Peace, Love and Jewsic Israeli-American folk band will close out festivities during Baltimore Shabbat Project

Imagine a group of Israeli teenagers sitting around on a farm between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, jamming out to American musicians of the generation before them such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young.

That was exactly where Yehuda Solomon, Duvid Swirsky and the founding members of the Israeli-American folk band Moshav found themselves in 1995.

“My brothers and my friends would just sit around listening to music from the ’60s and ’70s,” Solomon said.

Solomon and his friends grew up on the moshav Mevo Modi’im and learned the fundamentals of songwriting from the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who founded it in 1976. Many Americans making aliyah began to settle there and formed a community of musicians, artists and farmers. Swirsky said the nontraditional living situation provided them with a perfect environment for making music.

“We grew up in a place where there were no TVs, so there were very few distractions,” he said.

My brothers and my friends would just sit around listening to music from the ’60s and ’70s

Moshav began by performing for American and Canadian students who were studying abroad in Israel and loved their folksy style of music. But the band’s popularity began to grow by word of mouth when they started receiving invitations by those same students to perform in the United States. The band eventually moved to Los Angeles in 2000. Solomon said the music of the 1960s and ‘70s provided a framework for their style, which he describes as a “falafel sandwich” of sorts.

“[Songs of the ’60s and ’70s] were definitely some of our influences in creating our own folk-rock in terms of writing,” he said. “Everything that sounds great we kind of blend it together. It’s like folk-rock but with a lot of Middle Eastern influences. We draw from the sources of our Jewish heritage, and then we write our own lyrics.”

Swirsky said Moshav is flexible when it comes to what they play.

“We don’t have a box where we have to play this or we have to play that,” he said.

Moshav has peformed at weddings, camps and universities, and they have even gone on tour with Matisyahu. They have recorded eight albums and performed for 10,000 people two years ago on a soccer field in South Africa.

“I was blown away at how many of them knew our music and came out,” he said.

The performance headlined the International Shabbos Project — an effort started by Rabbi Warren Goldstein to bring Jews together from around the world during one Shabbat out of the year.

This year, the second annual Baltimore Shabbat Project is Oct. 21 and features a magic show at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts and concludes with Moshav’s outdoor performance at the “One People One Heart” concert on the grounds of the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC on Saturday, Oct. 24 at 8 p.m.

Solomon said Baltimore was one of the first cities they signed a contract with, and they are excited to participate in the project.

“I think it’s an amazing thing,” he said. “It’s a great idea uniting Jews from every walk of life to celebrate Shabbat together.”

Moshav will also lead services at Beth Tfiloh Congregation on Oct. 23 and at Ner Tamid on Oct. 24.

Nisa Felps, a project manager for the Baltimore Shabbat Project, said the unity is the goal of the event, and they are hoping for a turnout of 50,000 people during the four days.

“It’s about respecting, honoring and dignifying every single Jew,” she said. “It’s bringing Jews together from all backgrounds to celebrate one Shabbat.”

Felps is excited for Moshav’s concert. “They’re a pretty big band in the Jewish world,” she said. “They’re really cool and talented and span the denominations.”

Swirsky said he thinks the Shabbat Project will create an atmosphere full of enthusiasm, which is the ideal setting for a performance.

“I think any situation that gathers people in a very real way is positive for us as a band,” he said. “And the connection to one’s roots is a very important thing for us, with singing and dancing.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Chillin’ Out

100915_foodAs outside temperatures cool, kosher cooks can chill out a bit too. The High Holiday rush is over—and the frantic frying of latkes is yet to come. It’s a perfect time for some sweet and savory dishes that take advantage of autumn flavors. Local markets still have fresh produce available such as corn and pumpkins plus other winter squash, and apples are abundantly in season. Visit the large Sunday farmers’ market (under I-83) to see and taste the best of local Baltimore’s produce. Then you can even put your feet up and let the slow cooker do some of the work. Here are some of my fall favorites.

EASY DELISH PUMPKIN SOUP

PUMPKIN CHALLAH

PAREVE CHOLENT

NO-BAKE CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER SQUARES

Appetite for Authenticity Local chefs use competition to fuel farm-to-table movement

Photo by Daniel Schere

Photo by Daniel Schere

More than 480 people packed the roundhouse at the B&O Railroad Museum Monday night for Maryland’s sixth annual Farm to Chef Culinary Competition, an event that featured 30 chefs partnering with local farms to create signature dishes using fresh ingredients.

The event is held each year as a fundraiser for the Days of Taste Program, which educates elementary school children about the importance of fresh food. The first year, only 200 showed up, but that number grew to 400 last year, said co-chair Laura Alima.

“When we started, it was 12 restaurants and 12 farms, and we are now at 30 farms and 30 restaurants,” she said.

Alima has been involved with the event since the beginning and said it was originally associated with The American Institute for Wine & Food, the parent organization of Days of Taste.

“I think there’s a lot of buzz surrounding this event simply because I think there’s a true appreciation of dining locally and utilizing local purveyors and farmers,” she said. “I think that’s important to people these days, and I think the event truly embodies that spirit of staying local.”

Alima and her husband, David, own The Charmery in Hampden and are regular participants in the event. She explained that every chef must produce a dish from a single ingredient. Last year, they were assigned beets, which they used to churn up ice cream and pudding. This year, they partnered with Brad’s Produce in Churchville in concocting a gooey pumpkin butter cake with roasted pumpkin and spiced rum ice cream, paired with a sweet pumpkin seed tahini. The combination earned best sweet dish for the second year in a row.

