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A-WA Sisters Go Live in Jerusalem – A Personal Review

This past Monday morning I sat down at my desk, and as usual, opened my Facebook. I got an alert that my friend Andy had sent me a message. No words, just a link. I clicked.  The Jerusalem municipality was sponsoring a bunch of free concerts that night in the Nachlat Shiva neighborhood and A-WA was playing.

 Once upon a time, around last year, three sisters from the Haim family –Tair, Liron and Tagel – from the Israeli village ‘Shaharut’ in southern Israel, started singing hypnotic traditional Yemenite chanting on top of modern electronic beats and the awesomeness which is  ‘A-WA’ was born. Now I was going to go see them.

In fact their music got me through a pretty hard spell last year when it became clear that the management at the startup radio station was working for could no longer pay me and my fellow employees. While my colleagues talked about the impending horrors of unemployment and the vicissitudes of mismanagement that led to our not being able to get paid, I would turn on A-WA, go to my own personal island in my head, and start dancing.  Specifically their song Habib Galbi, kept me going on a positive vibe while everything was collapsing.

So I even though I never met them, I felt a bond with these sisters and it was with a little bit of trepidation on Monday evening that I walked into the Hatulot Tent (Cat Tent) to see them live. I was afraid when I saw them on stage, I wouldn’t feel the energy. Sometimes live is a totally different experience. Like a Facebook romance that can’t survive reality. So, first thing, I lucked out and got a spot right next to the stage before everything got crowded.

Second thing, within the first five seconds of walking on stage Tair, Liron and Tagel laid down a vibe of awesome Yemenite chanting on top of a  layer of funky hip-hop/electro/rock fusion that dispelled my cloud of trepidation like a murmuration of starlings flying off into the sky.

Even though I am an Ashkenazic Jew I could feel the generations of Yemenite women singing through these sisters.  Seeing them sing up close is very different than listening to them through earphones. I didn’t just feel their music, I got to see their eyes while they sing, see them move, see them respond to my and the crowds energy. It’s a totally different experience. There were  times during the concert where I just closed my eyes, and even though I didn’t understand 99.9 percent of what they we’re saying, I just got subsumed in the sound of their voices. 

Sometimes their voices and movements would lock in to each other and when they did there was this extra energy. It was then that I really caught the family vibe, these girls grew up singing together in their house and I was seeing what originally only those privileged to sit in their living room got to see. 

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Another cool thing. A-WA is all about a fusion of traditional even ancient music with new vibes. I am not sure if they did it on purpose, but they wearing what looked like traditional Yemenite celebratory clothing, but on their feet, they were all wearing white Converse All-Stars. Nice touch.

I also appreciated about it was the audience. Israeli society can often be segmented with particular groups and communities pretty much sticking to their own tribe. In the audience I saw seminary girls feeling the music alongside secular college students and professionals.

One last note. A lot of times there is a wall between the performer and the audience. I didn’t feel this way at all. They didn’t puff themselves up on the stage, they were just there and present to share with us their music. They made eye contact and brought people on stage to dance. They were there with us rather than performing behind an invisible barrier. After the concert I walked to the edge of the backstage area where they were standing and they were more than happy to talk with me.

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Rock on holy sisters! May Hashem bless you with even more shefa to raise up holy sounds in the Land of Israel and that your music create peace.

archetypes

3 Archetypes of Jewish Liberation Psychology

Three archetypes cycle through my mind. Three archetypes I associate with the Exodus from Egypt. Archetypes that reflect how my people, the Jewish people, integrate the Exodus from Egypt. These archetypes happen on the inside and the outside. They are metaphors and events.  These three are a flow, a pattern which describe what Judaism as a transformative spiritual path and movement towards tikkun olam is all about. They are – Revelation, Revolution and Ritual.

Archetype 1 – Revelation

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Revelation is both Hashem’s revelation to Moshe at the burning bush and also the revelation at Mt. Sinai. By the way, revelation is not just a new idea. Revelation is not just a better mousetrap. This is not just the jump from cellphones to smartphones, this is not horses to cars, this is not a horizontal change, this is not the light bulb ‘aha’ moment that changes how things are done in the world. Good ideas, new businesses, or new branches of scientific research with massive implications for human civilization are amazing but this is not what I am talking about. I am talking about connecting to the Maker of reality. I am talking about Divine Revelation.

