Category Archives: music


Photo from here

(continued from here)

I have listened to music for years for years. My first 45 that I owned was “Hey Jude” with “Revolution” as the B side. I heard the song on the radio when I was like in pre-school or kindergarter and a few days later my parents got me the single. It was so cool. The first cassette (ask your parents, if you don’t know what one is) I owned was the Gene Simmons Kiss solo album. It was glorious. Then came hours upon hours of making mix tapes, finding bands to listen to and making music into a lifestyle and as a way to relate to the world.

The point is I have lyrics and tunes stuck in my head. It makes no difference how much MBD, Piamenta or Uncle Moishy I listen too, these songs from my past are still floating around my skull.  Since my father a”h  died, the lack of listening to music has sort of brought out audio fashbacks.  For a while on Facebook I would post what combinations of songs (sort of an aveilus mega-mix) were going through my head on any given day. This got even more of a problem when I would go biking at night.  I’d mentally play, hum and sing songs in my head, because I just didn’t get that jumpstart of energy listening to shiurim.  I’ve come to realized that you can’t quite the music, even if you’re not listening to it.

Most of us can’t help it if we have music in our heads. A random phrase said at work will trigger a song lyric in my head. That’s how it is. A number of months ago I had oral surgery before Shabbos. I was on some fine pain killers and when walking to shul Shabbos morning several songs from my punk past popped in my head. I couldn’t get rid of them. Maybe it was the pain pills, maybe it was the several l’chaims after shul, but eventually they left my head. That’s one type of flashback.

Then there’s the opposite type.  It can happen when in shul during Mussaf of Yom Kippur or during a “stam” Shabbos.  I’ll hear the chazzen/baal tefillah start singing a particular tune and it will automatically bring me back to my high school days, as well.  I’ll instantly be sent to a Shabbos afternoon spent keeping Shabbos with 100 other teens at an NCSY Shabbaton.  I will recall how much I hated, and I usually don’t use or write this word, the idea of Shabbos ending, amid a medly of emotional songs composed by Abie Rotenberg and Avraham Fried. 

I’ve also seen in myself, how easy it is to let music help express or direct what mood you are in. That’s probably a heathy side-effect of not listening to music during various times in the Jewish calendar and while mourning. It’s easy to get out of a bad funk by simply clicking a song in your iTunes. It’s a crutch, especially when you don’t really want to deal/express/accept certain feelings.  Not having that niggun or guitar solo to listen to forces you to relate and express yourself.  I’m sure that given some time I could come up with a slick song lyric it quote from someone as far removed from our religion as possible, but I’ll turn to what’s currently in my head written by Shlomo HaMelech, sung by D’veykus:
Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under the heaven. (Koheles 3:1)


Headphones from here

Initially, I told myself that not listening to music for a year while in aveilus wouldn’t be a big deal.

For the most part, I still feel that way. I mean, if I can go 33 days with out listening to music during sefira, then what’s a another 332 days? And it’s not really that long because when you factor in Shabbos and Yom Tovim you cut down that number by another 50 odd days. No big deal. However two interesting things have been going gone through my mind, over the past 8 months. The first I’d call “cravings” and the second I can only refer to as “flashbacks”. The second part (flashbacks) will be posted next.

I was never a big fan of what’s knows as “pop” music. I was, though, very into finding new bands to listen to. These were mostly confined to a specific genre/subculture.  I craved listening to new music and going to concerts.  I was always true to those two or three bands/artists that I loved, but I was constantly reading music news publications, staying up all hours in high school listening to our local college radio station (I don’t know if these even exist anymore) and speaking to friends about music. 

Once I became observant and eventually chose to listen to mostly Jewish music this craving sort of transfered over, as well.  I miss not keeping up with newer Jewish music.  I didn’t think I would, but I do.  The realization of having to almost listen my way through and network with people about what new artists are out there seems like a big undertaking. I guess after I’m “finished with my year”, I’ll start asking people what they are listening to.

For sure, I’ll save all the emails from someone I know who has recently started an email list about “new Jewish music”.  As his email states:

Please email me if your interested in Jewish Music Updates. Newly released singles, cd samplers, upcoming album info, music videos and more. Will always try to have something for everyone.

I recently read the first of his emails and was pretty impressed with the info. If you or your children are listen to any Jewish music, it is well worth it send an email to .