Chef Beej Flamholz, who runs a personal chef service, got involved in the event four years ago after sitting on the board of the Baltimore chapter of the AIWF.

“They asked me to be a part of it,” he said.

Flamholz partnered with Third Way Farm in Havre de Grace to create an arugula and feta cheese Moroccan platter with a side of kale and carrot slaw. He said there are generally eight to 10 varieties of vegetables he works with in crafting a culinary creation.

“You’re given either a savory or a vegetarian dish to make, and from there you talk to the farm and find out what they have available,” he said.

Flamholz credits his mother with helping expose him to cooking at a young age and said he understands what kind of impact this can have on a person.

“I had always really enjoyed working with food and playing with food and trying new ingredients,” he said. “To get any kid started early exposes them to what potential there is for food and not just fast food.”

Flamholz said programs such as Days of Taste are great ways of giving back to the community in a way that shares his food passion with children.

“It’s really mind blowing when [children] experience a tomato that was picked from the vine yesterday as opposed to one that was picked overseas,” he said, adding that many children don’t have access to fresh produce. “I have two kids myself, and at the end of the day it’s about tasting good.”

Females in the family were also a strong influence for Josh Hershkovitz, the owner of Hersh’s Pizza & Drinks in Federal Hill. Hershkovitz’s mother and grandmother often cooked from scratch while he was growing up, and it eventually rubbed off on him.

“I appreciated that, but I wasn’t super into that until I started working with my hands a lot,” he said.

Hershkovitz paired with Richfield Farm in Manchester this year to create a dish akin to eggplant Parmesan soup, consisting of a slush tomato base with ricotta cheese and crispy eggplant croutons.

“Nobody has tomatoes like their tomatoes,” he said.

Hershkovitz said the farm-to-table movement is essential for countering the infusion of mass-produced processed food many have turned to as a diet.

“I think we’ve gotten so far removed from serving real food in general,” he said. “Everything is so factory made, and looking for the least expensive thing is the worst possible thing for you.”

Punctuating the evening was the People’s Choice Award to the best dish overall as voted by attendees. This year’s winner was Therese Harding from The Classic Catering People with her traditional Southern fried chicken and waffle dish.

“It was quite surprising because we thought for sure someone else had already won,” she said.

Harding said she is impressed with the way the local food movement has grown in the last 15 years.

“We’ve seen it slowly become larger, and people are more aware of the local movement,” she said. “Not only restaurants and farms, but also farmers markets. People are more concerned about where their food is coming from, so I think that’s helped the local movement grow.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

 

DSC_7314

Walking in My Family’s Footsteps Odessa: a city important in Jewish history

Odessa’s Opera House is famous and a much-loved place in the city. (Wikimedia Commons/Alex Levitsky & Dmitry Shamatazhi)

Odessa’s Opera House is famous and a much-loved place in the city. (Wikimedia Commons/Alex Levitsky & Dmitry Shamatazhi)

Since the Ukrainian-Russian crisis broke out last year, I have often thought of Odessa.

You may love it or dislike it, but no other city in Russia resembles Odessa, this cosmopolitan city in the Ukraine that some refer to as “Little Paris.”

It has been in and out of the news due to the conflict over Crimea. There have been deaths, demonstrations and fighting between those supporting Ukraine and those backing Russia and separatists. Yet, the city is, as the Russian-Jewish writer Isaac Babel put it, “the most charming … of the Russian Empire.”

Babel, a native son, also wrote that the port was a city in which an individual can “live free and easy,” because the Jews make up nearly half the population. In his words, the town was “the star of exile.”

Odessa remains at the heart of Russian culture. One need go no further than Russia’s greatest poet, Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837). “And so I lived a while in Odessa,” wrote Pushkin.

All my life I had an idea that I would be going to Odessa, part of Ukraine since 1954 and formerly part of the former Soviet Union. My family came from this city on the Black Sea, and it certainly is a tourist attraction. When the time came to research the city for my historical novel, “Klara’s Journey,” based on a story of my aunt and her sisters, including my mother, Sonya, who lived on Proharovskaya Street in Odessa and later settled in Pittsburgh, I flew there with great anticipation and excitement.

To feel the charm of Odessa, I walk the city streets and admire the buildings designed in Neoclassic architectural style, including the still-standing, yellow-and-white local mansions, many of which display a Mediterranean theme.

And I note that about a million people, 62 percent Ukrainian and about 30 percent ethnic Russians, occupy this transport hub. I move along Primorsky Boulevard to Nikolaevsky Boulevard to inhale the spicy aroma of the acacias hanging over the city’s busy harbor as well as the famous 240 Odessa Steps, which were reduced to 192.

At the top of the steps stands the statue of the Duc de Richelieu clad in a Roman toga. He is the French Émigré who, 200 years ago, served as governor of Odessa. Now, the stone duke points at all those arriving to his beloved city.

I head along Deribasovskaya Street, through crowded seas of pedestrians. In Catherine Square, the city has erected the towering statue of Catherine the Great, where once stood the Soviet- style monument to the sailors of the Potemkin. The city is home to the renowned Odessa National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater and green parks.

Odessa is considered one of the most important cities in recent Jewish history. Some of the greatest Jewish writers and personalities of the 20th century hailed from and/or lived in this port and other towns in the Ukraine.  Among them: Ze’ev Vladimir Jabotinsky, Mendele Mocher Seforim,  Sholem Aleichem, Joseph Trumpeldor, Ahad Ha’am, Leon Pinsker, Menachem Mendel  Ussishkin and Meir Dizengoff.

