Awakening your Inner Jewish self

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A rolling stone gathers no moss, or at least that is the way the expression goes. Being a life time wonderer and wayward traveler I can understand how we end up in the far out regions unknown to certain cultures, all across the planet. Jews have been traversing the great roads, passing through the sandy deserts, and pushing through the rough terrain for quite some time. Since the first expulsion from the Holy Land (first in the guise of the Israeli Kingdom’s demise in the north, and later the Kingdom of Judea in the south), The Hebrew people have been on the move, and as the great Hip hop term goes they just can’t and won’t stop.

So, guess what this leads to? Jews apparently have picked up many things along the ways including local languages, customs, ideas, fashions (be aware that the typical orthodox dress of the black hat look was adopted by the sophisticated high fashion in parts of Eastern Europe. Also note that this fashion sense was originally worn by non-Jews) and of course music. Jews have had quite a time at adapting to the world, which is why the history of Jewish diversity is so interesting. Jews define themselves in their own ways, and even define the idea of Jewish practice in many ways. Some see it as a cultural signifier where its the rituals that spark the most interest and points of pride. Others see it as a set of traditions passed down through the generations. There are many ways in defining oneself and the idea of one’s Judaism, for both men and women. This dynamism of Jewish expression has also been a large part of the arts, as I’ve been trying to convey through my past blog posts. Jews who were part of the Hip Hop generation, and active participants in the expansion of the culture, were very comfortable in surveying this uncharted territory.

This can all be traced back to the beginnings of the 20th century with the initial encounters between African Americans and Jewish Americans. This relationship flourished because, as certain scholars and artists of the time period explain, they both felt a bond through persecution. The terrible conditions heaped onto African Americans in the aftermath of the Civil War, and the regression of progress by the repealing of the Reconstruction laws in the aftermath of the election of 1876, was a mark of persecution by the white power structure. By the 1880’s large amounts of Jews were immigrating from Eastern Europe, lacking the sophistication and urban etiquette of their Western European co-Jews. Jews were also initially racialized as an inferior classification of race, hence they were black like the blacks. This cross pollination of suffering due to your identity made these people see eye to eye, and guess what? They made some of the sweetest music.

The relationship between Blacks and Jews spread into popular culture as Jews began to monopolize the trade sheets, and later songwriting craft. They were so dominant that by the 1920’s all popular music was written, made and produced in New York City, land of the Jewish immigrants. This transformed into what was termed the Tin Pan Alley songwriters. Irving Berlin and George and Ira Gershwin were composing hits as performers like Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson were performing them. However, African Americans were also being recorded, and most of these early recordings of Rhythm and Blues songs were done by Jews. This connection allowed people like Marshal Chess who along with his brother opened up a night club, which led to the opening of Chess Records. As they say the rest is history.

The recordings began to kick into full steam by the late 1940’s and into the decade of the 1950’s. Other groups of Jews were writing teenage ballads for black girl groups coming out of the Brill Building in New York City. Also, by the 1960s Jewish performers were more interested in the electric blues and its many manifestations. You can hear it in the sharp chords plucked by Mike Bloomfield, or the wails of Bob Dylan’s bluesy riffs, or in Al Kooper’s thudding strokes on the organ. There were many other jam masters of the decade who created this electric Jewish Blues.

The connection and relationship between African Americans and Jews is an interesting issue in and of itself. Scholars have noted these moments of encounter and cooperation, yet they also emphasize a perceived “breakdown” of the relationship. Apparently key events like the Teacher’s Union strike, “Hymie Town,” and the Crown Heights Riots are seen as points of complete dissolution. Certain points should be made about these key events. However, I think that’s a bit too simplistic because we are not defined as specific groups. As I wrote earlier, Jews have been all over the globe so they would naturally co-habitate with the locals.

I wanted to lay the ground work in order to tell you that Jews come in all shapes and sizes. We also have many influences, and the Hip Hop influence is nothing new. This is not veering but rather right on target when it comes to this pattern of movement and adaptation. I thought about this because I saw a wonderfully engaging spoken word artist a few days ago. The Hebrew Mamita, who’s real name is Vanessa Hidary hails from the mixed universe of the upper-west side in the borough of Manhattan, from the city where all life forms were born and remain to develop. She started with an amazing spoken word piece on identity, as the opening lines confess to a pick up line gone sour. When a man is confounded by the fact that she is Jewish, as his eye brows furl upwards and his nostrils flair with WASPish air.

http://www.hebrewmamita.com/videos/viewvideo/27/performances/hebrew-mamita

I feel her, and although I was never picked up at a bar with that line following, I remember going to a bar with family members and getting the question. I walked into the bar with my big-ass crochet Kippah straight from Jerusalem and I sat down with my brothers. As I glanced to my right I saw a guy and his friend giggle and then he belts it out in a drunken frat boy like way…”Is that a…? My Italian, Israeli, New Yorker macho selves were all bubbling to fight at this point. I leapt out of my chair and went straight up to him and said, Yeah, “It’s kippah….what’s the problem?” He was taken aback, as we were both sauced up, and then he apologized and asked if he could buy me a beer. Conative or not, I think we’re on guard at some point. However, we’re also so into the location of New York City as the ground Zero (No pun intended) for being “different.”

Us Jews are very different, and the women we date (as well as the guys you ladies date) are also a mark of our evolution both in the mundane and in the spiritual sense. As I sat down seeing her glide using New York City speak, and my favorite being that she was fucked like Brooklyn!!!! Represent!! My entire fam is Brooklyn bred, except for us Israelis, she used her vitriol towards men and I more than agreed that she shouldn’t wear shorts in the summer. She was great and of course being her own self, she spoke of certain backlash. The specific backlash came from a Jew who asked her not to date the “Shvartzes,” which is a derogatory term in Yiddish for a black person. She belted out at his hypocrisy of calling himself a liberal, but only to a certain extent. I think this is a wider issue as Jew, we can be our best or our very worst critics. We should uplift the people in order to keep on climbing to the new mountain tops.

Like my work, the Hebrew Mamita is showing both Jews and non-Jews how it is to be a Jew in the modern sense. She also gives a great conveyance of being comfortable with that identity. We should all strive to be the best Jews, but we should never side step the amazing culture coming from the various people all across the world, or the world of New York City.

Much Love and Shabbat Shalom,

For all those interested you should check out her website:

http://www.hebrewmamita.com/ and her book

http://www.hebrewmamita.com/store/product/32-the-last-kaiser-roll-in-the-bodega

Have some videos wit that:

Edan on DJ Format’s track “SpaceShip Earth”

My man Eprhyme’s track “PUNKLEZMERAP”

And, a funked up classic from Eric B. and Rakim – “Juice (Know the Ledge)” from the movie soundtrack to the flick Juice.

Shabbat Shalom, and don’t sleep

#HebrewMamita #Edan #Eprhyme #EricBandRakim

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