Mississippi Museum Announces Curious George Programs

The Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson has announced a series of events in conjunction with the “Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H.A. Rey.”

The exhibit, which details how the artists behind Curious George fled France just ahead of the Nazis, and how their experience shaped the adventures of the mischievous monkey, opens at the museum on March 3.

Jackson's Jewish Community Has A Voice on NBC

Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson has a Voice on NBC.

Brian Fuente, 28, who now resides in Nashville but grew up in the Jackson congregation and is originally from Hattiesburg, was selected by Blake Shelton to be on his team in the singing competition “The Voice.”

New Orleans Limmudfest Going Regional

The second New Orleans LimmudFest will be held in March, and organizers are hoping to make this event a more regional weekend.

LimmudFest is a celebration of Jewish learning and community, with over 100 available sessions in a wide range of topics, from religious to cultural and historic. The main event will be held March 10 and 11 at Tulane University’s LBC Building.

This year, LimmudFest will include Shabbat, starting with a Shabbat dinner. Many area synagogues will host Limmud presenters as scholars-in-residence on Shabbat morning, March 10. The main festival starts with a musical Havdalah that evening, featuring musician Sam Glaser. Sessions will run all day on March 11.

Entirely organized and run by volunteers, LimmudFest is part of the international Limmud movement. Through art, dance and theater, text study and the sharing of ideas, LimmudFest will celebrate Jewish identity in New Orleans and the South. There will also be a Young Limmud program.

All presenters are volunteers and learners. There is no particular agenda or affiliation; diversity and choice is emphasized.

The first New Orleans Limmud drew over 400 participants in March 2010. Started in the United Kingdom, Limmud has inspired similar learning events in over 60 communities around the world. Other nearby Limmuds include Atlanta, Baltimore and Chicago.

Those from outside the New Orleans area can request assistance with hotels, and home hospitality is also an option.

The schedule of speakers and sessions has yet to be finalized, but some sessions have already been announced.

Alan Brill, author of “Judaism and Other Religions: Models of Understanding,” will present “Encountering Other Religions in a Post-9/11 World: What do Jews think about other relgions” and “Kabbalistic Meditation: A Practical Workshop.” Brill is an Orthodox rabbi, interfaith activist, and Cooperman/Ross endowed professor in honor of Sister Rose Thering at Seton Hall University in East Orange, N.J.

Jonathan Woocher, chief ideas officer for JESNA, will speak on “The Purpose-Driven Jewish Life: Rethinking Jewish Identity and Education,” and “The Jewish Community of the Future, and the Future of the Jewish Community.”

Marc Michael Epstein, the first Director of Jewish Studies at Vassar, will speak on “The Secret Language of Jewish Art” and “The Mystery of the Birds’ Head Haggadah,” created around 1300 in Franco-Germany, in which the heads of most human figures are replaced with what appear to be sharp-beaked and sharp-eyed birds.

Many sessions will have a Southern emphasis. Cathy Glaser, director of the New Orleans regional office for the Anti-Defamation League, will present “The Civil Rights Era in the Deep South: Jewish Stories and the Civil Rights Movement.” She will speak about the ADL’s work during that time, and Bruce Waltzer will speak about his work during that era, and the work of other Jewish attorneys at the time.

The South will also be a theme for Mary Glickman of Johns Island, S.C. Her best-selling debut novel, “Home in the Morning,” explored Southern Jewish life, and she will present a session on “Writing Southern and Jewish.”

Sandy Lassen, head of Chevra Kadisha of Greater New Orleans, will speak on the group in “The Greatest Mitzvah.”

Rabbi Marshal Klaven of the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life will present “Mark them as a Sign: The Truth of Jews and Tattoos,” showing that the issue isn’t as black and white as often portrayed.

Dovetailing with that, Noam Sienna of Waltham, Mass., will present “Henna’s a Jewish Thing? Henna Body Art in Jewish Communities.” Participants will have the opportunity to have some henna painted on them.

Rabbi Yossie Nemes of Chabad Jewish Center of Metairie will speak on “Soul Nigun and Stories,” and “Beyond the Nose Job,” a primer on three areas — physical relations between a man and a woman, views on cosmetic surgery and tattoos, and how a diverse Jewish nation can unite.

Rabbi Robert Loewy of Gates of Prayer in Metairie will lead a session on “Fiddler on the Roof: The Story and Messages Within the Story.”

Daniel Sieradski, one of the organizers of Occupy Judaism, will speak on “Jewish Values and Occupy Wall Street,” discussing how Occupy Judaism brought 1,000 to the protests on Yom Kippur to pray with Jewish protestors. He will also speak on “The Forbidden Tree of Knowledge: Psychedelics and the Bible.”

Michael Weil, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, will speak on “Why Tent Cities in Israel?” Tent protests have been a method of choice in Israel for 70 years.

Registration for LimmudFest is $36 for those over 30, $18 for ages 18 to 30, $10 for ages 13 to 17, and $5 for those under 13. LimmudFest will not turn away anyone because of inability to pay; the Limmud website has a place to request scholarship assistance.

Because the registration fee is a small part of what it costs to produce LimmudFest New Orleans, donations are also welcomed.

They ain't making performers like Kinky anymore

For Kinky Friedman, being able to draw a crowd after 40 years in the business is “very satisfying.”

Now, the outspoken Jewish country songwriter and performer is embarking on a Southern Discomfort tour that takes him through the Deep South in a new way. While he was best known for being in the band with the Texas Jewboys in the 1970s, this is a solo tour. When seeing a performer solo, Friedman said, one gets to really see who the performer is, and “the solo nature of this gets the lyrics across.”