I am talking about God. I am talking about connecting to that which is timeless. The Infinite Ground of Being. That which was is and will be. That which was present at the beginning of time, and that which will be millions of millennia from now when smartphones and cellphones will have been forgotten. That which transcends future and past. God. That which our finite minds cannot comprehend. Beyond any name. Beyond any concept. Beyond the concept of beyond.

I am talking about Divine Revelation. I am talking about the impossible occurring. The infinite kissing the finite. What’s impossible? That God talks to Moses, and tells him that a change is going to come and he is going to be the harbinger of that change. That it’s time for the Jewish people to leave Egypt. That is revelation.

Archetype 2 – Revolution

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The next step is revolution. Now the impossible happens. It’s rivers running backwards and mountains melting like wax. It’s the ten plagues, rivers turning to blood, wild beasts running through the streets, swarms of locusts blotting out the sky, darkness which is so thick you can’t cut it with a knife. And then the unthinkable, change, total change.  It’s the system coming down. It’s ‘that’s just the way it is’ and ‘there’s nothing we can do about it’ getting turned on its head. It’s Pharoah’s throne at the top of the pyramid collapsing because one of the main lessons of the Exodus from Egypt is that the power of man is an illusion.

Life and death is not in the hands of pharaoh. It is in the hands of God. It was always in the hands of God. Although people worshipped pharaoh as a god, because pharaoh was in control, and pharaoh was the expert/ceo/best of the best/boss/alpha male… it was all b.s.. Pharoah never had any real power. The Torah forbids us to engage in idol worship. Idol worship is worshipping anything that is not real, and the only thing that is real is God. That means that there is nothing to fear in pharoah. Fear stands for false evidence appearing real.  

What is important to me about the archetype of revolution is that reminds us everything can change now. Revolution. All the bricks that were in place in Egypt are the same structures that today are dysfunctionally and pathologically destroying human society and they can change. But, we need to be connected to that which is beyond power in order to transcend the power structures that we are surrounded by and to change them. Even if it seems as if there is nothing we can do, that we have no power, it’s not true. Through Hashem’s power, we can leave Egypt. That is revolution.

Archetype 3 – Ritual

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Time passes and it is easy to forget. It is easy for the dream to become a myth. Ritual is about remembering. It is remembering that renews. Ritual is about using the power of music, words, sacred space, drama, catharsis, ecstasy to viscerally remember that we are free. Remembering that the power of man is an illusion. Ritual is the Pesach seder. Ritual is mentioning the Exodus from Egypt in Shabbat kiddush, in our morning, afternoon and evening prayers. In its ideal form, the Oral Torah which is passed on, our Jewish practice, would actually reconnect us to the revelation at Sinai.

We need to remember, because in 2016 when it seems as if there are so many things that we can’t change, that we can’t do anything about, we need to remember that this is not true. The purpose of the commandments is not blind obedience to perpetuate a backwards religion. The purpose of the commandments is to create the ritualistic context to re-experience revelation. Remembering and re-revealing the truth of God’s existence and our absolute freedom to co-create our reality with God (keep in mind this is not about ego, this is not about creating what I want to see, it is about aligning my will with God’s will).

Ritual is about remembering the Exodus from Egypt, that we can be free. The Midrash says that in Egypt, the Jewish people were on the 49th level of Tumah, the 49th level of impurity, of dehumanization, of forgetting our essence, and we were taken out of slavery and into freedom. And we can do that again, we can become free, we can restore ourselves, restore the world, to the way it should be. Tikkun Olam.

Why Rosh Hashana Was Made For Losers Like Me

(This is a section of a Rosh Hashana letter I wrote in 2008 and upon rereading, decided to republish here. It has been slightly edited)

There is a word that has come to the foremost part of my mind this past week, since last Motzei Shabbat when I began saying Selichot, which is mercy.  The Hebrew word for mercy is called ‘rachamim’. Rachamim is what allows life to exist. Rachamim is why it is OK to not be perfect, rachamim is what we pray for on Rosh Hashanah, and rachamim is what we all need in this world and what we need to have for each other and ourselves. (more…)