Monday, April 13, 2015

Hadassah Super-South Tri-Region plans "Big and Easy" conference in NOLA

Three Hadassah regions will have a joint “Hadassah Big and Easy” spring conference and Shabbaton, April 17 to 19 in New Orleans at the Hilton Airport in Kenner.

The new Super South Tri-Region consists of the Southern Seaboard, Southeastern and Southern regions and is the organization’s first “hub.” Speakers will include development training consultant Renee Resnik and Ellen Hershkin, PRAZE Division coordinator.

The PRAZE division is Programming, Advocacy, Zionism and Education.

Roselle Ungar of New Orleans will also speak at the weekend. Keynote speaker will be Rachel Schonberger, resource chair for the Super South.

The focus will be viewing Hadassah from a cause-driven and social action agenda. A tour of Jewish New Orleans will also be available, and associates are welcome.

Early registration is $195 before March 24, $215 after.

Human Trafficking Panel

The night before the Hadassah Big and Easy Super South Tri-Region Conference gets underway in New Orleans, the New Orleans Chapter of Hadassah and the women of Shir Chadash are holding a program on human trafficking.

The panel, “Sex, Lies and Politics,” will be at Shir Chadash on April 16 at 7 p.m. The event is open to the community.

Moderator of the discussion will be Michelle Erenberg, Louisiana State Policy Advocacy Chair for the National Council of Jewish Women. Erenberg has worked and volunteered as a grassroots activist and organizer for more than a decade. She founded the Louisiana Women’s Roundtable, a collaborative effort of progressive organizations to educate the community about issues that matter to women, children and families.

The discussion will include human trafficking from New Orleans to around the world, global human rights violations, and violence against women and children.

Panelists will include Loyola University faculty members Laura Murphy and Rae Taylor, and Tulane University faculty member Tania Tetlow.

Murphy is the organizer of the New Orleans Human Trafficking Working Group. Director of African and African American Studies at Loyola, she is the lead researcher for Loyola’s Modern Slavery Research Project.

Taylor’s research and teaching interests include intimate partner violence and other violent crimes, societal and organizational responses to violent crime, and social inequalities. Taylor has worked in the criminal justice system as a victim advocate, and she continues her training in victim services and crisis response. She holds graduate-level certification in domestic violence.

Tetlow directed the Domestic Violence Clinic at Tulane University Law School from 2005 to 2014. A former Federal prosecutor, Tetlow was named one of the city’s top 10 women by New Orleans Magazine for her work in domestic violence and rebuilding the public library system. Her scholarship focuses on constitutional law, criminal procedure and the rights of victims.

Early arrivals to the Hadassah conference are being urged to attend the panel.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Preservation Hall Jazz Band headlines JazzFest Shabbat; livestream now available

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band will headline the 24th annual Touro Synagogue JazzFest Shabbat on April 24.

JazzFest Shabbat has been celebrated by Touro for over two decades, bringing together Judaism with jazz. The service is open to the community, and has attracted some of New Orleans’ most notable musical names. Previous headliners include Jeremy Davenport, Kermit Ruffins, Marcia Ball, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and John Boutte.

The Shabbat service, which is free and open to the community, will be at 7:30 p.m. The event is always popular with out of town visitors to JazzFest, which runs from April 24 to May 3 this year.

For those who are unable to attend in person, this year the event will be broadcast for the first time through live-streaming online at the congregation’s website.

A patron’s party and private concert starts at 6 p.m. The patron dinner is at 6:30, and patron levels include reserved seating for the Shabbat service. Patron levels range from $150 to $1000 per person, or $50 for children accompanied by an adult patron.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band will be joined by the Panorama Jazz Band, Touro Synagogue Choir, Cantor David Mintz and Music Director Terry Maddox.

As part of the performance, two choral arrangements by music composer and producer Toby Singer, commissioned specifically for Touro Synagogue, will have their world debut.

The band is an outgrowth of Preservation Hall, which began in the 1950s as an art gallery. Because the gallery kept owner Larry Borenstein from attending jazz concerts, he started inviting musicians to have rehearsals at the gallery. Jazz fans gravitated to the space because at the time there were relatively few venues doing traditional jazz.

