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Wednesday, June 30, 2004


On the word "Mincha"

I was just thinking about this today - free-associating the word Mincha. As a noun for 'gift,' it's much more elegant and evocative than "matana," which just means 'something given.' Mincha implies an emotion that comes with the giving and receiving. Mincha - Menucha - Nachas - Nechama - Noach - Munach - see where thinking about the word takes you.

And you can do this with any word, I presume.

And then there's Maariv - right? Erev - Arev (pleasant) - Orev... And of course its connection to Mincha - "Mas'as kapai minchas arev." Sephardim say that pasuk before Maariv each night. Maybe as I learn more about meditation, I'll delve more into these associations.

Thursday, June 17, 2004


Talking During Davening

This is a problem that plagues many, many synagogues/shuls. Some people talk quietly, and try to hush up for leining and shmoneh esrei. Others talk loudly and obnoxiously through the whole service. Sometimes there's a designated shusher who tries to maintain decorum. Other times a few people shush and a few talkers retort with angry comments. Bickering and even outright fighting result. All during the Torah reading. Or Kaddish.

I think it's tragic, and even though I have some very specific shuls and people in mind, I'm addressing this to the community at large.

1. Talking during davening means you don't care about God. Sounds trite and childish, but it's a fact.

Not only that, but it also means you don't mind disturbing other people who may be trying to daven. Case in point: On Shavuos this year, the guys on either side of me finished shmoneh esrei before I did, and proceeded to talk loudly, *through* me, while I tried to finish davening.

2. Talking during leining means you don't care about Torah.
It's not about the baal korei or the rabbi or the people around you - it's the TORAH, for Pete's sake. (Almost said chrissakes - haha.) If you're an observant Jew, isn't the Torah something of a priority in your life? Apparently not.

3. Talking during kaddish or even the misheberachs means you don't care about other people.
And again, what you're saying is: You may have a sick friend, or you may have lost a family member, or you may be praying for the wounded in Israel, but I don't give a crap. But keep in mind: What happens when you're saying kaddish, rachmono litzlon?

I don't think anyone means to say these things maliciously, and if that's the case, just stay out of shul. You can talk in the back room, or outside. Do so to your heart's content. If you want to ask someone a question or share a comment or check which page we're on in the siddur or something, and you can't leave shul, do it QUIETLY. Pretend you're at a movie or a library, l'havdil.

It makes me angry to see people ignoring the importance of shul, but then looking down on someone else for their perceived lack of frumkeit. It doesn't balance out.

Lastly, I heard a prominent mechanech once talking to the 7th and 8th graders in his school. He pointed out that the Hippocratic oath starts with 'First, do no harm.' Medicine is a very powerful discipline that enables people to heal others, but when applied incorrectly, it can cause irreparable harm. Shul's the same way. You're not accomplishing anything by sitting there and fidgeting and talking and disturbing. In fact, you're harming yourself and the people around you. So don't do it.

I hope to hear some comments on this. And I hope I didn't offend anyone. If you're offended, get over it. And stop talking in shul.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


Selections from my Rants and Ruminations over the years...

Jewish Music News and Views
Plus some assorted rants and raves...
It's May 2003! Where the *&^$# have I been? Hey everyone -- I've already gotten quite a few complaints about my lack of fresh content here on the R&R page, and I'm sorry. I realize that this clever format of adding thoughts to the top of each page has taken off -- everyone's doing it now, and they're calling it BLOGS.
One blog that I think may be of interest is that of the Hasidic Rebel.

In music news, what can I tell you? Shwekey is another carbon-copy kvetcher. Bsamim and The Chevra and Shalsheles have sullied the waters even more than usual -- I tell people I can't listen to them because of Kol Isha. Their compositions represent the same regurgitating style of unimaginative hooks and riffs that has plagued JM for decades, and people in Flatbush still snap it up like starving people. And Godfather of Jewish Music Carmine D'amico agrees with me. He recently introduced me to a bandmate, saying "This guy writes the truth, even if nobody wants to hear it!" High praise.

