Sunday, December 15, 2013

Wendy’s – Say “YES – Me Too” to Just Treatment of Tomato Workers

By Cantor Jack Chomsky

Chanukah has come and gone on our Jewish calendar, but our sense of trying to bring the light of freedom in a world with too much darkness continues.  Human Rights Shabbat is being observed in many congregations the Shabbat of December 6-7 or December 13-14 -- and International Human Rights Day is observed on December 10.

There are so many issues for us to consider.  As Co-President of Columbus' BREAD Organization, I am conscious of the new problem we at BREAD have selected -- mental health, as well as some of the problems BREAD has developed into solutions in recent years -- school truancy, restorative justice, discrimination against immigrants in our community.  And my synagogue's observance of Human Rights Shabbat focused in part on the terrible problems attributable to gun violence as we mark one year since the tragic events of Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

I'd like to turn our attention for a moment -- or at least a week or two -- to another justice issue in our community which has national implications.  This has to do with Wendy's treatment of tomato growers.  Here in Columbus, Wendy's has a stellar reputation as a community leader and loveable Columbus symbol.  The late Dave Thomas was, on-screen and off, a symbol of decency and civic virtue.  How sad I was to learn that Wendy's does not have a reputation of fairness or decency in its treatment of agricultural workers in Florida. 

The good news is that a historic partnership among farmworkers, the vast majority of Florida tomato growers, and eleven leading corporations is rooting out forced labor and other human rights abuses from the fields. The Fair Food Program combines a strict code of conduct, worker-to-worker education, a complaint resolution process and market consequences for non-compliance, constituting the most advanced human rights program in the domestic produce industry today. Now, farmworkers are reporting a historic shift in the fields: access to shade and water, an effective form of recourse for abuse, and the first wage increase in over 30 years.

Here in Ohio, however, more and more attention has been focused in recent months on Wendy's unwillingness to join all of the other largest fast food businesses -- McDonald's, Subway, Burger King and Taco Bell -- in agreeing to join the program and ensure human rights for the farmworkers in their supply chain. 

While each of those other corporations has signed on to support the fair treatment of tomato workers, Wendy's has refused repeatedly, even engaging in a misleading advertising campaign to combat allegations about the issue. Wendy’s claims, for instance, to already be paying a premium for its Florida tomatoes, but whatever premium they are paying most certainly is not being monitored by the auditing systems of the Fair Food Program and is not going to alleviate the abject poverty suffered by the workers who have picked Wendy’s tomatoes for decades.

This week, as Wendy’s opens its “flagship store,” celebrating the history of Wendy’s and the values of founder Dave Thomas, I encourage people to join with representatives of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) at the new Wendy’s location (complete with beautiful Wendy’s “historical artifacts”) at 6480 Riverside Drive in Dublin, OH at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, December 16.    We want to encourage them to live up the values that Dave Thomas espoused -- to step out in front, to be a responsible corporation alongside its peer corporations. 
Jews are commanded, according to our tradition, to take care about what we eat.  It’s not realistic to expect Wendy’s to follow Jewish law and make their establishments kosher (although a choice Wendy’s in a choice location could follow that route!) but it IS realistic to expect them to follow decent employment practices—and to refrain from eating in them if they don’t.

This issue has been a nationwide focus for T’ruah—The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, an organization of over 1800 rabbis and cantors.  It is consistent with their ongoing efforts to combat slavery and human trafficking in today’s world.

Many readers will remember Wendy's very funny and very successful "Where's the Beef?" ad campaign of almost 30 years ago.  Lately, they have chosen a "Wendy" character whose smart-alecky approach to her friends shows that Wendy's is the smart place to go.  With just a little effort, Wendy's can do the smart thing and be more worth your fast-food dollar.

Here's to working together to make sure that comes to pass. 
Cantor Jack Chomsky serves Congregation Tifereth Israel in Columbus, Ohio. Co-President of the BREAD Organization, he is also Immediate Past President of the Cantors Assembly.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Interfaith Encounter Association in Israel

A Guest Post -- from Yehudah Stolov, founder of the Interfaith Encounter Association.

I have made Yehudah, and follow and support his amazing work in the Land of Israel.  I encourage you to read/be inspired and support this great work -- and maybe look to connect with them when you visit Israel!

I hope you had a great Chanukah.  Stay safe. . . Jack Chomsky

Now,  heeeeere's Yehudah. . . . . . .

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”  - John Lennon

Inspiring words, aren’t they? Yet we all know that despite the best of intentions, building caring relationships - even with friends, co-workers, family members, or others of our own faith - can be fraught with difficulties. So often we end up talking past each other, or don’t allow ourselves to let down our guard and see things from others’ points of view. And it’s natural to think that if we can’t always speak even to those closest to us, surely a bitter conflict such as the one in the Holy Land must be intractable. I often hear from people that relations within their own faith are so complex and challenging that they simply can’t imagine how people can come to love and respect those who they see as being on “the other side”.

But I am writing today to tell you about how the IEA is making exactly that happen, by cultivating an approach which is truly different, which utilizes the power of religion as a force for peace and compassion instead of conflict. And I’d like to ask you to partner with us by making a helpful financial commitment to our work. Because the dreams we dream together truly are becoming reality.

Many people see religion solely as a source of conflict in the Holy Land, and thus think of it mainly as an obstacle to be gotten around if peace is to someday flourish.  But we believe that it doesn’t have to be this way. Indeed we believe that if religion is part of the problem it must - and can - be part of the solution as well. For some 12 years, we have brought together people from all faiths and cultures - over 8000 so far in 58 ongoing encounter groups - to build lifetime bonds through sharing their cultures, beliefs, and traditions, and by creating a “safe space” for friendly disagreement. This way, any potentially divisive issues are discussed between friends, and that makes all the difference.  As one of our members recently wrote,
“I was overjoyed to see that in spite of the differences and varying viewpoints among the girls, and their diverse customs and communities, there was something truly deep that connects us all to each other. We truly felt like one big family. Thank you so much for the amazing opportunity to get to know them!”

