And you shall know us by the trail of our vinyl…

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That was the Barry Sisters singing Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head. In Yiddish. I got this and other pop culture/Jew culture fusions from the blog for the new book “And You Shall Know Us By The Train of Our Vinyl” – put out by Josh Kunn and, yes, almost inevitably, Roger Bennet:

Eight years ago, Roger Bennett and Josh Kun began an important journey, scouring the world to collect thousands of vinyl LPs from attics, garage sales, and dusty archives. Together, once-loved and now long-forgotten audio gems tell a vibrant tale: the story of Jews in America.

The blog is a collection of information and multimedia that does just that. Some of the results are spectacular – Chubby Checker’s re-recording of the Twist to the tune of Hava Nagilah, Lena Horne singing in Yiddish, Perry Como’s rendition of Kol Nidre etc. – other manifestations of this phenomena are bizarre – ie Hedva and David, an otherwise forgetabble 70′s era Israeli singing duo and their Japanese monster hit Naomi. Talk about cross cultural pollination – Shonen Knife have nothing on these people.

Now I love what these folks do. Roger’s been behind such groundbreaking and innovative works like Bar Mitzvah Disco, Camp Camp, Stereophonic Records, Reboot, Guilt and Pleasure and on and on… these manifestations of Judaism are, well, kinda corny. And maybe that’s the story of American Jewry – as Jews became more and more integrated into American culture, pop culture manifestations of Judaism reflected the overall Jewish community who had for the most part discraded the, you know, substance of Judaism in favor of the shmaltz. Now that the chickens have come to roost and contemporary Jewish culture has inevitably become bland and uninteresting – see the Forward 50 which is, except for one exception, as bland and uninspiring a list of Jews as I have ever seen – I think I am contemplating the uhm… end of the Jews as a force to be reckoned with in the US.

We’re quickly running out of money, our leadership is out of ideas and the next generation of leaders don’t care for the most part. There is one good thing though. Perhaps with the election of Barack Obama thanks in part to the strong support offered by the Jewish community, Black/Jewish musical collaborations can begin anew.

So when is the Kanye West Hanukka album coming out?

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ck

Publisher at Jewlicious
Founder of Jewlicious? Publisher? Man I hate titles. I coined the name Jewlicious and I slave over the site. I live in Jerusalem and I need to get some breakfast.
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21 Comments

  1. Tom Morrissey

    11/18/2008 at 12:25 pm

    With so many in positions of prominence, more than ever before– in government, education, culture, media, philanthropy– there’s no doubt things are looking terribly bleak for Jews here in the US.

  2. froylein

    11/18/2008 at 12:36 pm

    What are Jewish art, music and cuisine if not adaptions of the art, music, and cuisine of any Jewry’s respective environment’s?

  3. themiddle

    11/18/2008 at 12:37 pm

    I think ck is speaking about continuity of the Jewish people in North America. Rahm Emanuel has white hairs and so do most of the Jews who are involved in the Jewish community in one way or another. ck is also right to worry about “Jewish culture” because the history of North American Jewish life is one of assimilation into a broader popular culture, a move away from the religious aspects of being Jewish and for many Jews, an absence of any contact with organized Jewish life.

  4. froylein

    11/18/2008 at 12:58 pm

    According to studies I’ve read about, about 80% of American Jews attend synagogue weekly. This is in stark contrast to an estimated 120,000 Jews in Germany, only half of which are affiliated with congregations and only about 15% of which attend synagogue regularly. Yet, religious literacy on average is better in these parts, but that’s because religious / ethics education is part of the regular curriculum at schools. Continuity requires knowledge and a way of teaching that will put itself out for criticism and live up to academic standards. Also, I sense that many youths in the US are struggling with the “shtetl-attitude” displayed by many orgs that does not meet their needs or their everyday realities (including mixed backgrounds).

  5. Tom Morrissey

    11/18/2008 at 2:33 pm

    Middle’s concerns are very American ones. Assimilation-style pressures aren’t going away in the absence (God forbid) of a substantial rise in anti-semitism. Every ethnic and religious group in this country– I think we can be categorical about it– is the victim of its own success. So perhaps success must be judged in relative terms. The Jewish (like the Greek Orthodox, Muslim, etc.) community is losing some people. But the community is thriving, too. Such is life in the Golden Land.

    Is it reasonable to expect anything else?

