Tuesday, July 18, 2017

It's so sad!

In recent days the NF attended a family wedding here in the Holyland. The kallah, a cousin of Mrs. NF, was marrying a son of a rather well known Hesder (National Religious) Rosh Yeshiva. While the bride and groom were your typical, run of the mill, national religious couple,  the greater family of the groom (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings) was rather religiously intense/chardal.

One former co-worker used to refer to such people as Tzurels (צורל ) -
צדיק ורע לו
 or "Righteous and everything is terrible in life" meaning a pained or constipated look is always required.  I'm not a very judgmental person (ok, I am) so I just assumed the entire family needs a bit more fibre in its diet.

Anyway,  a yeshivish (dati leumi of course) looking family member was called up for the 7th Sheva Bracha ---- he proceeded to enunciate every word in a kvetchy, pained and sad voice all while shuckling like the (proverbial) Rebbe. The NF would like to assume that this heavily bearded, huge Kipa wearing dude (he was even wearing a suit!) was aware of the words he was saying:

" אשר ברא ששון ושמחה חתן וכלה, גילה רינה דיצה וחדוה אהבה ואחוה ושלום ורעות"

So in that phrase alone we have 10 words that reference sad concepts such as happiness, love and peace. Since when did religious intensity/seriousness get replaced with sorrow?

So this past Friday night, we make our way to shul and lo and behold Mr Spirituality is asked to lead Kabbalat Shabbat. Mr Spirituality spent 5+ years in a hesder yeshiva, holds a PhD in Jewish Thought and is currently a professor at a major Israeli University so I can only assume he understands basic Hebrew. Mr. Spirituality slowly made his way to the shulchan draped the talit over his head, shuckled a few hundred times (like the rebbe), closed his eyes like he had just seen his Grandma naked and said the joyful words 

 'לכו נרננה לה

....while sounding like his best friend had just died!

The NF sighed heavily, gonged to himself and started reviewing the parsha.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Baruch Dayan HaGong


Monday, October 31, 2016


Selichot: The NF attended the Great Synagogue with the two older little NFs. The choir was outstanding and the chazan (Tzvi Weiss) was good+.

My only criticisms:  1. A low baritone should not be singing the solo of מוחל עוונות and
                                 2. The chazan sang three of the batim from לשמוע אל הרינה to  a pretty well known melody used for birkat cohanim in the US. Too  mundane for me when there are so many better options.

Rosh Hashana Day 1:
"Velvet", an Israeli of French (Strasbourg) descent, davened mussaf and won a golden shtender --- it was smooth, not shleppy and he sang all the right melodies. People joined in and you could say that the entire experience was both uplifting and fun.

Rosh Hashana Day 2:
Swiss Army Thespian led mussaf. Grade: Gong x 26.
Many of us (Velvet, Dr. D, the NF) have the philosophy that the teffilot in a maoin minyan but especially those on the yamim noraim offer an opportunity to reconnect, to participate and to experience something רוחני. (That is why we don't eat nut (or beans, cauliflower, broccoli or cabbage) on Rosh Hashana as those foods offer an opportunity for something רוחני but in the bad physical sense.)

Although I never asked, I would guess that Swiss doesn't subscribe to this philosophy. Swiss stuck to his own nostalgia (of home and/or yeshiva) and severely alienated and pissed off the kahal. Of course, there is room to slip lit bits and pieces of family or hometown nusach into the davening but singing  בראש השנה יכתבון to a (boring) melody that only you know from home and then אין קצבה  to  a melody that maybe 5 know (instead of the Modzitz melody that everyone is expecting) is unforgivable. Singing Calebach's כבקרת רועה עדרו in a different part of  ונתנה תןקף confused the hell out of people. The grand finale of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah for הללוליה was just irritating and people were not singing along. As our internationally famous Rav said afterward, "Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is very nice, but it (and other Hollywood melodies) has no place in my shul". Gong
Yom Kippur:
Kol Nidrei was fine.
The NF led Shacharit with  a bit of a raspy voice. the piyut אמרו לאלהים  is way too long, nothing fits and forces the chzzan to sing for 39 pages by himself. Other than that piyut, I got people singing.

