NEW HAVEN — Dr. Baruch J. Schwartz, native of Philadelphia and long-timeresident of Efrat, Israel, is spending the academic year at Yale University as the Jacob Perlow Visiting Associate Professor in Judaic Studies. In the fall semester, Schwartz taught a seminar entitled “Worship in Ancient Israel;” in the spring semester, he taught a course on the Biblical book of Ezekiel.

Schwartz is the A.M. Shlansky Senior Lecturer in Biblical History at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has lectured extensively throughout the world, serving as visiting professor at such institutions as Tel Aviv University, the Schechter Institute, Ben Gurion University, the University of Sydney, Australia, St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, the University of California at Davis, and Harvard Divinity School.

Recently, the Ledger spoke with Schwartz about his work as a Biblical scholar and at Yale.

Q: What is the “job” of a Biblical scholar? How does a Biblical scholar approach the Bible?

A: Biblical scholarship is the academic study of Biblical literature in its original meaning, context and form. Scholars study the ancient world, including language, literature, concepts and religion. This method of studying the Bible can be seen as an outgrowth of the method used by such great medieval commentators as Samuel ben Meir (Rashi’s grandson) and other members of the “peshat-school” in the twelfth century. What is different is that we have more and better tools than they had. For example, we have real knowledge of the history of the period and of the ancient Semitic languages, and we have a more developed sense of how the solution to some of the tough problems of interpretation may actually be in the history of the text: its transmission, its composition, or both. The medieval commentators seldom dreamed of these possibilities.

Q: Is this approach to the Bible ever at odds with your belief and practice as an Orthodox Jew?

A: Personally, I have arrived at the conclusion that there is no contradiction whatsoever between fidelity to the critical method of studying the Bible and commitment to Jewish belief and practice. But to go into this in detail here would be impossible. I have actually taught a whole course on this issue; it is complex and fascinating. One thing to keep in mind is that the critical method was actually discovered and developed, for the most part, by pious, believing people, who simply wanted to study the Biblical text on its own terms and in its own context. They didn’t at all come from an antagonistic motivation, but rather from a pious one.

Q: What are your main areas of academic interest?

A: I am interested in the Biblical book of Leviticus, especially in the literary, ritual and legal aspects of the book – and in the rest of what scholars refer to as the “Priestly” writings. I am also interested in the composition of the Torah, namely, the question of how it was put together from its component parts. Two of my sidelines are the book of Ezekiel, which I am teaching this semester at Yale, and certain aspects of medieval commentaries.

Q: In what ways are students at American universities similar to and different from your students in Israel?

A: Students in Israel are always older, busier, and more pressured. They have to do army reserve duty; they often have to work; and they experience financial pressures. American students tend to have more time, more funding and better study habits, but in Jewish Studies, Israelis have it over the Americans because they have the language skills and the text ‘talks’ to them. They have more fluency with the material as they have been studying it their whole lives. Both students can be incisive and critical, which is a good thing.

Q: How have you spent your year in New Haven?

A: I taught two courses at Yale and delivered several lectures there. I regularly attend the Westville Synagogue, and I delivered a lecture there as part of the Westville University adult education series. I have also served as scholar in residence at several synagogues and Jewish institutions around the country. But most of my time has been devoted to teaching, lecturing and research.

Q: Is your family here with you? What do they do in Israel?

A: They are not. Fortunately, however, I was home in Israel for two weeks in December during intercession, and they are joining me here for Pesach. My younger son, Shlomo, is in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), serving in the Givati Brigade special forces; he was involved in the fighting in Gaza during my visit home this winter. My wife Sema works in the office of a tax accountant; my older son, Moki, is a tour guide and student at the Hebrew University; his wife Rachel Dweck teaches in a school near Jerusalem, and my daughter, (also) Rachel, is an aspiring documentary film editor in Jerusalem.

