The state of New Jewish York Music

photo-6.jpg Warning: This might not make much sense to those not in the mainstream Jewish community, I will not be insulted if, when presented with a wall of indecipherable text, you choose to go straight to the photos.

It comes in waves. Sometimes there will be weeks of a sort of blissful non-awareness. And then there are times where I just can't get it out of my head. Like a sound that you're almost sure is there, but it's just beyond, beyond grasp, but definitely, yes positively, it's there. Lurking at the edges of your conscious. It's something I feel very strongly about, but have always had a hard time articulating it (I still do).

"Music is the pen of the soul".

Music being a major part of Judaism for a very, very long time. When the Jews beheld the miraculous defeat of the Egyptians after the splitting of the sea, they burst into spontaneous song.

The Book of Deuteronomy is gloriously filled with poetry, climaxing in the spectacularly worded song of Ha'azinu (Chapter 32).

Reading through the Scriptures, the word of G-d was presented through poetry and song.

We all know about King David and his Psalms. Has there ever before or since been such a book? Overflowing with love of G-d, humility, kindness, and truth? Most only know in its English translation, which contains but a sliver of its original genius. The original Hebrew version is like holding a song in your hand, grasping spirituality.

Throughout the generations great Jews have compiled poetry and music; deep, inspiring, and moving. We have the wonderful Shabbos hymns that are found in many Jewish homes. The Yedid Nefesh, a love song, which speaks of the yearning of the soul for G-d, which we sing every Friday afternoon; the L'cha Dodi, written by Shlomo Elkabatz; the three deeply kabbalistic poems written by the Holy Ari which we sing by each of the three Shabbos meals.

In the chassidic tradition there are "Niggunim". Soulful songs, very often without words, written by masters of spirituality, where every note, every rise and fall, represent a corresponding feeling of the soul. One could sing a niggun for hours, completely losing himself in his yearning.

We have always expressed our emotions towards G-d, the Torah, and our fellow Jews with poetry and music. For how else are we to express what we feel and know? Words are but a limited vessel, capable of transmitting ideas fairly well, but falling very short when it comes to emotions. And the deeper, the truer, the more real the emotion is the harder it gets to squeeze those feelings of the heart into cold and harshly limiting letters. So we sing; we sing high, we sing low. We use words against themselves, and convey meaning through breaking the rules, mixing truth and metaphor, parable with rhyme.

What has happened? Where are the poets, the music, the musicians, the songwriters? Looking at the current mainstream Jewish music landscape we are faced with a desert of soulless music. The songwriting (when it's not just words of Scripture) is embarrassingly shallow, lacking any deeper meaning than what's right in front of you. The Jewish "superstars" in the music world have for the most part nothing to do with their song, or the music involved. They have a pretty voice, and they sing mass produced songs which all sound the same (think bad pop from the 80's). The only depth they may have is stolen from Scripture, marrying the beauty of G-d's word with commercially driven drivel.

On the fringes, trying to get in, are the real artists. And they are there. Many wonderful bands, producing real music, with real lyrics, with a message that actually comes from somewhere inside. But for the most part it's a bleak scene.

"But the numbers work against us", you say. I don't buy it (and that's not because I download it for free). Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkle, Leonard Cohen, just a few Jews that come to mind. Lyrical geniuses, producing music which came from deep inside them. What they are saying is not the point, it's the fact that they are willing and able to. Are you saying that there is no one in the religious community that can express themselves with song? Who is able to, and wants to express his love of G-d? What does that say about us? For a group that is supposed to be deep, that is supposed to be a beacon of truth, we have a remarkably hard time expressing ourselves. We listen to shallow garbage expressing not a desire to become close to G-d but a desire to make sellable music. Is this what our hearts feel? Is our heart's pen being sold out to the highest bidder?

I don't know the reason, but I do know that in the religious schools, and the religious world at large, poetry is laughed at. We smile condescendingly at artists as if they were small children, dabbling in stupidity, wasting their time with narcissistic self expression.

Yes, at a level, obsessing with self expression is dangerous, but if we never learn to express what we feel, how will we ever know what we feel? If we never learn to express ourselves, how will we ever know who we are?

When I was in Yeshiva (religious school) both in Israel and New York I had a wonderfully eccentric learning partner. He had one of those five star notebooks in which he was always writing. He never let anyone see what was going on in his magical notebook.

