat on several levels of one of the new round stone seats in the section of Agrippas Street that was recently made into a pedestrian mall. Although the songs they sang were completely unfamiliar to me, they sounded beautiful: graceful, majestic cadences with full, gorgeous harmonies. After only a few moments, I was enthralled.

As I came closer to the group, I saw that I wasn’t the only one affected by the beauty of their singing. A small group of people had gathered to listen. One woman was recording them with her MP3 player. Another group of Israelis was listening eagerly, and with characteristic Israeli brashness demanded the members’ autographs when they finished a song.

As I listened to the music, I realized that the group was singing in Spanish. After a while, I was able to make out several of the words in the song: SeƱor. Maestro. Corazon. Cristo.

Oh, I thought, Christian pilgrims singing devotional songs under the stars in downtown Jerusalem. How lovely. It must be really exciting for them to be doing this, and what a beautiful memory they will have to take back home.

I approached the group with a smile and asked them who they were and where they were from. A young man answered: “We’re students from all over the world. Some of us study at the Hebrew University, and others study at other places.”

“Can I see your songbook?” I asked.

Betah (sure),” the young man said, handing it to me.

I leafed through it, expecting to see some familiar Christian hymns that I remembered my friends singing in school. Maybe I would be lucky and there would be some traditional songs inside, songs without an explicitly Christian theme, maybe even some African-American spirituals, that I could sing together with them. But I didn’t find any. Instead, I found songs in both Hebrew and in English that referred to “Yeshua”—the Hebrew name of Jesus that Christian missionaries use to try to convince Jews to convert to Christianity.

Instantly, and for only an instant, I went back about a decade in time:

“I met a lovely musician at a restaurant downtown,” my sabra (Israeli-born) friend told me in Hebrew. “I spoke to him after he finished his set, and he told me that he is working on a recording of his own original music and that he is looking for a female singer. Perhaps you’d be interested? He wears a kippah, you know,” she finished.

How strange, I thought. Usually, men who wear kippot aren’t interested in working with women singers. But I went anyway, figuring that it was worth an hour of my time to investigate this possibility.

As the man and I spoke, I had the feeling that something was not quite right. I couldn’t put my finger on the reason, but I also couldn’t ignore my feelings. As he spoke, I noticed two things: among the names of all the musical contacts that he mentioned, not one name sounded familiar to me, or even Jewish. How strange for a Jewish musician in Jerusalem not to know any other Jewish musicians, I thought. The second was that his speech had a definite evangelical Christian flavor, which I recognized from certain television programs I used to watch sometimes, out of curiosity, as a child in upstate New York. For example, he used the word “anointed” to describe something very special, divinely inspired. At first, I tried to judge the situation favorably. Come on, I thought, give the guy a break. He could be a convert to Judaism from an evangelical background. After all, what about my friend Esther [not her real name]? That’s her story exactly, and once in a while she also uses expressions like “anointed,” so what’s the big deal?

Yes, I argued with myself, but when Esther uses one of those expressions, she stops talking and looks embarrassed. With her, it’s clearly a slip of the tongue. With him, it isn’t.

I really wanted to work with this man. His musicianship was excellent, his compositions stunning. He was working on setting chapters of the Psalms to music, and described to me how he woke up in the morning with lines of music already in his mind, waiting to be written down.

But too many things just didn’t add up. If he was Jewish, as he said he was, then why did he speak like an evangelical Christian? Why were all of his musical contacts, without exception, not Jewish? It occurred to me then that he might be connected with a missionary group. I hoped not. If he was, then it would be impossible for me to form a musical partnership with him, especially if his music was religious in character and was directed to an audience of seekers. If I joined up with him under those circumstances, I would be lending my aid to missionary efforts, helping the very groups that are trying to make my own people abandon their faith. And there is no way that I would ever do such a thing. According to Jewish law, that is one of the foulest acts of treason that a Jew can commit.

What to do? This man wasn’t too forthcoming about his background. All he would say was that he was Jewish, but I was starting to wonder. So I called a local counter-missionary organization to find out about the missionary groups that operate here. They gave me the names and backgrounds of some of the major ones, and the next time I spoke with the musician, I asked him point-blank whether he was a member.

To my disappointment, he was.

“Then I’m very sorry, but I can’t work with you,” I said. “You’re a wonderful musician and I would enjoy making music with you, but from everything you have described about your work, I have every reason to believe that it would be used for missionary purposes, and there is no way that I can lend my energy or my voice to that. I’m sure you understand.”

Coming back to the present and returning the songbook, I faced the group once more and said: “It’s clear to me that you are part of a community of worship. May I ask which one?”