  6. themiddle

    11/18/2008 at 3:21 pm

    Well, the hope is that people will remain involved in Jewish life and with their Jewish identity. As we lose people, we lose resources and strength. The concern is for the future, although the present is our guide for some of these problems. Birthright is a response by the community, but as some of the group leaders will tell you, they often encounter young Jews on these trips who know nothing about Judaism as a religion or as a culture.

    Froylein, 80% of Jews in North America do not attend synagogue weekly. I would say 80% of Jews don’t attend synagogue once a year. Out of 6 million Jews in the US, you can say that about a million are affiliated with the community and off the top of my head I’d say maybe half attend synagogue once or twice a year.

  7. rootlesscosmo

    11/18/2008 at 3:23 pm

    “end of the Jews as a force to be reckoned with in the US”

    dude, we just got Obama elected president (both behind the scenes and at the voting booth). I can’t conceive of a more inappropriate time in history to proclaim the end of the Jews as a force in American life.

  8. Tom Morrissey

    11/18/2008 at 3:39 pm

    Birthright strikes this outsider as an interesting response because it addresses Jews on an individual level. Any religious group, political party etc. in this country can only succeed by showing itself to be continually relevant to individuals in their day-to-day lives. That involves listening (as froylein suggests) and adapting to contemporary realities/concerns. Certainly, fear-based approaches, or mere appeals to authority/tradition, will not work in this culture.

  9. ck

    11/18/2008 at 4:17 pm

    Jews are over. Nowhere is that more apparent than in New York:

    The ascendancy of the Jews of New York can be viewed as a Hollywood-style triumph, but it can also be read as the tragedy of a group of brilliant outsiders who remade a city in their own image, only to cut themselves off from the roots of their tribal genius, ensuring that the future will belong to the children of the new outsiders—Koreans, Indians, Russians, and Chinese.

    Where’s our IB Singer? Saul Bellow? Philip Roth? Bob Dylan? Lou Reed? Arthur Miller? Norman Mailer? Bernard Malamud? Rabbi Kook? Rabbi Heschel?

    I’m telling you man – soon we’ll be no better than the WASPs – degenerate, bland, complacent and uninteresting. In fact, for the most part, we already are.

  10. themiddle

    11/18/2008 at 4:44 pm

    ck is trying to draw out WASPs?

  11. themiddle

    11/18/2008 at 4:45 pm

    Besides, don’t Michael Chabon or Safran Foer count as modern day writers of note who tackle Jewish themes?

  12. froylein

    11/18/2008 at 5:16 pm

    Middle, I only went by what polls showed. People likely not always tell the truth in polls though. :)

    ck, my offer still stands.

  13. Tom Morrissey

    11/18/2008 at 9:01 pm

    Ah, for the good old days of the slums and sweatshops of the Lower East Side.

  14. David H.

    11/18/2008 at 9:49 pm

    Oy! Kitsch!

  15. ck

    11/19/2008 at 4:53 am

    It’s not enough to tackle Jewish issues. It’s about universal themes. It’s about creating world class manifestations of culture or whatever. When we lose our distinctiveness, when we lose our sense of purpose, when we are no different than those around us, we no longer have anything to offer. Chabon is undoubtedly a gifted writer and yet I fucking hated Yiddish Policeman’s Union because it was as if he pandered to the basest prejudices and caricatures regarding Jews for the sake of a good story. Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated was like reading magic. His later work, less directly Jewish… well, clearly not as successful and resonant.

    So who is this Jewish generation’s Lou Reed or Bob Dylan? Probably stopped playing guitar after graduation and now working for JP Morgan.

    Oy. We are SO OVER.

  16. themiddle

    11/19/2008 at 5:58 am

    Well ck, you could do your part in resolving this problem and, you know, have kids, raise them as they should be raised and with any luck one of them might stick to a music career after college. Good luck!

  17. Pingback: Jewlicious » A couple of older men die

  18. rootlesscosmo

    11/19/2008 at 5:13 pm

    “It’s about creating world class manifestations of culture or whatever”

    LOL. five stars.

  19. Tom Morrissey

    11/19/2008 at 6:51 pm

    Clearly. rootlesscosmo knows nothing of the work of Perry Como.

  20. Pingback: Mixed Multitudes - My Jewish Learning: Exploring Judaism & Jewish Life » Blog Archive » Signs that Jewish trendiness is dying

  21. rokhl

    4/2/2010 at 1:12 pm

    Is it corny or is it camp? Pardon my blatant self-promotion, but I just wrote something about Stereophonic and this question:
    jewishcurrents...

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