Allan and Sandra Jaffe visited New Orleans in 1960 and followed musicians to the gallery. They were attracted to the music and moved to the city. Borenstein moved the gallery next door and the Jaffes ran Preservation Hall as a concert space.

The new venue drew national attention, and in 1963 the Preservation Hall Jazz Band made its first tour, which was a success.

After Allan Jaffe died in 1987, son Ben took over, further expanding Preservation Hall’s reach. Ben Jaffe is part of the band, performing on tuba, string bass, banjo, percussion and backing vocals.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Commemorating the Holocaust in the Deep South

Birmingham's Yom HaShoah commemoration on April 12

Communities across the South will mark the 70th anniversary of liberation as part of this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. With the number of survivors in the region dwindling, emphasis is now shifting to second- and third-generation family members telling their stories.


Alabama’s state commemoration will be at the Old House Chamber at the State Capitol in Montgomery on April 14 at 11 a.m. Sponsored by the Alabama Holocaust Commission, the program will feature keynote speaker Rabbi Scott Kramer of Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem in Montgomery.

The program is open to the public. A luncheon follows, with reservations to the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center required. Cost for the luncheon is $18.

The Alpha Epsilon Pi Theta Colony at Auburn University will have a silent walk of remembrance on April 16, starting at 12:15 p.m. at the Shelby Center Terrace. Participants are asked to wear black to show support.

The Birmingham community commemoration will be on April 12 at 3 p.m. at Temple Beth-El. The program will be “Stories Remembered and Retold,” the stories of deceased Holocaust survivors as told by their local descendants.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham Multicultural Council and Hillel are hosting a “passive program” on the green on April 14 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to honor those killed in the Holocaust.

Dothan’s Temple Emanu-El will have a Holocaust memorial as part of Shabbat services on April 17 at 7 p.m.

Huntsville’s commemoration will be presented by the Jewish Federation of Huntsville and North Alabama on April 19 at 2 p.m., at the University of Alabama at Huntsville’s Chan Auditorium. The Curtain and Lights Theater Company of Decatur will present “The Diary of Anne Frank” with a brief introduction and a memorial program following the play. The event is free and open to the community.

Jacksonville State University will have its annual commemoration on April 14 at 7:30 p.m. Holocaust survivor Robert May will be guest speaker, accompanied by daughter Ann Mollengarden.

Mobile’s Yom HaShoah program will be on April 15 at 7 p.m. at Ahavas Chesed, remembering the liberation of Auschwitz 70 years ago. Artwork, prose and poetry from local students will be featured. The service is sponsored by the Gulf Coast Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education, Mobile Christian-Jewish Dialogue and Congregation Ahavas Chesed.

The Montgomery interfaith Holocaust memorial service is April 12 at 3 p.m., at Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem.

Auburn University at Montgomery will have its annual Holocaust remembrance program at the AUM Athletic Complex on April 15 at 9:30 a.m. Max Steinmetz and Max Herzel, survivors living in Birmingham, will be the featured speakers.

Florida Panhandle

Temple B’nai Israel in Panama City will have a Yom HaShoah service, “The Third Seder,” on April 16 at 6 p.m. The Third Seder commemorates the liberation from the Holocaust with a four cups ritual, six yellow candles and six yellow tulips. A “flame of hope” will be passed around lighting everyone’s candle, then the six memorial candles will be lit. The commemoration is open to the community.

The Naval Support Activity Panama City’s Day of Remembrance will be April 14 at 10 a.m. at the NSA PC Log Glass Conference Room, Building 308. Advance arrangements for base access is needed by April 10.

Pensacola’s Yom HaShoah commemoration will be on April 15 at 5:30 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Plaza downtown.

B'nai Israel in Pensacola will host "The Legacy of the Holocaust in Poland" with Institute of Southern Jewish Life Education Fellow Allison Poirier on April 18. There will be a discussion of how Polish Jewry was affected by the Holocaust, and the growth of Jewish life in Poland today. Mincha will be at 6:30 p.m., followed by the program at 7 p.m. and Havdalah afterwards.

Columbus, Ga.