“Oh, yes,” a young woman answered eagerly, and told me the name of her group. It was the same group to which the man from years ago had belonged. Oblivious to my lack of enthusiasm, the young woman continued to describe her group, giving me directions on how to reach it. “I’m sure you’ll like it very much,” she said. “It’s a wonderful congregation.”

“It’s not a congregation,” I told her flatly. “It’s a church.”

She looked at me uncertainly for a moment, then decided it was worth trying again. “Oh, well, then, you should try our other congregation,” she bubbled, giving me its name, a Hebrew phrase taken from a well-known Jewish hymn. “It’s very Israeli and has lots of Israelis. You’ll feel comfortable there, I’m sure. It’s a congregation congregation.”

I looked directly into her eyes and said: “No, it is not a congregation either. It’s a church.”

The sweet notes had gone sour beyond recall. I walked away.

(For more information about missionary groups that target Jews, see Meryl Yourish’s post: When Is a Rabbi Not a Rabbi?)

Sunday, June 18, 2006


One of our cast members sent out this article from the Washington Post about the curse associated with Shakespeare’s Macbeth: Macshush!

How "Macbeth" acquired such a sinister reputation is a matter of dispute. The play, for those in need of a quick primer, concerns a Scottish general who is spurred by his own ambition as well as the prophetic incantations of the Weird Sisters—not to mention the merciless noodgings of his coldblooded wife—to murder and usurp the King of Scotland. This ends badly, to say the least, with Lady Macbeth a suicide and her hubby a rueful, morally repulsive cretin who is eventually killed, thus restoring order to the universe. It’s a brutal tale, filled with infanticide, torture, stabbing and body parts. At one point, horses go insane and eat each other.

The article goes on to enumerate examples of this curse throughout the play’s history, including some really creepy ones from modern times. True to form, our production has had quite a few troubles so far. Let’s see: two cast members dropped out of the show during rehearsal (one because he was drafted to the army, the other because of a family emergency); one cast member was injured on stage and required three stitches, and right after last Friday’s matinee, our large cast photograph fell from its place with a hideous-sounding crash, shattering all the glass. Thank goodness, no one was hurt; it appears that the edges of the frame contained all the glass, so that none of it flew into the air, where it could have caused damage.

Still, it makes a person think.

I have call again this evening, and I get to be murdered (and resurrected as another character) five more times during this run.


Friday, June 16, 2006

A Day for the Ladies

Good news: one of the female cats at our workplace, Lady, has been spayed. Here she is at the feeding station with her last litter, two kittens:

Lady and kittens

And here is the Lady in Red after a long petting session with yours truly:

The Lady in Red

The play is going well; half our run is over. Five more performances next week.

Shabbat shalom!

(Catch the Friday Ark at The Modulator. This week’s Carnival of the Cats will be at Mind of Mog on Sunday.)

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Not in the yard this time. In my stomach.

It’s opening night. Call is in a little over an hour. Curtain goes up two hours after that.

The show is Macbeth, and I have two roles: Lady Macduff and the Gentlewoman Attending on Lady Macbeth during the sleepwalking scene. If you’re local and would like to see the show, please consult your local entertainment listings, or contact me for details.

A dear friend of mine is shlepping quite a distance to see the show tonight. (Thank you, dear friend—you know who you are. It means a lot.)

It’s an amazing production. The director, who is fantastic, has an interesting vision for the show which I think works very well (and no, I don’t know whether she reads my blog). Our actors are excellent and knowledgeable, and our costumes are exquisite. I particularly like mine, a long Renaissance-era chemise.

I do my own make-up. Been doing it since I was a kid.

Everything’s ready: my backpack is packed, the bed is made for my friend (who’s spending the night), there’s food ready in the refrigerator for tomorrow’s breakfast. Going down the checklist one last time ... yup, everything’s done. I’m almost ready to head out to the theater.

Oh, yes, and I’ll even be singing a little.

All I need now is a tiny bit of butterfly repellent.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Geynest under Gore (or: Siamese by My Knees)

(Thanks to Laurence Simon for the rhyming subtitle)

Her Ladyship’s habit of using my skirt as a tent sometimes makes me think of a very old love song I came across long ago. Written sometime in the early fourteenth century, it is addressed to a woman named Alison and, in the last verse, calls her “geynest under gore”—fairest under the gown. Yesterday, Her Ladyship showed once more that she is indeed “fairest under the gown”—only it’s my “gown” that she happens to be under.

Yup, that bulge under the blue fabric is Her Ladyship.

Who’s that underneath my skirt?

Her Ladyship was in an unusually affectionate mood at the time. I detect a purr!

I detect a purr

When I told her that I had to go, she said, “Go, my foot!” and promptly lay down on mine.