Our groups coalesce into passionate, cohesive communities which cherish the unique identity of each individual, empowering members to make a real difference in their broader social circles. Because we successfully reach out to a very wide spectrum of each population, we are building a true broad-based, popular movement for peace. We believe that without this grassroots component, political efforts cannot succeed. Our growth is proof that religion, which so often is misused to divide and inflame, can also serve as a potent unifying force that helps us to tear down walls of ignorance and fear. 

In 2013 we expanded our activity into several new arenas, such as:

·         Groups for Yeshiva students and Palestinians from areas East of Jerusalem
·         Ultra-orthodox Jews and religious Muslims from Jerusalem
·         Joining of the “Visit Palestine” initiative for joint Israeli-Palestinian mutual visits, as part of IEA
·         Joining the EU’s Tempus project which has already led to the founding of 6 new on-going groups of interfaith encounter so far, one in Sakhnin College and five in Gordon College in Haifa. Two more are expected to begin shortly, one in Sakhnin and one at the Interdisciplinary Center in Hertzlia.

      We are  beginning a new project called “Meeting on the Pitch” which will target at-risk children of all three Abrahamic faiths and bring them together to play soccer in mixed teams with children from other faith communities and  dialogue with them
      Lastly, we have begun an ongoing partnership with the prestigious Fetzer Institute of Michigan to support building inter-communal relations by young adults in the Holy Land.

There’s so much more I’d like to tell you about. If you haven’t seen our 2012 Annual Report which details all of our activities, it can be found at

Only through meeting the Other face-to-face will the conflict finally end. Your kind support for our work will make it possible for us to continue to bring hope to the peoples of the Holy Land.

Your donation of:

$30 – covers printing and communications costs for one encounter session
$60 – buys food for one encounter session
$100 – pays for transportation for Palestinian youth to come to Israel for an encounter session
$250 – allows us to retain trained coordinators of one encounter session
$500 – covers all the costs for one Palestinian and Israeli Youth Encounter
$1,000 – pays for one conference
$5,000 – can sustain one ongoing dialogue group for one year.

You can now easily contribute online at

All contributions are extremely helpful and fully tax-deductible in the US (501(c)3). See for how to make tax-deductible contributions if you are a UK or Swiss citizen. 

In the US, contributions by check may be mailed directly to: Friends of IEA, 832 Lathrop Ave., Forest Park, IL, 60130-2039

As always, all contributions of any size are very warmly appreciated!


Dr. Yehuda Stolov, Executive Director

Friday, October 4, 2013

Preliminary Thoughts from the J Street Conference

The timing was less than fortuitous--immediately after the fall holidays.  I mean--IMMEDIATELY after the fall holidays!!!  The Conference began Saturday night -- and Shabbat followed immediately on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.  So Susan and I couldn't go until Sunday morning and missed the apparently stellar Saturday night program

which was headlined by Tzipi Livni, Cong. John Lewis and J Street Founder Jeremy Ben-Ami.  

But our Sunday and Monday were jam-packed with amazing encounters of the best kind.

Perhaps I will blog-post later about in-person appearances by VP Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, a taped message from Ambassador Michael Oren and the address by Martin Indyk, who is directing the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. . . but for now I will share a remarkable series of quotes heard on a few panels -- quite literally from left to right (or, from the Jewish and Arab perspective, right to left?).

Members of the Israeli Knesset from the following parties were represented -- Labor, Hatnuah, Meretz, Likud Yisrael Beiteinu, Yesh Atid and Shas -- along with representatives of various Palestinian factions.  Read that list again: Labor, Hatnuah, Meretz, Likud Yisrael Beiteinu, Yesh Atid and Shas.

2 years ago, socioeconomic issues were of no interest.  Now, people are more interested in those issues than in a peace process.  MKs talk about what the people declare to be important.  What was it that made the economic concerns suddenly the focus of Israeli life?  We don’t know what we did!  If we just sit and watch, nothing will happen.  If we put pressure on, something could happen.  So relying on Tzipi Livni’s optimism isn’t enough. 
                The 2 State Solution is in Israel’s interest for social, political, economic, purpose.  But, maybe more important, it’s the right thing to do.  Don’t minimize that.  This is what it means to be Jewish and Zionist and Israeli.
Stav Shaffir, Labor

What is the meaning of Zionism?  A Jewish and democratic state – and equality of all citizens, regardless of race, religion or gender. 
We cannot tolerate the inequality which has become much too common in Israeli society – 50% of Israelis don’t earn enough to pay taxes!
For the sake of Israel’s future, MOVE AHEAD (Mr. Netanyahu) – we will support you.  The people of Israel will support you.  The world will support you.
Shelly Yachimovich, Labor

I believe that Netanyahu is on the verge “to make history or to be history.”  It’s hard to stress enough the importance of making peace for Israel.  This is the only obstacle which makes it impossible for us to have good relations with the 65 Islamic countries.  The PM should say “I’m willing to establish an Israeli state on the basis of the ’67 borders.”

Meir Shetreet, Hatnuah

We are in the middle.  We have to be a majority.  We cannot be an occupier.  In the One State Solution we will not be a majority.  We must be a Jewish nation/state.
Ruth Calderon, Yesh Atid

Either we take 5 million Palestinians from Judea and Samaria and make them citizens, or give them their own state.  I think this is the vital interest of the State of Israel.  Lives are more important than land.  Time to make a decision:  Palestinian and Israeli leaders should reach an agreement and the people will approve it.

Itzhak Vaknin, Shas

Everyone knows we won’t go back to the exact 1967 borders.  PM Netanyahu has shifted through the years like every leader.   I am convinced the Palestinians are genuine partners.  They mean what they say and they want peace.  But if they continue to hold expectation that they will return to their 1948 homes, we’re stuck and cannot move forward.  They have never been able to give me a clear-cut answer on it.  We can have an agreement on Jerusalem.