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RIDGEFIELD — The Idan Raichel Project, one of Israel’s most unique and popular musical groups, kicks off its 2009 World Tour with a March 22 appearance at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield. The “Project” is so much more than its namesake, the dreadlocked, 31-year old keyboardist, composer and producer, Idan Raichel.

According to Dalit Katz, adjunct assistant professor in the Religion Department at Wesleyan University, and coordinator of both the Contemporary Israeli Voices and the Israeli Film Festival, “Idan Raichel’s music, an innovative blend of Ethiopian, Middle Eastern and Caribbean elements, resonates with messages of peace, hope and tolerance. … His spectacular live shows combined with sophisticated production techniques contribute to Idan Raichel’s great popularity – especially among young audiences.”

The Idan Raichel Project first appeared on the Israeli music scene in 2002. The group’s music is intended to appeal to audiences of all ages, cultures, religions and backgrounds.

Raichel, born to Ashkenazic parents and raised in Kfar Saba, Israel, was always interested in music. He started playing the accordion at the age of nine, and later picked up the keyboard. He studied jazz in high school, where he learned improvisation. In the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Raichel toured military bases where he produced live shows and performed Israeli and European popular songs. His musical interests continued after his discharge, and Raichel worked as a backup musician and recording session player for some of Israel’s most popular musicians.

When Raichel took a job as a counselor in a boarding school for immigrants and troubled youth, he interacted extensively with Jews from Ethiopia and became interested in their music and culture. He set up a small recording studio in his parents’ basement and invited over 70 of his friends and colleagues from Israel’s diverse music scene to participate.

Released in 2002, the group’s first album, “The Idan Raichel Project,” featuring its hit song “Bo’ee” (Come With Me), sold more than 150,000 copies. Their 2005 album, “Mi’ma’amakim,” topped sales of 120,000. 

In January 2006, The Project traveled to Ethiopia, where the group opened the Fifth Ethiopian Music Festival in Addis Ababa. It was the first time any Israeli artist performed in Ethiopia. It was also the first time two of the Project’s lead vocalists had returned to Ethiopia since making aliyah. The trip is chronicled in the documentary, “Black Over White.”

In November 2008, The Idan Raichel Project released the album “Bein Kirot Beiti” (Within My Walls). The album which is now available in the United States on the Cumbancha label, presents artists to the wider public. The album was recorded while the group was on tour, with recording sessions taking place in such diverse settings as dressing rooms, backstage, and hotel rooms. The new album features lyrics in Hebrew, Moroccan Arabic, Spanish, Cape Verdean Creole and Swahili.

From the beginning, Raichel never wanted his group and their work to be known simply as “Idan Raichel.”

“If I had called the album just ‘Idan Raichel,’ people would have thought that Raichel is the main voice on all the songs. I wrote the songs and I arranged and produced them, but I perform them together with other vocalists and musicians. On the other hand, we are not a group. It’s something in between,” he notes. In concerts, Raichel plays keyboard from the side of the stage.

The Idan Raichel Project has headlined at the prestigious Central Park Summer Stage in New York City, the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, and the Sydney Opera House. The group has also performed across Europe as well as in Mexico City, Hong Kong, New Delhi, Singapore, and Mumbai.

“We try to introduce the community to all aspects of the arts, including world music. We’re excited when we can get a world musician of this caliber, who usually plays such venues as Radio City Music Hall, into our intimate theater,” says Allison Stockel, executive director of the Ridgefield Playhouse where Idan Raichel Project will begin its 2009 world tour. “We hope the community will take advantage of seeing this great performer in a small intimate venue such as The Ridgefield Playhouse.”

The Ridgefield Playhouse is located at 80 East Ridge in Ridgefield, CT. For ticket information call (203) 438-5795.

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The following article is from the Fall 2008 edition of Mitzvah Magazine, pp.26-28. Howard was honoured to have been Jake’s bar mitzvah tutor.

