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 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.

A modern reading of our High Holidays in Jerusalem

It gives the NF great honour to present you with a recap of the High Holidays (in particular Yom Kippur) as observed at  our South Jerusalem synagogue. The recap has been written by Marc Rosenberg of


The World Series just ended (congrats Boston fans) and thus ends the hype and glory of the MLB baseball season.  With all of the hoopla, it gives me the appropriate context to share my reflections on the burgeoning davning rivalry in the pews of a certain South Jerusalem Synagogue.  We have the classic titans, the Yankees who traditionally have their run of the amud, but in the past year, there is a bunch of youngsters (read, under the age of 50) – for lack of a better comparison the Florida Marlins - who are challenging the tefilla hegemony for davening domination.

My first and only disclaimer is that I am not a hazan. I only learned the techniques because my Dad died suddenly and had to daven a LOT from amud than I ever had before. I was the kid at summer camp more concerned about which girl person I sat next to than what page we were on (but that is another story).  Basically, I am the guy who couldn’t really make the ball team but somehow got stuck watching so much that I am sharing my play-by-play.

Our certain South Jerusalem Synagogue is an interesting place and offers a showcase of combative competitive davening skills, week in and week out.  The gabbaim run a tight ship; a core (read OLDer) group of men make sure that the leining and davening are appropriate for their tastes.  (I know of a good guy, principal at US day school, smeicha and even a kohen to boot, who told me of the time that he was at Our certain South Jerusalem Synagogue many years ago and they didn’t have someone to lein and he could, and did so, but was corrected on his accent and heavy askenazi style).  But I keep coming back because the davneing is a good and good things seem to happen when I daven there. Another important note is that in the past 8 years, a wave of younger families have joined the shul and while much of the control of the shul is with these elders, the younger people are starting to flex their religious muscles.

Each Shabbat, one can witness the ongoing battle between the Yankees and Marlins, as there is sometime a desire to split shacharit and musaf between the two groups.  It was once said that the Yamim Noraim are the playoffs of davening  - so too it was at Our certain South Jerusalem Synagogue.

I personally hadn’t been at Our certain South Jerusalem Synagogue for YK for four years, and returned this year to competing minyanim within the same building.  There was the vatikin vs. main minyan showdown which showcased the selection of hazanim of the different teams.  I did align my davening selection with the Marlins schedule and followed the NF’s schedule which did earn me points with my wife (for going early).  I did choose to go to Kol Nidre in the downstairs slot which was a reply of Kol Nidre from the 1950’s. The davening was led by a Yankee davening horse (NF Editor's note: Dr. CT) which trudged along the same intonation and tunes as in the days of yore.  The morning brought a lighter, faster, and meaningful cruise through shacharit, thank you NF – followed by an incredible musaf by Dr. D – was quite pleasing and I didn’t even go to the Gush. 

Mincha was led by a younger guy who clearly wanted to play for the Yankees and consequently sent me to the upstairs minyan for ne’ilah out of fear of what would happen to my soul.  Interestingly, Our certain South Jerusalem Synagogue's internationally known Rav davened and started off with a thirsty voice causing fear amongst the crowd about his vocal stamina and ability to elevate for the davening finale.  It actually was brilliant and punctual, and something even beautiful happened. Not only did the Rav’s voice get stronger as ne’ilah progressed, he brought in the hazanim from the Yankees and the Marlins to run backup.  They helped select tunes and pitch, and I may have even heard harmony.  Yes, some may say that the Marlins really carried the choir that night – with a special nod to Dr. D, but it was quite nice to see the gathering of hazanim from both sides standing together. 

But now that the season has passed, and I, sitting in my back row seat in the corner, watch the davening duel continue, rooting for the Marlins and hoping that davening ends by 10:45.


thank you Marc 

---- the NF

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Oh All right

Shana Tova to the greater gonging community....

Many of you have asked me when I would be posting my recap of the High Holiday days and the truth is, I have had no time to write ---- until now.

So here we go: Selichot: for the first time since childhood, I didn't make it to the "big Motza"sh Selichot" (Jewish Midnight Mass). Mrs NF is a medical professional and as such, was working in the hospital on selichot night.

The NF stayed home with the 4 little NFs. The Logical African reported that the Great Synagogue was well, great....The LA was also kind enough to send me a link to a recording of selichot at Ner Yisrael in Hendon, London with Stephen Goldberg leading. A good listen in my opinion.

The NF had a rather busy RH/YK... I davened all three days and was a nusach/niggun coach for neilah.... 

RH day 1: The NF led shacharit in the shul Hashkama minyan:
Melody choices:
1. אתה הוא אלוקינו ---- נער הייתי 
2. ה' מלך - the traditional Gush melody
3. לאל עורך דין - אנא ה' 

Personal grade: B+, I didn't feel well and made some minor mistakes that no one other than me noticed.
Baal musaf was fast, had good traditional nusach and was boring as sin.