I was assaulted on Facebook etc. when I agreed to meet with this group “that is seeking to destroy Israel and financed by Iran.”  So I looked more deeply, and I was encouraged by what I saw and how wrong these people were.  You don’t need legitimacy.  The legitimacy you have derives from your love of the State of Israel.  I won’t attend your next Conference because your founder told me that you are going to dismantle after the Solution has been reached and we WILL reach that solution.
Tzachi Hanegbi, Likud Yisrael Beiteinu

I don’t think the main divide is between one or two states.  I think it’s between those who are optimistic about anything and those who feel no hope.  The argument goes as if it’s Palestinian violence that provokes the Israeli occupation and not the other way around.  This whole security situation is a smokescreen.   In my opinion, given the resources and opportunity, Palestine should be among the middle income countries of the world.  Occupation robs them of their opportunity and movement.    The starting point has to be for the Palestinian community to embark on our journey.
Husam S. Zomlot, Exec Deputy Commissioner, Commission for International Affairs, Palestine

It’s important to demonstrate to the Palestinian people that positive steps are being taken.  Not that there are more settlements; more stuff getting worse; but more running water in our taps, more ease of movement for Palestinians.  To leak information that there are some things that the negotiators can agree on right now.  Palestinians feel, otherwise, that their basic human needs are being violated every day.  The Israeli Government and some elements on the Palestinian side are preventing this interaction.  The Israeli public today has no incentive to have contact with the Palestinian public. 
Riman Barekat, Co-CEO, Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information

How do you move from “Start Up Nation” to “Smarten Up Nation?”  In commercial litigation, there’s rarely a good side and a bad side.  There are just competing interests.  It guests resolved either through successful negotiation or litigation: an all-out battle.  Even winning the litigation, you end up with spoiled fruit.  I would like for the Prime Minister to articulate what is the long-term value of peace.  What are the compromises we need to make TODAY to get there?  They are not going to get easier in the future.
Scott Mortman, Former Head, Global Business Development, Better Place

Speaker after speaker, whether American, Israeli or Palestinian affirmed that the 2-State Solution is THE necessary solution -- and it is needed NOW.  It is the only way to assure a secure, democratic, Jewish State of Israel.  We are not always the voice heard most loudly in the Jewish world or in the American or Israeli press.  But we ARE the majority opinion of Jews, and we need you to join with us to make that clear to our elected officials.  To let them know that we will support THEIR support of the two-state solution -- and we must do everything we can to encourage Prime Minister Netanyahu to see to it that these negotiations reach a successful conclusion.

We visited with Congress (Senators and Members of the House) on the very day that the Federal Government was shut down.  Which is another subject.   Stay tuned for more about what you can do to be part of the solution -- and/or visit

Thank you for "listening" -- and Shabbat Shalom!


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thoughts Before Yom Kippur

Thoughts Shared with the Congregation This Yom Kippur (published in a pamphlet. . . )

Forgiveness on Yom Kippur – Which Direction?

Central to our prayer experience on Yom Kippur is asking God that we be forgiven and asking those around us to forgive us, too.  Rabbi Ungar writes meaningfully above about some of the issues involved in seeking forgiveness, especially from others, as well as our obligation to forgive others.

In fact, forgiving may be at the heart of this whole process, and more central than we typically imagine.  If we begin with forgiving others, we may be much readier or much more eligible to ask for forgiveness ourselves.  The response to the Kol Nidrei prayer is assurance of forgiveness and the phrase Vayomer Adonai Salachti Kidvarecha—“I have forgiven, as you have asked.”

But what about forgiving what has not been asked?  Each of us carries the burden of things we haven’t forgiven.  We think it’s because the act was unforgiveable or we haven’t been asked.  But the burden of it really turns out to be our burden.  Think of something that you haven’t previously been able to forgive.  Let go of it and you will see that it is liberating to you and can bring you closer to the person involved.  Letting go of this canker inside you will free you up to be more generally forgiving, and in a better mood to ask (and hopefully receive) forgiveness. 

For a demonstration, (after the holiday) check out Ikar LA’s I Forgive You on YouTube. After that, please forgive me.  (I’ve already forgiven you!)

More about the liturgy and music of Yom Kippur. . .

KOL NIDREI:  The paragraph of Kol Nidrei is a legal formula developed by the Rabbis which annuls only those vows which are made between humans and God.  Tradition suggests, for its three repetitions, 1st softly, like someone hesitating before entering the royal palace; the 2nd time, a bit more confidently; the 3rd time like someone who feels comfortable in the royal court and approaches the ruler like a friend.  We will echo this progression by having the first recitation as a solo, the 2nd with the choir, and the 3rd together with the entire congregation.  Please sing!

After the Amidah comes the beautiful piyyut (poem) Yaaleh (223).  A reverse anacrostic, it describes poetically the emotional arc of the day.  The prayers Shomeia T’filah (224) and Han’shamah Lach (225) are among those special Missinai tunes heard especially with these passages – and only on Selichot and Yom Kippur.  What beautiful texts – full of yearning and appreciation of the breath of life.  The piyyut Ki Hinei Kachomer (227) envisions God as potter, mason, craftsman, glass-blower, etc – God as shaping creator.   

SELIHOT AND VIDUI: Two highlights of the prayers of penitence (Selihot) are El Melech Yoshev (229) and Sh’ma Koleinu.  The choir’s version of El Melech Yoshev is a very dramatic setting by the composer-conductor Zavel Zilberts (1881-1949).  Conductor of the Workmen’s Circle Choir and others in the 1920s, he was an extremely influential figure in the world of traditional Jewish music.  Our Sh’ma Koleinu (233) melody is from Shlomo Carlebach. 

The Vidui section (234) is the group of confessional prayers which we find in our Yom Kippur and Selihot services.  This includes Ashamnu (235).  Remember that the major third in the ay-ay-ays may sound happy to us 21st century Americans, but in the tradition of Jewish music, this note is meant to imply our vulnerability, our rawness, and our emotional pain in the act of confession.  (I loved this little melody as a child—but what we should love is that we are casting out our sins through confessing them; rather than rejoicing in naming them!)

