Let us bring you some light

Suddenly we all are holding hands and swinging
Doubling our smiles and tripling love and blessing
Adding up to one so helping keeps us free
That is what we learn and teach the world to be

By Becky Skoff

These words are from Suddenly Perfectly, the first English translation of the Hebrew song Tov Lanu Pitom, by Rafi ben Moshe. The song appears in the musical version of the iconic Israeli book Simlat HaShabbat Shel Hannale (Hanna’s Sabbath Dress), by Itzhak Schweiger Dmi’el. We have translated it for an American audience for our original musical, Hanna’s Moonlit Dress, which we are presenting in just two weeks at the 14th Street Y.

These words are a little hard to absorb right now. As the voices of talented young actors fill the halls of our preschool, smiles on their faces and enthusiasm in their dance-steps, I find myself wondering: is this a message parents want to hear right now? Will they feel moved to get up and dance with their children? Are they ready to smile? Will they even come?

Our team at LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture at the 14th Street Y has been working since fall 2011 to bring these words and their story onto the stage and into the hearts of the Jewish community. Now, two weeks before we open a 3 week run of our play, it is almost ironic that we are staging a show about idealism, unity, good deeds and self-sacrifice, for an audience largely heart-broken by recent events that have called these values into question.

I originally fell in love with this book because of its vision of optimism, hope, and promise. The story seems deceptively simple: a young girl – Hanna – lives alone with her mother. Her mother has stayed up late at night, laboring over the creation of a beautiful, white Sabbath dress for her daughter. Soon, Hanna finds herself in a predicament: a stranger, carrying a large sack of coal, is in need of her help. But if she helps him, her new, white dress may be ruined. Of course, Hanna makes the right choice, and magic ensues, leading us to this cheerful song, a talking moon, and a lesson in how easy it can be to bring warmth to others.

You may wonder what a coal man was doing in Israel. Itzhak Schweiger Dmi’el wrote Simlat HaShabnat Shel Hannale in 1930s British Mandate Palestine, and published the story in Davar, the influential workers’ newspaper. The coal man – along with the absence of Hanna’s father – is symbolic of the suffering, isolation, and incompleteness of the Jewish people at this moment in time. Pre-state Israel was a time of dreaming. Most people had very little and were struggling just to survive. Dmi’el wrote this story for a community of big dreamers – people who believed that with every seed planted, they were creating a better future for the Jewish people.  This was the idealistic, pioneering vision of Israel; a vision of pure hope and promise.

Fast forward to today. The idea of helping a stranger struggling with his workload becomes equally relevant.  How can we help the coal men in our society – both in America and in Israel? Where is the little girl in a white dress, willing to get dirty to do the right thing? When will the moon be ready to give us some magic to help ease the way?

I don’t have all the answers right now, but I do know this: I need a positive way to talk to my son about the power of doing good in the world. He needs to see examples of the joy of community, and of love for each other.  I need to sing, dance and smile with my child. I need a little joy in my life too, and a reminder of the power of idealism. We all do.

If you are ready to emerge from your cloud of disbelief and anxiety, open the curtain with us in the coming weeks. Come be transported to another world and time. The clouds may still be there when you leave the theater, but I promise: you’ll leave with a little more light in your heart.

Adding up to one so helping keeps us free
That is what we learn and teach the world to be

Hanna and the Moonlit Dress plays December 2-18 at the Theater at the 14th Street Y, at 344 East 14th Street.  For tickets, please visit 14StreetY.org/Hanna

Combining Joy and Sorrow: Klezmer Music with Elad Kabilio

Cellist Elad Kabilio
Cellist Elad Kabilio

On Saturday October 3rd, award-winning cellist Elad Kabilio of 12th Night Klezmer and MusicTalks will present a concert of Klezmer music for Sukkot at The Theater at the 14th Street Y – MusicTalks: Klezmer Celebration. We sat down with Elad to talk all things Klezmer and bringing classical music to modern audiences.