While your child is busy learning his or her torah portion, Haftorah, and a long list of prayers in preparation for a bar or bat mitzvah, you’re probably busy in your own right. After all, a simcha like this needs a celebration, and who better to plan it all than mom or dad?

You may be overwhelmed trying to choose a venue, menu, outfits, invitations, and a place for Uncle Harry to lay his head when he comes to town for the big day. You’ve probably spent a lot of time on the phone, online, and talking to other parents to get their advice and recommendations. To help you on your journey, we’ve interviewed two families who’ve recently planned their children’s parties so you can see how they did it. Hopefully, it will give you great ideas or inspiration for your own. Mazel Tov.

For her second son’s bar mitzvah, Lauren Beck decided to think outside the box. “Different kid, different party,” she says. Instead of the more traditional services in a synagogue and a party at a country club, as she had for her older son, Justin, she began researching outdoor event areas, fairgrounds, and other party spaces for her active younger son, Jake. Before long she stumbled upon Club Getaway, an adult/family camp on 300 acres in Kent, Conn., that has long hosted weddings but was just getting into the bar/bat mitzvah market. It was perfect for a weekend affair that included everything you’d find at a summer camp, including sleeping in bunks, zip lines, family-style meals, bonfires, boat rides, and ball games. All that was missing was the bug juice!

What were you looking for? My children are very different, and I felt strongly about doing something that really represented who Jake is. He’s extremely active; he runs track and plays soccer. As soon as he saw it, (Club Getaway) Jake was sold.

Why did you choose to do a whole weekend away? We have family from all over the country and Israel, and it’s hard to get together. I thought, why not gather everyone for an extended time and really celebrate for a whole weekend instead of just one day? It was a great idea and ended up costing a fraction of what it would have in the city.

How far in advance did you start planning? We saw Club Getaway about a year before Jake’s bar mitzvah. Once we booked the place I called Total Entertainment because I wanted to get the DJ, Ben. We used Jamal for Justin’s party, but different kid, different DJ.

How many people did you have? We had 170 people; we were shocked at the response, but people loved the idea of it, and everyone we invited wanted to come.

Tell us about the weekend. Friday was just fir family to arrive and hang out. We had a family-style dinner with everything from grilled fist to barbeque steak and chicken. Then, we had Texas hold’em tables and karaoke. Later, we had a bonfire and sing-along, and people stayed up until 3 in the morning. I made up song books to hand out with your favourite songs, and Jake played the drums and Justin played guitar. The rest of our guests arrived Saturday and stayed through Sunday.

“Make your child’s Bar Mitzvah all about him, and don’t worry about doing what everyone else has done.”

How was the food? Outstanding; not just the usual camp food of bug juice and hotdogs! For breakfast they had a huge spread with an omelet station, fruit, bagels, hot cereals, pastries… you name it. Lunch was a cookout with salads and the grill going, plus make-your-own sandwiches. For Saturday night dinner we had lots of appetizers including baby lamb chops, seared tuna, and Middle Eastern salads. My husband even brought up pastrami from Katz’s Delicatessen in New York for a carving station. Dinner was seared salmon in apple cider glaze or beef tenderloin, plus lots of other choices. Dessert was chocolate mousse in shot glasses, fresh strawberries, cake, and more.

What activities were offered during the weekend? We started serving early coffee and Danish for those who wanted to join a morning hike or run. During the day we had water skiing, swimming, trapeze, zip lines, mountain biking, softball games, an Olympics with an egg toss and tug-of-war,ping pong, wine tasting, and dance and cooking classes. There were activities all day long. Most were outdoors, but we had indoor options in case of rain.

Tell us about the bar mitzvah service? The plan was for Jake to lead a havdalah service at 6pm Saturday on a beautiful grassy knoll overlooking the lake and the mountains. But a minute and a half before he began, the skies opened up and everyone ran for the boathouse that we had set up just in case. It rained torrentially during the service, but it stopped five minutes before it was finished. We had cocktails in the boathouse and then went up to a tent for the party.