Odessa also was a city of the enlightenment and one of the largest centers of the Zionist movement, a city from which thousands of Jews, including David Ben-Gurion, began their journey to Israel. The past always haunts the Jewish people: the pogroms, the anti-Semitism that exists in Ukraine, Russia and throughout Europe. Nearly 100,000 Odessa Jews were slaughtered by Germans and Romanians during World War II.

Odessa, which before the fall of communism was home to some 70,000 Jews, now has 30,000 Jews, approximately 3 percent of the overall population.

Some Jews support the Ukrainian government and some back Russia in the current conflict that has been going on for about a year and a half. Recent weeks have seen fresh attempts to resolve the conflict; a weak truce is holding.  But the bulk of the Odessa Jews lie low for now. According to news reports, no one is panicking. Many have decided to stay, though aliyah from all Ukraine amounted to 1,971 individuals in the first quarter of 2015 compared with 625 in the first three months of 2014 — a 215 percent leap.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has aided Odessa’s Jews through its Hesed Center since the early 1990s and is continuing to provide assistance to elderly and homeless.

Odessa boasts an active Jewish community that sponsors a dozen synagogues and prayer houses, a Jewish museum, a number of organizations and the Beit Grand Jewish Community Center, which opened in 2008. The three-story building at 77/79 Nezhinskaya St. was officially dedicated in 2010 by the JDC and the Odessa Jewish community. Housed here are Hesed, a kindergarten and Hillel as well as an extensive library, community gym and a theater hall.

The Migdal JCC, at 46a Malaya Arnautskaya St., operates more than 100 programs in various areas of Jewish life for different ages, including the Mazel Tov Center for Young Families. It is the home of the first Jewish library to open in Ukraine since the fall of the Soviet Union and boasts a collection of more than 10,000 books. JDC is Migdal’s primary sponsor.

Three religious communities function in Odessa. The Chabad Central Synagogue of Odessa during Soviet times was used as a warehouse by the KGB. Standing tall is the renovated Great Synagogue of Odessa, now called the Main Synagogue of Odessa and located on Yevreyskaya Street (which means “Jewish Street”); during Soviet times, this house of worship was made into a sports facility. Each of these synagogues maintains a religious Jewish school. ORT sponsors a more secular Jewish school.

A Reform movement of Judaism functions in Odessa. The group holds activities and programs, including a Sunday school, at Nina Onilova Street, 16.

Undoubtedly, Odessa will heal its wounds, and more tourists will flock there. Until then, many will remember her as a city of sun, sea and love.

Ben G. Frank is the author of “Klara’s Journey,” “The Scattered Tribe: Traveling the Diaspora from Cuba to India to Tahiti & Beyond” and “A Travel Guide to the Jewish Caribbean and South America.”

Holocaust to Hebrew Cantor’s album bridges generations, genres, families

Waltzman’s debut album “reinvents” Hebrew songs that span generations. (Reprinted with permission from elisawaltzman.com)

Waltzman’s debut album “reinvents” Hebrew songs that span generations. (Reprinted with permission from elisawaltzman.com)

These are Israeli folk songs as you’ve never heard them before.

And that’s exactly the point: Cantor Elisa Waltzman’s debut album seeks to bridge a gap between traditional Hebrew music sung by her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, and the musical sensibilities of her kids growing up in the United States.

Set to a jazz ensemble, it combines verses remembered by children of the Holocaust with a modern sound familiar to Jews in the English-speaking world.

“For me, it’s the album I wish I had when I was a little kid as far as Jewish music,” said jazz artist Sammy Miller, who arranged the ensemble.

But besides spanning generations, “Reinvented: Hebrew Songs for Families” is a family affair. Miller and Waltzman first encountered each other when Sammy’s brother, Nate, married Elisa’s cousin, Emily Kane.

“Marriage creates many beautiful things, but not many can say that theirs was the impetus for an album like this,” Emily and Nate wrote in an email.

When the two musicians met at the wedding, Waltzman had had the idea for about a year and put it to Miller. What started as a half-serious suggestion rapidly evolved into a game plan.

“When I met him I was like, ‘Oh, he’s the one — he’s the one who can make the CD so amazing,’” Waltzman said.

Sammy is also quick to offer glowing praise of his new relation.

The cover of “Reinvented: Hebrew Songs for Families.” (Courtesy Elisa Waltzman)

The cover of “Reinvented: Hebrew Songs for Families.” (Courtesy Elisa Waltzman)

“Emily was like, ‘I have a cousin, she’s an incredible singer,’” Miller said. “I was just like, ‘OK, let’s see.’ And then she sang at the wedding and it was like the voice of an angel, she was so incredible.”

Waltzman and Miller began their musical careers within a few miles of each other, attending, respectively, the Orange County High School of the Arts and the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts.

Miller got his start as the percussionist for a band that included his four siblings after first picking up the drumsticks at the age of 5. One of the other members — his sister, Molly — can be heard on the album playing guitar and banjo.

Now, he leads a band of local jazz musicians called Sammy Miller and the Congregation.

“We’re all New York jazz musicians who are interested in uplifting people through our music, and in that sense, it makes it a congregation,” he said.

The origins of Waltzman’s musical career predate her childhood by decades. Her passion for music in general and Jewish music specifically was sparked by her grandfather, Rabbi Cantor David Kane, born in Bedzin, Poland, in 1928.