He was the first person I met that wrote poetry, who actually took the time to express his thoughts and feelings in words an phrase which were distinctly his. People like him give me hope, that no matter what the present peer pressure presents, no matter how much we do things just because that's the way it's done, we can always rise up and be ourselves.

Recently I was in New York and got to roam around Manhattan for a day, meet up with said friend (who should be coming out with a book soon, I'll keep you posted), and find some food perhaps. Growing up I spent many years in New York, but seeing it through the eyes of a photographer was a totally different experience. So much life. So much happening. It's a crazy place, a photographers heaven, a partiers paradise, but thank you very much, I'll do my living somewhere sane.

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Vir. G. Inia.


Here's how I write a blog post. I sit down (possibly with some sort of vague outline of what I want to write about) and just start writing. Usually with a beer (this time it's with an "Old Rasputen" a 9% stout. And for a stout it's pretty darn good, but I'm not a huge fan of stouts.) Sometimes I stay on track, usually not. Coherence is not really a goal but it's nice when it happens.

As it is my office is in my garage, and my fingers are semi-numb; making typing not so much difficult, as just weird. For all you funny people who will make fun of a Californian complaining about the cold: It is colder here than in most parts of the country. We don't have well insulated houses, nor do we have good heaters. Every morning its well under 60 degrees in the house. And we don't want to put on a sweater when we go outside (even though it's the high 30's or low 40's, because in a few hours it will be in the 60's…).

I'm selling some gear (to make room for even newer (to me) and cooler gear. Which will of course make me happy. 'Cuz that's what new stuff does). In order to sell said gear I need photos of said gear. I had three choices. A. Shoot it with film, and way a few weeks to get the scans. B. Shooting with polaroids, scan them in and use those, or C. Snap some digital photos. My brain and my heart took it outside (leaving me looking for OZ), and my brain won. After taking some lame shots of my non-lame camera (was selling my Pentax 6x7. It's a huge and awesome camera and it sold within 10 minutes) I snapped a few of my daughter (you know, those pretty shots from above focusing on her eyelashes (I had a macro lens on)). After dragging it into photoshop and working on it for 20 minutes, I gave up in disgust. I just couldn't make it look even nearly as awesome as film.

In case you were wondering, I don't have a point. Onto one of the coolest families in the whole state of Virginia (which, from the small population I saw when I was there, has the highest beard per capita outside of Oregon and Mother's Market).

Disclaimer: I was assured that Kelly and her family are not confederates.

Now that we have that out of the way… If all my clients were as awesome as Kelly, I'd be a very happy man. She contacted me a while back, asking if I ever plan on traveling to the east coast, and if I did to let her know. Fast forward a few months and I had my wonderful east coast trip planned. Kelly contacted me and we made it happen. And she didn't complain at all when my lab took double as long as usual, "quality takes time" she said. I agree.

I actually took a train there. I'd love to say it was interesting. It wasn't (I did sleep though), but the shoot was.

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Little boys with their blankets and sticks...

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Soulwise. Chanukah edition.

Chanukah is about humility, accepting something beyond you, and allowing it in. It's about spreading the light of truth, justice, and freedom (and good photos). Once upon a time, in a kingdom down the block, I designed graphics. It came about in a kingdom even further away, in a 400 year old house made of stone. Where an iMac stood glittering under a bare bulb, in stark and beautiful contrast to the walls around. Upon this machine there magically appeared a copy of Photoshop.

How it got there, where it came from? Trying to understand magic is akin to sucking the beauty out of life. Like a giant psychotic mosquito. I'd like to think it was planted by the sock fairy (you know, the one that takes socks from the drier and puts software on your computer instead).

I met some wonderful people in the magical kingdom of Safed, Israel, and one of those fellows was putting out his first musical album. Google searched I did, a tutorial I did find, and a cover did I make. It wasn't even that bad (it wasn't used though).

I did that for a few years (among other things), and at some point I was frustrated at the lack of quality Jewish stock photos available. I then made the best unwise decision ever. After wasting way too much time doing some intense research on DPReview (never again!) about the differences between two identical systems, I picked up my first fancy shmancy camera. A few weeks later I bought a (what i then considered) fancy lens (which I paid $100 in cash so my wife wouldn't freak out). Eventually I realized I liked photography much better than design, and I was actually good at it (graphic design on the other hand...:) ).

I still do some odd jobs here and there, and this magazine is one of them. Lucky for me (and them) I get to pretty much use whatever images I want.

Here is the latest SOULWISE magazine. Decent design. Good photography. Awesome articles.