YOM KIPPUR MORNING: Among the prayers in which the Choir will participate in Shacharit is Tavo L’fanecha (263). The choir will sing Samuel Naumbourg (1815-1880, Chief Cantor of Paris)’s musical setting of this prayer.  This composition beautifully expresses the disappointment of arriving with a full list of transgressions annually, despite our best intentions. 

YIZKOR: The Yizkor service (290) begins with the Choir singing Enosh by Louis Lewandowski.  This familiar text, which is not present in our Machzor, is taken from Psalm 103:  The days of mortals are as grass.  We flourish like a flower in the field.  The wind passes over it and it is gone, and none can even recognize where it grew.  But God’s compassion is from forever to forever for those who fear God; so is God’s righteousness to their children’s children.  Lewandowski’s musical setting beautifully brings this awe-inspiring text to life.  Also heard in the Yizkor service is Gerald Cohen's soothing setting of the 23rd Psalm - Adonai Roi (293).

YOM  KIPPUR MUSAPH: The Yom Kippur Musaph is lengthy in a different way from the Rosh Hashanah Musaph.  On Rosh Hashanah, we had Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofrot, pages and pages of Torah, Prophets and Writings verses on the themes of God’s Sovereignty, Remembrance, and Shofar Soundings.  On Yom Kippur, the Musaph includes (in addition to the aforementioned selichot and vidui portions) a Martyrology service and the Avodah Service recalling the majesty of the ancient Temple. 

As on Rosh Hashanah, the Musaph begins with the haunting Hatzi Kaddish (298), Silent Amidah (300), Hin’ni (312), and the start of the repetition of the Amidah (313).  The early highlight of this section of the service is the Un’taneh Tokef.  The beautiful lyrical duet of B’rosh Hashanah (315) by Meir Finkelstein will be sung again by Gabrielle Cohen, Halley Dunn, Marissa Madison, Allison Meyer, along with meAfter the Great Alenu (325) comes a significant Yom Kippur insertion: the Avodah service (326) recalling the annual purification ritual by the High Priest in the Temple in Jerusalem.  The MiSinai tune which is chanted to V’hakohanim (330, 331, 332) is reminiscent in its own way of Gregorian chant, which itself may have been an imitation (or later manifestation) of the chant of the Temple. 

MINCHAH:  The Minchah service (361) led by our beloved Jerry Benis is noted for a Torah reading (363) sung in the ordinary Torah chant (as opposed to the High Holiday version heard this morning and on Rosh Hashanah) and the mind-boggling Haftarah (367) – the Book of Jonah.  Maftir Yonah is being chanted by some of our high schoolers this year:  Talia Rozenbojm,Orri Benatar, Micah Goldson, Lily Sline, Aaron Abramowitz, Jenna Rodier, and Gabrielle Cohen.   As the afternoon deepens and we approach. . .

N’ILAH: The N’ilah service (392) provides us with our last opportunity to plead our cause in the spiritual marathon which is Yom Kippur.  The Sephardic hymn El Nora Alilah (407) is sung prior to the repetition of the  N’ilah Amidah.  You will hear two different but related melodies.  The first, for the refrain, is in a western (Spanish Portuguese) style.  The second, for the verses, is more typical of world Sephardic practices and the source of the melody.

The melodies unique to this service create a special sound picture to bind us to the conclusion of Yom Kippur in years past, whether in our lives or in those of our people over many hundreds of years.  The nusach melody of N’ilah is evocative of walking carefully forward as we prepare to leave the divine presence—as, indeed, the gates close before us.  Special unique MiSinai melodies are heard at Sh’ma Na (410), P’tach Lanu Sha’ar (414), Enkat M’saldecha (416), and Rachem Na (419).  Passages on 421 and 422 are quite distinct from the “boilerplate” of the rest of Yom Kippur amidahs.  Who among us would not be moved by these two pages of liturgy?  We hope, of course, that God is also moved!

We conclude the day’s observances with the Ma’ariv weekday prayer (445), followed by Havdalah (459) and the affirmations (429)  of Sh’ma (1x), Baruch Shem (3x), and Adonai Hu HaElohim (7x).  Followed of course by a t’kiah g’dolah and the chanting of Lashanah Haba-ah biY’rushalayim—next year in Jerusalem.  May it be so!

G’mar chatimah tovah—may you have a good seal in the Book of Life for the coming year.

Cantor Jack Chomsky

(page #s are in Mahzor Lev Shalem)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Shanah Tovah 5774!

Maybe I'll get back to final conclusions on the Peres Conference and other summer adventures later (and maybe not). . . but I thought it would be nice to post what I've written for our synagogue's Rosh Hashanah services this year. . . 

The Most Important Voice – Yours

Each year I write an intro and commentary regarding the prayers and music for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Although most of what I typically write is about what I sing or what the choir sings, I’d like to turn my attention a bit this year to what YOU sing – and how you sing. 

A major alteration in what synagogues sound like in our lifetimes has been the shifting of singing from the hazzan or cantor and choir to the congregation.  This began with the rising popularity of congregational singing beginning perhaps in the 1950s – and was deeply influenced by songwriters and songleaders like the late Debbie Friedman beginning in the 1970s.  And it has been influenced by the increasing popularity of instrumental music even in more traditional synagogue settings.   There is a new/old phenomenon that has deeply affected many religious gatherings, and this is the Nigun, or wordless melody.  Interestingly, when I look at the sources from which I have learned nusach (the traditional melodies of the synagogue) from 19th century Europe, I sometimes see wordless melodies written before, in the middle, or (less often) after texts – another sign of the importance of the nigun in Jewish musical tradition.

The late Rabbi Shelomo Carlebach was probably the greatest ambassador of nigun singing, yet since his passing in 1994 the power and familiarity of nigunim has increased geometrically, both in the independent minyanim that straddle the world of cosmopolitan young Jews and in the traditional world of hasidic congregations in Israel and the U.S. as more people from outside those communities investigate what’s going on there musically.