Tell us a little about your experience with Klezmer and Gypsy music.
12th Night Klezmer‘s musicians are coming from all sorts of musical backgrounds – Classical, Jazz, Pop, World Music – but none of us had actually dealt with Klemzer. Moreover, in Israel where all of our musicians are originally from, Klezmer music has a hassidic-only connotation and is not that popular at all. We were curious to explore this genre of music which is the closest to us by identity as Jewish/Israeli artists. We have had such a great ride with exploring the roots of Klezmer music, understanding it, and finding our own expression in it.
What is the history of MusicTalks and 12th Night Klezmer?
MusicTalks was founded five years ago with the mission to bring more people into the world of Classical music. We all know nowadays that the world of Classical music is shrinking and we are losing lots of people. Instead of blaming the audience for not being interested in Classical music, we tried to understand what might draw people back. Our concerts are very intimate and personal. Each piece of music gets an introduction so you (the audience) can understand it better and our artists always share anecdotes about their personal reactions to the music. The reaction to MusicTalks was so great that we decided to do the same with other music styles. We recognize that people don’t know much about Jazz, Klezmer, and many other styles and would love to be exposed to exciting music.
What are you hoping audiences will take away from the concert?
The fantastic story of Klezmer music its essence combining joy and sorrow – which is so Jewish. We would love for the audience to get to know our musicians and maybe get inspired by this incredible music just like we did when we embarked on this journey.
Is there anything else you would like us to know?
I was interviewed by the Jewish Week in 2014 abut 12th Night Klezmer – check it our here!
MusicTalks: Klezmer Celebration
Saturday October 3rd at 7:30pm at The Theater at the 14th Street Y.
Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Purchase tickets here.


“All Instruments Are Welcome” Jewish Music with Uri Sharlin

Uri Sharlin
Instructor Uri Sharlin

We sat down with Uri Sharlin, the instructor of the Intro Jewish Music for Non-Professional Musicians class, beginning on Wednesday, September 30th. Uri is a Brooklyn-based composer, accordionist player, and arranger. He has worked with prominent musicians Antony and the Johnsons, Natalie Merchant, Avi Avital and Frank London. Uri was also featured as a pianist and composer in the acclaimed HBO series Flight of the Conchords. He is currently leading several groups including the Cardamon Quartet and the DogCat Ensemble and is the creator of Play Me a Story, a musical storytelling performance program for children.

What excites you most about teaching Intro to Jewish Music?

Uri: It is always exciting for me to teach music, and to teach a hands-on class is what I enjoy the most. I am looking forward to have a group of people who have never played together before, and some of whom haven’t touched their instrument for a while, and help them sound good! I will teach various styles and genres within Jewish music and focus on building practical performance skills the students can continue developing and using beyond the class. This program is geared toward performance, and we will have a few of my colleagues join us and enrich our perspective on performance throughout the semester.

Tell us about your experience with Jewish music. 

Uri: I have been involved in the Jewish music world in New York for many years. This summer only I was in Mexico playing Moroccan Jewish music with the master Emil Zerihan, and the following week, teaching up at KlezKanada. I went from a van in the Mexican desert where everybody but me spoke Moroccan to a camp where pretty much everybody is interested in Yiddish…

How did this idea come about?

Uri: For the past few years I have been running the Tikun Leil Shavuot jam session at the 14th Street Y. It is one of my favorite nights here in the city, where musicians meet and create a new piece of music together, in the middle of the night, with the support of amazing crowds of all backgrounds. More than once I had people approach me and say something like – ‘I used to play the accordion, but never like that…how do you guys do it?’ Well, this class is all about that. Ronit (Ronit Muszkatblit, Artistic Director of LABA) was always very supportive of my music and so the class was a natural collaboration for us.

What do you hope to accomplish with the class?

The main goal is to get students of all levels who are playing an instrument, even if not professionally, to gain deeper insight into Jewish music and ensemble playing. We will explore a different genre every week or two. The level of the class, the chosen repertoire, and the demands from the students will be based on the level of the student and their participation. We will do everything possible to accommodate students of all levels and instruments.

Register online today!