In the meantime, alterna-cool-teen-rebel bands (following in the very big footsteps of the Moshav Band) have cropped up like weeds. Gideon Sword, Pey Dalid, Sparklifters, and all the rest are, in my opinion, still in the probationary stage. They have to prove themselves as professionals with something original and compelling to bring to the table, not just glorified garage bands. That's not to say I don't enjoy their stuff. Pey Dalid puts on a very enjoyable show.

And I want to add a shout-out to my friend and neighbor, guitar virtuoso Seth Glass! His work is worth a listen, both because he's a consummate professional and because he has some insightful and quirky takes on Jewish themes.

And seeing as how everyone wants me to recommend an album :), try "Friends Sing Reb Shlomo -- A Live Concert." This two-CD or two-cassette set came out in late 2002, and it's basically highlights from a huge concert that took place in Jerusalem. Reva L'sheva, BenZion Solomon and sons, Aaron Razel, Mendy Jerufi, Chaim Dovid, and violinist Daniel Ahaviel are all featured performers, and we get about three to four songs from each artist. I'd never heard Aaron Razel before, and he comes across as energetic, if a little contrived. And his voice tends toward hoarseness, too. Reva L'Sheva is always good, but frontman Yehuda Katz doesn't have the vocal range he needs to carry off most of the melodies. They're best when harmonizing -- Adam Wexler on bass and backup vocals does great high harmonies. Their Kah Ribon is nothing special, but their Mizmor L'David extended jam (Disc 2) is absolutely fantastic. Mendy Jerufi is the token yeshivish guy (I love that they have a token yeshivish guy!), and BenZion Solomon sings songs from his previous "Give Me Harmony" release. Chaim Dovid definitely has the strongest set (it's on Disc 2). Either way, this gives you a good sampling of who's who in the Carlebach-talmidim world. So it's a good introduction, and if you like a particular artist, you can follow up with their solo recordings.

So why don't I take a look at some blog sites and maybe move all the brilliant R&R below to one? That's not a bad idea, Mikey! Off I go. I'll alert you all when there's a blog place for us to go and rant about JM and other non-PC topics.

It's Chanukah 2002! I just met Ira Heller at a meeting of the Association of Jewish Communications Professionals. (PLEEEZ visit their Yahoo! club.) Ira is a fantastic singer, and a staunch and articulate advocate for Israel as well. His latest album ("Agudah") tends toward the usual yeshiva/Brooklyn style, but it has some stand-out tracks that are worth a look. He tackles some very personal and emotional material in a song called "My Little One," which is rare and very brave for a Jewish music performer. I think he'd be happiest doing a cantorial album (maybe he's the one to bring chazanus to the next generation) or more showtune-oriented release.
You must buy BenZion Solomon and Sons' new Nishmat Kol Chai CD. Buy it now! It's a must for anyone who wants to lead a Shlomo davening, and it's a must for any fan. The Solomons put a lot of effort and a lot of loving care into this recording, and it shows in the tracks and in the liner notes, written specifically to help budding 'baalei tfila.' One place you can pick these things up conveniently (and listen to samples) is Mostly Music.

And here's a link to check out: Oneg Shemesh.

It's Winter 2001! Here’s a quick note about Sruli Williger’s new “Carlebach Friday Night” recording. Why did he (and the Sameach distributorship) put this out? To capitalize on the sudden explosion of Shlomo-style minyanim, and to bring the nusach to those who don’t usually shop in the alterna-chasidus aisle at their local Judaica store. (You know, the aisle that has BenZion Solomon, the Moshav Band, Soulfarm, Chaim Dovid, Reva L’Sheva, et al.)
But why do we need to hear a kvetchy yeshivish voice (complete with yeshivish-sounding men’s choir) do the Shlomo davening when we already have an excellent recording from BenZion Solomon and sons?? What does this one add to our appreciation or ability to lead a Shlomo davening?

In a word, nothing.

Actually, he does offer several niggunim for different stanzas of L’cha Dodi, which helps if you have zero ability to plug a niggun into the words without help. In my opinion, however, some of the niggunim he picks are ill-suited to L’cha Dodi, and he doesn’t bother fitting them well. On an up note, I like the way Ahavas Olam fits into L’cha Dodi. Good point of reference. On a down note, the electric guitar is ALL WRONG. Can’t stress that enough.

