Read an Excerpt
Circumcision: Take a Little Off the Tip
This is a controversial topic.
But not here! You literally cannot get more traditionally Jewish (if you're a male) than by having your foreskin removed. As G-d said to Abraham in Genesis 17, 10: This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. 11: And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
Easy for Him to say.
The arguments for and against circumcising babies seem both to have merit and to be overwrought. The practical (medical, sexual, hygienic) benefits of circumcision seem to be real but minimal. The psychological and sexual dangers seem to be possible but undocumented. Both sides, pro and con, have a ton of semi-conclusive proof to support their positions.
But if you're looking to shore up your sense of your own Judaism, you should have it done, either in the hospital after delivery, or during a ceremony at home, eight days after birth.
That bris will prove to be the weirdest party you ever threw. Your parents (if they're alive, and Jewish) will kvell, your friends will find it both amusing and horrifying, and the baby will cry. If you're the baby's father, you'll feel ambivalent and proud and guilty. If you're the mother, you'll probably flee to an adjoining room if you don't pass out before you get there.
One thing you will be certain of, though: Those boys your son takes showers with, at summer camp and at the club and after phys. ed., will know that he's Jewish. Well, wait—lots of non-Jews get circumcised, too. Okay, they'll know that he might be Jewish.
Oh, and by the way: Circumcision has no sacramental significance. That means that an uncircumcised Jew is still a Jew. It's a tradition more than a requirement, although in Judaism it's hard to tell the difference between the two.
Dig That Meshugge Klezmer!
Forget rock, pop, country-western, show tunes, jazz, classical, chamber, world, and (insert here every other kind of music you know). If you really want to get down with the Chosen People you gotta avail your bad self of that funky klezmer sound.
What It Is
You've heard klezmer, if not live at weddings then on soundtracks or Web sites or "ethnic" compilations: The small, acoustic band of string instruments, woodwinds, and percussion, in modern times augmented with accordion, drums, even piano. The mournful minor keys. The long, sobbing intros suddenly snapping into zippy, peppy dance tempi. The beboppish speed of the solos. The lachrymose yearning of the violin cadenzas. It's zydeco for Hebrews, bluegrass for landsmen, Dixieland for Jews—
The name is derived from the Hebrew words klei-zemer, meaning, with boring literalness, "musical instruments." It started in Central and Eastern Europe in the late Middle Ages (see? They were good for something.) and early Renaissance, when itinerant Jewish musicians would travel from town to town in search of paying work—this, after a millennium of what was essentially a ban on music (or, at least, on musical fun) following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
Remember those days? You walked down the street whistling "The Girl from Ismailia" and everyone slapped you and went "shush." Thank G-d that's over.
For centuries, then, klezmorim (klezmer musicians) were limited to playing only at certain special occasions—weddings, Purim festivals, or the dedication of a synagogue. Go make a living, even in the Middle Ages, just doing that. And, as one source delicately puts it, "The klezmorim were, by temperament, restless and emotionally unstable individuals." Musicians? Restless and emotionally unstable? You don't say.
Restless and flighty or not, many of them were good—sometimes great—players. But they played by ear, since a proper musical education was usually impossible. Some of them were lone wolves, individual virtuosi who traveled from place to place with a minimum of entanglements with other musicians or, uh, regular people.
The most popular instrument among them was—if you can believe it—the hammer dulcimer, a flat, stringed instrument played with two padded hammers. (It's also called the cembalo, which suggests that the famous Jewish violinist Efrem Zimbalist Sr. descended from a cembalo player before himself begetting Efrem Zimbalist Jr., the star of both 77 Sunset Strip and—take that, J. Edgar Hoover—The F.B.I.! Although most Jews don't use "junior" and only name their sons after deceased relatives. Then again, Senior was a musician. You know how rebellious and restless and emotionally unstable they are.)
The tunes were dances, folk songs Jewish and non, reveries, and other found melodies. Over the past thirty years or so there's been a revival of interest in klezmer, with great groups forming all over the United States and the world. Klezmer has never been more popular or easier to find.
There's the Klezmatics and the Klezmorim and the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band. There's Beyond the Pale and Golem and Brave Old World and Kroke and the provocatively named Monsieur Camembert. And others.
So by all means, get some klezmer, play it through your earbuds or headphones or boom box or Victrola or whatever you use to listen to music, and revel in/burst into tears over this distinctive Jewish musical heritage.
You may like it. No, you may love it. You may, in fact, become inspired to share it with others. And if you do, here's an idea that's just crazy enough to work.
Our Idea That's Just Crazy Enough to Work
Having been newly klezmerized yourself, you might think about bringing it to places in the non-Jewish (or not-entirely-Jewish) world where people may never have heard it before. It'll be a mitzvah, although in some cases it may also be a misdemeanor punishable by fine.
These suggestions require you bring a source of klezmer with you. The authentic, albeit complicated and expensive, way to do this, of course, would be to hire a band and truck them along to the various destinations we mention below. This option will certainly be more fun than the alternative—to put MP3s of klezmer on a player. You decide. But if you go the iPod route, be sure to bring a cable that will let you plug its output into external players.
Make sure your group can perform a broad selection of songs, dances, rhapsodies, and reveries, or put them on an MP3 player. Then do any or all of the following:
How will all this help you feel more Jewish? By enacting, with your itinerant wanderings and brief, lightning raids with klezmer, the roaming freelance gypsy musician lifestyle of the original klezmorim, that's how. You'll know how they felt (restless, emotionally unstable), and you'll make even less money at it than they did.