For his part, Kane was a student of Poland’s concentration camps, singing in a children’s choir drafted into service by a camp commandant to wake him up in the morning and serenade him at night.

Despite the trauma he carried from that period — Waltzman remembers her grandfather telling her he hid under a pile of corpses to escape murder — his music nonetheless brought his family and community joy and a vibrant link to the past.

“It was a survival tool for him, and it was a way for him to connect with people and really express himself,” she said.

She recounts how he would surprise audiences at Holocaust remembrance programs by performing “racy” songs taught to him by the Nazi commandant.

“He was singing these songs that brought back these horrible memories of the Holocaust, but at the same time he found so much humor in it,” she said.

But Jewish texts were no laughing matter for Kane, who grew up in a traditional household in a majority Jewish town and went on to lead services at Temple Beth Shalom in Long Beach, Calif., for more than three decades before his death in 2012.

Traditions notwithstanding, Kane loved Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, according to his granddaughter. And when Waltzman told him she wanted to be a cantor, he was thrilled.

Sammy Miller and the Congregation played an integral part in the arrangement of Elisa Waltzman’s album. (Courtesy Sammy Miller)

Sammy Miller and the Congregation played an integral part in the arrangement of Elisa Waltzman’s album. (Courtesy Sammy Miller)

Her debut effort also included another generation of her family: her two daughters, ages 3 and 5.

Though her musical education includes cantorial training at the Academy for Jewish Religion and graduate work in opera at the University of Southern California, she used her kids as a sounding board, and “they prefer when I sing in a more natural lower key with a soothing sound.”

The songs they liked and sang back to her, she figured, stood a good chance of making the leap from the last generation to the next.

Another person to whom she exposed verses like “Kol Dodi” and Zionist anthems like “Od Lo Ahavti Dai” was Sammy Miller.

He, in turn, introduced those texts to modern melodies. For example, the album adds a horn section and saxophone solo to “Zum Gali Gali,” a laborer’s chant sung by early Israeli settlers that extols the kibbutzniks’ toil toward a shared future.

“The melodics and the harmonics are pretty natural,” said Miller, who lacks Waltzman’s Hebrew training and acumen. “But I just wanted to understand the deeper meaning of these songs.”

Waltzman hopes the album fills a void she experienced herself in trying to pass her grandfather’s musical inspiration onto her kids: a lack of Hebrew music that both parents and kids will agree to listen to.

Her ardor for the classic texts is matched by Miller’s lifelong exploration of modern American music and jazz.

“I think it’s our job as artists to find those points of intersection — those are the most interesting parts of the arts,” he said. “It’s not what’s different between Jewish canon and American popular songs, but it’s actually so much that unifies them.”

And perhaps, he says, had he been exposed to an album like this one during his early education, it might have piqued his interest earlier in Hebrew melodies.

“It’s music that I would have been into it — the funky guitar and the raunchy saxophone,” Miller said. “It’s a record I would have loved to put on.”

Israeli Jazz Musician Brings Middle East Sounds to Baltimore “Strayhorn Revisited” debuts at An die Musik

Alon Nechushtan

Alon Nechushtan

When Alon Nechushtan wound up in New York after studying at the New England Conservatory of Music, the Israeli-born pianist was still honing his sound.

“I was trying to find a way to make a personal statement in the music I was doing,” he said. As he dug into the city’s rich and diverse jazz scene, he discovered a group of musicians playing contemporary Jewish music.

“You would hear not only jazz, but also a particular niche of musicians were Jewish musicians playing jazz … that could be influenced by klezmer or influenced by the Middle East
or Sephardic [music],” Nechushtan, 40, said.

He refined his sound in this context, drawing on his diverse background of growing up in Israel listening to jazz and progressive rock.

On Sept. 29, Nechushtan will premiere a new concert program called “Strayhorn Revisited: A Middle Eastern Odyssey of Rhythm, Harmony and Groove,” which pays tribute to Billy Strayhorn, the longtime collaborator and arranger for Duke Ellington who would have turned 100 this November.

The concert, at An die Musik Live! on North Charles St., includes Nechushtan’s own Middle East-inspired “Soulful Fire” alongside Strayhorn and Ellington pieces, including selections from “Far East Suite,” which was inspired by a tour Ellington and his band embarked on in 1963 as goodwill ambassadors on behalf of the U.S. State Department that took them to Lebanon, Jordan, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka and Iraq, among other countries.

“I’m trying to unearth pieces that were rarely heard, tunes that I thought would be interesting for this program,” Nechushtan said. He and his band, comprised of Baltimore- and New York-based musicians, will also perform at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 1.

Nechushtan grew up surrounded by music and instruments, with his mother being a music teacher and his uncle a violin teacher. He got serious about his playing once he was “left alone” from formal training, he said. In high school, progressive rock bands such as Pink Floyd, Genesis and Yes piqued his interests, especially the albums that featured longer, more orchestrated pieces.

“I was drawn to what we call the ‘one-side LP,’ which is 23 or so minutes of music unstopped,” he
said, noting Pink Floyd albums like “Atom Heart Mother,” “Animals” and “Meddle.” “These were almost symphonic forms of music.”

But as he learned the keyboard parts from these bands, he found that they had foundations in jazz, and to truly understand the music he was learning, he too would need that foundation.