SO what should we expect? MBD and AF and Dedi (any relation to Dido?) coming out with their own Shlomo davenings? Or will it stay among the kleiner kindt – Dachs and Wald?

To sum up, I am not in favor of Yisroel Williger’s Carlebach Friday Night. It’s not sincere, it’s not authentic, and it’s not true to the spirit of Shlomo davenings. Despite what the artist, his handlers, or the liner notes may tell you.

I am, however, very much looking forward to the release of BenZion and Sons’ second volume in the Nusach Carlebach series – Shacharis for Shabbos, which will include Nishmas. Shlomo sang Nishmas to a chasidish niggun that can only be described as transcendent. I’m not exaggerating. Can’t wait to have it in recorded form.

So zei gezint, music fans, and have a great Chanukah!!

It's summer 2001! Noticing how I haven't been in touch in some time? Things have been crazy. And the truth is, there's not much to report, except that the Jewish music scene has gotten worse. My article from December 1998 is getting some renewed attention, thanks to some kind Yahoo! Clubs members. I've gotten some very positive feedback from such musicians as Sam Glaser and Arkady Kofman, not to mention regular people just like you and me.

Before we go any further, here's a few new links to sites and bands that deserve your attention. I will make a links page soon, but in the meanwhile, here they are, in no particular order:

INASENSE is now called Soulfarm.

Check these guys out -- they deserve your patronage.

One reader commented that many 'Jewish Lifestyle' magazines feature music reviews that are always upbeat and positive and fawning. Fact is, the music reviews that appear in most Jewish magazines and newspapers are printed _directly_ in exchange for advertisements purchased by the artist or distributor. If you pay for a full-page ad, we'll run a review that you pay for and/or write -- if you pay for a full-page and a teaser box on the cover, we'll give you a longer review. That's the way Jewish Lifestyles works; I got burned when I wrote my Diaspora review and then found out the magazine wasn't going to print it unless Diaspora bought a full-page ad. And even then the magazine wouldn't pay me for the submission.
So it's a messy situation out there.

Truth is, work and life are taking up most of my time, but I am noticing that Suki and Ding are trying to eke their way back onto the scene. They had their 'All Stars' album -- which featured big stars and new guys singing songs that weren't good enough to put on their solo albums, and now they've got 'Hooked on Dedi,' which is Dedi singing many of the _same_ compositions that appear on the All Stars album! Go figure. And Ira Heller is coming out with a new album of songs written by Yitzy Bald. Guess what? They sound just like every other Yitzy Bald album out there. More to come!

Autumn is in the Air It's mid-October in the great city of New York, and there's a disctinct chill in the air. The holidays have come and gone, and we had a wonderful time. Now is often the time when Jewish artists release this year's crop, and true to form, Shloime Dachs presents us with K'ish Echod.
Don't buy this album!!
It's not a good album, boys and girls. It's not original in any sense. The arrangements are terrible. The producers (Yitzy Bald trying to resuscitate his portfolio and career) steal motifs from Avraham Fried and The Godfather -- but they don't credit their sources!! So if you want mindless dreck that's transparently tailor-made for the wedding circuit (and it will be played badly for the next few months until the bands get it straight or reject it), run out today! I noticed something else when listening to this tape. Real artists aren't in the business to get the next 'wedding hit.' They're in it to produce and play the music they love. So Shloime is being another good little gear in the vast Brooklyn machine with K'ish Echod, and we the dedicated freedom fighters must never let our guards down!! Surf over to Shloime's Web page to sign the guestbook and present your opinion. I did, and they deleted my posting within 12 hours. Yay for free speech!

Spring has sprung! It's mid-May in the great city of New York, and the weather has gone from 90-degree heat waves to 40-degree chills. What's going on upstairs? Your guess is probably better than mine.