Musaf: The old Yekkish Don led for the 40th year in a row using Nusach Frankfurth, 1938. It was all right but not terribly uplifting.

Mincha: The guy finished on time but for his victory kaddish he used a Dutch melody that only he knew.

Neila: the youngest NF was a rockstar, singing a mochel avonot solo and earning his payment of a crapload of Toblerone.

Sukkot: All was fine or at worst, parve.

Simchat Torah:
The night was fine and then we got to Shacharit: Martini led and all was fine until he got to hallel. Although hallel is a part of davening that people eagerly join in singing, Martini decided to sing a bunch of Australian melodies from the 1950s that only he knew. See Rosh Hashana Day 2. Gong.

Shabbat Breishit:
Kabbalat Shabbat was led my mini-martini (no relation to Martini), a trained chazzan. It was slow and boring but apparently, mini-martini wanted to show us what we missed when he was not asked to daven over r"h and y"k. When he got to השכיבנו, he sang the entire thing slowly to, ready,....מכניסי רחמים. People were clearly getting annoyed ---but was he done. Oh no! He finished off the bracha to the melody of והיא שעמדה (connection unknown). The NF wished everyone a חג שמח וכשר, gonged and then went home.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The difference between davening Shacharit and Mussaf on R"h and Y"k

After leading Musaf on 2nd Day R"h last year in the main minyan, the gabbaim have rotated the NF to Shacharit Y"k. While the NF doesn't really mind, other baalei tefilla really don't like doing a shacharit and much prefer mussaf. The NF, who led shacharit this past Shabbat-Rosh Chodesh, tried to explain why to one of the gabbaim ---

My logic, Shacharit on the yamim noraim is like אל אדון while mussaf is hallel. The gabbai didn't get it. So the NF continued --- at אל אדון  the shul is only 60% full, no one is awake yet and no is in the mood to sing so the chazzan has a lot of work to do. In contrast, by הלל, the shul is 95% full and as long as you sing something normal, it is very easy to get the crowd going.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A review of last Shabbat's mussaf

As a new co-worker "Making Tzaddikim Great Again" has recently discovered the now defunct blog, he has asked me why I don't get back to writing.

After this past Shabbat's mussaf, I could safely say that material had made itself available.

A bit of background: In our famous south Jerusalem synagogue, our internationally famous Rav has placed a number of baalei tefilla (if you want to call them that) on a black list for, well, sucking or just plain irritating the hell out of the kahal.  Only when the Rav is away, do the gabbaim ask the black-listed chazzanim to daven before the amud.  Appearing on the list:

  • Guiseppe the WOP - an Italian-born neighborhood guy with an operatic voice who likes to sing kedusha to Verdi
  • Cravat man - an older man with a rotten voice who likes to lead Kabbalat shabbat, nusach Carlebach, at the slowest possible speed all while wearing a cravat.
  • Pepe Le Pew - A Frenchman who enjoys schlepping out the davening every opportunity he gets. In truth, Pepe (named after the famous French cartoon skunk) doesn't have a bad voice....he just regularly starts in a  bad register so that he cracks as he tries to go high. Pepe has become quite predictable in what he will sing. Kedusha of  Shacharit is always this.  Anyway, this past year Pepe was asked to daven mincha on Yom Kippur and although he was allocated an a hour and 10 minutes, he decided he would show everyone that he deserved a mussaf. He sang everything he could. At the hour and half point, oblivious to the late hour and the growing annoyance of the kahal, he began to sing רצה - our famous Rav banged on the shtender and yelled nu....Pepe had been placed on the blacklist.
With out Rav away this past Shabbat, the gabbaim asked Pepe to daven mussaf. While baal shacharit  had inoffensive (if not boring) nusach, he took his time. Leining was long as well (Pinchas is a lengthy parsha). And then Pepe got up there. And he schlepped. But what made mussaf special was Pepe's predictable kedusha:
First, פרוק ית for נעריצך and קדוש (which he said 4 times), תנצל נפשי (or at lease part of it) for כבודו, then אודך (from Hallel!) for ממקומו and finally, כבקרת רועה עדרו  for שמע ישראל.  As usual, no one was singing along (other than Dr. D and the NF adding "gong" in the appropriate places). Some may disagree with me, but I am a firm believer that certain melodies (such as כבקרת רועה עדרו and other yamim noraim melodies) should be left for, well, the yamim noraim. Would you ever consider singing part of davening to chamol or kol nidrei  on a regular shabbat?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

