Einstein, Morocco, upstate New York and the power of song

I wrote this article and a post a little over a year ago, a short time after the death of Israel folk singer Arik Einstein and American folk singer Pete Seeger. In retrospect I understand how much learning about their lives and works affected me as an artist. They died a few months from each others, both leaving a remarkable influence and legacy to their cultures. I’ve dedicated the second Magic Bagel book in memory of Seeger, who lived in Beacon, NY as well and we used to see hime in festivals around town, singing with five year olds. I highly recommend “The Power of Song”, a documentary about Seeger’s life. And as for Einstein, there’s not much about him in English, and that’s part of why I wrote this post. I hope you’ll enjoy reading.

Facebook statusesPage 2

——

Einstein, Morocco, upstate New York

During my army service I had a certain lip balm that had a very specific taste. Even many years later, when I come across a similar semi-strawberry flavor I right away feel like I’m a soldier again, with everything that this feeling arouses in me. I have a similar, or rather an opposite reaction, to the voice of Arik Einstein. When I hear his voice I feel comforted, I feel at home.

Einstein is credited as the first one to create Rock music in Hebrew but he wasn’t a great philosopher, poet or activist. I love him not like an idol but more like a friend, a mentor. His voice often accompanies me with me with an advice, a feeling or a story that are usually very meaningful, simple and often wise.

“sitting in San Francisco on the water (…)
It’s so beautiful in San Francisco on the water
It’s too bad you’re not here with me to see,
you’d say you’ll never come back..
Suddenly I want home (…)
Give me a piece of the Tabor mountain,
A piece of the sea of Galilee
I love to fall in love with the small land of Israel
Hot and wonderful”

Lyrics : Einstein, Music : Shalom Chanoch

*

Homesickness. Israel, the sea of Galilee where Jesus walked on the water and mount Tabor, I still remember how in love I was when we hiked there together (she wasn’t that much into me). We had tea on the way down, met some Bedouins who hiked there as well. It was many years ago.

Like Einstein, I also love to fall in love with places. I even managed to fall in love with a small town in upstate New York. I love the mountain here and I love the river and I really love the people here. If I live elsewhere I’ll miss all of those, I might even write some songs about them.

The exiled Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish said that homeland is like a suitcase. I guess for some it is a suitcase, for some it’s the melodies and for some, like me, there is no clear definition of what homeland is. For Einstein, who was born in 1939, homeland was what he called good old Israel, pre-skyscrapers Tel-Aviv, idealism, and some innocent sense that he had as a child and maybe Israel had too. Besides being an incredible performer, that might be what made him so popular among so many Israelis who yearned to similar things.

*

Israelis don’t talk a lot about where they came from. Zionism, the Jewish national movement that was born at the end of the 19th century and eventually established Israel in 1948, intended to bring Jews from different cultures from all over the world and unite them in Israel under the new national umbrella that was inspired by the ancient Jewish state at Biblical times. The Zionist greatest myth, the “Sabra”, is the Israeli Ashkenazi native Hebrew speaking male who was born in Israel and is actively building the country from vacuum while structuring the perfect society that will occupy it. The new Jew that would finally have a homeland of his own and would be the mirror image of the Jew from the diaspora.

During the attempt to bring this dream to life languages disappeared, people didn’t find their place and some communities are still looking for their common identity. The Sabra wasn’t supposed to look back much, like a famous saying of Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister – “From Tanakh to Palmakh” – From the Bible to the Jewish combat units. As if nothing happened in between. As much as I know how destructive this myth was for so many people, when I hear Einstein’s voice I believe it, like a child listening to a story. A good story, where we are the good guys and we go through lots of trouble until the happy end.

“Jewish autumn
In the land of my ancestors
Send me hints of Elul (…)
Shofars will blow open
Heaven gates
And Jewish faces from the diaspora
In sad grayness
Will fly in front of the chair of
The master of the world
Requests, begging, sparks
Deep in their eyes”

        Lyrics : Abraham Chalfi,  Music : Yoni Rekhter

Einstein was a sabra, musically he might have been the first one, or probably the last one. More of a lover than a fighter but still a sabra, maybe even an ultimate one. This song, in which he sing a poem by Avraham Chalphi, is the only one I know of from Einstein’s hundreds of songs in which he sings about Jews who don’t live in Israel. The poem describes them almost as ghosts, flying with mysteriously sparks in their eyes, not really sure what they have to say to the average Israeli.