But there's some great news on the Jewish music scene -- the release of L'chu N'ran'noh -- an album that features BenZion Solomon and sons singing Reb Shlomo's Friday night nusach (cantorial style). Believe me when I say that
Shabbos in Shomayim (also released as Malachei Elyon) is the title of Reb Shlomo's Friday night album, and it helps provide an introduction for the uninitiated and a refresher for those already familiar with the style. BenZion's album goes several steps farther: It features the entire service, it features choral arrangements that are easy to follow and replicate, and it features the incomparable voices of Moshav Band leader Yehuda Solomon, his brothers, and his legndary father.

Buy the album ASAP. It is a must for any fan of Reb Shlomo and anyone who wants to someday lead a Shlomo-style service. I can't recommend it enough. It's being distributed by Sameach Music in the U.S.

Search for BenZion's site (my link was broken -- sorry folks) for more on the talented Solomon family.

HAPPY 2000!! 5760 SAMEACH!

Y2K has come and gone -- and PC Magazine is occupying most of my time. I am working on a review of Reva L'Sheva's latest album, "Etz Chaim Hi." Our new neighborhood is great -- Shlomo-style davenings abound and we've already hosted half a dozen concerts and kumzitzes and events. The musical counterculture is alive and well! Needless to say, MBD and AF and Dedi and Dachs and Yeedle (I shudder at the thought) are still churning out pablum and burning up the charts, but there are still a few of us who know the truth. It's almost like a little secret society of geeks, a la X-Files, but real talent can't be ignored. Reva L'7 is never formulaic or boring -- their stuff is always fresh, always real, and always home-grown. I have some technical points I want to address with the band itself, and I'll keep you posted on how they turn out.

In other news, I am a big fan of the Moshav Band -- Yehuda and Meir Solomon and company are quickly rising stars in this new scene. If anyone has any info on some of the other, lesser-known "Jewish Rock" bands cropping up, please forward it my way. Happy Adar 1! Check out the Shlomo Site for some deep insights into this month!

Many doings in Fall 1999

Hey gang - we just bought a HOUSE!! In Suffern, NY - in the village of Wesley Hills, which can be considered, ahem, Greater Monsey. Though there's nothing all that great about Monsey, you are well aware.

So while we are very busy getting settled and shlepping boxes, I'll fill you in on some goodies.

A few weeks ago, I was e-mailed by The Godfather of Jewish Music, CARMINE D'AMICO. Carmine read my piece on the Diaspora concert(check it out), and wanted to tell me that he is also a big fan of Diaspora's style and enjoyed helping the band break into the 90s with new material. Carmine also revealed that when preparing for the concert, Diaspora was given a 10-minute sound check, while Dudu Fisher got a full hour. As I said to Carmine, this just underscores the problems with the Jewish music scene. This year, She'aris Yisrael didn't bother with Diaspora; they just had Dedi and Oif. Dedi, by the way, is last week's chopped liver, if you ask me. We haven't seen anything remotely worth listening to from him in the last two years. Oh well...

Be good in the meantime, and e-mail me with any comments or questions!! Assorted Observations in Summer 1999

Hey gang - I just realized that I have been so busy blasting the Miscreants of Mosaic Music that I haven't done a good job praising those acts and artists worth listening to.
Well, I will not let the situation go unremedied. Let me offer my strongest recommendations to Shimon 'C' Lanzbom and Noah Solomon of Inasense.

These guys are talented, innovative musicians and their vocal stylings are fresh and harmonious. Whether they're covering Carlebach tunes at a wedding or performing their original compositions at clubs throughout the country, this band knows how to rock with soul. C's solo 'Lanzbom Plays Carlebach' albums, "Beyond this World" and "From this Day Forward," are fine collections of spiritually uplifting instrumental songs. Inasense's "The Ride" contains original cuts, and "Live in Berlin" has a nice combination of the two. Check them out at Inasense.com.
As you may have guessed from the lack of updates - I have been too busy to keep recording my thoughts and activities here. HOWEVER - I have two items to point out, both of which involve my topic of the year: Jewish Music.

First off - Michoel Schnitzler has a new tape, called "Simcha Chassidit" (A Hasidic Simcha), on which he includes some original compositions, and quite a few covers. All the latest wedding tunes from MBD, Dedi, Dachs, Fried and the rest are jumbled into Schnitzler's medleys. He's entitled - Yochi Briskman (the producer of 'Simcha') has been doing similar work with Neginah Orchestras and the Project X series of albums. Needless to say, Briskman credits each composer on the album insert.

