Where Joe DiMaggio Went: On Bankrupcy and Sports

Talkin’ Hava Nagilah Blues is a blog written by our Executive Director, Stephen Hazan Arnoff.  Although Stephen’s main interest is the 14th Street Y and all things related, he is also a scholar, a musician, a sports and rock and roll fan, and as you see below, a  prolific writer.  We’re happy to share his regular blog with our 14th and 1st Readers!

The Los Angeles Dodgers filed for bankruptcy protection in a Delaware court this morning.

Pressures in the sports marketplace, poor management, and economic tumult everywhere made the Dodgers weak. Then, like a rotting tree waiting for almost any reason to fall, the club was toppled by the storm of owners Frank and Jamie McCourt’s ongoing divorce proceedings and the hard ball the league has been playing in not really helping the Dodgers clean up the mess.

The Dodgers are not my team. I was only a passive fan around the time of my most rabid love of baseball as a kid. These were the seasons of 1977 and 1978, when, as a Clevelander engaged with hapless teams everywhere I turned, I still had enough pride to hate the Yankees on behalf of the truly awful Cleveland Indians.

It’s hard to claim an arch rival when your team can barely find their way to the clubhouse door and onto the field. I imagine those lean year teams like Spinal Tap wandering through the gothic tunnels of that Lake Erie stink-house Municipal Stadium, bats and balls in hand, everyone banging on the walls in excitement to get the show started, slowly losing their grip, their “Hello, Cleveland!” just a whimper in the end.

The Tribe was pathetic like that, but part of being a fan has always been the need to maintain healthy repulsion for someone else’s beloved. This was the role of the Yankees (along with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines) when and where I grew up.

The Yankees and the Dodgers had a titanic and glamorous rivalry back then. Furthermore, since the Steves Garvey and Yeager shared a name with me and the Dodgers pulled along a caravan of colorful stars like Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, and Dusty Baker and they were playing the Yankees for all the marbles, it was easy to transfuse some Dodger Blue into my anemic Cleveland blood.

Today, the Dodgers take a number in a line of sports scandal and failure that snakes down the block as far as the eye can see. For all of the obvious reasons, sports and scandal go together today grandly as they always have. Doping and fixing and violence and money and abusing exultant expectations invites athletes, fans, owners, pundits, politicians, and all variety of hangers-on to go wrong.

It’s no revelation to say it’s getting harder and harder to maintain the firewall of conscious ignorance separating our pleasure in the competition and loyalty of sports from our disdain for its corruption.

While it’s silly to complain that sports empires so embedded in the entertainment economy would not answer first and foremost to profit, the past year has still been tough. At the local level – or at least from my perch far away from the local level in one of the capitals of the Cleveland Diaspora in New York City – there was LeBron’s Decision and the Ohio State Buckeyes’ recent football implosion. Then there’s the NFL lockout and a strike impending for the NBA, too.

For those who just want a little healthy hate, a little nostalgia and grandiosity with their beer, a few games extending into overtime and frantic minutes of heroic play by a team they love, well, there are plenty of let-downs to be had.

It’s easy to quote Paul Simon’s question “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” about any number of jolts to the basic infrastructure of American nostalgia, fantasy, and fun. That includes baseball, of course, and it always did. We’re grown-ups now. We understand how it all works.

The link to Stephen’s Blog is below:


Welcome Shayna!

We’re pleased to welcome Shayna Kreisler as our new Senior Program Director!  She’s already made news for us, with New York Non-Profit Press, re-printed below.  We look forward to having her on our team!

Shayna Kreisler has joined the 14th Street Y as its Senior Program Director. In this capacity, she will work with all core programs at the 14th Street Y to continue to shape an innovative arc of programming spanning from early childhood through school age children to teens and adults. Kreisler begins her new post on July 18th, 2011.

Kreisler is currently completing her tenure as Director of Civic Engagement and Leadership at BBYO. The regional headquarters of BBYO moved to the 14th Street Y in September 2010, and Kreisler became acquainted with the 14th Street Y team then.  Prior to her current post, she held other positions at BBYO including the Director of Education and Teen Initiatives and Assistant Director of the Philadelphia Region. Before joining BBYO, Kreisler was a teacher in New York City.

“We are thrilled to have Shayna join our team at the 14th Street Y,” said Stephen Hazan Arnoff, Executive Director of the 14th Street Y. “The Y has more than doubled the size of all of its core programs in the past three years. Now, with the support of our newly established board, we are eager to expand our laboratory for new Jewish culture and experience in exciting ways. We were looking for someone who wanted to take on the challenge of leadership in a vibrant community center with unlimited potential. Shayna was the perfect choice.”

“There are very few professionals in the Jewish community today who bring Shayna’s dynamic mix of intelligence, creativity, passion and commitment to results,” said Rabbi David Kessel, BBYO’s Chief Program Officer. “During her tenure with BBYO, Shayna brought a culture of excellence to our program, with laser focus on service, advocacy, Jewish education and leadership development – using new technologies, inspired training methodology and her significant skills as a facilitator and senior member of our Program Team.”

