Monday, November 29, 2010

Jerusalem Thanksgiving and Wedding, part 1

On November 21st I arrived in Jerusalem for a week-long stay for the wedding of my brother David's daughter, Raya. He has been in Jerusalem since the early 80’s, has raised 4 children, Yonatan (Yoni) 29, Raya 25, Rina 21, and Avital 12 in two marriages. He created and nurtures a small non-profit business employing four who help non-profit organizations with resource development, including grantwriting, staff recruitment, professional and lay training, strategic fundraising planning, and whatever else he can do to help them. 

I had stayed in Jerusalem once before for a week and seen some of the sights (Israel Museum, Old City, Masada, Dead Sea, Tel Aviv). This week, most of my time was spent engaged in the wedding related events scheduled throughout the week. It was a wonderful time with relatives, including nieces and nephews I don’t often see: David’s wife Alisa and her family, Raya’s mother’s family whom I hadn’t seen for years, and the parents and one grandparent of the groom, who came to the wedding from their home in Chile. One theme of the week was how well divorcees and their new families can get along, at least after several years of practice.

The wedding was planned Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, a good time for those of us traveling from America to be able to take time off and a great place to do it. My wife, daughter (early thirties), and I were graciously invited to stay at my brother and sister-in-law’s home. The only child of theirs living there was Avital, recently Bat Mitzvah. The marrying couple, though they share an apartment, was observing the Biblical injunction not to see each other for one week before the wedding. One stayed at the apartment, and the other elsewhere. Yoni works for a tech firm and lives in Tel Aviv, so would spend time staying with various relatives and friends during the week. Rina, finished with her mandatory service in the Israel Defense Force, is managing a Jewish youth program in South Africa.

The wedding was made more complicated and International by the grooms’ family from Chile. Michael (pronounced mee chi el’), the groom, has “made aliyah” and moved to Israel. The week following the wedding he was ordained as a rabbi of the Masorati (Conservative) movement in Israel. His father, Hugo, a soccer trainer and massage therapist, has also decided to move to Israel and so will be staying with his son and new daughter-in-law until he finds his own place. Hugo’s wife, from whom he is separated and her mother have come from Santiago as well. Michael has several Spanish speaking friends living in Israel who attend the wedding. The mix of languages becomes something of a joke after awhile. Most of the Spanish speakers can speak either Hebrew or English, so those two languages are most in evidence.

The mood of the week was one of joy and celebration. The young couple, she 25 and he 30 years of age are energetic, happy, and deeply in love. After David picked me up at the airport Sunday evening in Tel Aviv, he brought me to the home of his ex-wife where we were to have a rehearsal for a song that we would perform during the wedding reception. A few other relatives arrived and everyone seemed to break into song and dance spontaneously. “Lai lai lai lai lai lai lai lai laaaii….” David and his children love to sing together, even performing occasionally as the Epstein Family Singers. Both he and Rina play guitar. She writes songs as well, and everyone harmonizes. 

(r-l) David (playing guitar), Avital, Raya's G-pa, Raya and Michael (on floor), Yoni, other relatives... my daughter at far left foreground

Included in the singing group for the reception would be David, Rina, Avital, David’s ex-wife, Judy, and her husband, Mencher, who plays guitar and ukulele, and me. David nominated “Teach Your Children” or "Over the Rainbow" as songs that would best express the moment, but Menscher thought Dylan’s “Forever Young” would fit the bill better. Rina didn’t seem terribly happy with either, and after half-heartedly singing the first two for the benefit of any who didn’t know them we devolved into an impasse, trying to come up with a perfect song to express complicated ideas like Raya and Michael’s love, Jewishness (Dylan is Jewish), and support of family. Raya started strumming a song and singing in Hebrew. It was a song she’d written, very simple, beautiful and powerful, with words that spoke of love of place, and the Hebrew words used allowed the metaphor to extend to love of God. Rough summary translation: Allow my legs to walk to the place that my heart loves and open my heart to the place that to which my legs have taken me. After one run-through we knew it was the perfect song for us. We decided on arrangement, harmonies, and within an hour had it ready. My brother wrote down the words phonetically for me, since it’s been years since I tried to read Hebrew. Then I asked Rina if she’d mind if for this occasion I tried to come up with an English version that would more directly express the romantic love between Raya and Michael. She said to give it a shot.

The wedding itself was magnificent. I don’t know for sure in what ways it was typical and in what ways it was innovative, but suffice it to say that before the official ceremony even began we’d been eating, drinking, dancing, and singing for almost two hours. The ceremony itself beautifully wove a variety of music and traditions together. Though several rabbis participated in the ceremony in various ways (Raya’s grandfather on her mother’s side is a Rabbi from the U.S.), it was M.C.’d by Yoni, who wore a headset microphone and translated some of the proceedings. Translations and descriptions of the proceedings had been provided in a program for English and Spanish speakers. And the party and dancing afterwards was so exuberant that I am sure Jerusalem is currently experiencing a shortage of Advil.

(this is part 1 of what will be a 2 part post; part 2 coming next week)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Whiskey Before Breakfast

Last weekend for the first time I can remember I had whiskey before breakfast. I’ve played the fiddle tune a thousand or more times, “Whiskey Before Breakfast.” I always assumed it was traditional Appalachian, a variation of Silver Spire, the Irish Reel, but a little Internet searching brought a link that attributes it to a Canadian fiddler, Andy de Jarlis. I think I first heard it from the Red Clay Ramblers, who were from Chapel Hill, NC. Mike Cross, a great solo entertainer from there wrote lyrics to it and recorded it. It’s a great song. The point is, aside from a couple very late nights jamming in the mid ‘70’s when I may have had a nip or two as the sun was rising, I don’t remember ever waking up and having a sip of whiskey before breakfast. I mean, it’s only been the last ten years or so that I developed a taste for bourbon, and the last three that I discovered single malt scotch. For me, one drink in the evening is enough.

But staying with Stephen Stiebel outside Chapel Hill, NC last weekend, I decided it was the right time and place to end this oversight. Stephen is one of the most interesting people I’ve met in the ten years or so I’ve been meeting interesting people in the contra dance world playing with the Contrarians. I realize that some of the other very interesting people, like Warren Doyle, who has hiked the length of the Appalachian Trail more than any other living human; Penelope Weinberger, who has a life sized sculpture of a skeletal “burning man” attached to a propane tank for night time entertainment in her backyard and goes to the Burning Man festival every year; David Wiley, who I think of as “the unofficial mayor of Jonesborough, TN”, a tireless producer and promoter of contradance events in and around Jonesborough; or Harriet Bugel, who has combined her talents as a caterer and love of contra dance to develop a business providing meals and snacks at contra dance weekends might feel slighted, but hey, for all the wonderful things they do, they don’t make really good bourbon like Stephen does. He also built a house a few years ago with a kitchen/living room area big enough for 40 people to contra dance in, and has house concerts and dances there regularly. He runs a successful business building custom windows and doors.

But, did I say he makes really good homemade bourbon? As in, he has a still? It’s all legal. He doesn’t sell it. Mostly he shares it with friends. Contra dancers aren’t known for their heavy drinking, but I saw a few bottles get pretty badly dented the night of the Contrarians house concert and dance. So, here’s to Stephen: may he long enjoy good health, great friends, wonderful music, excellent contra dancing, and an occasional glass of whiskey before breakfast!