Her Ladyship emerges from beneath my skirt

But the next day, Her Ladyship was back to her growly, yowly ways.

“I vant to be alone.”

I vant to be alone.

Missy gets her two cents in:

“Stop chasing after Her Ladyship and come play with me!”

Play with me!

(Check out the Friday Ark tomorrow at The Modulator. This week’s Carnival of the Cats will be up at Gigolo Kitty on Sunday.)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Circles of Justice

(Inspired by Imshin and Treppenwitz)

B’Maagalei Zedek (Circles of Justice), a grassroots social-justice organization founded in 2004, has issued a petition calling upon Education Minister Yuli Tamir to protect its most vulnerable workers from exploitation and to give them basic employment rights.

B’Maaglei Zedek is the organization that originated the Social Seal (tav hevrati in Hebrew), in effect a certificate of social kashrut, encouraging consumers to patronize restaurants and shops that pay their employees according to law and do not exploit them. (Scroll down the page for the relevant information.)

The petition is in Hebrew. Here is my own free translation of it. (Any mistakes in the translation are mine.)

A call to the Minister of Education, Yuli Tamir:
Let your first act be to stop the exploitation of contract employees in the educational system.
We ask that the first educational act you perform serve as an example to our children and school pupils.
The basic rights of human dignity and social justice (not to mention the principle of obeying the law) require that the acts of thievery against thousands of contract employees who work for the educational system as security guards and cleaning personnel be stopped.
At the entrances of our schools stand security guards who do not receive the minimum wage and benefits guaranteed them by law. Cleaning personnel, who arrive when the schools are already closed, are not paid on time and receive no benefits. The contracting firms that employ them often subject them to scandalously high fines for no reason at all.
The ministry you lead cannot ignore this. It must not act hypocritically, providing an education while exploiting its workers so severely.
The accountants who work for the Ministry of Education wilfully ignore the exploitation by choosing contractors whose prices are so low that they cannot possibly provide their workers with the most minimal salary and benefits.
Even if this decision involves an increase in the budget, and even if, in the worst case, it involves cutting half the teaching hours (a cutback which must be fought), we believe that an hour of real educational action that will serve as an example to our children is worth an hour of pompous talk about principles.

One can sign the petition in English as well. From right to left, the fields are: name, age, profession, e-mail address and telephone number. The only required area is the one for the signer’s name, which is marked with a red asterisk. To send your signature, click the button below the spaces provided, just above the list of names.

B’Maagalei Zedek takes its name from Psalms 23:3, which is familiar to us in English as “He leads me in straight paths [literally, circles of justice] for His name’s sake.”

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Colors of Cats

I saw cats in a variety of colors this week. For starters, here is a lovely, lithe classic torbie who graciously accepted my offering of skritches:

Classic torbie

A big bruiser of a male Siamese whom I’ve known for a while:

Big Siamese fellow

Missy dozing in her very own little spot:

Missy dozing

An alert Missy listens to a parakeet calling in a tree overhead:

Missy alert

Catch the Friday Ark at The Modulator. This week’s Carnival of the Cats will be at Tacjammer.

Happy Shavuot and Shabbat Shalom.

Who the Heck Is Don Alverzo, and What’s He Doing with Six Pairs of Tweezers?

A show I’m in is going to open fairly soon. It’s been a while since I was on stage, and I’m enjoying the rehearsals a lot.

We start each rehearsal with a series of warm-up exercises. Some are purely physical stretches, while others are meant to sharpen our concentration. Still others focus on enunciation and diction, and in this category there is one exercise that I find absolutely intriguing. According to Wikipedia, it dates back to 1940 and was a test for radio announcers.

Here it is. Variations are in square brackets.

To be read aloud, preferably into a microphone:

  • One hen
  • Two ducks
  • Three squawking geese
  • Four limerick[ing] oysters
  • Five corpulent porpoises [corpuscles]
  • Six pairs of Don Alverzo[’s] tweezers
  • Seven thousand Macedonian [soldier]s [dressed] in full battle array
  • Eight brass monkeys from the ancient sacred crypts of Egypt
  • Nine apathetic, sympathetic, diabetic old men on roller skates with a marked propensity towards procrastination and sloth
  • Ten lyrical, spherical, diabolical denizens of the deep who all stall around the corner of the quo of the quay of the quivery, all at the same time.

(Those ten lyrical, spherical types sound like something out of the original Star Trek, don’t they? Like those weird creatures in the pilot episode who kidnapped Captain Pike.)

You can try this at home. And locals, let me know if you’re interested in coming to see the show. I have tickets, and I promise not to go on about Don Alverzo’s tweezers, Macedonian soldiers or Egyptian brass monkeys unless you ask me to.