Hebrew School

Happy Passover from the Prophet, the Führer, and Shirley Cohen
April 16, 2008, 8:24 pm
Filed under: records, wfmu record fair | Tags: , , , , , ,

*** catch hebrew school live! april 14, 2009 in brooklyn. details here.

Passover Music Box, Shirley R. Cohen (1951)

Hebrew School celebrates its second Passover (can you believe it?) this weekend. Following on the heels of my Purim post, I’ve got more of Shirley Cohen’s oeuvre. This is another find from my excursion to last fall’s WFMU record fair. It’s a scratchy 78, with takeoffs on renditions of the “traditional” Passover songs of American Ashkenazic Jewry. Once again, apart from the decorative sleeve (why do children’s illustrations from half a century ago look so eerie?) and the thick, leaden beauty of the format, there isn’t much substantive here in terms of music, good or bad. Apart from what I’ve previously discussed as the presumptive marketing notion behind these records, there’s not much thinking outside of the music box here.

There were, however, some bizarre and melancholy moments when I slowed the record down from 78 to 45 rpm:

According to the diasporic Ashkenazic traditions, Passover’s first and second seders occur on the 19th and the 20th this year. Because of a strange conjunction in the lunar and solar calendars, the night of the second seder also has several other significances. On the 20th, while we’re munching on matza and getting charoset stuck in our teeth, the birthdays of Hitler and the Prophet Muhammed are also being celebrated. Among marijuana enthusiasts, the day is celebrated as “4/20,” often with communal gatherings of smokers in northern California, Vancouver, etc. Unfortunately for these revellers, cannabis has been declared by rabbis as unfit for the holiday.

Lest we forget… Let this puzzling PSA spoof serve as a reminder of how the enslaved become enslavers themselves, or just plain bigots. I’m not sure if that’s in the Maxwell House Hagaddah.

Last year’s Passover with Abbie Hoffman.

Having trouble getting a clean break when splitting the matza for the afikomen? Let this Japanese instructional video light your way.


It’s Purim
March 20, 2008, 8:08 am
Filed under: records | Tags: , ,

I went to see a friend’s band last night in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It’s a new band, and this was their first show. Congratulating my friend after their set was over, I pointed out to my friend (also Jewish) that perhaps it was kismet that their first gig had occurred on Purim (which began at sundown last night). “What?! It’s Purim??!” he exclaimed. Then one of his bandmates asked if this was the holiday of repentance, where sins were cast off.

In my mind, Yom Kippur is the day where Purim is atoned for. The holiday of Purim is a costume masquerade where Jews are actually commanded by the Talmud to drink until they cannot tell the difference between Mordechai (a hero of the Purim story) and Haman (the villain). In the Hasidic neighborhoods of Brooklyn on this day, one can see men staggering around drunk at three in the afternoon, and kids dressed up as not only the traditional characters, but also the likes of Michael Jackson, Hannah Montana, et al.

At any rate, perhaps you can drink enough wine, or beer, or Slivovitz to appreciate this awful-enough-to-be-great Purim children’s record which was lent to me a while ago.

This record, like the Chanukah record I wrote about last December, is credited to Shirley R. Cohen. I also have yet another record which bears her name. I’m starting to think that Shirley Cohen was no more than a serial pen name of the day, a Franklin W. Dixon of children’s Jewish audio if you will, churning out hastily-produced swill to please a mass audience.

Then again, I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who might remember this record fondly, connecting it to their childhood with more meaningful associations which go far beyond the sum of its parts.

At any rate, have a happy Purim, everyone, and make sure to perform your scriptural duties with all due solemnity.