Holden Caulfield and the lack of observance

Note:  A few of the thoughts and ideas that make up this post have been sitting in my Blogger Dashboard since 08/09/06, after I sent an email to someone regarding banned seforim and authors.

I heard on CBS radio that J.D. Salinger had died.  As a former fan of fiction, avid reader of THE NEW YORKER, and someone who thought, once upon a time, of going into writing,  I had to pause and give some thought to Mr. Salinger and, of course, The Catcher in the Rye.  The primary thing that comes to mind whenever I think about The Catcher in the Rye is the fact that, sometimes, it takes just one written work to make an impact.  Culturally, this book was one of the first written works to speak to and about teenage life in post World War II America.  As often noted, while the book was intended for adults, many young adults felt that it spoke to them and reflected their feelings of alienation.  It was published in 1951 and banned very quickly due to language, adult situations, promotion of smoking and alcohol drinking, etc.   The book continues to be banned.

Even though I attended what was know as a “top” public school in Kansas, this book was never required reading.  In fact, it wasn’t until I was 22 (summer of 1992) that I first read it.  Holden Caulfield, the main character, was a mouthy teen who had been expelled from four schools and was rather discontent with society, adults, and especially people who were “phony”.  Holden saw the hypocrisy within his society and in many of the people he encountered.  In many ways, not so different from some individuals that would be labeled as “at-risk” or “in-risk”.

One of my favorite quotes (of all time) can be found in chapter two.  Holden says, “People never notice anything”.  I have always thought this to mean that Holden felt that people didn’t understand him and that they were not even willing to attempt to understand him.  It is that lack of observance (not the Torah u’Mitzvos kind), that feeling that we are not important and what we say doesn’t matter that can often lead to a lack of observance (yes, the Torah u’Mitzvos kind).  Most people want to be recognized and valued.  When parents, teachers, family members or the community give the impression that someone isn’t important or “worth the time” it can have a devastating effect on a person.  Of course, when a teen or adult gets to the point that they even contemplate the idea that Hashem forgets about them, then we get into a situation that might bring about that lack of observance.

“People never notice anything,” is a mindset that seems to go against many Jewish values.  Part of the reason I like the quote is because I see how it resonates with many people.  That’s I attempt to notice things.  I try the be first to wish others a “Good Shabbos Kodesh” or give a “Yashar Koach”.  I attempt to take an interest in what is going on in my life of those around me.   Lately I have become keenly aware of when people have a birthday coming up (mostly thanks to Facebook).  To simply ask someone how they are doing, but not push beyond the answer they give is really going only half the distance.

I know this personally, because friends will ask me how I’m doing, and my first reaction is to say, “everything is fine”.  Mostly I do this because R Yisrael Lipkin (Salanter) held that “one’s face is a Reshus HaRabim”, a public area (I believe the story goes that he saw someone looking obviously very serious during Elul and commented to this person, that showing distress might bring others down, as well).  I’m slowly realizing that if a good friend asks how I’m doing, the they do deserve a better answer than, “fine”.  This is sort of like R Dessler’s idea that even though we want to be givers and not takers, sometimes you can be a taker, like when someone really wants to give you a gift, and by taking you are giving to that over person.

“People never notice anything,” just isn’t true.  It’s easy to think that, in the big picture, our actions don’t really make a difference.  I fall into this mentality quite often as of late.  Usually, it’s really before I’m about to do something nice for someone or prior to actually making a difference.  If a novel, movie, song, or other aspect of what’s called “pop culture” speaks to our youth, I think, for myself, that it is important to find out why.  If you meet a teenager and they are into an author or a musical artist then there’s something (even if it’s completely off base) that “speaks” to that person.  This isn’t meant as an academic critique of Mr. Salinger’s book, but I’ve often wondered to myself, “What if Holden had felt that an adult understood him?”  Had that been the case, we would have had a very different story.

Availing myself during aveilus

Rav Hirsch brings down the idea that the root of aveilus is the Hebrew word aval, which means “but”.  This is because while one is mourning someone, there’s always this feeling of “…but, I should have spent more time with the departed” or “…I’m doing ok, but, I still miss the person”.  There’s always a “but”.