In Columbus, Ga., Shearith Israel will host a program with guest speaker Murray Lynn. He will introduce and discuss a film about his survival of the death camps. Produced by the Breman Museum, the film is narrated by Ambassador Andrew Young. Rabbi Brian Glusman will lead the 7 p.m. program on April 15.


In Alexandria, the interfaith commemoration will begin at the downtown Holocaust monument on April 20 at 6 p.m., and proceed to Emmanuel Baptist Church for a 7 p.m. program.

In Baton Rouge, the Jewish Federation of Greater Baton Rouge and The Advocate Educational Services Department sponsor the memorial program, which will be April 19 at 4 p.m. at B’nai Israel.

The Lake Charles commemoration will feature Pierre Sauvage and have programs at both McNeese State and Temple Sinai.

Sauvage is a child survivor and son of Holocaust survivors. A documentary filmmaker, he is founder of the Chambon Foundation, the first educational foundation dedicated to "exploring and communicating the necessary and challenging lessons of hope intertwined with the Holocaust's unavoidable lessons of despair."

The Varian Fry Institute was established by the Foundation in 2005.

Sauvage is best known for his 1989 film, “Weapons of the Spirit,” about an isolated community in France that took in and saved 5,000 Jews, including his family. In 2014 he released “Not Idly By — Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust.”

“Weapons of the Spirit” will be screened at Bulber Auditorium on April 15 at 7 p.m.

The city-wide Day of Remembrance commemoration will be at Bulber Auditorium on April 16 at 7 p.m. After a brief ceremony, Sauvage will speak about his work.

On April 17 at 7 p.m., there will be a personal discussion with a question and answer session at Temple Sinai.

Monroe’s Temple B’nai Israel is doing its first-ever Holocaust essay and poem contest with local high schools. The staff of the News Star will judge the submissions. The commemoration will be on April 19 at 2:30 p.m.

The Northshore Jewish Congregation in Mandeville will have a Holocaust remembrance program on April 16 at 7 p.m., featuring survivor Judith Roheim of Baton Rouge.

Alexandra Zapruder, author of “Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust,” will be the featured speaker for the community-wide Holocaust Memorial Program in New Orleans.

The program, held at the Uptown Jewish Community Center on April 12 at 7 p.m. will remember and honor local survivors while educating the public about the Holocaust.

A founding staff member at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, Zapruder was one of the curators for “Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story,” the Museum’s primary exhibition for young visitors. Her book, “Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust,” won the Jewish Book Council's National Jewish Book Award in the Holocaust category.

In conjunction with Zapruder’s talk, the Holocaust Educator of the Year award will be presented to Caitlin Meehan-Draper, a teacher at Samuel L. Green Elementary, and students from the Donald R. Mintz Youth Leadership Mission of the Anti Defamation League will be recognized. The program is free and open to the community.

Gates of Prayer in Metairie will have a Holocaust memorial service on April 15 at 6:15 p.m., led by the congregation’s teens.

Touro Synagogue in New Orleans will have a program on the Voices of Spiritual Resistance in Terezin, a musical exploration of cultural life in the Theresienstadt ghetto. Led by Cantor David Mintz, it will follow the 6 p.m. Shabbat service on April 17.

The annual Shreveport commemoration rotates among several houses of worship, and this year’s 32nd annual event will be at St. Mark’s Cathedral on April 19 at 3 p.m. The Very Rev. Alston Johnson, dean at the cathedral, is chairing the service.

Nico Van Thyn, son of Holocaust survivors Rose and Louis Van Thyn, who lived in Shreveport, will share stories about what it means to be the child of survivors.

The winning entries from a middle and high school Holocaust literature contest will be read. Over 100 essays and poems were submitted on the topic of Gordon Allport’s stages of prejudice, mentioning an event from the Holocaust and a contemporary example of that stage.

The service will include the lighting of 11 memorial candles for the 11 million lost during the Holocaust. The St. Marks choral groups will present musical selections.

On April 13, Centenary College in Shreveport will hold a Van Thyn Lecture, “The Gender of Genocide: Women, Men and the Holocaust” with Pascale Bos, Associate Professor of Germanic Studies and affiliated faculty in the Comparative Literature, Women’s and Gender Studies, Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies and Jewish Studies Programs at the University of Texas at Austin. The 7 p.m. talk will be in the Whited Room at Bynum Commons.


