The Cry of the Canaanites: A New Passover Seder Supplement

 

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Here is the introduction to my new Passover seder supplement, “The Cry of the Canaanites.” Click here for the entire text to print out and read at your seder table this year. (Click here, here and here for supplements I’ve written in previous years):

After singing Dayenu, we say:

Our telling of the Exodus story is not yet complete. It is not “dayenu” – it is not enough for us – to sing joyfully of the Israelites entrance into the Promised Land without noting that this promise came with a command: to dispossess and annihilate the indigenous inhabitants of Canaan:

So the trumpets were sounded, and when they army heard the sound, they raised a great shout, and the wall collapsed. The army advanced on the city, every man straight ahead, and they captured it. And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city; both man and woman, young and old, as well as the cattle, the sheep and the donkeys, with the edge of the sword.

(Joshua 6:20-21)

As difficult as it may be to read such as these in our most sacred text, it is even more unsettling when we consider that the conquest tradition of the Bible has inspired centuries of colonial dispossession of indigenous peoples throughout the world. It has also been used in various ways by early Zionist ideologues, the political founders of the state of Israel and by the present day religious settler movement.

Therefore, we cannot continue with our seder until we honestly face – and disavow – the immoral conquest tradition that is embedded within our Exodus story. We now take this time to read and discuss the teachings of three liberation theologians: one Native American, one African American and one Palestinian. As we consider their challenge to us, let us ask one another: how will we hearken to the cry of Canaanites past and present? Are we ready to admit our complicity in their dispossession? Can we transform the dream of a Promised Land into the reality of a land that is truly promised to all?

New Jewish Radical Resources!

paintedbird_3I recently discovered that a blog called “Jewdas” was linking to Shalom Rav so I checked it out. Hoo boy! It turned out to be this amazing Jewish radical/Yiddishist/anarchist/post-modernist blog originating from the UK. I must say that perusing it was a sinus-clearing experience. There’s too much to surf through at the moment, but I do commend to you this powerful eulogy-tribute to Marek Edelman, the last of the Warsaw Ghetto commanders, a remarkable man who continued to make his home in Poland, spoke out for Palestinian rights, and remained true to his socialist/Bundist ideals until the very end of his life.

On another radical Jewish note, I’ve just learned that Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird (above) will be playing in Chicago this Saturday night. Have you discovered Kahn yet?  Got in himmel! – this is definitely one band worth checking out. They are practitioners of a genre they describe as verfremdungsklezmer (which means, roughly, “Punk Cabaret + Radical Yiddish Song + Gothic + American Folk + Klezmer Danse Macabre.” )

Their leader, Daniel Kahn, is a 30-year-old Detroit native wunderkind who is one of the leaders of the current wave of American Jewish musical ex-pats in Berlin. His music is everything you would imagine and more. On DK and the PB’s new album, “Partisans and Parastites,” Kahn holds forth on a dizzying array of topics, from poverty to Hurricane Katrina to worker justice to contemporary fascism. The most attention-grabbing song, “Six Million Germans/Nakam,” is a jaw-dropping meditation on Jews and revenge.

Dunno if I can make it  Saturday night, but you should go. Safe to say it will be memorable.

Who Shall I Say is Calling?

This one should deepen your spiritual prep for High Holidays: Leonard Cohen performing his “Who By Fire” with able assistance from the great Sonny Rollins on shofar (I mean tenor sax…) I believe it was taped on “Night Music with David Sanborn” back in 1989.

(Tip of the hat to JRC Prez Josh Karsh for directing me toward this transcendent clip.)

And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of May,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
And who by avalanche, who by powder,
Who for his greed, who for his hunger,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident,
Who in solitude, who in this mirror,
Who by his lady’s command, who by his own hand,
Who in mortal chains, who in power,
And who shall I say is calling?

You First, Kid Rock…

One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting. (George Orwell)

You know what I really hate? Those horrible, insidious commercials for the National Guard that come on before the movie previews. So now in addition to the indignity of having to sit through commercials at the movies, we have to watch this abject propaganda over and over? (As my mortified kids will attest, I have an involuntary tendency to swear loudly at the screen whenever this stuff comes on).

The Kid Rock/NASCAR version (above) is especially horrid. “And if you ain’t gonna fight, get out of the way…”  Boy, you don’t know the meaning of insult until you’re repeatedly subjected to foreign policy according to Kid Rock…

In the unlikely event that some theater owners are reading this, here’s my vote for a more appropriate rock and roll tutorial about our country’s foreign military adventures:  That Man I Shot by the Drive-By Truckers. (Click below for the lyrics):

Continue reading “You First, Kid Rock…”

Dreidel I’m Gon’ Play…

This year’s big Hanukkah release: “Songs in the Key of Hanukkah” – an eclectic anthology compiled by Erran Baron Cohen and featuring songs performed by Cohen, Idan Raichel, Jules Brookes, Yasmin Levy and Orthodox African-American rapper, Y-Love.