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Roids. The curiously instant film.

Somewhere between here and New York, my RZ67's mirror system decided to suddenly and irrevocably die. Annoyed, angry, sad, befuddled, and slightly bewildered (these things aren't supposed to break!) , I procrastinated a week (mourning my loss), twiddled my thumbs a bit, and ordered her replacement (which was actually an updated version. Yay!) . Today FedEx delivered said replacement and I went on a polaroid shooting spree. Too lazy to get my lightmeter from the car, I decided to activate my ninja mental-exposure-guesstimator. She was a bit rusty, but did her job well enough.

Who said film shooters can't have some instant gratification?

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Milk, knives, & 5 year olds

We drink raw milk. We can only get it every other week, it costs around $8.70 for half a gallon, doesn't really freeze well, and it has more of a chance of having bad bacteria than the pasteurized, homogenized versions. It's also much healthier. The cows and milk have to live up to much higher standards (regular milk doesn't need to come from healthy cows, they just kill (pasteurize) any bacteria. It has all the good bacteria still there, and tastes a bit richer. In fact most "lactose intolerance" (as in my daughter's case) is only in relation to pasteurized milk. They do fine with the raw stuff. Yes, there's always the fear of some sort of E. Coli situation (although very rare) but I'm okay with that.

If kids didn't play there'd be less broken bones. If we protected them from all sorts of danger they'd be less mature, have less self esteem, and less equipped to handle the unsurities of the world. And in regards to food and medicine they'd be much less healthy.

We don't vaccinate (for the most part) or get anti-biotics "just in case". Because in insuring yourself against possible future harm you are subjecting yourself to a definitely less healthy present (and future).

Here is Zevi wielding a ridiculously huge knife. It's actually his job to cut up the melon on Shabbos and before we go to the park (in the Summer. In the winter it's mostly apples and cheese). Is there a chance of himself cutting himself? Of course there is, and it scares me a bit too. It also scares me when he zooms down the sidewalk on his bike, and I'm sure I'll be freaked when he starts to drive. But we know our kids. And Zevi is a very responsible one, obsessed with rules, structure, and order. He is way more careful with that knife than most adults (look how far his left hand is from the knife). He knows never to use it when we're not around and not to use it on smaller items (such as apples) where there isn't much room for his other hand.

I doubt we'd let the other kids use knives when they get to his age. My Chanaleh is in a different universe most of the time, and Mendel just loves to make trouble, but they have other responsibilities and jobs. And they thrive on it.

Why am I sharing all this? Well firstly, because I'm want to post these photos and don't want y'all to freak out :). But mainly I want people to realize that when it comes to your own life and family you are the expert. No one knows more than you do what each kid needs, and how to discipline, reward, teach, and love each individual member of your family. There will always be the judgers (yes, I know that's not a word, but it works better than judges here, or "those who judge"), the naysayers, and the social normers. Ignore them. Do your own research, trust your gut, and live fully.

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Let us rejoice and be glad in it

In the past year I have dug four holes (not counting the figurative ones). The first is way back in the backyard. Zevi planned on planting a tree so I helped him dig a nice large hole back there. This was almost 10 months ago. We just filled it in last month.

The next two were under the swings so my kids wouldn't constantly hurt their toes (there isn't much yummier than little toes).

And the fourth was on the beach.

Each one was physically exerting and mentally exhilarating. Which is slightly embarrassing, I mean, why should a full grown adult (albeit a slightly short one) so enjoy the simple task of digging a hole?

I very much want to go on a rant right now. About the value of manual labor and the fallacy of making all economical decisions based solely on a time/money merit basis. But I won't. Not here. It's coming though.

I read a great blog post by a great woman who lost her infant and today would be celebrating his third birthday. She mentions "seizing each day". Looking back, what do we remember? For me it's the simple times with my family. None of them really costing much or needing a "high quality of life" (a ripe topic for another rant). Yet we live day by day, just wasting time. Worrying. Over-working. Under-praying, and definitely under-learning. Under-playing.

You have an hour or two (if you don't, then make some)? Grab a kid (preferably yours, or at least one you know), drive to the beach, and dig a hole. It's worth a heck of a lot more than an expensive movie, restaurant, and possibly even more than one of those fancy theme parks. And it's free. Like Pandora.

And just because I like sharing; Samuel Adams Octoberfest. Not worth it. Lagunitas Little 'Sumpin Ale. Very, very worth it.

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