The Gulfport Jewish community will host a Yom HaShoah program on April 16 at Beth Israel, starting at 6:30 p.m. “Unto Every Person There Is A Name” will fature speaker Joseph Metz, a student at Mississippi State University who is the grandson of Gilbert Metz, a Holocaust survivor who lived in Mississippi.

At Jackson’s Beth Israel, Roger Grunwald will present the one-person play “The Mitzvah Project” on April 18 at 7 p.m. The play explores “one of the most astonishing stories of the Second World War,” the tens of thousands of German men known as “mischlings,” a derogatory term for men who were assimilated or converted but had one or two Jewish grandparents, but still served in Hitler’s army. The story is told through the experiences of Christoph Rosenberg. After the play, Grunwald will lead a discussion. The event is free and open to the community, and is presented in cooperation with the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Cantor doing motorcycle road trip to small Southern Jewish communities

Having served as cantor of Temple Sinai in New Orleans since 1999, Detroit native Joel Colman knows that there is a distinct Southern Jewish culture. During his sabbatical this Spring, he is embarking on a 3,000-mile journey to “enrich my understanding of what it is like to be a Southern Jew.”

Through the Jackson-based Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life’s Rabbis on the Road program, Colman will visit six smaller Jewish communities in the region in April and May.

The inspiration came from a visit to New Orleans by author Eli Evans, who was the trailblazer in chronicling the Southern Jewish experience, about 15 years ago, shortly after Colman arrived in New Orleans. Evans inscribed a book to Colman with the words “you are now part of this rich Southern Jewish history.”

Colman said that “stuck with me, that there is something unique about being a Southern Jew” that one can not understand until one lives in the South.

He will be traveling to the communities on his motorcycle. “When you visit on a motorcycle, it becomes even more tactile,” with a heightened awareness of the surroundings. “Besides, it is a cool thing to do.”

Colman said there is no set program for the weekend visits. Each congregation “has a different dynamic on what they would like to have when they have a visiting rabbi or cantor,” he said. He will lead Shabbat services, do adult education or give a concert, or a combination.

He will visit B’nai Israel in Natchez the weekend of April 10, then Mishkan Israel in Selma on April 24, Temple Sinai in Lake Charles on May 1, B’nai Israel in Monroe on May 2, Beth Israel in Gulfport on May 8 and B’nai Israel in Galveston the weekend of May 15.

In February he did a first visit at Temple Shalom in Lafayette. There, he taught at the religious school on Sunday morning. Plans to lead a Shabbat service fell apart because the Mardi Gras parade route was one block away and it was “impossible for people to get to services.”

Before arriving in New Orleans, Colman was cantor at Temple B’rith Kodesh in Rochester, N.Y. and cantor/educator at Greenwich Reform Synagogue in Greenwich, Conn.

Colman received a Master’s degree in Sacred Music from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, School of Sacred Music where he was ordained as cantor in 1995, and graduated from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich.,with a degree in special education.

He is also a past regional director for the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization and has taught high school in Texas and in Israel. He also visits the Henry S. Jacobs Camp each summer, teaching amateur radio to campers.

Colman has sung in concerts in New Orleans, Rochester, St. Louis, Miami, Detroit, Tulsa, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York City and Jerusalem, and has also been the featured artist at two concerts held at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Colman said ISJL was instrumental in lining up the tour — he did not have to call any congregation to find out if there was any interest. “They knew which congregations would be open to a visit,” he said.

Over the past several years, the ISJL’s Rabbis on the Road program has put 33 visiting clergy on the road; collectively, these clergy have conducted 75 community visits.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Matisyahu headlining pro-Zionist festival in New Orleans

Reggae star Matisyahu is headlining this year’s DYF 3.0, a pro-Zionist festival held at Tulane University on April 12.

Joining Matisyahu on the free program will be the Rebirth Brass Band, Mystic Dad and the Ori Naftali Blues Band, the first Israeli group to reach the semi-finals of the International Blues Competition in Memphis.

