Thursday, 12 January 2012

Shir HaShavua - Shemot

This week, we start the book of Exodus.  The first parasha is called "Shemot", which means "names".  Here is a song about this week's parasha.

(to the tune of “I’m just a girl who can’t say No” from “Oklahoma”)
It ain't so much a question of not knowin' they are Jews
They know what's right and wrong since way back when.
I heard a lot of stories --and I reckon they're true--
About how they’re oppressed by Pharaoh’s men.
I know they mustn't fall into the pit,
But following their religion ...
They fergit!

I'm just the Lord who they don’t know,
They’re in a terrible fix.
They’ve got to build those pyramids
And they must make their own bricks.
When a Hebrew cries and asks of Me ,
Why Pharoah’s men are giving him a smack;
And why should he believe in Me
When he’s a slave and nearly breaks his back!
I'm just the Lord who they don’t know,
Eh’yeh asher Eh’yeh *
That’s what I said to Moshe
They don’t realise that I care
They just don’t know.

I'm just the Lord who they don’t know,
There ain’t much more they can fall.
They have no faith that I will show
Why don’t they give me a call?
For I’ll visit them while they’re in shul,
A-praying and a worshipping to me -
Then remind them of that golden rule...
I do exist and I will set them free!
I can't resist a sincere prayer,  or a nice musical chant
If only they could, but they can’t;
Because they’re so ignorant
They just don’t know!

* Exodus Chapter 3, verse 14; often mistranslated as the present tense "I am that I am" instead of the future "I will be what I will be"   

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Back from Limmud

I’ve just come home from Limmud conference, which as usual was held over six days at the University of Warwick.  Limmud, for those unfamiliar with it, is a Jewish educational organization, run mainly by amateur volunteers, which is intended to make Jewish learning accessible to all parts of the Jewish community.  Its main event is Limmud Conference in December, and as a family, we have attended most of these conferences over the past eight years. We always come back spiritually and emotionally enriched from the learning and fun we have experienced, and the buzz of meeting up with old friends and making new ones, and physically and mentally knackered after a frenetic week of long hours and little sleep.


Music, poetry, politics, culture, cooking, religious study, comedy; most areas of interest are represented in the hundreds of sessions available at Limmud, all presented by volunteer presenters, some of whom are distinguished academics. I got to present some of my “shtick” at a few sessions; the revamped Christmas carols were well –received.  

Here are some photos of the Limmud house band, the Token Vegetation Band, backing kosher gospel singer Joshua Nelson at his concert. My son Nathan is the guitarist.

Nathan backing Joshua Nelson at Limmud - photo 2Nathan backing Joshua Nelson at Limmud  - photo 1

I composed a number of poems and songs recently.

Here are some Christmas carols with revised words:

(To the tune of Good King Wenceslas)

King Antiochus look out. You'd better be believin'

Maccabees are after you, wanting to get even.

First they'll kill your army boys, 'cos they're bad and cruel.

Then the Menorah will stay lit

Eight days with one day's fu-u-el.


(To the tune of Jingle Bells)

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way.

The Ark comes to Jerusalem. King David leads the way.

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way.

Oh what fun to be a Jew on such a happy day.

Riding past the crowd, in a great big chariot

The High Priest wears his formal clothes although the weather's hot.

King David leads the dancing though he's not so smartly dressed.

He shows the crowd his tuchas and his wife is not impressed*.

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way.

The Ark comes to Jerusalem. King David lead the way.

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way.

Oh what fun to be a Jew on such a happy day.


(to the tune of  “Tidings of comfort and Joy”)

Lord bless those Jerry mental men who think the Euro's sound.

Well stick that up your orifice, we're sticking with the Pound.

You won't bail out the Euro 'cos the money can't be found

No tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy. No tidings of comfort and joy.


You want the Euro to endure from now for ever more.

The Euro has big problems which you really can't ignore

And all this is just sour grapes because you lost the war

No tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy. No tidings of comfort and joy.


The Euro's drifting everywhere because it's lost its anchor.

We have to sort the problem out. Let's start by shooting bankers

And then the politicians 'cos they're just a bunch of .......idiots

No tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy. No tidings of comfort and joy.



At Limmud, a friend of ours informed us on Saturday lunchtime that the fire alarm in her building went off at 7.40 that morning, causing the building to be evacuated.

This gave rise to the following poem:

The Fire Alarm

It was twenty to eight Shabbat morning

In the building known as Jack Martin

When the fire alarm bell, without warning,

Woke up the Limmudniks therein.


They had to assemble outside

Some wearing not much more than gatkes

In case they, by a fire, were fried

And were turned into big Kosher Latkes.


Some thought it was a cunning plan

To get everyone out of their room

In time to attend morning service

Whether or not they were frum.


What caused the alarm bell to ring

As though by a technical hitch?

Did some Rabbi trigger the thing

With a Shabbat-friendly time switch?


I attended some learning sessions about the Talmud  (a large body of Rabbinic gloss on Jewish Law compiled 1500~1800 years ago) . There are a number of esoteric stories in the Talmud, many of which are included for the purpose of the lessons they portray, rather than the truth of the facts in the story.  We studied two stories about Rabbis and prostitutes (presumably the forerunners of the “Bishop and the Actress” jokes).

Here is a poem about one of them. The Talmudic story is found in Menachot, 44a

The Naughty Rabbi

There was a naughty rabbi
Who didn't have a wife.
He went to shtup a prostitute
When a mitzvah saved his life.
He was just about to know her
When he got a sudden shock.
His tzitzit struck him in the face
And made him feel a shmock.
The prostitute converted
And  (this may cause you laughter)
She married him and they lived
Happily ever after. 

  I met Eve Grubin, my Biblical Poetry teacher, at Limmud this year. She once again urged me to try writing poetry in a freer form; i.e not necessarily rhyming or scanning.  This one is for her.

Ode to Eve

I studied Bible poetry. My teacher’s name is Eve.

I ran into her recently. She told me “I believe

Your poetry is good, but you know, it’s not a crime

To write some lines of poetry which do not scan or rhyme.”

I like my lines of poetry to rhyme and to scan

But out of respect for Eve, this one doesn’t.