Except for one song. And the song is unmistakable. It is Ata Takum by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, zt"l. The album's producers credit "Traditional" with composing this tune. I find this extremely insulting and egregious. If they don't want to associate Reb Shlomo's name with the album - they shouldn't use the song. I think everyone with a shred of conscience should prevail upon Yochi Briskman and Michoel Schnitzler to rectify this mistake. It's not just stealing; it's stealing from the departed.


On Nachum Segal's Jewish Moments in the Morning radio broadcast today, the subject of Mordechai Ben David's 25th anniversary show was discussed at length. MBD will be singing (on Sukkot) to benefit Priority One, a fine community service organization. I have no major problem with MBD, except for his last five or so releases, but he didn't compose the drivel; he just sang it.

My problem is that Segal, in his infinite wisdom, said some of his listeners expressed disappointment that they'd be in Israel for the holiday, and would thus miss the MBD show. I think that comment ranks number one in the "Missed The Point" department. 'Nuff said.


Jewish Music Rants - Going back a ways

This is a piece I wrote on 12/7/98 after attending the Shearit Israel benefit concert last night at Avery Fisher Hall. It's been around the Internet a lot over the last six years, with luminaries from BenZion Solomon to Carmine D'Amico commenting on its veracity. Some anonymous studio musicians and technicians have commented on it as well. I'll post more as we go...

Muddled Waters - the Sorry State of Jewish Music
by Michael Steinhart

What do Diaspora, Dudu Fisher and Oif Simchas have in common? Absolutely nothing.

Finding a shared thread between these three acts is like trying to link Placido Domingo, Puff Daddy and the Grateful Dead. It won't happen. The three represent the entire spectrum of "Orthodox" Jewish music, but the picture they painted at Shearit Israel's concert last night spoke volumes about the sorry state of affairs prevalent in Jewish music and communal life.

Let's start with Oif Simchas. Three Israeli 20-somethings with a drum machine and a synthesizer. They use old Yiddish tunes, sometimes compose a riff here and there (ones that sound suspiciously like every "oy-oy" bass line popularized by MBD, Avraham Fried and Dedi), throw a switch to start the window-rattling house beat, and off they go. Posing and strutting like the worst contestants on "Showtime at the Apollo," they prance and dance (loosely, and I mean very loosely choreographed) and bust moves and throw out standard lyrics like Asher Bara and Shalom Aleichem. The crowd loved it.

Much to my happiness and the group's chagrin, there were at least some in the audience with a rudimentary appreciation for class, talent and Judaism. For them, the appeal was lost.

Dudu Fisher is a classically trained chazan. He has a lovely voice. He has led services in the most maginificent synagogues on the planet. He has also starred in Broadway shows like Les Miserables. All of this was obviously not good enough. Brooklyn is where the money is. So he decided to record an album of "Chassidic" music. Basically, he wanted to join the ranks of MBD, Avraham Fried, Dedi, Mendy Wald, Sruli Williger, Shloimy Dachs, and all the boys who look and/or sound exactly alike. So he went to Yossi Green, the kingmaker and only purveyor of authentic Chassidic music, pulled out his checkbook, and got to work.

Y'see, if an album doesn't say "all songs composed by Yossi Green," on the front cover, it won't sell.

So who is Yossi Green? He's the guy who recently brought us Chazak, Lebinyamin, and all the wedding music that women simply must learn the dance steps for. His tunes are always simplistic, often catchy, rarely fit the words, never promote correct Hebrew pronunciation and couldn't possibly be considered sophisticated compositions by any stretch of the imagination. But people will sing them. And people will dance to them. Because people don't know any better. Dudu Fisher has a great voice. He could sing anything. But he, and Fried, and everyone else, have to crank out these cookie-cutter upbeat freilachs to stay afloat. That's sad.