My father a”h has been niftar for just over two months and I’m hoping that this post will be somewhat cathartic for me.  It’s been hard to actually sit down and write lately.  This is mostly due to the fact that my father, while in the hospital, mentioned to me that he has always enjoyed reading my blog (I had only become aware that he even knew about it at the end of the summer).  While I’m glad that he was able to let me know this, thinking about a post or even writing something reminds me of the fact that he’s not around.  It’s the same way with Sugar-Free Grape Kool Aid.  My dad, it seems loved the stuff.  It was about the only thing I drank, besides coffee, when I was in Wichita.  I’ve thought about buying it for home, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  Hazelnut coffee is also one of those things my dad loved.  He would mix Columbian ground coffee with hazelnut flavored coffee and that was his brew.  At work we have hazelnut flavored creamer.  I try not to even look at it.

Making sure that I don’t miss a Kaddish is constantly on my mind.  There’s a very strong sense of being alone, since I’m the only one (in Chicago) saying Kaddish for my father, but there’s also sort of an unspoken connection that I have to others who are also saying Kaddish in any given minyan.

The “no music” thing has begun to drive me batty.  I constantly have tons of music-mixes going through my head.  Mixes that, in a way, reflect different aspects of who I am.  I’ve got Carlebach songs that flow into a Husker Du/Bob Mould track that will then ease into Diaspora Yeshiva Band song which will blend into early REM tracks that slide into a Rabbis Sons song and finally ending (most recently) with something from the soundtrack to Blade Runner.  It’s the ultimate mega-mix in an odd way.  I catch myself humming niggunim around my office and in the car.  I was never into sports, so I’m stuck listening to news radio (which I don’t mind) in the car.  But (there’s that but again), there’s really only so many time I can hear “traffic and weather together on the 8s”.  

I’ve felt pretty detached from things at home.  Even though my wife is great about it, it bothers me.  On the flip side, though, I’m trying to become much more “communal” in terms of my thinking about what I can offer my own community, as well as getting more involved in things.

My drive home from work is tough.  I’m lucky that I have a commute that is under 20 minutes, but I use to call my dad (almost daily) on the way home from work.  I’m fortunate that I can call my brother and shmooze with him, but it’s not the same.

Two friends (and bloggers) sent me a copy of Out of the Whirlwind by Rav Soloveitchik zt”ll.  I’ve found the sefer to be very insightful.  I’ll end with a quote from the last chapter, titled “A Theory of Emotions”:

Avelut denotes the critical stage of mourning, the grief awareness, and at this level, we will notice at once that avelut contains its own proper negation-solace and hope.  Avelut in Halakhah is interwoven with nehamah, consolation.  They are inseparable.  The latter is not a frame of mind which displaces grief; there is rather an inter-penetration of grief and solace, of forelornness and hope, of mourning and faith.  Immediately upon closing the grave, the line is formed and comfort is offerend to the mourners.  What is the Kaddish pronounced at the grave if not an ostentatious negation of despair?

I’m thankful that I live in a community with so many friends who helped me during shiva and continue to do so.  I attempt to remember that I’m loved by my creator and that this current situation is a really springboard for growth on many different levels.  But…

Niggunei Hisorerus Novhardok

The following letter is reprinted here with permission, first appeared in Yated Neeman (USA Yated, issue dated this May 21).

Lost Novhardoker musical heritage brought back to life 

Dear editor –

I recently saw signs in local botei medrash about a recording of Novhardoker niggunim recently put together in Eretz Yisroel. I called the number given and acquired it and was very impressed. I suspect that it would be of interest to others as well. I therefore wrote the following review of it, which I would like to share with Yated readers with your permission. Thanks for your assistance and all your good work.

Lizeicher nishmas kedoshei Novhardok, Hy”d.

The Novhardok Yeshiva movement was one of the largest, if not the largest such movement, in Eastern Europe pre-WWII. After the terrible churban, some remnants survived, notably in Eretz Yisroel, France, and the USA. Prominent gedolim of today with Novhardok connections include Rav Yitzchok Dov Koppelman of Lucerne, as well as Rav Yaakov Galinsky, and Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita. The movement did not regain its pre-war strength and size afterward, however.

Consequently, although many people, especially from the younger doros, have heard of Novhardok, they often lack comprehensive knowledge of the deep Torah and mussar spirituality that Novhardok stood for.

One of the aspects of Novhardok that is little known today, is the niggunei hisorerus of the movement.

Novhardok had special Yiddish niggunim, composed by Novhardoker leaders, such as Rav Nissan Bobruisker and Rav Dov Budnik zt”l, Hy”d, which were sung on various occasions for chizuk in avodas Hashem.