He will visit a lot of places “I haven’t been to in a very long time, or that I haven’t been to at all.” The performances will mostly be music, with some humor and politics thrown in, as well as a reading from his new book, “Heroes of a Texas Childhood,” which he will have available for signing, “and I will sign anything except for bad legislation.”

That was one of his campaign slogans in 2006 when he ran for governor of Texas, coming in fourth in a six-man race. After last year, he was said to be swearing off running for office but now says “I don’t know. Rick Perry’s run for president has really improved my image. It’s made George W. look like Thomas freakin’ Jefferson.”

The Texas Jewboys were known for pushing the envelope with some of their songs, or shredding the envelope altogether. When he ran for governor, the lyrics of “They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Any More” became an issue because of the presence of the word “nigger.”

“I was surprised how people completely distorted that when I ran for governor,” he said. Inspired by a bar-room brawl in the Texas Hill country, the song is actually an anti-bigotry anthem. “I was called a racist because of those lyrics. You can’t explain it. You get defensive and I couldn’t believe it.”

He noted the irony in that he was the only candidate against the death penalty, and the only one who was a part of the civil rights movement, “that actually picketed segregated restaurants and other places… and yet they hung me out as a racist. Of course, they think Mark Twain was a racist.”

He noted that in many places, there are efforts to get “Huckleberry Finn” banned because of that word, which completely misses the importance of Twain’s novel. “It’s the first novel that takes a guy like Jim and makes him the guy with humanity, dignity and honor, and he’s surrounded by scoundrels and hypocrites who are all white,” he noted.

He decries political correctness. “Nigger,” he asserts, “is a lot nicer word than going around saying ‘the n-word.’ That’s about the worst thing — it goes against everything Lenny Bruce believed, and Richard Pryor believed.”

He tells audiences “If a young Richard Pryor walked in here tonight we couldn’t make a star of him in this country. The same is true of Mel Brooks, George Carlin, Lenny Bruce… and that represents a cultural step backwards, a giant one. I thank the Lord we still have ‘They Ain’t Making Jews’.”

Last summer he toured Australia, and noted that the audience “laughed when something was funny and cried when something was sad. They didn’t look around to see what the rest of the audience was doing.

“In America that’s what you see,” he said. “Our puritanical roots are showing. We ‘re just hung up politically, racially, sexually, spiritually. Maybe one of the most hung up societies on Earth.”

But he keeps trying. “Blessed is the match that kindles the flame. The pendulum has to swing back on political correctness,” he said.

A song’s life is interesting, he noted. “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed” actually started a riot during a 1973 performance at the University of Buffalo as a “crazed group of lesbians” attacked the stage. “It may sound humorous… they were winning. They were smashing things, beating up the Texas Jewboys,” and the campus police had to escort them out of town. He was soon awarded the Male Chauvinist Pig of the Year by the National Organization for Women because of the song. “That one today is now a harmless feminist ditty,” he said.

Another well-known Friedman song is “Ride ‘Em Jewboy,” perhaps the only country song written in tribute to victims of the Holocaust. He wrote it while in the Peace Corps in Borneo, working for “11 cents an hour. Best job I ever had.”

The up-front nature of the Jewboys caused some problems in the Jewish community. “Store chains owned by Jews, Jewish executives at record companies. We had a sweet record deal blown down like that by just the name Texas Jewboys or by some of the songs,” he said, and his father also wasn’t fond of the band’s name.

But that has turned around also. At a recent show in Tucson, he was amazed at how many in the audience were Jewish — probably half the crowd. He hopes that during this tour, the Jewish communities in the South will help him achieve his two favorite words in the English language — “sold out.”

Being Jewish, he said, “is very subliminal sometimes. It has to do with interweaving your life and your art.”

He bemoans the current state of the music industry, saying there are few out there with staying power. You’re not going to see a young John Lennon come along today, because acts become “a product instantaneously, like Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga. They’re not stars, they’re a product. If they wrote beautiful stuff, you’d never know it.”

Nashville is filled with “corporate whorehouses” filled with songwriters who churn out product. “Everything they do is derivative. It’s selling, someone is recording it, so it’s making money. It manages to be important without being significant.”

And yet, in decades of that process “no one has written ‘Hello Walls,’ and no one has written ‘Me and Bobby McGee’,” he said. “Three stoned drunk guys, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller and Kris Kristofferson, wrote so much classic stuff in a short period of time in the same town.”

To really see an inspiring show these days, “you gotta go see a geezer these days.” He added, “I don’t count myself in that category, at least not yet.

“I’m 67 but I read at a 69-year-old level.”

After the Texas Jewboys broke up, Friedman did a series of detective novels with himself as the main character. In addition to politics and his interest in animal rescue, he now has his own cigar line, which is being run by former sidekick Little Jewford, and includes cigars named after his Utopia animal rescue ranch, Willie Nelson and the Texas Jewboy.

“Heroes of a Texas Childhood” profiles 23 Texans who were and are very influential in Texas history. Of the 23, he said, “you probably know more of them than most college graduates in Texas,” he said, critiquing the lack of historical awareness among today’s youth. “They don’t know on whose shoulders they stand,” Friedman said, and noted that if he had been elected, the book would have been required reading in the public schools.

This tour debuts Friedman’s newest venture, Man in Black tequila, “the best Mexican mouthwash you’ll ever drink.” It salutes Zorro, Paladin and Johnny Cash.

He will be at Vermillionville in Lafayette on Feb. 15, the Red Dragon Listening Room in Baton Rouge on Feb. 16, Duling Hall in Jackson on Feb. 17, the Maple Leaf in New Orleans on Feb. 18, Workplay in Birmingham on Feb. 20, the Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on Feb. 21 and Proud Larry’s in Oxford, Miss., on Feb. 23.


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