Cohen has been fairly visible promoting his disc. He was recently interviewed by Scott Simon on NPR’s Weekend Edition, where he had this to say:

I remember from my childhood, listening to Hanukkah songs at home and listening to these children singing slightly out of key and some wonky old piano player to make a terrible record. The idea was to create a new concept in Jewish holiday music, something that everybody would enjoy listening to.

Click above for a taste: Cohen and Y-Love (along with some other unidentified hasidic-looking folk) performing “Dreidel” on Conan O’Brien.

Enjoy Every Sandwich

So my son Jonah discovered the Warren Zevon tunes on my iPod and I’m kvelling to no end as he turns into a big fan. (I’m a lifelong Zevon-devotee; his 1981 concert in LA in 1981 remains for me an indelible musical memory). Jonah’s discovery has inspired me to go back and listen to the songs of the late, great WZ. In particular I’ve been appreciating his later stuff: the lesser known post “Werewolves of London” tunes that are at turns hilarious, morbid, touching and always so keenly intelligent.

I’m also listening more closely to his final album, “The Wind” – the project he worked on while he was dying from terminal lung cancer. When it first came out in 2003, just two weeks before he died, it was just to raw and painful for me to listen to at length. But returning to it now, I’m realizing what an amazing work it is – a kind of “musical living will” that touches on all of themes of his life’s work without ever being maudlin or over-sentimental. This is a artist who didn’t flinch from exploring his demons while he was alive and he was a true role model for how to make the most of one’s life down to the very end.

Check out the clip above, an excerpt from his astonishing appearance on the Letterman show several months before his death. Letterman (his longtime friend who featured Zevon countless times over the years) devoted the entire show to him and they talked at length. Even if you’re not a fan, I encourage you to watch. It’s truly an incredible TV moment: a dying musician speaking openly and honestly about his terminal illness on a late night talk show before performing some of his greatest songs in public for the final time. He couldn’t hit all the high notes, but it was still a muscial performance for the ages.

The End of an Empire is Messy at Best

Run, don’t walk to grab Randy Newman new collection of tunes “Harps and Angels” – a snarky bunch of songs about the state of the post-9/11 union. If RN was crotchety as a young man, boy, just check out the middle-aged version. These are nasty songs designed to keep you sane.

One quibble: the album version of his version of the brilliant “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country” is inexplicably set to a goofy country-music orchestration that lightens it up way to much. I much prefer the simple, lacerating version he released on iTunes last year. (Check out his performance above).

The end of an empire is messy at best
This empire is ending, like all the rest
Like the Spanish Armada drifting on the sea
We’re drifting in the land of the brave and the home of the free
Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye…

Gonna Be a Long Walk Home…

Caught the Bruce Springsteen concert in Milwaukee Monday night. Now granted, as a fairly rabid fan who’s lost count of how many Bruce concerts I’ve attended, I will admit that I lack a certain objectivity on this particular subject, but even so this was one of the really, really good ones. Good lord, even as he is pushing sixty, the man is performing with a passion and intensity that is truly inspirational.

There was much to love about this concert – he busted out some rarities and even brought out legendary jazz bassist Richard Davis for a gorgeous “Meeting Across the River.” (If you are a fan too, check out the concert review and setlist here on Backstreets.com.) Though I always love the old Bruce standards, what I really reached me was the material from his latest album, “Magic” – a collection of great, danceable tunes that soberly address the perils of living in America during the Iraq War era.

At the concert, he introduced the title song thus, “Here’s to the end of eight years of bad magic tricks:”

I got a shiny saw blade
All I need’s a volunteer
I’ll cut you in half
While you’re smilin’ ear to ear
And the freedom that you sought
Driftin’ like a ghost amongst the trees
This is what will be, This is what will be

You don’t have to be a Bruce expert to observe that he’s has grown more courageous in his willingness to address critical political issues more directly through his music in recent years. Some of his songs have an even deeper resonance now than when they were first written. It’s remarkable, for instance, to hear the prophetic lyric of “Lonesome Day,” written in the wake of 9/11 and almost a year before the US invasion of Iraq:

Better ask questions before you shoot
Deceit and betrayal’s bitter fruit
It’s hard to swallow, come time to pay
That taste on your tongue don’t easily slip away

My personal favorite from the new album – and one that he and the band played with even greater intensity in concert than on the record – is “Long Walk Home.” This one definitely gets my vote for our new national anthem:

My father said “Son, we’re lucky in this town,
It’s a beautiful place to be born.
It just wraps its arms around you,
Nobody crowds you and nobody goes it alone”

“Your flag flyin’ over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone.
Who we are, what we’ll do and what we won’t”

It’s gonna be a long walk home
Hey pretty darling, don’t wait up for me
Gonna be a long walk home

As I was jumping around in an arena full of delirious middle aged fans, I realized how important Springsteen’s music has been to me over the years. His songs kept me sane during High School in the 70’s and wouldn’t you know it, they continue to do the same for me during the turbulent Bush years…

(Click above for a great clip of Bruce and Davis’ duet from the concert.)