With Einstein, it seems like the Sabra project worked. His figure and beautiful voice seem to be born out of the sand of Tel Aviv, like the city itself that claim to rise up from the sand. Einstein doesn’t seem to be interested too much in Jewish history prior the establishment of Tel Aviv and if he sings of Historical events it’s either of Zionist history or of Biblical characters.

After his death, I learned many new things about Einstein. Many Israelis shared stories about his beautiful friendships, his professionalism, his shyness and extreme humbleness. Living on the other side of the Atlantic ocean, I consumed many of these stories through the internet and felt a kind of mourning I couldn’t explain. I didn’t learn anything, however, about Einstein’s grandparents or parents. They must have immigrated to the land of Israel from somewhere, but Einstein, besides singing this song, never says a word about almost two thousands years of Jewish Diaspora.

Like the United States, Israel too is inspired by lots of idealistic dreams. The reality, however, is often a bitter awakening from those dreams.

One of the few memories I have of my grandfather is his old radio that used to constantly play music in Arabic. This was more than forty years after he immigrated to Israel from Baghdad, leaving his dreams, his career and few other things there as well. He wasn’t a Sabra.

I know very little of him, mostly from stories my mom told me. I don’t remember him speaking much, I do remember new year cards from him, written in what I still think is the most beautiful hand-writing I’ve ever seen. Later on I realized that the horizontal shape of his Hebrew letters is actually very similar to Arabic letters.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if as a child I would have sat on his lap and he would have told me stories in Iraqi dialect Arabic. Would he have felt more capable of telling me stories in his mother tongue? would he have laughed with me had I understand Arabic? Maybe he’d tell me about the market in Baghdad, maybe we’d even live or visit there and he’d take me on walks, to his synagogue, to his grandfather’s grave.

I lost his cultural inheritance. I don’t speak his language and I know very little of the culture he came from. I just have a vague image of an old sick man that seemed bitter and out of place, always accompanied by a distorted melody out of an old Radio. Like Einstein who sings so beautifully Chalfi’s words, Jewish faces of the diaspora often appear in my visions too.

If there was any battle between Einstein and my grandfather, Einstein won by a knock-out.

West Jerusalem artist Neta Elkayam decided to sing in Moroccan dialect Arabic, the language of her beloved grandmother. Like other Israeli artists before who chose to sing in Yiddish and in other languages, Elkayam is searching for roots and doesn’t find them in the myth of the Sabra. I know Neta and her artwork for more than twelve years but listening to her singing in Arabic is like meeting a new Neta for me, an even more beautiful Neta, with something extra, or rather something raw, more open to pain and to love. I think I understand her better now, even though I have no idea what she’s singing about. I find myself just enjoying the language, the intonation and the performance and the story behind the music is very exciting to me. There is a certain magic in listening to music in a language you don’t understand – the lyrics can mean anything but they function like an extra musical instrument and has no intellectual background to them.   I wonder how would it be for me if I haven’t understood Einstein words but have only his voice and the music to enjoy.

Picture

“Baba Gurion”, Neta Elkayam. Israeli first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion

is holding a Hebrew-Arabic dictionary and having a glass of Arak

Together with her partner Amit Hai Cohen they created a show in which they sing songs of Moroccan Jewish musicians who were culture heroes in their homeland but Zionism never really noticed them. Some of these musicians, whose songs are still listened to and being taught as essentials of modern Arab music, died in poverty after having a hard life in Israel with very little recognition of their talent.

For Jews, singing in any Arabic dialect in Israel is also a dramatic political statement. For many Israelis the sound of Arabic is threatening, even though Hebrew and Arabic are very similar and about half of them had some level of Arabic in their home, like I had with my grandparents. Neta is gifted with a voice that like Billie Holiday and Oum Kalthoum can take the listeners into another world, regardless if they understand what she’s singing about.

Recently, Neta and Amit performed at a famous music festival in Morocco where they had an incredible success. They also perform regularly in Israel and their work brings out a lot of interest. Culturally it is one of the most interesting things that are happening in Israel right now and inevitably it raises many questions about Jewish and Israeli identity. Their journey might have started with hearing Grandma as children but led them through Tom Waits, the Lower east side, Tel Aviv, Existentialism and many more stations, but eventually they got back and sang songs that grandma would have loved.

While writing these words I’m waiting for my daughter Maayan to be done with her ballet class and to take her to a show of Gina Samardge, her favorite musician who will probably sing her favorite song – “This land is my land, this land is your land”. While I’m waiting, a few other parents discuss whether it’s better to get a real tree or a fake tree for Christmas.