Recently, in Eretz Yisroel, a breakthrough has come about, in which an excellent, high-quality musical release, entitled ‘Niggunei Hisorerus Novhardok’, with thirteen tracks of Novhardoker niggunim, has been put out. The niggunim have been recorded in a modern, up-to-date fashion with modern technology and musical accomplishment, with a talented vocalist. Additionally, accompanying the musical release is a booklet of approximately sixty pages, comprising a foreword and lyrics of the songs in Yiddish, with Hebrew translation alongside, line by line, which can be used to follow the songs and better absorb their deeper meanings. There are also a few historical photographs of Novhardoker Yeshiva talmidim and hanholo on the packaging.

The songs shed light on the times from which they came, with references such as not bowing to the hammer and sickle (communist symbol), redifos hadas (religious persecutions), and crossing the border between Russia and Poland. Some of the songs reflect mussar beliefs and practices, at times specifically Novhardok ones. There is mention in one song, for example, of having a notebook with a pen, part of a mussar practice in which people worked on their middos, while another envisions baalei mussar without a measure when Moshiach comes. One song with fifteen parts, focuses on different middos and themes, among them hatovo, amitzus, histapkus, hashgocho, bitachon, zehirus, zikkui horabim, and teshuvoh. The songs vary, with some being slower and others more ‘lebedig’ (lively). One particularly lebedig song is ‘Lebedig Yankel’, which (in two versions) talks about when Moshiach will come. There is also a short song at the end sung by Rav Yaakov Galinsky shlit”a.

The release gives a feeling of what it was to be a Novhardoker in the old days and helps us understand the spiritual power of Novhardok, which helped it grow to have thousands of talmidim pre WWII.

One needn’t be a Novhardoker talmid, or son, grandson, or great-grandson of one to appreciate and enjoy the recording. Anyone with a curiosity about, and gefil (feeling) for, the pre-WWII European Yeshiva world, should find it of interest. Even if your Yiddish is less than perfect, the line by line Hebrew translation make it possible for you to enjoy it as well.

It is available in both CD and cassette.

In our trying times, the spiritual strength such niggunim can offer is surely a welcome development. As we approach Kabbolas haTorah, niggunei hisorerus can help us and we can bring this forgotten aspect of pre WWII Yeshiva life back to life.

-A Yated Reader

If anyone is interest in contacting information about how to buy either the cassette or CD, please email me and I’ll pass the information on to you. -Neil

A Punk lesson in Chizonius and Penimius

Looking back on some of the bands I listened to in high school, I learned a valuable lesson in the importance of chizonius (external emphasis) and penimius (internal emphasis) in regard to who I am. It was, however, a lesson that I really didn’t absorb until I graduated back in ’89.

I was fully entrenched in the whole hardcore punk/alternative music scene during my younger years. I, ironically, showed my individuality by dressing mostly in black (like everyone else). That was what most of us did. How we presented ourselves was a reflection of what we listened to, it was the external reflecting the internal. There were, of course, those who expressed what I can call now “punk frumkeit”. They looked the part, had the right band t-shirts, had their hair the right way, yet were much more into the fashion that the philosophy. Back then we called them “posers”.

Some of the musicians that made up the soundtrack of my youth such as Bob Mould, Henry Rollins, and Greg Graffin held by a different philosophy. They were all in some of the fastest and loudest band out there at the time. They also dressed like your average person in their early years. I was struck, even then, that they were so “hardcore” without looking like they were. That was much more impressive than my closet of black clothing and a jacket with band names written on it. They had mastered the art of making a statement by not making a statement (interestingly the trend among some Torah observant Jews to wear ‘white shirts’ is basically the same statement).

A few years after high school I read an interview with Lee Ranaldo (from Sonic Youth) and he was quoted as saying, “Sometimes the most radical people or ideas outwardly seem very conservative”. That made sense to me. An emphasis on the internal, what’s below the surface, requires more than a casual glance.  That what I aim for these days.  I can’t help but be identified as a Torah observant Jew, but I try to be tzinius in my actions.  Is that punk?  It doesn’t matter, this is who I have chosen to be.

HaMakir es Mekomo, Pesach, and blogging

Hamakir es Mekomo, knowing or recognizing one’s place is listed in Pirkei Avos (chapter 6 mishna 6) as one of the 48 ways to “acquire the Torah”.