RH day 2: The NF led shacharit in the main minyan:
1. Shulachti - Beshem Hashem (Carlebach)
2. Ata Hu Elokenu - Ana HAshem (Carlebach)
3. Melech Elyon - First the Krakower niggun and then this modzitz niggun 
4. Hashem Melech - the traditional Gush melody
5. Kedusha - Rachem Bchasdecha...

 Of course, in chazarat hashatz, I threw in a simcha lartzecha and in Avina Malkeinu, a tehei hashaa hazot. Vaani tefilati was sung to vlirushalayim.

No questions asked, I got the room singing.
Personal Grade: A

Dr. D led a pretty much flawless musaf which managed to really get the room going. As usual it was a pleasure to listen to.

 The Rav of the shul awarded both the NF and Dr D golden shtenders, asked us if we would be willing to become the chazzanim for life (with a salary) and have our oldest respective sons marry his daughters. OK, the latter two items didn't happen but he did ask us to stand by his side during neila and provide musical support (ie, start the melodies, provide harmonies etc).

 YK was soon upon us and after a quick mikveh run, the NF was sitting down on Friday afternoon to two different kinds of kreplach prepared by Mrs. NF. Delicious. Mrs. NF has won a golden spatula.

Arriving at shul, Dr. D and the NF took our seats in the overflow/vatikin minyan (where we would be davening in the morning) just as Dr.CT was starting to intone Kol Nidrei. I have never heard such a technically correct, souless rendition. It was as dry as a camel turd in the middle of the Sahara.

The NF and Dr. D quickly went upstairs to the main minyan where the baal tefilla attempted to integrate well known pop songs (this and this) into the selichot to make the 3 and half chilonim in the room feel more comfortable.

 YK morning - the NF led shacharit in the vatikin minyan (5:40 start, 6:05 HaMelech, End of Shacharit: 7:50)
Melody selection:

El Adon - Ein k'erkecha
Ata hu - Ya Ribbon (Gush)
Hayom Yikatev - Mochel Avonot
Melech Elyon - the usual Carlebach set to get it over with quickly
Al Yisrael - vhavitotim
Haderet vaHemuna - the seuda Shlishit melody
L'El Orech din - Ana Hashem
Kedusha - Breslav lecha Dodi
Ki Anu Amecha - Tzama Nafshi
Val Kulam - Modzitz
Vani Tefillati - Baruch El Elyon
Personal Grade: A-/A

Dr. D led his usual flawless musaf. Neila was really nice with lots of good singing. Dr. D and I managed to teach the kehilla mochel avonot and we finished excatly on time. More importantly, the massive ice coffee the NF drank just seconds after making havdalla was inspired.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Why is it that when people see a "chushuva" or even a not so "chushuva" person get a kibud they have a natural inclination to make a rude sound.

"Yaamod Yankel ben Zalman, Shlishi"


What does a sound reminding us of the act of urination have to do with getting a kibud?

This question has been asked by numerous rabbis (I use that term loosely considering the current state of the cheif rabbanite in Israel) and has been answered as follows:
1. I'm so very impressed that my neighbor, the am haaretz, has been given shlishi that I have literally wet my pants. In recognition of this, I make a peepee sound.
2. My neighbor has recently had prostate surgery and needs all the encouragement he can get.
3. Pshhhhh does sound like peeing but it also sounds like something deflating. We direct this sound at our neigbor to let him know that he shouldn't let the kavod go to his head --- he should deflate his ego.
4. In a  similr  vein, it is brought down in a book written by some guy with a long beard that kibudim are typically given to chushuva people. Of course these people are generally no more chushuv than my belly button lint so it has become minhag yisroel to let them no that despite this kibud they are getting, they are still a bunch of pishers.
5. A pishing sound is better than a flatulation sound.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A new term

As noted in the last few posts, the NF now davens in a shul that has a very low tolerance for shtuyot which means that very little material has made itself available in the last 11 months since we moved.

But this past Shabbat was special --- Sitting through a complelty inoffensive shacharit   a new term was born.

Baal shacharit was an old guy with completly inoffensive and boring but tolerable nusach. But then when the Torah was taken out, he decided that despite the fact that there was a long double parsha and birchat hahodesh, it would be a good idea to sing Beh Ana Rachitz very very slowly. And then it dawned on me. the chazzan wasn't guilty of cantorial masturbation; No he was guilty of cantorial stupidity.

We managed to get through the leining and then the Swiss Army Thespian got up to daven musaf. He did the יהי רצון for ברכת החדש using the old school, שיבנה בית המקדש melody. The melody kind of makes me think of hava nagila, gefilte fish balls, electric blue carpeting, satin talitot and the Men's Club at a 1960s-era Orthodox/Conservative shul. But Swiss pulled it off ok and I suppose the melody is appropriate for the month of Av. He then correctly used the אלי ציון melody for יחדשיהו.