Even more sad is the way Fisher told stories to open certain songs. Everybody does it. A little anecdote or vignette that makes a point and sets the stage for the song. But Fisher told stories about Yossi Green. The songs were composed by Green because Green was inspired by blah blah blah. So put Green on the stage and go get some of your own stories, Dudu. The transparency of the act was blatant and offensive. But just to me. When Fried and MBD are on stage, they never mention Green's name, but Dudu has to keep reminding everyone about his affiliation with the songwriter, else interest in his act may wane. Hopefully he'll soon get established enough not to have to name-drop.

So let's now turn to a band that has bucked every trend, broken every rule, and despite a brief brush with near-obscurity, is back on the scene: Avraham Rosenblum and Diaspora. What sets them apart? Let's resist the sarcastic one-liners running through our minds and focus on the facts. They write, play and sing their own music. Unheard of! Unthinkable! Each band member is a singularly talented musician. Recognized in the field. Hailed by "real world" critics. They're talented, they're dedicated, they're real. They have homes and families and jobs and communal lives and aren't afraid to speak the truth. Their compositions are inspired, and their spirit is infectious. And though they were well received at the concert, their work drew less applause than did the other acts.

Why? Well, their material was more raw, their sound more sophisticated, their arrangements more complex, and therefore more difficult. They had a glitch or two to work out during the show. Their intro didn't go as planned. Their new members were still getting accustomed to the traditional groove and their old members were still getting used to the new sound. This was not a "Negina players read off the sheet music" performance. This was real. And it rocked.

Gone were the twanging banjo and drawling fiddle of the "old" Diaspora. Hammond organ and smooth, smoking blues violin are now part and parcel of the band's equipment. The voices are familiar, but the music is designed for the 90s. (I am actually ambivalent on this issue. Diaspora's 1991 reunion concert was played following the original formula, and people still haven't stopped talking about it. I think their style worked then, and could still work now. But the new stuff is excellent - because these guys are good.)

Their songs were each crafted and lovingly presented, and each member was working hard to make the whole come together. Their work paid off, and "Jerusalem is Calling," Diapora's newest album, is a masterful collection of original material. I highly recommend it. As I said to my wife, "Even a flawed performance from Diaspora can trounce the best anyone else has to offer."

So where was the recognition? Why weren't they greeted with standing O's and dancing in the aisles? Because the average mainstream "frum" Jew has no appreciation for talent. It's a fact. How else can you explain the popularity of the carbon-copy kvetchers? Jewish talent brokers have found a formula, injected it into the culture, and are now fueling it with everything they've got. Diaspora represents a threat to that formula, and I hope more people see the truth of this soon.

Even worse, a Jewish concert now has to follow the formula as well. The band must be perfectly synchronized and nearly robotic - with all the mainstays (Carmine D'Amico, Rick Cutler, et. al) going through the motions. The performer has to come out happy and upbeat. The performer has to throw in a story about an IDF soldier losing some limbs (pardon the cynicism). The performer must pay tribute to Reb Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory, and must come off to the audience as a caring, deeply feeling Jew. To do otherwise would be breaking the rules.

So last night, Yishai Lapidot of Oif Simchas prefaced his "Dor Metzuyan" song with a story about how he saw a soldier on TV, a soldier who was wounded seriously in battle (and lost a hand, else the story wouldn't work), and who still professed loyalty to God, the nation and the land. Lapidot saw this and said, "Wow. This is a Dor Metzuyan (exceptional generation)." Then the crowd cheered violently, and the thumping machine cranked up a few notches, and Oif Simchas began their theme song - Dor Metzuyan - complete with a Macarena-sampled bass line and their own take-off on the once-popular party dance. Very appropriate to memorialize the IDF's slain and wounded.

And the song was written because they saw something inspiring on TV? Wow. Remind me to be emotionally touched, after I stop laughing.

Dudu Fisher went one step further, He spoke of a sergeant who, by virtue of a last-minute change in marching position, was 20 meters away from his commanding officer when the latter was killed by a bomb. The sergeant carried his CO (sans arms again) a mile to the army base. That Shabbat, the sergeant recited the Birchat Hagomel, thanking God for delivering him from danger. "If the cry that went up from that synagogue wasn't enough to tear open the gates of heaven, I don't know what is," Fisher said. And I was crying from that story. Lots of people were. But then he delivered the killing blow (pardon the expression): He sang "Lord on High" from Les Miserables as a tribute to those soldiers.