Chloe Valdary of Allies for Israel at the University of New Orleans and Maor Shapira of Tulane University Students Supporting Israel are organizing the event, which will start at 2 p.m. on the LBC Quad.

There will be free food along with food trucks selling their items. Henna tattoos will be available, along with an art gallery, bazaar and a jam session for those who bring their own guitars.

At a time when Israel is under attack, especially on college campuses, Valdary says the festival is “taking the narrative back that was stolen from us and celebrating the beautiful story of the liberation movement of the Jewish people.”

The festival was endorsed by Alan Dershowitz, who said it “speaks truth to power — the best kind of answer to the defamation being heard across the country at college campuses about Israel, Zionism and the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.”

Shapira said Israel activism is too focused on relating the facts of the situation, while loyalty and solidarity come from an emotional connection.

The festival aims to provide a positive experience through arts, the spoken word, images and music.

Shapira noted a lot of supporters of Israel are afraid to speak up because of the anticipated reaction and that they would be seen as aligning with a cause that is accused of not being moral.

“By putting Zionism at the center of a large mainstream event we hope to empower supporters of Israel to speak up for Israel in the future,” Shapira said.

This year there will be less emphasis on speakers and politics. Instead, speakers will be giving personal stories and experiences. There will be information tents where attendees can learn more about a wide range of topics having to do with Israel.

The event will not be partisan, nor will it be focused on finding a solution to the situation in the Middle East.

Shapira and Valdary are both seniors, and they hope that the festival will continue after they graduate. Similar festivals are being organized at the University of Central Florida and at Indiana University.

In the last two years, Valdary has become a national figure in the pro-Israel movement. In mid-March, Allies for Israel at UNO responded to those who would boycott Israel by collecting signatures supporting a symbolic divestment from the Palestinian Authority as a way of supporting the Palestinian people who are suffering under a corrupt government.

She stated that a Palestinian student not only signed the petition, he spent three hours helping collect signatures from others.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Five features highlight Shreveport Jewish Film Festival

The North Louisiana Jewish Film Festival will be held in Shreveport from April 12 to 16 at the Robinson Film Center.

Unlike many Jewish film festivals, during the five days of screenings there will be five films shown multiple times, instead of one each day.

On April 12, there will be a program of short films at 1 p.m., “Beneath the Helmet” at 3:15 p.m., a festival reception at 5:30 p.m. and “Night Will Fall” at 6:30 p.m. Following the evening screening, Auschwitz survivor Rosa Blum and Alexander Mikaberidze, the Sybil and Frederick Patten Professor of History at Louisiana State University at Shreveport, will speak.

“Beneath the Helmet” will be re-screened on April 13 at 3:30 p.m., followed by “Night Will Fall” at 5:30 p.m. and “This is Sodom” at 7:30 p.m.

On April 14, “This Is Sodom” will be at 3:30 p.m., the short film program at 5:30 p.m. and “Ida” at 7:30 p.m.

On April 15, “Ida” will be at 3:30 p.m., “This Is Sodom” at 5:30 p.m. and “Beneath the Helmet” at 7:30 p.m., followed by a question and answer session with Shreveport native Sarida Muslow, who will discuss her experiences serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

The final day, April 16, will have “Night Will Fall” at 3:30 p.m., “Ida” at 5:30 p.m. and the shorts program at 7:30 p.m. The screening of “Ida” will be part of the Faith on Film interfaith discussion series, with Rabbi Jana DeBenedetti and Bishop Michael Duca speaking.

Afternoon tickets are $7.50, $5.50 for RFC members. Evening tickets are $9.50, $7.50 for RFC members. A festival pass is $36 and includes a ticket to each film. Sponsorships are available through the Jewish Federation of Northwest Louisiana in levels from $250 to over $1000.

A shuttle bus will be available from B’nai Zion for the “Night Will Fall” screening on April 12, with reservations made to the Federation office.

“Night Will Fall” is a 2014 documentary about the making of a 1945 British documentary, “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey,” showing footage from newly-liberated concentration camps. The documentary was produced by Sidney Bernstein, a British government official, with participation by Alfred Hitchcock.

