Thursday, November 29, 2012

Shadow Post: Yiddish Tango

Sometimes I do something that's too private to write about in public, and so I write about something else instead. What I'm gonna write about kept me up very late though, so I slept in a bit (If we can reasonably say that sleeping til 7 is sleeping in) and I have to dash this off and get to work. So it was the Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker Awards—the annual fundraising gala celebration of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ).  We honor people who have taken great risk in their lives for racial and economic justice—whether or not they are Jewish. This year we honored Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, Eric Ward (scroll down to read his bio) and ACT UP.

I can't tell you how inspiring this evening was—inspired by the brilliance, the daring, the thoughtful balance of self and other, the poetry, and the humor with which these people have spent their lives organizing. If you don't know them, I urge you to follow the links above, and to delve as deep as you can to see what they do.

The Meyer Awards are also the social event of the year in which I feel most central and connected to a large friends circle in NYC. This year, because I didn't organize it (although I did get to help in a number of ways) I had the time to think about what I would like to do there that I don't usually. When a friend wrote and asked me if I had the lyrics to my all-time favorite Yiddish tango, I found an unexpected opportunity. I didn't have the lyrics available. They weren't on my computer, but I have transcribed the song before, so they were probably packed away in a box somewhere. So I decided to transcribe it for her, and I fell in love all over again. Before and after work, I listened and listened to it, re-uncovering its funny, precise, and evocative descriptions of Jewish Argentine life.

I had such a good time doing this work. I remembered when it was my main work, and felt a great deal of sadness that so many of the hours in my day are spent not transcribing Yiddish tangos (and let's use that as a metaphor for creating art in general.) But also, I had such a great time doing this work. And then when it was done, and I kept singing it again and again, I realized I'd love to sing it at Meyer. So they offered, and they accepted, and for the first time in ages, I performed in public. So much more to say about this, but remember a couple sentences ago when I wrote about having to get on the subway and not spend most of my time creating art? I have to do could finally compile the book of Yiddish tangos I've been talking about compiling. In the stolen moments before I go uptown.

So thank you, friends, for asking for help, and thank you Marjorie and the rest of JFREJ for all that we do, and thank you Eric, and Melanie, and ACT UP for your particularly brilliant thinking, writing, organizing and acting. And thank you Hannah and Jenny and Avi for making music and inviting me in.

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