What does this have to do with us at Tifereth Israel?  That depends to a great extent on you.   We are creating more opportunities for congregational singing and nigun singing this year than ever before – both at our traditional services and our alternative services. 

Singing a nigun frees you up from trying to make it fit the words, and lets you move toward a meaningful spiritual experience that goes beyond the words.  What makes a good nigun?  It needs to be catchy enough that you can learn to sing parts of it immediately and all of it after a few or medium number of tries – but not so catchy that it becomes an earworm – something that disturbs you day and night.  We can try to examine those characteristics scientifically, but I think we are better off listening and singing.

I will work hard to sing the prayers beautifully in ways that help you see, hear and feel their meaning—using the traditions developed over centuries combined with the flexibility of the nusach to allow me to never sing the liturgy the same way twice. 

The choir will sing a few pieces that reflect the high points of composers’ interpretations from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries – and they will help to lead all the congregational singing—old melodies and new.

I hope that you will have some deeply satisfying moments in your listening to them and to me.  But I’m depending most of all on those moments when we are all singing together.   In the Alternative Service, Rebecca Gurk will serve as “Rosh Nigun” to assist Rabbi Woodward in bringing nigun to the heart of their service.

What will make those moments great?  The more that you allow yourself to sing as part of the whole, the more you will derive from it – and the more all of us will take away.  You don’t need to wrestle with the words of the nigunim – but singing a melody without words requires something else; something a little deeper.  Reach down and find that part of you that you can’t put into words, and pour it into the nigun.

And you can turn any congregational melody into a nigun by singing it without the words.  Find what works for you, and help us make this the most beautiful High Holidays ever!

The Music and Liturgy of Rosh Hashanah
Evening Service:   The formal beginning of the evening service (Maa’riv), Barchu (p. 5), introduces the majestic and elegant nusach melody that will be heard up to the Amidah and in the Kiddush—and on Kol Nidrei as well.  (Nusach refers to the melodies and musical modes customary to our religious traditions.)

The Amidah begins and ends the same way as at most other services.  The main differences are found in the Kedushat Hashem (Sanctification of God’s name – an extended form of Atah Kadosh, p. 13)  and Kedushat Hayom (Sanctification of the Day, pp.14-15).  These paragraphs, from Uv’chein Tein Pachd’cha through M’loch al kol ha’olam (p. 42), will be recited each Amidah on Rosh Hashanah. 

The composition May the Words, sung at the conclusion of the silent Amidah, is my arrangement of a melody written by “our own” Alice Levitin.  At the evening service’s conclusion, Yigdal has a special melody unique to the High Holidays.

Morning Service
The sh’liach tzibbur (service leader, literally “messenger of the community”) begins at different times on different occasions – Yishtabach on weekdays, Shochein Ad on Shabbat, Ha-el on Festivals, and Hamelech (p. 69) on the High Holidays.  Hamelech, of course means “the King” – and this is the aspect of God (who we describe in many ways with many names) that is central to the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe). 

The Shacharit prayers are similar to those of weekdays and Shabbat – but, as noted before, the nusach is of quite a different character. 

The first passages that distinguish the Shacharit (morning) Amidah from Ma’ariv (evening) are found on page 81 – Misod embodies what might be the central musical motif of high holiday davening.  The three piyyutim on pp. 83-85 each establish in their own way the majesty of God the Judge contrasted with the lowliness of us, the petitioners.  L’el oreich din (p. 85) particularly brings home the judgment theme and in a sense serves as a Shacharit pre-echo of the awesome Un’taneh Tokef prayer of the Musaph service.

Following the repetition of the Shacharit Amidah, the Shacharit service reaches a new height with the recitation of Avinu Malkeinu.  Our choir’s settings are by Max Janowski (a pretty famous piece of 20th century Jewish music even before Barbra Streisand recorded it) and Michael Isaacson – and we conclude by chanting together with the congregation.

The music for the Torah Service (p. 96) includes many familiar melodies in their original form: choral works.  These works became so popular throughout Europe that their melodies achieved MiSinai status among Ashkenazic congregations, though they date “only” to the 19th century.  (MiSinai means, literally, “from Sinai” – but figuratively, ancient melodies.  Many of our high holiday MiSinai melodies date to Ashkenazic Jewish practice in Germany as far back as the 11th century!)

For Adonai Adonai (p. 97), I have adapted a melody and setting by Samuel Naumbourg (Chief Cantor in Paris from 1845) that leads us into the familiar congregational melody that we chant.  Since the text is recited three times, I wanted to provide multiple interpretrations—while preserving our opportunity to sing something familiar together.

When we return the Torah to the Ark, we will sing Uvnucho Yomar (p. 123).  On the first day, I have pieced together some of the beautiful melodies of Lewandowski to lead up to his magnificent Hashiveinu.  On the second day, we sing my arrangement that dramatizes the Uvnucho Yomar text and leads us into our congregational Etz Chayim Hi sung together with 4-part choir.

The Musaph (Additional) Service begins with the plaintive Hatzi Kaddish followed by the recitation of the Silent Amidah.  The Musaph service is at heart just a big (really, really big) Amidah.  The first pass through – the silent Amidah – is everything I described in the Ma’ariv service plus three lengthy compendia of biblical references to Malchuyot (sovereignty), Zichronot (remembrances) and Shofarot (shofar soundings). 

Un’taneh Tokef, which includes B’rosh Hashanah (pp. 282-284), is the dramatic high point of the Musaph liturgy.  Its stirring imagery of God sitting in judgment before us contrasts the loud, clarion call of the shofar with the hearing of a “still small voice.”  It paints a pastoral picture of sheep passing before their Shepherd Who determines who shall live and who shall die (and how).  Along with this comes the statement that God waits for us to repent until the final moment, that we are like dust, that we pass away like a dream. 

Musaph musical highlights include B’rosh Hashanah (especially the lyrical melody by Meir Finkelstein performed by young people in our congregation, including Gabrielle Cohen, Halley Dunn, Marissa Madison and Allison Meyer) but also the dramatic rendering of the same text by Aminadav Aloni. 