The British documentary was shelved in archives and took nearly 70 years to complete. The film features interviews with those involved in the original film, contemporary talks with survivors and explores the changing political winds that led the British film to be shelved.

“This Is Sodom” is an Israeli comedy from 2010 and was the most-viewed film in Israel in 25 years. A comical description of the Biblical story of Sodom, the film centers on Lot’s family and Bera, the king of Sodom, and a plot by the king to switch places with Lot.

“Beneath the Helmet” is a documentary about five Israeli high school graduates as they go into the army at age 18, and how they confront issues of peace, equality, opportunity, democracy, religious tolerance and women’s rights.

“Ida” is the 2015 Academy Award winner for best foreign language film. The film depicts a woman and her aunt who take a new identity and embark “on a revelatory journey to discover family history and unearth dark secrets dating back to the Nazi occupation” as she discovers on the eve of taking vows as a nun that she comes from a Jewish family and her parents had been killed in the Holocaust.

The short film program contains three entries — “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life,” “7 Day Gig” and “Next Year in Bombay.”

“Number 6” is an Oscar-winning documentary about Alice Herz Sommer, a 109-year-old Holocaust survivor and the world’s oldest pianist, discussing her story on how to achieve a long and happy life.

“7 Day Gig” is a comedy about a punk, an old man and a chicken who gather in response to a Craigslist ad from a Romanian/Guamanian/Catholic/Jew looking for mourners to join him for a makeshift shiva.

“Bombay” is about Sharon and Sharona Galsulkar, the last educators in the Bombay Jewish community, which has existed for 2,000 years but is now disappearing.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

AVODAH to honor Rosenthal, Schleifstein as Partners in Justice

As the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, the New Orleans branch of AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps has selected two Partners in Justice honorees who have been vocal about the storm’s aftermath.

Sandy Rosenthal and Mark Schleifstein will be honored at the April 19 brunch, at Beth Israel in Metairie at 11 a.m.

Rosenthal is the founder and executive director of, which is dedicated to educating America on the facts associated with the 2005 catastrophic flooding of the New Orleans region.

The group has used a variety of media to educate the public, and has built a list of 25,000 supporters and chapters in five states. focuses on legislation to prevent another Katrinalike disaster and to assure fair treatment of the people of the Gulf Coast.

Rosenthal served as a volunteer nutrition and fitness teacher in New Orleans schools for 10 years. She is a member of multiple organizational boards, including St. Paul’s Homecoming, Restore Louisiana Now, and the Louisiana Center for Women and Government.

Schleifstein is the environmental reporter for the Times-Picayune, and his post-Katrina coverage was part of the Times-Picayune coverage that was recognized with the 2006 Pulitzer Prizes for Public Service and Breaking News Reporting and the George Polk Award for Metropolitan Reporting.

Since the storm, Schleifstein has spoken about the flood and its aftermath more than 500 times, including to more than 300 groups of volunteers who came to New Orleans to help rebuild, to colleges, Congressional staffers at the U.S. Capitol, and at speaking engagements around the world, including Stockholm, Sweden; Monterrey, Mexico; and Istanbul, Turkey.

Schleifstein was a three-time president of the Press Club of New Orleans and was honored with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. He is also a longtime member of the board of directors of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Before joining the Times-Picayune, he worked for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, and the Suffolk, Va., News-Herald.

He has also chaired the M’sadere Committee of Shir Chadash in Metairie since 2005.

The event is co-chaired by Melanie and Danny Bronfin, and Lis and Hugo Kahn.

Brunch tickets, available at, are $50, or $30 for ages 30 and under. Sponsor levels are from $90 to $5,000.

In 2008, New Orleans became the fourth host city for AVODAH. An organization that has been recognized by the Slingshot guide as a Jewish innovator, AVODAH also has operations in New York, Chicago and Washington. Each year, a new set of young Jewish adults move into the communal AVODAH house and commit to a year of working for a non-profit that promotes social justice and fights poverty.

Each participant is matched with a social service agency, where they become a full-time worker at no cost to the agency.

Last year, the agency recognized Jackie and Dan Silverman at the brunch.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Film project bringing together West Virginia and Uganda Jews for musical encounter

What do Jews from West Virginia have in common with Jews from Uganda?