But then we got to Kedusha. Now, Swiss has mentioned to me a number of times that he is looking to win a golden shtender. But yesterday, Swiss did not win anything....

First he used the melody from אין לי ארץ אחרת which is both ugly and inappropriate for kedusha. But I could have forgiven him for that.....and then we had Sunrise/Sunset for the 2nd half of Kedusha. Oh barf!  Frankly, it made everyone feel icky all over.

As a general rule of thumb, we should try to keep Broadway and shul separate.

Sorry, Swiss, you have been gonged.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

As requested by a mitpallel- a Post Pesach Post

Dear Nusach Freak readers....
the NF would love to continue entertainign you with his writing. But well, as the NF has moved to the holy city of Jerusalem and started praying at a rather well-known south Jerusalem synagogue, there is just nothing to write about.
The NF's new shul has 4 gabbaim of which 3 are Yekke/Swiss and literally everything runs like clockwork. The leining is flawless 99% of the time (and I mean flawless --- shva nach, nah, mapik hei etc) and the gabbaim are rather picky about who they allow to daven (the NF and Dr D are asked quite regularly). Sure you get the occaisonal cantorial masturbation or the French baal tefilla who always  starts too high and cracks or the old guy who belts out some melody from the late 19th century. But literally no new blogging material has made it itself available since Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur. Well. Until we got to Pesach that is.

1st Day - Dr. D davened a very good Shacharit with a above average hallel (only mistake - a bad melody selection for מה אשיב that left us all feeling a little bit icky)
Musaf/Tefillat Tal was not my cup of tea as I thought it failed to inspire (no one seemed to recognize any of the melodies used by the baal tefilla - from יה אלי through the מכלכל חיים after תפילת טל making for a bit of a schleppy albeit nusachly correct davening but there was no gonging going on).

Shabbat Chol Hamoed - the NF and family travelled to an Israeli coastal town to spend the weekend with relatives. Davening on Shabbat was very poor (offkey, unispired hallel, baal musaf couldn't of told you if he was davening shacharit or musaf, what chag it was or if he was davening nusach sfarad or ashkenaz) but again, the NF did not feel compelled to share his experience with you.

The NF and family returned to our home in the holy city for the 7th day of chag.  Moses said "Let my people go" and indeed the S**t hit the fan as SmartAleck led shacharit. SmartAleck has one of the nicest voices I've ever heard in a shul. I've heard him daven a few times over the last few years and the man has a clear talent in introducing complex melodies into the davening. But this 7th day of Pesach was not SmartAleck's best effort.

Shacharit started tradionally enough. Although he was a tad slow, shacharit itself was alright...until tzur yisrael before the amida. Smartaleck decided to sing the section to the Sefardi Tzur Mishelo/Los Biblicos Cantan Romanza. It's actually a nice melody which the NF  uses for ושמרו in chazarat hashat"z of Shabbat Shacharit when there is enough time and the kahal has patience ---- if there is hallel or a double parsha, I would never try to elongate the davening.

and then we hit hallel --- 35 minutes later we finished. and it was horrible. He sang things that were in the siddur. He sang things that weren't in the siddur.  Any word in hallel that reminded him of a niggun he had once heard meant he had to the sing the niggun with lots of lay lay lays etc. SmartAleck was misreading the crowd - no one was singing along and people were getting antsy. We eventually made it to הודו לה' כי טוב and SmartAleck started singing some melody I'd never heard before but sounded like something one would hear on GalGalatz....and then he did it....he anwered himself. Yes, he sang Hodu LaShem and then repeated. He then sang yomar na yisrael and then answered himself with a hodu Lashem etc. never seen that done before. gong.

Having started davening at 8:30, we fininshed hallel at the unheard of time of 9:45 (we usually finish the entire davening by 10:30)....but we weren't done. SmartAleck started הוצאת ספר תורה....upon hitting ואני תפילתי he didn't sing the traditonal meldy nor did he introduce a new innovative melody (the NF uses ולירושלים עירך on weekdays and ברול אל עליון on shabbat/YK) Smartaleck started a non descript, slow, unidentifiable chant. But we weren't done. SmartAleck took the torah and said Shema using the yamim noraim melody!!!!
An old women cursed her very existence and wished she had never been born. An old man had a stroke and  babies, children and adults had diahrea right there in the shul sanctuary --- except for those who were constipated (it was Pesach after all), they threw up.
gong. Let's just say that SmartAleck is no longer being considered for a tefilla or 2 on the yamim noraim.

In other news, the NF has finished the writing stage of the sefer torah --- I brought the torah to another sofer this past week for tiyug (adding the little crowns) and then we'll start the checking process.