One of the melodies for Areshet S’fateinu (recited, along with Hayom Harat Olam) for each of the Musaph shofar soundings, pp. 158, 162, 166) is an adaptation of a melody of the renowned Cantor-Composer Todros Greenberg.  Greenberg, the “dean” of Chicago cantors for generations, was the great-grandfather of Amy Judd of our congregation!

Near the conclusion of the service are Lewandowski’s jubilant setting of Psalm 150 (p. 165) and the “fan favorite” up-tempo “Chasidic Kaddish” (p. 171).  The latter piece was made famous by Yossele Rosenblatt, the greatest of all 20th century cantors.  The Lewandowski psalm setting is a favorite wherever Jewish choirs gather or meet.  I have performed the Lewandowski Psalm here for many years – and in the congregation where I first was exposed to great Jewish music (Temple Emanu-El, Providence, RI), in the Berliner Dom with 70 cantors and that great church’s great choirs, at the North American Jewish Choral Festival – and many other places.  It is the Ode to Joy of Jewish liturgy and Jewish choral singing.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year--Cantor Jack Chomsky

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Peres Conference Continued -- Day 1 -- The Rest of the Day

Peres Conference Day 1--The Rest of the Day

(Long but worth reading to the end, or at least seeing the last two photos!) 

The early afternoon kicked off with a "Master Class" with Professor Dan Ariely.  Ariely is currently a professor at Duke University.  He is a major modern media personality.  His "TED talks" have been watched over 4 million times (closer to 5 million).  His lab for psychology study is called the "Center for Advanced Hindsight."

I had never actually heard of the guy -- but he is a real favorite of Addie's fiance, Sahar.  So we managed to get a photo of the professor with Addie after his exTREMEly engaging lecture.

To summarize. . . Why do we lie so much?  It turns out that we lie (on average) approximately every 10 minutes -- often for a perceived social benefit (including for the person we lie to), but often for somewhat mysterious reasons.  People try to balance two forces: to think of ourselves as honest people and to benefit from cheating just a little.

One fascinating example of variations in human behavior:  When people were over-refunded in change (as part of an experiment), 50% of them gave the money back.  BUT when the person giving them the money back annoyed them first, only 14% gave the money back.  Not surprising, perhaps.  But Ariely has set up many ingenious ways to study these behaviors and the influences that cause variations in them.

The takeaway -- when we feel that we are in a relationship with someone, we are much much less likely to cheat in our favor.  (Lying may be part of the necessary grease in human relationships; but cheating is something else entirely.)

We got closed out of the next plenary session -- everyone together, except that there wasn't ROOM for everyone:  "Will Tomorrow Be Better?"  All (or at least many) of the sessions were actually videoed and are available in streaming at

So I'll have to get around to catching the missed session soon.  I am interested to see what Yair Lapid, Israel's recently risen political star, had to say.  As well as the others on that panel.

But for US, the next session was a series of "One-on-One" interviews conducted by Israel Channel Two's Udi Segal with an extremely unlikely collection of subjects:

 John Chambers, Chaiirman and CEO of Cisco

 Robert DeNiro

 Welli Dai, Co-Founder of Marvell Technology Group

 Boris Collardi, CEO of Julius Baer Banking, Switzerland

 Sharon Stone

Not pictured: John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada.

What did these people all have in common?  Nothing.  SOME of them had some things in common.  Three were major political or economic figures.  Two were Hollywood stars.

Chambers (of Cisco) was one of a number of big tech industry honchos who loudly proclaimed how great it is to do business in Israel.  Why does Cisco find Israel attractive?  We found leadership willing and able to do the work we asked for.  Bring electricity to the Internet:  In the future, EVERYTHING will go over the Internet, including health care and electricity

I’ve never seen a country as critical of yourself as this country!  

In the world of business, you NEED to change.  Just the nature of the world we’re in.  My competitors from 15 years ago are pretty much all gone.  We get rid of more each year.  But if WE don’t change, we’ll be roadkill!

The next big thing is how you connect all the devices in the world in ways we’ve never done before.
Build a foundation of fiber and mobile.

We need to build a middle class in Palestine.  We’ve been working on it.  It has gone from 1% to 6% in a few years.  Get to 20% and it will be a very different reality.  To create peace in the middle east, to create employment, (Peres understood 5 years before me that) companies can move faster than governments.

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird:  You don’t want to be popular.  You want to be respected.  We think that unilateral actions are unhelpful.  (Palestinians at UN, World Court).  Only way to achieve peace is together.  “Palestinians will pay a big price if they turn to the Hague.”  It’s not ultimately in their self-interest.  We hope that both parties will engage with John Kerry.

We need to stop arguing over symbolic minor points.

Baird was asked "Is Netanyahu serious about peace?"  His answer: "Canada will support Israel’s leader, whoever it is.  I have been most impressed that no Israeli leader has expressed desire to rule over the Palestinian people."

Next up was Robert DeNiro.  This proved to be a rather embarrassing interview.  DeNiro is known for not being favorably disposed toward interviews and this encounter showed why.  The interviewer asked such inane questions, that DeNiro had to choose between a) giving answers as silly as the questions, b) staring at the interviewer in disbelief, c) storming from the stage or burying the interviewer in a barrage of sarcastic answers.  DeNiro came closest to b).  I took so many notes on so many conversations -- but had almost nothing to write about DeNiro -- and it wasn't his fault.  He seemed like someone who IS an interesting guy -- but the interviewer was so blissed out to be in the presence of a HOLLYWOOD STAR that he swung and missed.  The one thing of some interest that DeNiro shared was that this was his 5th or 6th trip to Israel (Thank you Mr. DeNiro) -- and his first visit to the Old City -- a place that really amazed him.

Back to business -- almost -- for a conversation with Welli Dai, Co-Founder of Marvell Technology Group. Ms. Dai arrived in 1979 from Shanghai at age 17.  She described semiconductors (which is Marvell's business -- they are the "other guy" compared to Intel) as the pizza dough of high tech – connecting all the various platforms.  Her prediction:  Big change for the future: In the past, there were stand-alone products.  In the future, everything will be made to fit.  Make the object fit our needs.  