See link to the New York Non-Profit Press below:


Our East Village Identity…

…will be discussed tonight at Metropolitan Playhouse!  Best of all, Stephen Hazan Arnoff, Executive Director of the 14th Street Y will be joining the panel.  Here’s an excerpt from the article with the link to the broadwayworld.com article appearing below.


Metropolitan Playhouse, has confirmed 5 new panelists for the discussion panel The East Village: Theory and Practice, to be held Wednesday, June 22, at 7:30. The panel will be an open discussion, beginning with an examination of the contrast and consonance of the neighborhood’s historical and cultural reputation with its actual history and current identity.

The panel is a part of the second annual East Village Theater Festival, a three-week celebration of the ever-vital life and lore of the East Village. Featuring two series of all new works–Alphabet City and East Village Chronicles, as well as the work of local artists–in Metropolitan’s home at 220 E 4th Street June 6th through June 26th, 2011. Further, attendees are invited to retire to the B6 Garden following the panel for a show of slides of the work of local artists who have captured the spirit and life of the neighborhood over the past several decades.

Joining the panel on the 22nd are: Stephen Hazan Arnoff, Executive Director, 14th Street Y; Eric Ferrara, Executive Director, Lower East Side History Project; Frances Goldin, local activist, literary agent and a resident featured in Alphabet City VII; Joyce Ravitz, President, Cooper Square Committee; and Shell Sheddy, photographer and East Village activist.

Read more: http://broadwayworld.com/article/Metropolitan-Playhouse-Presents-East-Village-Theory-and-Practice-Panel-622-20110619#ixzz1Q0rG3Fec

Talkin’ Hava Nagilah Blues

Our Executive Director Stephen Hazan Arnoff writes from his blog these thoughts on the passing of Clarence Clemons. 


Clarence Clemons: Good Luck, Goodbye

At the 14th Street Y’s symposium on Bob Dylan and the Band in December 2010, Matt Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces said that he draws a direct line between Otis Redding and Steve Cropper plotting “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” in a Memphis hotel room and Barack Obama and David Axelrod plotting a presidency in Chicago. Tonight let’s add Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons, the Big Man of Blessed Memory, to this list.Part of the allure of rock and roll bands has always been the community that the band represents as it rolls across the country, town to town, coming to your town soon.Much of this is a branding schtick, of course, because in the end it’s only rock and roll and rock and roll is only show business. The Boss and the Big Man must have known this to last in the public eye together as long as they did.

But still, for most of the past forty years, as Springsteen played the part of the hard-fighting, openhearted contender for something glorious and fleeting, Clemons played the part of his best friend and sidekick — the one who could clear the floor with an explosion of melody at the moment when the odds had grown the most daunting and the danger most fierce.

This is the sound of triumph in “Rosalita“, but it’s also the howl of the only person who still remembers your name or knows where you are in “Bobby Jean.”

It is also how Bruce Springsteen, like Sly Stone but for so much longer, dared to present America in the 1970s and beyond through the faces of a band that actually looked like America: people of color, ethnic, rough around the edges, and always ready to bust the chops of self-righteousness with a great sense of humor.

Kissing the Boss on the lips or embracing him in a giant bear hug at a peak moment in almost every show, Clemons was, in Springsteen’s words, “King of the World, Master of the Universe, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall refineries in a single bound; it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s the Big Man.”

Part of the reason that Bruce Springsteen has meant so much to America for so long is that the passion and truth of his band at work was as diverse, playful, successful, and natural as we wish our communities could be. The Big Man was an anchor for this community, and we mourn his passing.

(For Springsteen’s shaggy dog tale of the mythic first meeting of he, Miami Steve, and Clarence, click here. Thanks to David Biliotti for that…)



Q&A: Joey Weisenberg and the Hazan of the Future

The 14th Street Y’s LABA program seeks to transform the Jewish Cultural landscape by placing artists at the center of communal institutions as leaders, innovators, role models, and sources of inspiration.  One of our LABA Fellows, Joey Weisenberg recently spoke to The Arty Semite about his passion for Jewish music.  Reposted here!

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Joey Weisenberg, 29, is the musical director at the Kane Street Synagogue in Brooklyn and is in charge of musical education at Yeshivat Hadar in Manhattan. He plays guitar, mandolin and percussion and sings in 10 different bands, is an artist-fellow at the 14th Street Y’s LABA program and a faculty member at KlezKanada. He also teaches music privately. He does all this, and still spends half or more of his time teaching congregations around the country how to build singing communities and conduct spontaneous choirs.


Having spent the past eight years honing his techniques, Weisenberg is now sharing them in the recently published “Building Singing Communities: A Practical Guide to Unlocking the Power of Music in Jewish Prayer” (Mechon Hadar, 2011). The book, which provides advice on everything from melody acquisition to room set-up to shul politics, is accompanied by a CD of a spontaneous choir, directed by Weisenberg, singing 15 nigunim based on the Shabbat liturgy.

Weisenberg recently spoke to The Arty Semite about his passion for Jewish communal singing and how it fits into a larger vision for Jewish music.

Renee Ghert-Zand: Is the interest in communal singing a recent phenomenon, or is it a revival of an older one?