“Snag”, A Nusach Freak reader, recently commented that I have not posted for over a year. Boy, time has really flown….
So what has happened in the last year? ---- The NF has been busy with life, kids, career etc. Something had to give and so the blog has gone ignored.

So here is the post high holiday roundup --- the NF went to the great for selichot and it was well, great especially when the choir sang this melody before shma koleinu (that video is kinda creepy, huh?).

The NF led Shacharit on day 1 of RH in our shul's main minyan which was followed by a grade A  musaf by Dr. D.    Dr D. and I sang this duet during mussaf.
In the hours before Yom Kippur, the NF traded countless emails with an NF fan/reader that needed some ideas for Kol nidrei/Shacharit. Remember folks, I’m here for you.

The NF led kol nidrei in a small overflow minyan. Like last year, Dr and I provided musical back-up for the rav of our shul who led neila.

The NF was then asked to lead Geshem on Simchat torah --- in tribute to the many happy years I spent in mini-Breuers/Munks growing up (as well as the high percentage of Western Europeans in our shul), I used the yekkish Nagil v’nismach for Naaritzcha (look at this website under Simchat Torah - hallel - Ana Hashem if you are interested), winning a gong and a golden shtender from an NF fan in from London. The old yekkish Don of the shul came over to me afterward and awarded me the highest compliment that a yekkish Don can give ---היה בטוב טעם (“It was done in good taste”).

Line of the year: While having a Shabbat afternoon tea a few weeks ago, Dr D and I were discussing some of the talk going on in our shul on how to prevent unpopular davening practices. So Dr D tells me that the shul so loves his davening (actually, they really do) that the women of the kehilla have been known to throw their underwear at him from the ezrat nashim at the end of davening.  After an awkward silence, I responded, “Dr. D. I believe that you have crossed the Freundel line”.
Second line of the year: there was a bar mitzvah in shul this past Shabbat. The family of frogs Frenchmen requested that Mini Martini lead kabbalat Shabbat. He sang everything that was in the siddur. He sang things that weren’t in the siddur. And he sang slowly. It was so bad that a large group left the shul early to join ISIS. But we were only getting warmed up. Shabbat morning a guest Froggie Chazzan got up and led shacharit in an over the top operatic style singing absolutely nothing and schlepping it out. As he finished, I turned to Mr. Oldsmobile sitting in front of me and said – “I believe we have been victims of cantorial masturbation”. His response: I’m not sure if you could consider that cantorial.”

Saturday, November 2, 2013

לא על הלחם לבדו יחיה האדם

For those familiar with the blog, you will know that that the NF finds good nusach to be important. What you may not have known is that the NF is obsessed with finding great challah.

One would think that Israel being the Jewish state and all, and Jerusalem being the Holy City and all, that it would be a snap to find perfect challah here in the hood. But alas, it's just not so.

Upon making aliya many moons ago, the NF traversed across the many neighborhoods of Jerusalem seeking out the perfect challah --- crusty but chewy on the outside, with sweet overtones but not cake, not overly dense, no artificial preservatives etc.

 A few weeks ago on a Friday morning, Mrs. NF suggested that with the 4 little NFs in school all morning, that we take a drive to the city of Tel Aviv for a bit of change in scenery. Upon arriving in Tel Aviv, Mr. and Mrs. NF sat down for a cup of coffee (and a bit of pastry) in an upscale bakery/cafe in downtown Tel Aviv. As we sat there. some beautiful looking challot were being brought out to the front of the shop. Should we get one, asked Mrs. NF, "they certainly look good".