I saw Ms. Dai at least twice -- maybe 3 times -- over the course of the Conference.  There was something a little disturbing about her:  She insisted on calling herself a geek, on talking about how she's just a mom.  She is one of the most powerful women in corporate America!  And I heard her say the thing about semiconductors being the "pizza dough of high tech" at least 3 times -- probably 5 or more.  It was clear to me that she has certain shtick that she goes to over and over and over.  On the other hand, that can also be called messaging.  And it has clearly worked for her, hasn't it?!

Swiss superbanker Boris Collardi was next.  His views:  The world is doing okay.  It’s bottomed out and will be getting better.  Despite uncertainty, all the tools are present for Israel to be a great success.
He was asked, "Why is Italy such a mess when it has so many things going for it?" Because of huge inefficiency and a handicapped (or handicapping) economic system.

We need Europe to move from austerity and invest in growth.   
China and the U.S. don’t need the same policies – just some successful bridges, but this will be difficult, because of the large cultural differences.

2008 was a wake-up call to governments and banks.  There has been strong movement on the regulatory side.  I love banking – next to maybe movies.  But it’s not considered an attractive profession: College grads rate it 10th out of 10 professions when asked what they would like to do.  

"How did you get so far without college?"  A peculiarity of the Swiss system: You can advance through it based on intelligence.  I got into banking because when I wanted to do an internship as a young person, I couldn’t get into the chocolate, cheese, or watch businesses, the ones everyone wants and does.  I got “stuck” with the bank internship.

About rich people and their money -- and how this can help solve big problems in the world:  One of our easiest conversations with rich people is to get them to do good.

Finally, last and least was superstar Sharon Stone.  I had wondered what she was doing on the Conference Program (and had wondered similarly about DeNiro.  He didn't have much to contribute -- but that was at least because the interviewer failed in HIS task).  

I thought that the interviewer did a better job (surprisingly given how he failed with DeNiro) of asking reasonable questions, but Ms. Stone blathered about a good deal of the time.  The more she talked, the more I wished she'd stop.  (I had been hopeful, because her list of accomplishments isn't insignificant.  She was an early supporter of AIDS activism and research and has done huge things in that area.  She was LA Citizen of the Year, which should mean something.  And she has started (and bankrolled?) the Yaalah Youth Organization for peace around the world.)  

The world has 7 billion people, but 6 billion cellphones.  We need to be able to have everyone working together for a better world.

I believe that we can look at peace in a new way, like we did at AIDS.

What really distressed me was what she did to the English language.  There had been a bit of a controversy (I later read) that she had, for years, passed herself off as a member of MENSA -- and it turned out this wasn't true.  Now I don't care a whit about MENSA and I don' t necessarily admire people who belong to it or brag about it.  But someone who claims to but doesn't?  A bad sign. . . She used the following words in her conversation:  ethniticity, criseses, drownded and instinctually.  It turns out that instinctually IS a word -- but I don't think it was the one the sentence called for.

She was informed by the interviewer that "Shimon Peres blames men for the problems in the Middle East.  What do YOU think?"    Mothers make men.  We have to make the right kind of men.  We can stand up for our true desires – to love and be loved.  If we reach for goals through argumentation, we won’t get there.  Through love, anything is possible.  As long as the Middle East is fighting, the world will be fighting.

Her son was Bar Mitzvah at the kotel the day before the session.    She said that she married 2 different Jewish guys – so she is Jew-ish.  Gulp.

The Evening Plenary was The Global Economy's Tomorrow-- an all-star cast of international economic heavyweights (not my area so I really wanted to listen closely).

Hosted by
 Stanley Fischer, Governor of the Bank of Israel, Very Major Dude in the Israeli Economy

An opening speech by:
 Larry Summers, Past President of Harvard, Director of Business and Government at the Kennedy School, Secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton Administration, Director of the National Economic Council for the Obama Administration.  

Responses by:
 Ronnie Chan, China, Chairman of Hang Lung Group and the Co-Founder of the Morningside Group
(big Chinese venture capital outfit)

Stephen Schwarzman, Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of the Blackstone Group

Rodrigo Vergara, Governor of the Central Bank of Chile

To sum it up for you:  The world economy (World Economy?) is going to be all right.  The US will be strong. Things are going okay in Latin America and will continue to get better.  Some of this took a long time to say, but what was MOST interesting was Mr. Chan, who wasn't at all shy about saying that China and Asia are way more important than anybody in the room seemed to realize.  He wasn't being critical of the U.S.  He said that the U.S. is great and is in great shape economically and a great place to invest, do business, etc.  But that there was just a smattering of Asians present at this conference and that, 10 years from now, it should be HALF Asian.

Finally, two notable photos to close out the day's events (Day 1 of the two-day conference)  

 Could it be? Yes it could?  Somethin's comin', I don't know if it's good.  But that's the first public sighting for ME of Google Glasses.  No that's not my son Ben -- looks like him in this picture.  But the guy and his wife?sister? business partner? associate?  seemed to have a pair or two.  We saw them the next morning too.  I dunno about this Google Glasses thing.  Looks like more trouble than it's worth.  And somehow reminds me of Dick Tracy's special watch.  Much more interesting to me, and pleasant and inspiring. . . 

The gorgeous bridge over which the Jerusalem Light Rail Train travels near Central Bus Station.
Taken in early evening.
Evocative (so they say) of David's Harp.

That's it for today.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Peres Conference Day 1 -- Post 2 -- Media Session

After the euphoria of the program with Bill Clinton, President Peres, Tony Blair and Rahm Emanuel, I attended a breakout session entitled "Has Traditional Media Been Caught in the Web?"