Joey Weisenberg: Well, it’s a little bit of each. A lot of the things that I am trying to get across are traditional notions. For example, I advocate putting the amud, the table from which the prayers are led, in the middle of the room, instead of having a frontally oriented bimah. That’s really the way the shul was set up for hundreds and hundreds of years. It makes sense to do it that way because you’re close to everybody. On the other hand, historically there might not have been as much communal singing as there is today. It used to be that the cantor and his choir were located in the center of the room, and now I advocate that the entire shul should be the choir.

Why do you emphasize wordless nigunim of the 19th and 20th centuries, and some even as old as the 17th and 18th centuries?

It’s a visceral response to what I find deeply beautiful and moving in these old melodies. Even the new melodies I write sound like they’re old. You study the tradition and then open yourself up to all of the new possibilities. The first priority is to spend years and years studying the material, studying the old things. So, I spent a lot of time studying hazanut (cantorial music), old nigunim and old settings of liturgical music — mostly in the Ashkenazic tradition, because that’s where I’m from. I spend a lot of time immersing myself in the old music and that gives me a depth from which to create new music.

Is there a relationship between your musical background growing up and your interest in building singing communities now?

I grew up in a traditional Jewish home in Milwaukee, Wis. We went to a Conservative shul and our hazan did most of the work, but he taught me all the stuff I know about leading Musaf, and other things. At some point I started going out to the west side of Milwaukee, where the Twerski shul was. Rabbi Twerski, a famous Hasidic rebbe, is an amazing composer and singer. He would sing the most beautiful melodies and they captivated me. When I would see how he would sing and how everyone else would sing with him, I saw what a tremendous potential there was in this kind of process, and I wondered why this didn’t happen everywhere.

Are there any other musical influences on your compositions?

I grew up in a world music kind of way. My father’s a flamenco guitarist. My mother played Bach. I grew up playing blues. All kinds of music have been moving through my head and my family and the world I’m in. On the CD you’ll hear elements of blues, flamenco, Macedonian brass band music, bluegrass, African choirs, gospel and Bach. But all of these things are disguised within the spirit and musical structures of old nigunim.

What are the difficulties of introducing communal singing to synagogues and independent minyanim?

The hard part is dealing with the institutions. Most of our shuls have been doing the same thing for 30 or 40 years and there’s all kinds of resistance to making changes. This is an ongoing challenge and it will be for a long time.

With the independent minyanim it’s a tremendous opportunity because you get all kinds of young people coming in who are looking to create something beautiful, deep and meaningful. But what’s been pleasantly surprising is that there’s also a big proportion of people in shuls who are looking for this kind of experience. Not everybody. But it’s been a very pleasant surprise to get to meet all these people and to work with them.

How does communal singing fit into your larger vision for music and musicians in the Jewish community?

It’s been something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a teenager, wondering how I could break down the walls between performers and participants. While I do enjoy getting up on stage and performing, I’ve always felt that I’m missing something when everyone else in the room is passively watching. I’ve also wondered about ways to make more use of creative musical talent that I experience in the Jewish music scene. I often find that the greatest Jewish musicians feel alienated from the Jewish community and they’re underutilized from a teaching point of view.

What I’m trying to design is a profession in which musically inclined people can become resources and teachers for the community. I imagine that the hazan of the future can be more of a teacher. I imagine that hazanim can be the people who carry the songs and who everyone in the community wants to learn music from.

Everyday Fitness: Pilates, Planks and Push-ups

Summer weather is very inspirational, isn’t it?  Unlike winter, when I just want to snuggle in bed for as long as possible, I find that when the light hits my face early in the morning I want to get up and get moving.  Since my husband and kids are still sleeping for a little while longer, I take 15-20 minutes to do the Pilates 5 exercise stomach series.  And just lately, I‘ve added push-ups.  

Despite my fitness background, I have always hated push-ups.  HATED.  I decided long ago that they weren’t for me, that my wrists were too weak and that it wasn’t worth the damage I might do to them.  Then I started taking Yoga classes with Julie Gayer Kris (who incidentally is still teaching while 3rd trimester pregnant with her first child).   Julie has taught me without directly saying so, that not only have I been a wuss, I’ve been approaching push-ups all wrong.  I repeat that she did NOT say this directly.

 It started with planks.  Julie showed me that I was not using the strength of my legs, back  and core enough, and instead collapsing too much of my weight into my wrists.  Once I understood this, I could apply the same principle to push ups.  When I feel discomfort in my wrists, I use the strength of my legs.  I use my back, pulling the lats, or ‘wings’ together towards my spine.  I pull my abdominal muscles up and in.  I think of wrapping my gluteus muscles around to the back of my body. 

 If you have 20 minutes or so for yourself in the morning (or anytime during the day), try the Pilates, Planks and Push-Ups trio.   For inspirational Yoga classes from Julie Gayer-Kris (at least until the end of July, when she is due) come to the 14th Street Y 9:30AM Friday mornings, or 7:45PM Monday evenings.  Our complete fitness schedule is here.

At least while the summer lasts, I’ll be doing it too!


Camille Diamond is the Director of Community Engagement and Communications at the 14th Street Y.