Monday, November 21, 2011

Jason goes to Jewfest South and sees 100 VOICES: A JOURNEY HOME

The final show of this year, and SVJFF ends with a beautiful crowd-pleaser. A concert of cantors travelling to Poland for a series of shows. Maybe not quite 100, but close enough (just round up). I had never thought about or realized before how intrinsically linked Jewish culture and Polish culture is. But the film opens with an explanation, saying what a remarkably high percentage of American Jews are ultimately of Polish descent. Poland is the origin of the chazzanut (cantor), hence the "journey home" of the title. And while the predominant thought is that Poland--with the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz--was just as bad if not worse than Germany for Jews in the holocaust, the truth is the Poles were just as much victims. 3 million ethnic Poles were exterminated. The Polish underground, of all the forces in Europe, was really the only one that had a focus on rescuing Jews. Poland has the highest number of "righteous gentiles"--non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews. And they talk about Poland feeling a "phantom pain" in their culture, much like an amputee still feels his missing limb. So that makes the concerts--everywhere from the largest opera house in all of Europe, to an outdoor Jewish cultural festival (with thousands of gentiles celebrating), to the grounds of Auschwitz itself--all the more moving. And the music.... Look, I don't know much about music, but sometimes I just had to intentionally close my eyes (not your typical movie behavior) and let the music wash over me.

Afterwards, we were treated to a cantorial concert by Cantor Devorah Felder-Levy of Congregation Shir Hadash, Cantor/Rabbi Philip R. Ohriner of Congregation Beth David and
Cantor Meeka Simerly of Temple Emanu-El. They sang several songs from the film, and there was a good mix of solemn and comical numbers. Even without understanding the words, somehow the meaning comes through.

Which reminded me of some words I heard from a Rabbi years ago when I was visiting my aunt in Vista, CA. We went to temple (for the record, I've never been very religious) with her son, who was pretty young at the time. During the service, when it came to the sing-along parts, the rabbi encouraged the kids (or really, anyone, including me) who didn't know the words to just sing "la la la..." He gave two reasons--first, so you can learn the tune before you put the words to it. Second, he assured us that if your heart is in the right place, "la la la" is a good prayer. I liked that.

Running Time: 91 minutes
My Total Minutes: 256,951

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