Moderated by Jane Eisner, Editor of The Forward, the panel included Aluf Benn, Editor of Haaretz (Israel's NY Times-ish liberal literary newspaper); Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC; Ed Morrissey, a Conservative blogger; Renana Peres (Assistant Professor of Marketing at the School of Business Administration, Hebrew University of Jerusalem); and Richard Piepler, CEO of HBO.

Here is the whole panel -- l. to r. Aluf Benn, Phil Griffin, Ed Morrissey, Richard Pepler, Renana Peres, Jane Eisner.

At the outset, the panel was asked to examine what it means to present the news in today's world.  The moderator asked at the beginning of the discussion how many people had received/read a printed newspaper or instead consulted an online version or had watched television news.

Dinosaur that I am, I receive two newspapers daily (at home) -- the Columbus Dispatch and the New York Times -- and I receive the Forward (the leading Jewish weekly newspaper) in print every week.  I consult the online version of the Times quite a bit.  The others -- not so much.  I do read the Haaretz online edition every day -- it's one of my 3 home pages, and I probably read 2-4 articles every morning before I even step in the shower (partly because Israel is 7 hours ahead of the US most of the year).  It's sad for me to think about how few people in the room -- or in the next generation -- do receive a printed newspaper.  Saves ink I suppose, but definitely the end of an era.  A very long and significant era.  Really a change in the way of life.

Aluf Benn of Haaretz talked about what a revelation it was to him to see how the world had changed so completely just before he took over as Editor-in-Chief of Haaretz.  "I saw that we had more readers on-line than in print.  You realize as editor you need to learn a new language and a new way of storytelling.
Gathering and dissemination of news becomes continuous.  At the same time, you can't just tailor your product only for the online only readers.  You've got print readers who expect a certain reading ritual.  They don’t want to change that, and they pay plenty to get what they want.  Haaretz LOOKS conservative but has always been the R&D (research and development) end of the business.  The first ones to do EVERYTHING."  

A daunting challenge:  How do you provide content to viewers that advertisers want to support?

Phil Griffin of MSNBC described how MSNBC found its niche.   In the broadcast news business, cable was the first disrupter.  The first wave in this regard was CNN.  Then other networks tried to respond.  The next big change was the web.  MSNBC was started in 1996 with the intention to be a general news and information outlet.  It turned out that people weren't really looking for general news and information -- at least not in large numbers.  FoxNews and its architect, Roger Ailes, soared because they reached an audience that felt ignored.  MSNBC succeeded when they found their niche – a political channel with a progressive point of view -- one opposed to the Fox News view.

He stressed that success in the emerging media is based in part on having a point of view, but even more with doing a good job with good content, and having the right personalities.  He particularly highlighted the case of Rachel Maddow -- who went from being almost unknown to being nationally prominent in almost a weekend -- and by word of mouth among viewers.  Old-fashioned advertising turned out to be neither necessary nor pertinent.

HBO CEO Richard Piepler spoke with Master of the Universe confidence about what made HBO a huge power player with a mix of entertainment that included significant documentaries.  "We were the ultimate disrupter."  Breaking up the network broadcast tri-ish-opoly.  "Our storytelling needed to be utterly original.  We are not an ad-supported business.  Ratings aren’t our #1 criterion.  What’s important for us if we’ve captured the imagination of the public.  People don’t just LIKE our stuff. . . they are obsessed with it.  They’ve got to see it."

He pointed out that, from the beginning, HBO was TV that people PAID for -- a huge departure.  This is why it has been important to create content that people are so connected to.

He spoke about the future -- which in his mind is that you will (soon and partly at present) be able to see HBO in every possible platform -- on all your devices.  A crucial element for HBO's success has always been content --and it's no accident that they now own all of Warner Brothers, Universal and Fox movies.   

Very interesting presentations all around -- by people who have kept ahead of the curve and made decisions that have really shaped media, entertainment and news in our time.

But -- it seemed ultimately out of sync with the inspirational message I heard upstairs.  I asked in the discussion that followed the initial presentations of the panelists -- "It seems like the speakers upstairs (Blair, Peres, Clinton) are calling for us to unite -- to create a growing US and a diminishing THEM.  But the news outlets, especially FoxNews and MSNBC, rely on creating a sense of anger about THEM.  And seem to be very much dependent on keeping us apart and not bringing us together.  If this is the way that we get news (which means that we choose the kind of news we want and avoid the kind of news we don't want), won't it be almost impossible for us to move forward?

In the time devoted to answering the question, MSNBC's Griffin indicated that they had indeed found too much anger to be destructive even within their medium, and had pushed aside a small number of too-angry voices.  But the challenge remains.

My hope is that somehow we develop a habit of listening to a variety of sources -- try to develop some empathy for those whose opinions we think we despise.  I know that, over the years, I try from time to time to listen to those with whom I'm likely to disagree -- spend some time with Rush Limbaugh, follow some Fox News, listen to some Catholic Radio, pick up the Wall Street Journal, peek at the National Review.  It can be hard; maddening; make me want to yell at the TV or radio.  

When Bill Clinton became President, I thought we might have arrived at a time that people could work across the aisle and find the middle -- because he was a more conservative Democrat than I was -- because he was such a powerful people-person -- because it would be good for the country.  Unfortunately (my recollection is that the) first thing that happened in his first administration was "don't ask don't tell" -- and it just sent everything in the wrong direction.  Interestingly enough, although we have never recovered from the negativity that followed, what was such an incendiary issue approached with lack of conviction THEN is almost a non-issue today.  Amazing to think how this matter ultimately HAS been accepted throughout the military -- and that the Supreme Court ruled on the gay marriage issues the way it did last week.  We've come a long, long way on policy-- but we've also fallen down a deep, deep hole in terms of the way that we regard each other.

I thought that Barack Obama might have the smarts to bring people together -- but he doesn't seem to have really had the interest to do so.  He seems to be content to be right -- and that's just not sufficient in today's world.

Is there any way that we can fix this disconnect between left and right in a world in which people are more and more separated from information that challenges their own information?  And at a faster and faster pace?

I guess I'll keep praying and keep trying to work on it.  And I hope you will, too.