While stationed in Jerusalem during his military service, Nechushtan studied at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, where he learned classical music forms and composing. As he looked to continue his studies, he decided to head to America to learn about jazz in its birthplace.

He went to the New England Conservatory of Music where he studied contemporary improvisation with Gunther Schuller, an accomplished composer and musician who got his start in jazz as a horn player with Miles Davis and coined the term “third stream,” which described music that combined classical and jazz music.

“What we were doing there was just really trying to bridge the gap and create a music that was really organic,” Nechushtan said.

Although he originally planned to head back to Israel, Nechushtan said he got “side-tracked” and stayed in Boston for a while, but then began traveling to New York to play and moved there about a decade ago.

The scene is not quite as rich as it was when he first got to the Big Apple, Nechushtan said, as the struggles of the music industry have made their way to the clubs, which are fewer in number than 10 years ago.

“I think a decade ago was the beginning of the notion that ‘okay, maybe we could sell the club and open a [high-riser],” he said.

For musicians still looking to expand their audiences and horizons, touring is the way to go. Nechushtan’s recent trips include Washington, D.C., Brazil, Shanghai and the Philippines. In addition to playing for new audiences, he said he’s picking up different musical flavors along the way as different places blend jazz with their own homegrown genres, such as samba in Brazil.

Every time Nechushtan goes back to Israel, as he did recently, he notices the music scene getting much stronger as more musicians who have traveled to the United States to study at places such as the Berklee School of Music or Nechushtan’s alma mater, the New England Conservatory of Music,
return home.

“I think what Israel is becoming is a little bit of a mecca of music at least in the area in the Middle East. Everyone is super educated and the musicianship is really high,” he said. “You almost feel like if you close your eyes, you’re playing at a club in Manhattan.”

As for Nechushtan’s plans, he may record and perform “Strayhorn Revisited” beyond these two shows if it strikes a chord with audience members.

And there are always more venues to play and countries to tour.

“I just hope I’m going to have the energy to keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “Meet new people, go to new places, play new clubs.”

Alon Nechushtan performs “Strayhorn Revisited” at An die Musik Live! on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $20 in advance, $23 at the door and $10 for full-time students with ID. Visit  andiemusiklive.com.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Women of Power’ Concert Artists of Baltimore opens Maestro Series at Gordon Center with eclectic lineup

092515_power1

Simone Dinnerstein (provided)

Entering his 29th year as founder and artistic director of Concert Artists of Baltimore, Maestro Edward Polochick has assembled a delicious, eclectic musical evening for the first concert of the Maestro Series on Oct. 3 at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts.

Polochick promises the audience will leave the concert “feeling like their souls have been rejuvenated” because “that is the power of music,” he said.

“Women of Power” features guest artist Simone Dinnerstein performing the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15 with the orchestra; Polochick calls her a “beautiful pianist — her tone, her color will bring tears to your eyes.”

Dinnerstein first worked with Polochick last year in Lincoln, Neb., where he is the symphony’s music director (though he resides in Baltimore). She said right away they felt like “musical soul mates and wanted to do something together again.”

Often, when you play with an orchestra, “it’s like going on a blind date,” said Dinnerstein. “You’ve never met the conductor or the orchestra and you don’t know if you’re going to hit it off or not.” The synergy between conductor and musician “completely changes the feeling of the concert.” She added, “[The Brahms piano concerto] is a very complicated piece and requires a lot of delicate communication with the conductor and orchestra. [Polochick is] an extremely great listener, that’s kind of rare among conductors.”

Also part of the evening is “My Shalom, My Peace,” written by former Peabody Institute faculty member turned rabbi, the late Morris Cotel. Described as “haunting and beautiful,” it features the voices of the Concert Artists of Baltimore Women’s Chorus in addition to percussion and harp. The piece is based on a 1975 book of the same name, full of poems and drawings created by Israeli Jewish, Arab and Palestinian children who had “witnessed at least one war, slept in shelters, known too much about death but understood one dream — peace.”

Ligeti’s “bizarre, incredibly virtuosic aria,” “Mysteries of the Macabre,” guaranteed to intrigue the audience, rounds out the evening and features soprano soloist Melissa Wimbish.

092515_power2

Edward Polochick (provided)

Polochick, who is also on staff at the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said the idea to start the Concert Artists of Baltimore developed years after he came here in 1976 from Philadelphia to study at Peabody.

“I absolutely fell in love with the city and the people,” said Polochick, who completed double master’s degrees in piano and conducting and by 1979 was on staff at Peabody and at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He took stock in his great fortune to work with high-caliber and different sized orchestras, operas and choruses during that time and wanted to pay it forward.

“I thought to myself, ‘if you love Baltimore as much as you say you do, why shouldn’t Baltimore have a fully professional chamber orchestra?’” recalled Polochick.

Though it took a lot of time and funding, Polochick said he “blindly went forward with it” in 1987 when the orchestra debuted at the former Har Sinai Congregation building, sponsored by the Peggy and Yale Gordon Trust, and “it’s been quite a journey since then.”

“I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. I get to do what I love to do, realize my passion and make a living at it,” said Polochick. “I’m so terribly grateful that in my home, I can do these programs and this music and share this love of my art with my ‘family’ in Baltimore.”

CAB is dedicated to an innovative approach to musical presentation and “the more people I can get into our concert hall to experience this, the more Baltimore will appreciate what we’re trying to introduce them to,” said Polochick. “There’s nothing to be afraid of in classical music. We’re there for you.”

