The Smooth Jazz Stylings of Yotam Silberstein

Forgive the blurry picture, but this is one of my sons (on the left) meeting Yotam Silberstein this past Saturday night after his gig at the Baird in South Orange NJ. Who is Yotam Silberstein? I didn't know either, but after hearing him I wanted to make sure that my son had a picture with him so that one day he could look back on the night he heard a rising star in the jazz world. You can check Yotam's music out here. Yotam is currently a student at the New School and his guitar sound is similar to Russell Malone -- he can pull off the soulful and bluesy as well as the Grant Green meoldic riff. While other young guitarists try to impress with speed, he only occasionally verges off into Stanley Clarke finger-tap land. He listens deeply. Yotam exudes joy in his playing, often singing along with his solos, reeling his head back, wildly tapping his feet with the drummer. Accompanied by George Cables -- a pianist who played with Sonny Rollins and other greats in the 60s -- Silberstein was respectful of the veteran, asking if Cables wanted to do an intro on a tune. Cables declined, preferring to hear what Silberstein was bringing to the stage. I can understand where Cables is coming from -- it is a great gift to hear a new talent as good as this.


Steve Nash, Arizona, and Immigrant History

Steve Nash has always been one of my favorite NBA stars. His brilliant passing, his hustle, his ability to slash through defenders, draw a triple-team and dish back for a teammate to score are all commendable. And I once read in the New York Times Sunday Mag that he has a rug made of used shoelaces. As his Phoenix Suns have recently taken a stand against the Arizona Immigration law, I was looking through my files to find some of the words I once wrote on the subject and I came up with this speech, delivered in Battery Park in 2006. Seems like some of them are still relevant.

Jewish Perspectives on Immigration

Rabbi Daniel S. Brenner
Delivered February 1, 2006
New York Immigration Coalition
Battery Park, New York City

Before I say a few brief words regarding Jewish teachings on immigration, I want to say that today I am standing on what is for me and my family sacred ground. It was on this spot that 100 years ago, my late grandfather, Herschel Brenner, then a six year old boy from Częstochowa, Poland began his new life. I often imagine that family of nine, in a small Brooklyn apartment, my great grandfather working a job as a stone cutter, learning a new language, becoming Americans.

For Jews in America, any reflection on immigration must include the tale of the S.S. St. Louis -- a ship of 937 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 that was not welcomed into American or Cuban ports. The boat returned to Germany where most of the passengers were eventually murdered by the Nazis.

A Jewish perspective on immigration policy begins with the biblical command:

"Do not stand idly by while someone's blood is being spilled" (Leviticus 19:16)

Today, as war and famine continue to lead strangers to these shores in search of protection and asylum, we must be mindful of the need for a safe haven.

There is a classic Jewish joke on the topic.

It is the beginning of the Nazis rise to power in Germany and a Jew from Vienna, desperate to find a safe place for his young family, gets an appointment at the visa office.

“Where to?” the visa officer asks.

The Jew does not have an answer.

The officer points to the globe that sits on the desk. The Jew spins the globe, meditating on each continent and each country.

“Well, where to?” the officer says.

Finally the Jew replies:

“I hate to bother you, sir, but do you have any other globes?”

But the notion of a safe haven is only one of the teachings on immigration that has strong roots in the Jewish tradition.

The classic Biblical text on how we are to act towards those who come into our land from other lands is cited in the interfaith statement. Leviticus chapter 19 verse 33-34:

33 "When an alien resides with you in your land, do not harass him.
34 You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.

But it is an oversight to read this verse without reading the two verses that follow it

35 "Do not act dishonestly in using measures of length or weight or capacity.
36 Just balances, just weights, a just measure for flour, and a just measure for oil, shall you have: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

Why is a law about strangers followed by a law about honest measurement in the marketplace?

Because in order to create a society which treats the alien as the natives are treated, we must begin by creating a just, transparent, economic system. One which does not cheat immigrants, one that does not create a second class of citizens who must hide in the shadows for fear of imprisonment and deportation.

The biblical laws were very clear – if one lived among you and followed the minimum ethical standards- the Noachide laws- then it was a responsibility to treat that person
with the same love and concern that we treat our other neighbors.

Today we are most concerned with the way in which the proposed legislation, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act, goes about enforcement.

Andrew Grove, a Jewish survivor of Nazi Germany, wrote last week (1/26) in the Wall Street Journal:

The bill contains a provision punishing anyone who "assists, [or] encourages . . . a person who . . . lacks lawful authority to remain in the United States" to remain here….
This could change the nature of our society in a way that I have seen firsthand. As a Jewish child hiding from the Nazis in Hungary, I saw how the persecution of non-Jewish Hungarians who hid their Jewish friends or neighbors cast a wide blanket of fear over everyone. This fear led to mistrust, and mistrust led to hostility, until neighbors turned upon neighbors in order to protect themselves. Is this what we want?

We are a nation that respects the rule of law. But we would be wise to remember the teaching of the 18th century Chasidic Rabbi Simcha Bunam. He asked the question - Why in the verse in Deuteronomy 16:20 does it say: 'Justice, justice shalt thou pursue'? Isn’t it enough to say the word once? It repeats to teach us that we may use only justifiable methods even in the pursuit of justice."

Today we are here to send a message to the Senate and the White House. And in particular I would like to address our President.
Mr. President, in January of 2004, you said:
“Over the generations, we have received energetic, ambitious optimistic people from every part of the world. By tradition and conviction, our country is a welcoming society.”
And last night you emphatically stressed the contribution of immigrants to this nation.
But until the words terrorism and immigration control are detached from one another then we are not creating a welcoming society. In fact, the moral failure of the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act lies in the very title of the bill. Terrorists use legal means to gain entry - the two men who crashed planes into the Twin Towers came to the U.S. on tourist visas and extended them to student visas. But we should not let the memory of that horrific day create a society of suspicion, detention and deportation for the roughly eight million women and men who could not afford to come here legally. These women and men are praying that they will simply be allowed to work and feed their families without being labeled as felons.
Mr. President, Senators, direct your heart to theirs, have compassion for their prayers, help us all, as a nation, to act humbly, love kindness, and walk with God.


The Hummus Wars: a.k.a. Battle of the Bulge

Lebanon regains hummus title from Israel

May 9, 2010

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Lebanon for the second time in a year has wrested from Israel the title of making the largest plate of hummus.

More than 300 Lebanese chefs on Sunday created a more than 23,000-pound plate of hummus, in the presence of a Guinness World Records representative, more than doubling the Israeli record set in January.

The chefs reportedly used 8 tons of boiled chickpeas, 2 tons of sesame paste, 2 tons of lemon juice and 154 pounds of olive oil for their creation.

Lebanon claims ownership of hummus, a traditional Middle Eastern dish made of chickpeas, sesame paste, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, and accuses Israel of stealing the product and marketing it as Israeli. Its exact origin is unknown, though presumed to be Arab.

My commentary: Gentlemen, this is pure insanity. For the good of humankind,let us put this competition behind us and face-off for the title of Most Delicious Hummus.


Atlantic City

Very few conferences in Atlantic City spill out onto the Boardwalk....but an 80 degree May day with a nice wind...you can't go wrong. My inclination, of course, was to skip the meeting and simply get the "$1 Reading" Fortune in the store behind us. But then I saw the sign that says $5. Oh well...I guess I'll have to wait for the future to find out what happens.