Category Archives: Cultural Programs

Shab-bark Shalom, Y’all!

bop2For over 20 years at my home synagogue, Temple Sinai of New Orleans, Rabbi Edward Cohn has presided over a fun thirty minute program in the spring entitled, “The Blessing of the Pets.”

The rabbi’s rationale for blessing the pets comes straight from Torah, and the Jewish concept of being God’s partner on Earth: If God blessed the fish and the birds and gave us dominion over them as well as the beasts of the earth, and our job is to model “Godlike” behavior, we should also bless the pets!

According to the Torah, the animals were here first. The fish and birds created on the 5th day and the land animals on the 6th day before mankind was created. And our pets bless us every day with love and companionship. For that we should say Dayenu! But some pets also are trained to save lives, make our world safer and to enable the disabled. Plenty to honor.

There’s a Sabbath connection, too – in the Torah, we are commanded to rest on Shabbat and we are also commanded to rest our animals on Shabbat. God has commanded not only to have dominion over the Earth and the life on it, but also to care for His world and bless it. Hence, blessing of the pets.

I’ve had some friends tell me that this isn’t something their community does, so I started wondering: Is it a Southern phenomenon? A small-town practice? I’ve seen several churches in the area do pet blessing services, as well. Have you ever attended a pet blessing service? And while we’re asking questions: When your dog sneezes to you find yourself reflexively saying to him/her, God bless you? (I do!)

It may not happen everywhere, but I love the Blessing of the Pets. I think that anything that brings the community together – two-footed and four footed – is an occasion for blessing! Plus, just look at these happy faces…

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Posted on April 11, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Friends with Benefits

What do you do when you have a mission to promote Southern Jewish history, but you have no physical place in which to do it?

Well, I think it’s a good idea to make friends… with benefits!

Specifically, friends with access to a beautiful art gallery, who want to team up and host a photograph exhibit about an important historical event that happens to have an interesting Jewish connection.

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Dr. Stuart Rockoff  explaining an exhibit photo to visitors

As I previously mentioned on this blog, Scottsboro Boys: Outside the Circle of Humanity is a powerful exhibit curated by the Morgan County Archives. The ISJL helped bring this exhibition to Jackson though a collaborative partnership with the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University.

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Jed Oppenheim of the Southern Poverty Law Center, speaking on current practices within the criminal justice system

These types of collaborative connections are the standard for Jewish programming in the this region. Small populations and limited resources inspire communities to look outside the box for new “friends with benefits,” creating partnerships to make programs possible. Whether it’s a new congregation using a church space for services, or an academic institution sponsoring a Jewish scholar, outreach is a strong and important tool for our communities.

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Adorable first time dreidel players

And the results can be pretty fabulous. In my case, we were able to plan three unique events that attracted diverse audiences from across the city. I’m partial to the party that we managed to throw on the last day of Hanukkah in conjunction with a lecture on Jewish lawyers and activists involved with the Scottsboro case. I have yet to check the official university records but I’m pretty sure it was the first Hanukkah party ever thrown at Jackson State.  Even though the latkes were a little mushy (had to prep them the night before!), we were able to pull of a successful cultural exchange that may not have happened if we were within a traditionally “Jewish” space.

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Hanukkah at Jackson State University!

Have you ever partnered with a non-Jewish entity to create a shared space where Jewish programs can be enjoyed by all? We’d love to hear about it!

 

Posted on December 16, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Jewish Banjo

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Banjo Man Dan

In this season of Thanksgivukkah, I’ve started to think a lot about cultural syncretism.  I’ve come to the conclusion that, as a Jewish banjo player playing Hebrew prayers, I’m a very good example of cultural syncretism.

Cultural syncretism can be defined as combining aspects of two different and separate cultures, traditions, or belief systems. Some good examples of cultural syncretism in Jewish life would be the Passover seder being based on a royal meal in Ancient Greece, Ashkenazi challah being a Jewish take on German sweet bread, or the convenient similarities between Purim and Mardi Gras.

So how is a Jewish banjo player an ultimate example of this phenomenon? This calls for a brief history lesson:

The banjo began not in backwoods America, but in medieval Africa. During the colonial period, the banjo was brought over to the Americas by enslaved Africans who found similar materials easily available in their new environment. Soon enough, European Americans soon learned about the banjo from the enslaved African Americans, and by the mid-18th century, European Americans were touring around the country playing banjo in rural and urban settings (typically in minstrel fashion, including the infamous blackface). They also merged it with other musical traditions they were familiar with such as Irish, English, and Scottish music. Everyone was doing it!

Although the banjo waned in popularity in the early 20th century, it was re-popularized in the 1940s with the advent of bluegrass music (a combination of jazz and blues), most Jewish players of the banjo didn’t begin to learn it until the folk revival of the 1950s and 60s. And nowadays, these Jewish players also have brought the banjo into many modern Klezmer bands, combining it with our own old-time Eastern European traditions. They’ve also created their own genre – Jewgrass. Check out Lucky BreakBanjo Billy, and The Sinai Mountain Boys!

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Havdallah with a Banjo!

It’s one of those ideas that it is hard to wrap my head around. When I’m playing Debbie Friedman’s Havdalah on the banjo, using chords and lyrics from the handy Shireinu, I’m not combining just African and Jewish traditions. Instead, I’m really combining African, Jewish, Irish, English, Scottish, American, and Eastern European musical traditions into one.

If that’s not cultural syncretism – I’m not sure what is. Bring it on, Thanksgivukkah!

 

Posted on November 1, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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