The Gordon Center For Performing Arts
3506 Gwynnbrook Ave.,
Owings Mills
Saturday, Oct. 3, 7 p.m.

Pre-concert reception hosted by Henry and Dorothy Rosenberg, honoring women leaders in Baltimore arts, education and government.

For tickets and more information, visit cabmusic.org or call 410-625-3525, ext. 101.

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Adios! Jewish Don of Latin American TV Calls It a Career After 53 Years

On Saturday, the Spanish language television network Univision hosted the final broadcast of “Sabado Gigante.”

With 53 years on TV, the world’s longest-running variety show is an eclectic, strange mashup of a game show, a talk show and live entertainment. There are singing competitions — the poor-performing contestants are eliminated by a trumpet blast,

Don Francisco (Mario Luis Kreutzberger Blumenfeld) hosts the wildly popular “Sabado Gigante” in this 1990 photo.

Don Francisco (Mario Luis Kreutzberger Blumenfeld) hosts the wildly popular “Sabado Gigante” in this 1990 photo.

a la “The Gong Show” — as well as
lie-detector tests for husbands accused of infidelity, comedy segments and beauty contests.

Each week, the three-hour hodgepodge is broadcast in 40 countries and watched by tens of millions of viewers. With a reach beyond the Spanish-language market — it’s been the subject of parodies on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Colbert Report” — “Sabado Gigante” is a well-known pop-culture phenomenon.

Less known, however, is that Don Francisco, the show’s Chilean creator and host, is Jewish.

The son of German Jews who had fled Nazi persecution, Mario Luis Kreutzberger Blumenfeld created “Sabado Gigante” and transformed it into an unprecedented success. Drawing on his immigrant background and influenced by American television culture, the kindly Kreutzberger connected with a pan-Latino audience and became the the undisputed “Gran maestro” of Spanish-language media
— not in spite of, but because of, his Jewish identity.

“Among Spanish speakers in the United States he is an icon,” said Ilan Stavans, a professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College who has been a guest on “Sabado Gigante.” “In my view, he couldn’t really come to that type of persona were he not Jewish.”

Kreutzberger, 74, was born in Chile, the “only option” his refugee parents had when they left Germany, he told CBS News. In his 2001 Spanish autobiography “Don Francisco: Entre la Espada y la TV” (“Between a Rock and the TV”), he describes a Jewish upbringing in Chile filled with bar mitzvahs, Chanukah celebrations — and anti-Semitism.

His world was the world of immigrants. At home with his family, German was the language of communication, not Spanish.

“German is my first language,” he wrote. “I only learned Spanish when I started to go to school.”

This immigrant experience — facing linguistic challenges and prejudices — was what eventually allowed the TV host to connect with his pan-Latino audience, who faced similar challenges in the United States.

In fact, it was at Club Israelita Maccabi, the Jewish community center in the Chilean capital of
Santiago, that the prototype of Don Francisco was born.

“Every Friday night, we had a soiree that I presented in the character of ‘Don Francisco Ziziguen Gonzalez,’ a German-Jew who had arrived some 15 years earlier to Chile,” he wrote in the autobiography. “He spoke some faulty Spanish the way Germans pronounced it. The character wasn’t
a mere invention, but based on my parents and their German friends who came to our house on the weekends.”

Kreutzberger’s father, a tailor, wanted him to join the family business and sent him in the late 1950s to New York to learn the trade. In the Big Apple, however, the young Chilean discovered a different passion: television. Inspired by what he saw on the screen, he returned to Chile with the goal of becoming the country’s Johnny Carson. He pitched his idea of an American-style variety show to Channel 13. The executives were enthusiastic but there was one problem: His name was “too difficult to pronounce and not easy to remember,” he recalled in his autobiography.

In search for a more universal Spanish name, “I decided to resurrect my old character from my times at Club Maccabi,” he wrote — and Don Francisco was born.

Kreutzberger’s show — then called “Show Dominical” (“Sunday Show”) — premiered in 1962 on Channel 13. (The same year, Carson started his 30-year tenure as host of “The Tonight Show.”) In 1963, the broadcast was moved to Saturday and the name consequently changed.

In 1986, the U.S.-based Univision came calling and “Sabado Gigante” — “low-brow entertainment geared toward the working and middle classes,” as described by Stavans — became an American show. No longer confined to the slim borders of Chile, it was produced for the rapidly growing Spanish-speaking community in the United States.

“With the move to Miami, the show acquired a new identity as a Latino show,” Stavans said. On Univision, the son of immigrants to Latin America quickly became the pride of Latin American immigrants in the United States. He said Kreutzberger “sees himself as a Latino, not just a Chilean, because of his Jewish identity.”

Simon Guindi Cohen, the New York-based founder of the clothing label Spenglish, is a lifelong fan of “Sabado Gigante.”

“Don Francisco was always a people person and in less than a second he could make them laugh and also cry,” Guindi said. “The show was amazing. It was a great, dynamic show like any other American family show. It was a show full of emotions, just like a Latin soap opera but with games.”

“I could relate to him because he literally looked like one of my uncles, but never in my mind did the idea of him being Jewish come across,” said the Mexico-born Guindi, who is Jewish. “To me, and I think that to the rest of the viewers, Don Francisco was an aspirational character of a Latino that has genuinely made it in the United States.”

Stavans is not surprised.

“Only a minuscule and largely educated portion of the audience is aware of his Jewish identity,” the Amherst professor said. “In Latin America, Jews constitute less than 0.001 percent of the entire population of close to 460 million. This means that the vast majority has absolutely no experiential knowledge of Jewish culture.”

