At the Dixieland Jubilee in Sacramento, the annual super bowl of jazz, the band that got the most ecstatic reception a couple of years ago was cradled a few thousand miles east of New Orleans.
It was the Jerusalem Jazz Band, whose members hail each other by such fine old Southern names as Boris, Mika, Shmulik, Stanislav and Aaron.
"This band is hot, confident and slick, without losing an interpretive freshness," wrote the jazz critic for the Sacramento Union. "[Band leader Boris] Gammer can scat sing like Louis Armstrong, but he's best at jamming, freilach style, on the clarinet. There are hints of Klezmer in the tunes, which make them special. But this group could probably play the telephone book, and people would want to get up and dance."
After this Memorial Day weekend's Sacramento festival, the Jerusalem Jazz Band will stop over for a one-night stand in Los Angeles, on Tuesday, May 27, performing at the Veterans Wadsworth Theatre.
All proceeds will go to the Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa and the Habonim leadership program in Israel.
As to the group's enthusiastic reception in Sacramento, Aaron Chankin, who plays the tenor sax and is a native Angeleno, said, "First, we got a lot of attention because we were considered sort of exotic, but they came back because of the quality of our playing."
He describes the group's special sound as "Dixie-freilach," which lends a distinctive Yiddish inflection of their rendition of "Sweet Georgia Brown," and a dose of Dixie to "Rabbi Elimelech."
Gammer, the band's leader, arranger, clarinet and saxophone player, was a musical prodigy in his native Riga, Latvia, and formed a prize-winning combo at age 17. He went on to win 18 Soviet and international jazz awards before emigrating to Israel.
He has performed with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea and Michael Brecker, and also teaches at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem.
Three other band members are from the former Soviet Union, two are Israeli sabras, with Chankin as the only American.
The May 27 event is co-sponsored by the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, himself a Habonim alumnus, is the honorary chair.
Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster outlets and the UCLA Central Ticket Office, at (310) 825-2101. For further information, call the Habonim office at (213) 655-6576. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Can't we all just get along? We don't mean Jews and African-Americans, or Jews and Christians, or Jews and Arabs. We're talking about Jews and Jews. From the political and religious extremists in Israel to the Chassids in New York who decided a majority of us don't practice real Judaism, the Tribe seems more and more like Jung's tail-eating serpent, minus the regeneration. We're just attacking ourselves to death.
Anyway, here in Los Angeles, three upcoming events are slated to deal head-on with the issues of tolerance and diversity within Judaism.
* Sunday, May 25: Nine rabbis -- three Reform, three Conservative and three Orthodox-- will meet at Beverly Hills High School for a "Day of Healing and Learning." The idea is to bring the movements together through the study of our tradition. (Hmm, tell that to the Reconstructionists.) Scheduled to participate are rabbis Richard Levy, Harvey Fields, Harold Schulweis, Abner Weiss, Levi Meier, Yossi Kanefsky and two more Conservative rabbis. The event is co-sponsored by the three movements and the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 388-2401.
* Monday, June 2: The UCLA Hillel Council will present a town meeting entitled "Who Is a Jew? Who Is a Rabbi? In Pursuit of Jewish Unity." Honoring the memory of Jerry Weber, the panel discussion will feature Rabbis Yosef Kanefsky (Orthodox), Ed Feinstein (Conservative) and Richard Levy (Reform). Arriving early for tickets and a good seat is recommended -- issues don't get much more heated, or topical, than this. For more information, call UCLA Hillel at (310) 208-3081.
* Tuesday, June 3: The Chazak Circle and the Maimonides Society of the Valley Alliance/Jewish Federation will present a talk and response on "American and Israeli Jews: A Shared History, a Shared Future?" with Avraham Infeld, founding director of the Melitz Institute for Zionist Education, and Yoav Ben Horin, associate director of the Wilstein Institute for Jewish Policy Studies. The event will take place at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus. For information, call (818) 587-3200.
Goodbye Bronze, Hello Iron
According to Jerry Berman, no period in human history is as dramatic or important as the 50-year span between 1225 and 1175 B.C.E.
We know that's hard to believe, considering that the last two years alone have brought such cataclysmic events as O.J. Simpson's acquittal and The Jewish Journal's format change, but consider Berman's proof text: the Torah itself.
"If you want to understand the context of the biblical world, you have to understand the end of the Bronze age," says Berman, who is executive director of the California Museum of Ancient Art.
The world that emerged at the end of the Bronze Age produced the Bible, he says, and you can't understand the latter without understanding the former.
In that short 50-year blink of human history, virtually all established city states and empires were wiped out. Goodbye, Hatzor; so long, Ugarit, Knossos and Troy. Egypt suffered a devastating attack, and the Hittite empire collapsed. Why? Was it famine, earthquake or sudden changes in the technology of warfare that did in these empires?
Around the same time, in the lithic hills of Judea and Samaria, a certain people begin settling down, developing their own style of housing and pottery. Archaeologists call these ancestors of Einstein, Spielberg and you "proto-Israelites." In 1207, the first extra-biblical mention is made of "Israel" on a stele commemorating Israel's defeat in battle.
Where did the proto-Israelites come from? Were they displaced Canaanites, part of an agrarian social-reform movement, as some scholars believe? Were they a distinct ethnic group at all?
And what of those other post-Bronze Age people, the Philistines, who themselves would figure in the biblical narrative? Were they Philistine, as popular belief would have it, or the sophisticated creators of an artful and urbane civilization?
You can learn the answers to these questions from two of the world's leading experts on the subject. On Tuesday, May 27, Dr. William Dever of the University of Arizona will speak on the origins of early Israel. On June 3, Tammi Schneider, associate professor of Old Testament Studies at Claremont Graduate School, will speak on the development of Philistine culture. Both lectures, part of a series on the end of the Bronze Age sponsored by the museum, will take place at the Gallery Theatre in Barnsdall Park, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Tickets for the lectures are $18 for non-museum members. Call (818) 762-5500 for more information. n