In the case of “Psalms: The Making of an Album,” it is unique musical styles that are rooted in Judaism and in the music of their surroundings.

A film project will bring them together this December to make music and explore what, if anything, they have in common.

Director Jon Matthews, whose most recent work was “Surviving Cliffside” and who was co-producer of Academy Award-winning documentary “Citizen Four,” said “both of these groups play really unique music.”

He began this odyssey when television and film composer Ernest Adzentovich approached him with film footage he had taken during a visit to Uganda in early 2012 and asked him to develop something with it.

The Abayudaya is a small group of Ugandans that identify as Jewish. When Christian missionaries left Bibles in Uganda in the 1880s, this group started to follow the Torah and adopted their own form of Judaism. In 1920 a foreign Jew named Yosef visited and provided knowledge of Jewish practices and kashrut, which the community still follows.

During the days of Idi Amin’s rule, the group was persecuted and their numbers dwindled, with some practicing in secret. In 1962 an Israeli became the second Jew from the outside world to visit the community, which has undergone a revival since the 1980s.

In 2002 about 400 Abayudaya were formally converted to Judaism by the Conservative movement, but the residents of Putti, who have a strict Orthodox lifestyle, are seeking an Orthodox conversion.

Putti is located near the Kenyan border. Matthews said the travel time from the capital city, Kampala, is anywhere from four to 10 hours, depending on road conditions and how many animals are on the road.

New York saxophonist Mike Cohen visited the village in 2008 after meeting community leader Enosh Keki Mainahh in the Save Ugandan Jewry newsgroup online and they traded recordings. Mainahh, a musician, said his mother had composed songs based on the psalms but wasn’t able to record them.

With the help of backers, Cohen went to Uganda and recorded the Putti choir with a challenging one-microphone setup. “When I Wake Up, The Music Of Putti” was released the next year. Cohen called it “some of the most beautiful music I have ever recorded.”

Cohen is on the board of the Putti Village Assistance Organization, which seeks to make Putti a “fully sustainable village… economically, ecologically, educationally, and otherwise.”

A village of around 1,500, Putti has roughly 350 Abayudaya, about 600 Christians and 600 Muslims.

In 2012, Cohen returned to Uganda with Adzentovich, who mixed and mastered “When I Wake Up,” as his engineer. They spent 16 days in Uganda working on the second album, “I Love to Sing,” which includes “Ein Keloheinu,” “L’Cha Dodi,” “Shir Hamalot” and “Esa Enai.”

The footage Adzentovich brought to Matthews was from that trip.

“I’d never heard of the Abayudaya before,” Matthews said, “and the more I learned about it the more interested I became.”

Soon after that, Matthews was speaking at a conference in his home state of West Virginia, and he met Rabbi James Cohn of Temple Israel in Charleston. “I told him about the Uganda project and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it.”

After the encounter, Matthews reflected that he’d “never heard much about Jewish West Virginians, much like you don’t hear the phrase Jewish Ugandans.” When he was growing up, he didn’t know anyone in his town who was Jewish.

He started meeting Jewish musicians in West Virginia, such as Mike Pushkin, a cab driver who was elected to the House of Delegates, and multi-instrumentalist Dina Hornbaker. Listening to their Appalachian-styled Jewish music, Matthews came up with the project, which deals with identity, culture and ethnicity.

In December, they will travel with the West Virginia musicians to Uganda, uniting the different musical styles. The film will be about the making of an album from the encounter, how the two groups communicate musically.

Matthews noted that in Uganda, the language of music is different. Adzentovich couldn’t speak with the Ugandans in terms of major and minor keys, for example.

If the album and film do well, the ultimate goal is to have the Abayudaya come to West Virginia and have a reunion concert on NPR’s Mountain Stage program.

“Our real goal is exploring identity,” Matthews said. “And the more specific we get with that question, the more universal the implications will be. Exploring the question of what it means to be Jewish will get at the deeper human question of ‘what makes us who we are’ and why that is so important.”

There is a Kickstarter campaign through April 2 for the film, but there are also numerous backers from across the country. The goal is to have the film ready for submission to film festivals by September 2016.