Couldn't he have found something more meaningful - dare I say it - more Jewish? We were all a little stunned and insulted by his choice of song. It showed me that these stories, sad and poignant though they may be, are fodder for audience-baiting. That's also sad.

In point of fact, Reb Shlomo started the whole "this song is for soldier so-and-so who was killed/wounded ... etc." movement. But Reb Shlomo was there. In the army hospitals and on the front. He sat with these boys, held them, cried over their beds. He had a right. If he says God sent him a song while he watched the soldiers standing guard in the Chermon, I believe him. If Yishai Lapidot says he wrote a song after seeing a soldier on TV, I chalk that up to a good publicist.

The legacy of Reb Shlomo - this was celebrated by Fisher and Diaspora, and omitted from Oif's repertoire. Just as well, because they'd probably have butchered something beautiful. Diaspora's Ben Zion Solomon called Reb Shlomo "My Rebbe, my best friend, and my next-door neighbor." Solomon lives on Moshav Modiin, the settlement founded by Reb Shlomo, and carries on the teachings and songs of the "Singing Rabbi" to a new generation of seekers. Diaspora then sang "Uvnei," from Solomon's solo album, "Give Me Harmony," and "Days Are Coming," from "Jerusalem is Calling." The tribute was fitting, exuberant and thoughtful. It was also understated - the songs were sung, and the program moved on.

Fisher's Carlebach set started with "Venisgav Hashem," appropriate for that week's Torah portion. He prefaced it by saying that without Reb Shlomo, none of the popular composers could have existed. Then he chanted Reb Shlomo's "It's still Yom Kippur" monologue from "Yisrael Betach Bashem." My problem is, Reb Shlomo didn't write it or script it beforehand - he just went where the mood of the song took him. He was reflecting. Fisher copied the recording word for word and note for note. Granted, he sang it with intensity and vocal brilliance, but I still see his rendition as, "this appeared on album X," as opposed to, "this is a song that captures Reb Shlomo's uniqueness." Just my quibble - because coming from Fisher, it wasn't authentic.

So to recap, Oif Simchas is the opiate of the masses, a dodge for Yeshiva kids whose parents and teachers wouldn't let them near rap music. Oif is loud, obnoxious, and not particularly talented. Some would say the same of me.

Dudu Fisher is a wonderful vocalist with an identity crisis. He was a chazan, he was a broadway star, and now he wants to cross over into the "Chassidic" mainstream. Why? I don't know. Name recognition, maybe. He can render O Sole Mio with the same verve as any Yossi Green number, and his Yiddish is as good as his Yeshivish, but he's a man without a country, so to speak. If he's to distinguish himself as a personality, rather than a parrot, he needs to find a format and stick with it. And an original work wouldn't hurt, either. But then again, all the singers nowadays are relying on Yossi Green for the music and supplying only the vocals - so why should Dudu try to differentiate himself?

Diaspora is the stand-alone champion of innovative Jewish rock. They've distinguished themselves as non-conformists - artists who would rather fade away than kowtow to the all-powerful "velt." Their creativity is channeled to a real goal, that of reaching Jews with a positive message. To paraphrase Avraham Rosenblum, the band wants to show people that observant Jews can produce something fresh, vibrant, real. That Judaism doesn't mean dark, ancient ritual, but bright, joyful expression. With members of the original troupe spreading the message throughout Israel and the world (Chaim Dovid, Ben Zion Solomon, Yitzchak Attias and Moshe Shur, to name a few), Diaspora's style of music has engaged and will continue to engage the hearts and minds of Jewish truth-seekers.

If Diaspora succeeds, it may usher in a paradigm shift that could take us back to the days when Am Yisrael was recognized as the most gifted and artistic nation on Earth -- when the spirit of God wove through every inspiring note of the Beis Hamikdash Orchestra. That's when the majesty and brilliance of Jewish music and thought will truly be realized. May it be soon.

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