Advertisements

A Jew Killed

A short picture book memoir about my father’s passing and mt own parenting. You can read it here or get a copy here

New Adventures of The Magic Bagel

The Magic Bagel is an interactive children’s book I co wrote with my daughter Maayan and takes place in Beacon, NY. The third issue, “New Adventures of The Magic Bagel” is about to come out and is inspired by a program in Mozambique in which 600,000 weapons were exchanged for agriculture tools, sewing machines, building materials and bikes. The weapons were cut and used by artists as material for sculptures. The Tree of Life is a half a tone, 11 feet tall tree made out of recycled guns and is one of the most inspiring artworks I know. You can learn more about the program and the sculpture here  http://bit.ly/1zKU80Q.

image

                                                           The Tree Of Life

And on a personal note – I hate guns. As a soldier I had to carry one and I still feel the disgust when I remember the feeling of it. These poisonous metal snakes SHOULD be made into artworks and optimistic stories. I hope you’d enjoy this Magic Bagel issue as much as you enjoyed the previous ones and as much as me and Maayan (and Shasha helps this time too!) enjoy making them. Please share The magic bagel with your families and friends! And if your child or you made an artwork about the magic bagel or an ending to the story of Vera, who brought a magic bagel into a soup kitchen, send it to us!
You can get the previous Magic Bagel books at http://bit.ly/1wia0li for a suggested $5 donation to Doctors Without Borders or your local soup kitchen. We managed to raise more than $600 to these causes and we’re going to decide soon on an organization we’d like to support with this issue. Stay tuned for updates!

Ori, Maayan and Sasha

image

image

Philatelic Meditations

I’ve been making different kinds of snail mail art for many years, like this work for example
image

Recently I started to make a comics strip using stamps, and here are some examples.

A comics strip sent to the NRA artistic director

image

The local usps don’t always like my artistic attempts to create comics stripes with stamps. This was my response.

image

I do believe writing is good for you, though I don’t always write one page a day. Making comics stripes is new to me, trying to phrase complex ideas into one sentence is a great challenge and very satisfying

image

image

image

image

Find out more about Alfassi Books and order the Facebook Statuses booklet, a handmade booklet collection of my writings on different social media platforms on which I usually make my comics stripes at www.alfassibooks.com

Ohh and before I forget, the new Magic Bagel book is coming soon! This will be the cover (find out more at the Alfassi Books website)

image

image

Typewriters that heal

image

You can see more of my artwork and artistic services at www.alfassibooks.com.

The Magic Bagel is an interactive children’s book I co wrote with my daughter Maayan.

I helped about 20 writers to find typewriters, I’m not in touch with most of them but I know of a lot of great writing that was produced.
Here are some of the colorful handmade sketchbooks I make from old record covers, you can see more at the Alfassi Books website

image

image
image

image

image

Protest songs, protest letters

Bush is no longer a president, but this song is still powerful. Young said he read an article about the war in Iraq and started to sob, soon he wrote “Living with War”, not the most mellow protest album out there. He said he looked at the younger musicians and they didn’t say much against the war, so at the age of 61 he did it himself, and later toured with CSNY around the country and made a documentary about it

As far as I know, the only Israeli mainstream musician who sang more than 3 protest songs in his career is Shalom Chanoch. His last protest song was sang in 1997 – “A person is a person don’t call me a nation”. After the first Intifadah (1987) many Israeli singers vocalized what they think of the Israeli army treatment of Palestinians, like Nurit Galron (“Don’t tell me about a girl who lost her eye”) Shlomo Arzi (“we haven’t learned anything, apparently”) Si Himan (“I didn’t ask for a green plastic hero”) and Chanoch (“your enemy is just like yourself”). But soon after, a political silence came and there are almost no anti-war songs written in Israel these days, similar thing is happening in the US. Therefore Young’s voice is so special.

As a snail mail artist (yes, there is such thing, you can see some of my art here) who send a lot of letters to Israel and to the US, I often try to make political statements using the old fashioned method. Maybe it’s a form of a protest letter, I’m not sure.