When I first started learning, I always defined this trait as knowing when to speak up and when to keep my mouth closed. I really only thought of this concept in regard to my relationships with people. In the most simple terms, there is a time “climb into the driver’s seat” and a time to sit in the back seat, if you will. As I’ve grown in age, learned a bit more, experience things in life, and matured (well, gotten married, worked, had three kids-“matured” is really a subjective term) my working definition of Hamakir es Mekomo has changed.

My defintion of Hamakir es Mekomo is now more based on one’s location in life (including hashkafa-based, situational, and geographic). Each of us is truly where we need to be, as I’ve come to accept. The trick is to understand why were are in a given situation, relationship, or location. There have been, for sure, places where I have lived that were good for a certain time frame, and then I was directed elsewhere. The idea of “recognizing one’s place” can mean that I have an achrai’us (responsibility) to reach my potential in any given situation. While the “grass may be more haimesh” in another shul or community, Hashem really does put us where we need to be. This is not always an easy cup of coffee to drink, I admit.

Accepting a given situation as Hashgach Patis is probably the first step in recognizing that Hashem has put us in our particular ‘hakom”. This doesn’t mean that we can’t try to change our station in life (via danening or extra effort), but where we are, who we are married to, the children we have, all part of Hashem’s ultimate plan for us.

With this in mind, I have been thinking lately about the role we play at our Seder table. We are, on hand, told to feel like we are “free”. We recline, as royalty. We eat like royalty, wash like royalty, and drink like royalty. While all the foods of the seder are important, the Haggadah itself seems to center around the Arba Kosos. The mizvah of the four cups is singular in the sense that while we are required to drink them, we shouldn’t pour for ourselves. We go back and forth, like Tony Hawk on a half-pipe, between being the free person and the servant. I think that Hamakir es Mekomo, knowing one’s place fits in nicely. Each of us are, indeed free…free to chose to be an Eved Hashem.

It’s interesting to note that in the Mishna, right after Hamakir es Mekomo comes Sameach b’Chelko” – one who is happy with his portion. It seems, IMHO, that If you can’t accept that you are where you need to be and what you have been given, how can you be happy?

A few days ago was my 2nd blogaversary. Tonight I went for my pre-Pesach haircut, which was were my first posting idea started. Although my barber didn’t wax the mussar with me, he did say that I “looked better than when I came in”. He had a point.

I’ve always tried to be myself and be happy with who I am. It doesn’t matter if I’m learning the Bilvavi between alyios in my minyan on Shabbos, or cleaning for Pesach listening to Rav Weinberger’s Shabbos HaGadol drasha and then cranking up the Carelbach, Karduner, and Husker Du on iTunes, I am who I am. This blog didn’t really start out being as personal as it has become, but that’s what happened. Nor did I plan of becoming part of a “community” and actually connecting with people whom I have become friends with, that also just happened. For now, this is where Hashem whats me to be. I am thankful for having the ability to take time to actually write out ideas and things that I think about from time to time. While my posting hasn’t been as frequent as I would like recently, I thank all of you how have, for whatever reason, taken time out to read every so often.

May we have a Pesach this year that will help us discover who we are and where our priorities should be.

The waxless candle

Recently while shopping I saw this item, a wickless candle. It sort of threw me for a loop. The box stated that it was safe for pet and children (which I guess is nice) and that it was made out of real wax. Still, it’s an imitation of the original. The whole concept of the wickless candle brought be back to my post about Obervabots and Deceptijews.

I know that I, at times, give the impression of being a real candle, with a real wick and real fire. There are days when I feel like I’m wickless, days when I’m an imitation of what I can be.

A flame should be real. Our soul is like a flame and we need to keep it lit. Oddly, I first learned this from Greg Graffin in the fall of 1989 when I heard these words on a Bad Religion album:
How fragile is the flame that burns within us all, to light each passing day?” (two points if you can name the album w/o searching the web).
R Simon Jacobson says it like this, in Towards A Meaningful Life, “Look closely at a candle, and you will see an approximation of your soul-the flame licking the air, reaching upward, as if towards G-d. And yet the wick pulls it back to earth. Similarly, your soul is constantly reaching upward, while your body holds you back with its insistent demands for physical sustenance or gratification. The question for each of us is, Do we chose to be the flame that rises upward or the wick that holds us down?”

“The spirit of man is the lamp of Hashem, searching all the innermost parts.” -Mishley 20:27
Batteries in a wickless candle eventually run out. A true candle’s flame can pass from one wick to another.