Kreutzberger didn’t address Jewish topics on “S·bado Gigante.” But off camera, Stavans said, “he sees himself as very Jewish.”

In advance of the final broadcast, which will include guests like Shakira and Enrique Iglesias, a street in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood was renamed last week in honor of Don Francisco. Hundreds of fans jammed the streets in hopes of seeing their idol.

In a way, honoring Don Francisco also was recognizing an increasingly self-confident Latino community in the U.S.

“‘Sabado Gigante’ was like a little miracle in everyone’s weekend when you were in a country that wasn’t yours,” Guindi said. “It was a reassurance to the people who watched, so they could know and see that we were not in this country alone.

“It gave us a little extra push on the weekend so we could go on and strengthen our Latin roots.”

A Little Re-Engineering Celebrating Sukkot in a time of drought

Andy Lipkis, founder of TreePeople, is building cisterns to collect rainwater in Los Angeles.

Andy Lipkis, founder of TreePeople, is building cisterns to collect rainwater in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES — While preparing for Sukkot in drought-ridden California, I hoped that the holiday’s joy had not dried up alongside much of the state’s water supply. For a holiday also called “the season of our joy,” one that celebrates the harvest and is filled with greenery and fruit, I worried about how the lack of rain would affect our celebration here and in other areas of the parched West.

In my Los Angeles neighborhood, trees were dying all around, including a birch in my front yard that reminded me of one from my childhood home. And in a season when the shaky sukkah is meant to represent the fragility of life, fire was giving us the shakes as well. At Rosh Hashanah, we heard that the entire town of Middletown, in Northern California, had burned down. A first cousin of my wife lives there; luckily, he and his wife were not home at the time, and their home was one of the few not
destroyed.

Southern California is in the fourth year of drought. From 2011 to 2015, the recorded total for rainfall in downtown L.A. was a record low 29.14 inches. Forests and hillsides across the state are brown, parched and ready to go up in flames, as they did in the Valley Fire in Lake County. The Valley Fire has blackened over 75,000 acres, making it the fourth most destructive wildfire in California history.

To adapt to the water shortage, some of my neighbors were removing their green lawns and replacing them with rocks, bark and artificial grass. Would my sukkah need to adapt as well? According to the Rabbinical Assembly and other sources, the skach, or roof covering of the sukkah, must be of material that grew from the ground. But with everyone in Los Angeles required to cut back on their watering, would there still be enough palm fronds around — most Angelenos use the fronds for skach, since windy days often find my neighborhood streets littered with them — to cover my sukkah roof? Would my celebration of Sukkot somehow endanger the trees, even the palms?

Wondering how my city’s trees were faring, I spoke with Andy Lipkis, the†president of an organization called TreePeople, which he founded in 1973. Lipkis — who began planting trees when he was 15 years old — and his nonprofit have been leaders in the citizen-forestry movement, helping to plant about 2 million trees, and are working to “transform L.A.’s landscapes into living, healthy watersheds.”

Lipkis told me that in terms of sukkah roofing, I need not worry.

“The palm trees are not dying from the drought. There is no shortage of palm fronds or other potential greenery,” he said, much to my relief. But just as quickly he added that due to the drought, we were at a “point of risk.”

Lipkis had seen the trees dying around L.A., including the ones in the park surrounding his organization’s headquarters.

“We’ve lost dozens of big old trees,” including oaks, he said. The situation is exacerbated because ground squirrels and other rodents, looking for water, eat the tree roots, which results in the trees turning brown and eventually toppling, he said.

He reminded me that especially in this time of drought in semi-arid Los Angeles, “we are in the sukkah to connect with the sources of our lives, our food and our water.”

Lipkis also wanted me to think about why Sukkot, his favorite holiday, was created.

“The rabbis, way back, knew that people forget about the vital importance of trees in sustaining our lives, including producing our food,” he said.

Trees “act like tanks capturing the rain in their sponge-like area of their roots. Instead of the water running off, they put it back in the aquifer,” said Lipkis who has used his expertise in water management and technology to influence policymakers in city government.

Realizing that water-wise, “the infrastructure we built can no longer be relied on to meet all our needs,” and acting very much like a tree, Lipkis has come up with his own plan to capture rainwater — a plan to which city agencies have been paying attention.

Using a system built from a connected series of plastic, hollow highway barriers — in their usual use, are filled with water to give them weight — Lipkis has devised and placed on the side of his house a “temporary, experimental, 1,000-gallon” cistern to catch rainwater running off the roof via a downspout.

“You do a little re-engineering,” said Lipkis, who recalled that in the Bible, the kings who built cisterns in the arid land of Israel were celebrated.

During a recent storm here on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Lipkis, awakened by the rain, rose at 3:45 a.m. to find the system already had 200 gallons, he said. By 7 a.m., when Lipkis went off to observe the holiday, the cistern was full, he said.

As a result, the lemon, lime, olive and fig trees that have been struggling in his front yard are now being sustained with the water he has collected.

Lipkis — who usually builds a sukkah out of giant timber bamboo and a few palm fronds thrown on the top — said he won’t be constructing a sukkah this year. Instead he’ll be using his energy to help 10 other households to install a similar cistern system in their yards.

Later that day, inspired by our conversation and with cisterns on my mind, I went into my backyard. I found a wheelbarrow filled with four inches of water from that same Rosh Hashanah storm. I poured it onto a struggling lemon tree that would soon fill my view from the opening of my sukkah.