20141008_00001_002_20141015110159521

99_orig

(a sketchbook made out of old record cover, see more of them here)
Lincoln: Who said “it’s better to burn out than to fade away”
Hendrix: Ecclesiastical?
Bird: Pirkey Avot?
Joplin: Mussolini?
Lincoln: What’s up with you? Are you on drugs? It was Neil Young in his masterpiece album ‘Rust Never Sleeps’
Lincoln: Abe, you forgot to mention that Young didn’t write it about anyone specific but about the spirit of the Rock’nroll, even though Kurt Cobain quoted it in his suicide letter

728_orig

Hendrix: What’s up Abe?
Lincoln: I’m worried
Joplin: is it because of the Israeli Palestine art world?
Hendrix: it must be the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, he’s a lefty
Woman: He doesn’t answer. Hang him!

Reflection of the recent restrictions on the freedom of speech in Israel and Palestine

See more talking stamps at http://alfassibooks.weebly.com/blog/comics-stamps

Don’t call me a nation / Shalom Chanoch 1997

If you come by our block

You’ll see an old writing on the wall

“God, save me from faith”

There’s no chosen nation, only individuals

Not everyone is a full, not everyone admits it

These are Jews, so are these

A person is a person

Don’t call me a nation

Same diaspora here, I’m working for nothing

How many more soldiers  against one suicide bomber

Not of God, I’m afraid of you

Again you’re riding on the blood

Again you think you’re smart

If you didn’t notice, I’m here too

Need nothing from you, from them

A person is a person,

Don’t call me a nation

When flowers are blooming, kids are happy

Old enemies are brothers today

Heros are resting, borders are open

The dogs bark, the caravan goes on

A person is a person, don’t call me

Don’t call me a nation

If you come by our block

You’ll see an old writing on the wall

“Even reality needs protection,

God, save me from faith”

A person is a person,

Don’t call me a nation

 

Let’s impeach the president / Neil Young 2006

Let’s impeach the President for lying
And misleading our country into war
Abusing all the power that we gave him
And shipping all our money out the door

Who’s the man who hired all the criminals
The White House shadows who hide behind closed doors
They bend the facts to fit with their new stories
Of why we have to send our men to war

Let’s impeach the President for spying
On citizens inside their own homes
Breaking every law in the country
By tapping our computers and telephones

What if Al Qaeda blew up the levees
Would New Orleans have been safer that way
Sheltered by our government’s protection
Or was someone just not home that day?

Flip – Flop
Flip – Flop
Flip – Flop
Flip – Flop

Let’s impeach the president for hijacking
Our religion and using it to get elected
Dividing our country into colors
And still leaving black people neglected

Thank god he’s cracking down on steroids
Since he sold his old baseball team
There’s lots of people looking at big trouble
But of course our president is clean.

Thank God

image

Coming soon – Perspective, a short picture book memoir

 

 

 

“Perspective” is a short picture book memoir I wrote. Here’s the beginning, if you like it you can order a copy at Alfassi Books’ website.

Alfassi Books is a publishing house I started. It is based on the model of gift economy and offers children and adults literature and unique artistic services, like personal letters writing, alternative certificates and more.

 

Ori

20141007_00002_001_20141008235545831
20141007_00002_001_2014100823571322420141007_00002_001_20141009081141332 20141007_00002_001_2014100900002936920141007_00002_001_2014100908010928420141007_00002_001_20141009000259256    20141007_00002_001_20141009082021601

Coming soon, I hope to finish the booklet in a week. Order your copy here 

 

Ori

An Army Draft

I was ready to go to the army. I was preparing my bag when I suddenly got a phone call from the supervisor of my program who told me that there was some misunderstanding and I actually had two more months until my draft. It was a few months after my dad died, a few months before I lost my virginity. I think I smoked my first joint during those two months, at a festival with a few strangers. It made me laugh a lot. My second joint was inhaled during the second Intifada, about a month before the end of my army service. (I’ll never wear a soldier’s uniform again). A friend came by while I was patrolling the northern Jerusalem Hill that was our army base, between a settlement and an Arab village. It made me fantasize. I told him, let’s pretend I’m Arik Einstein and you are my musical partner, Shalom Chanoch. I arranged my hair accordingly and sang into the night. I don’t remember if he sang with me. In a southern industrial hill of Jerusalem, a little later, in some weird art school, I still had no sense of control over my life. Only when I returned to Brooklyn, a seedling of mine already in Ana’s belly, I got some

   I didn’t want to supervise Palestinians so they told me to do some office work instead of manning checkpoints. The office was a trailer with an old couch, a broken chair and a table. The soldiers who did checkpoints told me ID numbers of men they had arrested over the distorted phone and I was supposed to call someone who would decide what to do with them. I might have misheard some numbers.

Continue reading

Report cards for extraordinary students