Wednesdays, September 30th – December 9th from 7:00 – 8:30pm at the 14th Street Y
For more information, email URI at usharlin@gmail.com


Celebrating Bob Dylan at Age 72-Love Minus Zero (No Limit)

Dr. Stephen Hazan Arnoff is the Executive Director of the 14th Street Y. We’re sharing this essay that he wrote in honor of Bob Dylan’s 72nd birthday. Happy Birthday, Bob!
-14th Street Y

Bob Dylan turns 72 years old on May 24. Happy Birthday, Bob! So what can we wish for a man who already has it all?

Dylan may be the most important figure in popular culture for the past fifty years. Others have sold more records and sold out more concert halls, but Dylan has made an indelible creative mark on the world by challenging popular culture to wrestle with questions of religion, philosophy, and meaning like no other contemporary artist.

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The Beatles? They may be the band by which pop music genius is measured until today, but without encountering Dylan’s dismantling of expectations about what pop could be and do (and, as legend has it, getting them to smoke weed for the first time), there would be no Revolver or Sgt. Pepper’s, let alone John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

Dylan has for many years captivated filmmakers, writers, actors, directors, dancers, and poets, too. Allen Ginsberg, a standard-bearer for the place where pop, spirituality and art meet, bowed to the young Dylan, saying: “There is a very famous saying among Tibetan Buddhists: ‘If the student is not better than the teacher, then the teacher is a failure.’”

Dylan’s influence extended to visual arts as well. Andy Warhol was the only prime mover of hipness and meaning to approach Dylan’s artistic impact, and they stalked each other like two boxers in the ring of pop. During a visit to Warhol’s Factory Dylan nonchalantly tossed the artist’s famous cut-out image of Elvis pulling a gun on into the back of his convertible and sped away, symbolically triumphing in their duel.

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On the religious front, Dylan has traveled many paths and one path all at the same time. Is he a devout Jew still known to appear at Chabad synagogues, a reformed born-again Christian, or a humanist iconoclast? On all of these paths he has modeled an artistic search for feeling, meaning, and truth.

As Joan Baez, a former lover and one of Dylan’s first patrons in Martin Scorsese’s Bob-umentary, said:

There are no veils, curtains, doors, walls, anything, between what pours out of Bob’s hand onto the page and what is somehow available to the core of people who are believers in him. Some people would say, you know, ‘not interested,’ but if you’re interested, he goes way, way deep.

So as Dylan turns 72 on May 24 — the Hebrew birthday of שבתאי זיסל בן אברהם is 27 Iyyar — what birthday wishes can we offer?


Seventy-two in gematria is chesed. In kabbalistic terms chesed means something like “Love Minus Zero (No Limit),” the title of a Dylan tune from 1965. What might be true of all great rock and roll is certainly true of Dylan: no matter their topic or instrumentation, all of his songs are love songs at their core. Dylan took these obsessions with love further than any pop star before him, particularly when it came to completing the divine.

Celebrating Dylan’s 50th birthday with a list of 50 things he loved about Bob, Bono pointed out mixing-up human love and love of God. This tangling of divine and human love while wrestling with their limits is the story of Dylan’s music in every era — from “Love is all there is it can’t be denied” on Nashville Skyline in the late 60s to “Shelter from the Storm’s” “If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born” in the 70s to a more recent album entitled Love and Theft.

Dylan’s songs interpret the balance and battle of chesed and gevurah — ultimate love, life, birth, and release in tension with the ultimate limit of destruction and death. “He not busy being born is dying,” Dylan sang some fifty years ago — a mantra for the creative life he has modeled for artists, thinkers, and teachers for more than half a century.

On his birthday of chesed we celebrate Dylan’s curiosity, confounding of expectations, shattering of myths, rebuilding of myths, crankiness and love of music. (Just listen to one of his one hundred radio shows Theme Time Radio Hour of a few years ago with hour-long musical explorations of themes from Drinking to Hair to Tennessee to enjoy the company of someone whose love of music is overflowing.)

As my friend and teacher Rabbi Ebn Leader has taught, “Existence itself is an act of chesed – ‘Olam chesed yibaneh’(Psalms, 89:3).” For the world of popular culture that matters, Bob Dylan is a foundation of the world.

Originally posted in Talkin’ Hava Nagilah Blues, Stephen Hazan Arnoff’s Blog. Follow for more great posts like this one!