While deliberating whether to take out a second mortgage to finance a potential gourmet challah purchase, it dawned on me that challa in Israel can be broken down into 4 categories:

1. The homemade challah. Let's be honest, homemade challah often disappoints....it can be heavier than a rebetzin after 20 years of childbirth and strudel ....denser than an Amercian college football player, be overdone on the outside and raw on the insde and have that slightly alcoholic taste of over fermentation. Of course there are exceptions: Mrs. NF makes very good (if not a bit dense challah) and Mrs. Dr. D makes a golden spatula worthy streusel challah....but by and large homemade challah is not my thing ----
 (A digression regarding home baked challah - Many homemade challot seem to come from a 40-women baking challah to save the world ceremony. Let's be clear: The NF doesn't believe in this 40 women baking challah/segula. To quote the Big Gong  upon hearing  that 40 women would be getting together to bake challah to help cure some poor cancer sufferer, "I realize I am no medical professional, but I always found that chemotherapy more effective in treating cancer". Anyway, Mrs. NF had once invited the big gong and family for Shabbat lunch. Unfortunately, a young lady in chu"l was diagnosed that Monday with terminal brain cancer. On Tuesday, 40 women including Mrs. Big Gong got together and baked challah --- Mrs. Big Gong  put the challah she baked in the freezer. Sadly, by Wednesday the person in chu"l was no longer (see above  regarding the efficacy of 40 women baking challah)....Mrs.Big Gong called us and asked us if she should bring the challah for shabbat lunch taking into account that the choleh it had been baked for had died. Being a rational, non-superstitious Jews, we encouraged Mrs. Big Gong to bring the challah over. However, I must admit that with trepidation, I cut into the challah. Happily, I can report that no malignancies were found)

2. Heimeshe Challah - Heimeshe challah at its best is beautifully braided, smells like heaven, chewy on the inside and crusty on the outside. Slightly sweet but not too sweet, it's worth eating this challah even if the rebbe has licked it up and down before distributing pieces as shirayim. Typically challah is bought in bakeries where toothless women of a certain age named Manya, Blima and Gittle Genedel who are shaped like 3x3 linebackers, wearing little white jackets and speaking with heavy Polish/Hungarian accents are working behind the counter. Alas, heimeshe challah in Jerusalem can be misleading and challot can look and smell heavenly ---- but upon making hamotzi you find that the challot have no taste or worse have been baked using water drained from the men's mikveh just before yom kippur. However, there are a couple of good options in Israel: HaTzvi, Gerelitz, Vizhnitz (which while the NF can't stand others swear by), Brooklyn Bake Shop and Moishe's. Drink of choice for the crowd of people who buy this challah: A glass of tea with a sugar cube or some slivovitz to wash down the herring and onions they had for breakfast.

3. The challah of the Amcha (the common people) - Included in this group is the terrible water challah that can be purchased at every makolet in Israel, cheap supermarket challah that leaves you with a terrible preservative aftertaste and mass produced tasteless challah (Angel, Berman). (It should be noted that while the NF doesn't like this challah, the water challah is perfect for soaking up the sauce that accompanies  חריימה --- Moroccan fish and other Eastern delicacies.  Drink of choice for the crowd of people who buy this challah: Botz (Turkish Coffee).

4. Foofy challah - Many bakeries and coffee shops/patisseries in Israel offer challot along with other assorted baked goods and delicacies. One should be very careful before purchasing a challah from such a shop. Invariably, the challot look alright but then you realize that the menu includes, whole grain, brioche, organic, pumpkin, non-gluten and other abominations that have nothing to do with challah. As bread, these offerings might be quite good but let's be frank: It is not challah. and the regular challah is usually mediocre.  I call this foofy challah  because it is the challah bought by foofy people --- you know the type --- the kind of people who wear off-weave, multi-colored talitot in shul, the kind of people who insist on carlebach every friday night (but don't come to shul on time) and the kind of people who give their children unisex names. These people are probably ordering a soy latte while purchasing their challot bread. Foofy.

Getting back to our story,  Mr and Mrs NF purchased a challah from this fine bake shop expecting it to be foofy. but alas we were pleasantly surprised that the challah could have passed for Heimishe.

Why is this relevant to the Nusach Freak blog? It isn't. So there.