Rugelach Roundtable Does this beloved pastry need to be dairy to taste good?

Rugelach (singular: rugala) are a beloved traditional Jewish pastry, with a quirky history to boot, but they often present a kosher conundrum. Though pareve, rugelach are often a preferred dessert after a meat meal for those observing kosher laws (which stipulate a waiting period between eating meat and dairy), some of today’s most popular rugelach are known for their dairy fillings.

Pastry chef Paula Shoyer — author of the books “The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy” and “The Holiday Kosher Baker: Traditional & Contemporary Holi-day Desserts” — calls herself “a huge fan of rugelach,” but says that over the years she has been “disappointed at the quality I find everywhere.”

The rugelach from Zabar’s come from an old family recipe. (Photo by Juan Lopez)

The rugelach from Zabar’s come from an old family recipe.
(Photo by Juan Lopez)

“Kosher bakeries sell versions that are dry and filled with over-processed fillings, giving the cookies a fake, too-sweet taste,” Shoyer says. “As a result, I rarely buy them, or even eat them, at kosher events. The only rugelach I have enjoyed in years are from Zabar’s in New York, and those are good because they are made with butter and have so much chazerei [Yiddish for junk] in the filling.”

Shoyer, however, says she has perfected a pareve rugelach recipe made with soy cream cheese and pareve margarine. Like the Zabar’s version, she loads them up with lots of fillings. She calls them “everything rugelach,” and the recipe is included in “The Holiday Kosher Baker.”

“They are easy to prepare, have a flakey crust, and you can fill them with whatever you like,” says Shoyer.

Where do you rugelach come from, anyway?

According to Joan Nathan’s “Jewish Holiday Cookbook,” traditional rugelach are made in the form of a crescent by rolling a triangle of dough around a filling. Some sources believe rugelach and the French croissant share a common Viennese ancestor — crescent-shaped pastries commemorating the lifting of the Turkish siege during the 1683 Battle of Vienna. But this might be an urban legend, as both rugelach and their supposed ancestor, the kipferl, pre-date the early modern era, while the modern-day croissant did not originate earlier than the 19th century. This leads many to argue that the croissant is simply a descendant of either rugelach or kipferl.

Food writer and caterer Vered Guttman says the origins of rugelach date back to the Hungarian kifli, Austrian kipfel, and Polish rogal.

“The crescent-shape filled pastry was originally made with yeast dough and filled with fruit jams, poppy seed paste or nuts,” Guttman has written for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. “Today rugelach may be the most popular sweet pastry both in the American Jewish community and in Israel.”

Shoyer, meanwhile, says rugelach “are an American adaptation” of Austria’s kipfel.

Our rugelach really are delicious. They’ve got butter and cream cheese, which is great, although some people like to have pareve rugelach.

“Early versions used a yeast dough, but a recipe for the cream cheese version, popular today, was first published in 1950,” she says. “Today some are made into crescents, but many companies, including myself, like to bake the square ones which are faster to assemble and hold more filling inside. Over the years I have developed several recipes, including a rugelach dough that is chocolate, and I am currently working on a whole grain rugelach dough for Joy of Kosher magazine.”

Jane Moritz, owner of the Challah Connection vendor, has specialized in Jewish and kosher gifts since 2002. Her rugelach were voted “best mail order dessert” by David Rosengarten, an American chef, author, and television personality who hosted more than 2,500 television shows on the Food Network from 1994 to 2001. Moritz’s rugelach were also featured on Epicurious.com as one of food blogger Sarah Kagan’s suggested “Eight Delicious Hanukkah Gifts.”

Challah Connection assists customers with holiday shopping, sending gifts for occasions ranging from a housewarming to a shiva, or simply gathering around the table with loved ones. The company, says Moritz, “takes the symbolic foods of the Jewish holidays and creates gifts around that for the most part, put people love our kosher bakery items no matter what the season. We can’t sell enough babka, challah, and rugelach.”

“Our rugelach really are delicious,” Moritz says. “They’re dairy-based rugelach. They’ve got butter and cream cheese, which is great, although some people like to have pareve rugelach so they can have them after a meat meal.”

Moritz says regarding her website’s sales, “Babka may be taking the lead over rugelach, but we sell a lot of rugelach.”

The aforementioned Zabar’s rugelach are touted by the company’s website as the favorite rugelach of New Yorkers.

“When you catch the warm aroma of our rugelach,” the website states, “you’ll immediately know why New Yorkers think ours [are] the best. Zabar’s rugelach would make Grandma proud: made by hand, flaky, rich, sweet, fragrant and stuffed with raisins or chocolate. Each order contains a full pound of our famous rugelach, in your choice of chocolate or raisin.”

The Zabar’s rugelach are made from cream cheese, butter, cinnamon, chocolate, raisins, and more.

“It’s an old family recipe,” says Scott Goldshine, a store manager for Zabar’s in New York City. “Our store is highly regarded because, like our founders, we are very much sticklers for quality.”

Goldshine says Zabar’s emphasizes the principles of “quality control at all levels, constant tasting, constant sourcing of the best products available, rejecting things we don’t think are up to our standards.”

“Everybody’s grandmother has her own recipe for rugelach,” he says. “People make rugelach in different shapes and sizes and flavors. It’s morphed into many flavors. We carry 10. We do a very large business in rugelach. I can make a living selling just rugelach.”