Did you need to bring your own rabbi? Yes. We used Howard Blas, a religious teacher who had been tutoring Jake for the past two years. He even helped us rent the Torah from the Lower East Side, and we created the siddurim with him, complete with all the prayers and songs we wanted for the service.

What did you do for entertainment? We had a band and four motivational dancers from Total Entertainment. The dancers spent the whole day, playing games with the kids and getting to know them, so by the evening they were really ready to dance. We also hired Paul E Doggs to breakdance. He was someone Jake had followed around at five bar mitzvahs in a row and always said he wanted Paul at his own bar mitzvah. A year and a half ago he announced that he wanted to learn to breakdance, so we hired Paul to come every Friday afternoon for a year and teach him. Jake did a performance at the party and it was amazing!

What was so unique about doing a party this way? Spending the whole weekend having fun together creates a very different atmosphere than just a four-hour party. Family and friends really bonded, and there was an incredible feeling of warmth and genuine joy. My 83-year-old father-in-law did the tug-of-war. Even though he fell face first into a muddy puddle,he still had fun. People of all ages and physical abilities were able to take part in everything. It was a three-day-long celebration.

How much was Jake involved in the planning? Jake was very involved with everything. He planned the kids’ menus and the “Camp Crazy Olympics,” as he called it. He also helped design his whole service and chose exactly which prayers he wanted to do, and he did the whole candle-lighting.

Did you do a lot of the work yourself? Most of it. I designed the invitations with Ram at Blacker & Kooby; I ordered the yarmulkes online from www.skullcaps.com. We took Jake to the Lower East Side to get a tallis and rent the Torah. I worked with Howard to create the siddur and ordered them online at www.singersiddur.com. I ordered a huge banner online that said “Camp Jake” to hang over the Club Getaway sign at the entrance. I did
references, but this time I didn’t go with recommendations or use someone everyone else was using.

But you brought in an NY DJ? My personal philosophy is that the music is the most important part of any party. There, I was going to spend money on a known quantity. The food can stink and you’ll forget about it the next day, but you want people up and dancing the whole night. I didn’t go out of the box for that.

Even though the whole weekend was a lot of fun, you were insistent on it all being about the bar mitzvah. Because Howard had been coming to our house every Sunday for the past two years, we spent a lot of time discussing what it means to be a bar mitzvah and on introspection and spirituality. And there was a lot of spirituality about the weekend, from the Friday night candles to the siddurim we created.

How did you stay organized? I had a folder for each portion of the event, and I made a computer spreadsheet to keep track of every check I wrote and bill I paid. I’m a very organized, anal person, and I plan events for a non-profit organization for a living.

What’s one tip you can pass on to other parents? Make your child’s bar mitzvah all about him, and don’t worry about doing what everyone else has done. Once you take a deep breath and leap, you’ll feel a lot better. Every decision I made I thought about Jake; what makes him happy and comfortable. There was no worrying about who we had to invite. This wasn’t about our social life. This was about who loves Jake and is in his life. You can’t go wrong if you do it that way. Also, I learned not to sweat the small stuff. A dozen things didn’t happen the way I wanted, but nobody really noticed. Everyone was just having a great time.

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SECAUCUS, NJ — Thousands of buyers, retailers and other food professionals attended the two-day Kosherfest 2008 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, N.J., showcasing products from 28 countries.

In addition to 250 exhibitors and hundreds of new products, Kosherfest also included a kosher sushi competition, and lots of hot new trends, including a variety of exotic meats (such as elk and bison) and a great number of gluten-free foods.

Despite an unstable meat market that has resulted from the recent scandal at the kosher Iowa-based meat packing plant, Agriprocessors, the industry as a whole is reported to have experienced double-digit growth for the eighth year in a row.

Kosherfest 2008 also sponsored the Best New Kosher Products Competition with the top prize going to Zelda’s Sweet Shoppe Southern Pecan pie.

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