Rosetta, Miami Temple, and the Winter Jews

As a child singing in front of a choir, Rosetta Nubin was forbidden by her mother to bend over and pick up coins tossed at her by white visitors to the church. She discovered by accident, however, that a large brimmed hat could collect coins without her bending or her mother’s knowledge. This particular recollection, shared in the play, Marie and Rosetta, by George Brant, may be fictional. But the history behind it is quite real:

“The Jews from Miami Beach would come to our church every Sunday night to hear [Rosetta] sing. It would be packed with winter Jews [vacationers from up north]…. They came in droves to our church. Buses and limousines. They didn’t mind parking in the ghetto for that. They weren’t afraid.
When the saints would shout they would throw money down at them. It was, let’s go see these niggers. It was amusement to them.”
— Zeola Cohen Jones, member of Miami Temple and cousin of its founder,
quoted in Shout, Sister, Shout! (more below)

In the 1930s, Reverend Amaziah Cohen, founder of Miami Temple Church of God (now A.M. Cohen Temple), had begun broadcasting services featuring singing and guitar playing of Rosetta Tharpe.

The people at night would come from all areas; sometimes we had more whites than blacks,” recalls Isaac Cohen. The visitors, including many Jews, sat in a horseshoe balcony, while church members gathered on the main floor, up front. Eventually, Elder Cohen says, the church established a policy for mandatory offering, “because we didn’t have room for everyone.”

Moreover, Wald writes, when the church started charging admission to take advantage of all of the outsiders who came on Sundays, “the poor people couldn’t attend.” On the other hand, Zeola Jones goes on to explain, some people would come just for the Sunday night broadcasts and jump for the money. The fact that these same visitors were also funding church renovations and a college fund, the reminiscence continues, did nothing in her view to “compensate for the ugliness.”


More on Rosetta Tharpe and Marie Knight, including musical clips. “Marie and Rosetta” runs at Mosaic Theater Company of DC through September 30.
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Back at Beer Lahai Roi

The character of Rosetta, in “Marie and Rosetta” as performed at Mosaic Theater, does not mention Jews when she tells of white people and their coins.** For people like Zeola Jones, however, these scenes are part of their picture of Jews. This and so many scenes like it — with charitable behavior never quite making up for the egregious disrespect shown in other ways — are a part of the history that Jewish and Black communities today share, whether we acknowledge this or not.

There are wider and deeper issues highlighted by this story and some other aspects of “Marie and Rosetta,” too: how outsiders — Jews and non-Jews — visit black communities to view entertainment and cultural expressions, for example. How pain specific to Jewish and Black communities is expressed in art, if/how it can be shared, and what we can learn from singing and performing together and apart. If we are to use the model of Isaac and Ishmael, living side-by-side at Beer Lahoi Roi, as a model of Black and Jewish communities “renewing cousinship,” we have a lot to explore on this score.


Shout, Sister, Shout! and Book Event

For more on this, read Gayle Wald, Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Boston: Beacon Press, 2007).

Gayle F. Wald is a professor at George Washington University and the author of Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe and It’s Been Beautiful: Soul! and Black Power TV. She was a consultant for the film “Godmother of Rock and Roll.” Wald lives in Washington, DC. Follow her on Twitter at @gaylewald.

If in the DC area, stop by event at Solid State Books, cosponsored by Mosaic Theater Company of DC. Free and public (event link):

Solid State Books
600 H Street NE
7 – 8 p.m. Sunday September 16.

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NOTE:
**I have not see the play in print, and it is possible I missed this reference in performance; if someone knows different, please advise.
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Spin grief’s straw into gold: Moving on from Tisha B’Av

UPDATE: Please note that the “DC Against Hate” website has been updated with more details about three inter-connected actions. See also this blog’s update.

Jewish tradition teaches that much was lost in our history due to “baseless hatred” and that few things require more of our attention than making our communities welcoming to all, strangers included. We use Tisha B’Av — the day of mourning for destruction and calamities over the ages, the lowest point of the Jewish calendar — to help us consider all that needs changing if we are to move toward a better new year for all. (Tisha B’Av fell on 7/21-22 this year, and the new year begins 9/10-11.)

The month of Elul, an important point in this journey and the last of the old year, starts on August 12 this year — which happens to be the date a group of Klan and Nazi supporters have chosen for their “Unite the Right II” rally in DC, celebrating the anniversary of the violence at Charlottesville, VA last year (because they were refused a permit in Charlottesville).

National and local Jewish groups are planning responses, but none have been announced yet (7/24), to the best of my knowledge. Meanwhile, I hope Jews, in DC and beyond, are thinking of ways to celebrate Rosh Chodesh Elul, by joining with others who oppose baseless hatred and maltreatment of strangers and the most vulnerable among us.

…get back to work
you don’t have forever

…the wounded world
is still in your hands

…get on with it
gather grief like straw
spin it into something like gold
— from Alicia Suskin Ostriker’s “Drone”
The Book of Seventy
Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 2009.

Some of us will be joining already planned mobilization efforts standing together for “ICE abolition, open borders, dismantling the prison industrial complex, and ending the settler colonial system. We will confront fascism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and state violence.”

Others will find alternative ways to move into the new year with (re-)new commitment to opposing hate in its many forms.

I pray that none of us will be silent in the face of Klan- and Nazi-supporters gathering outside the White House.

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Kindling Hope with the Fourth Candle

How is Chanukah kindling hope for you and others this season?

In memory of Rekia Boyd, killed at age 22, another victim of (off-duty) police violence from my first hometown, I am kindling hope with ChanukahAction by supporting Ferguson Action Demand #2: contacting the USDOJ to demand a comprehensive review of systemic abuses by local police departments, including publication of data relating to racially biased policing, and the development of best practices.”

It was Rekia Boyd whom I chose to memorialize at the the 4-1/2-hour die-in in front of the USDOJ on December 8, organized to promote human rights for black and brown people in the U.S. While I never knew her, she is forever in my heart (and inspired this prayer).

May every act of remembrance — candle-lighting, mourners’ kaddish, memorial prayer — bind the victims of racial bias more tightly into our national consciousness
and collective commitment to change.

Here is the fourth candle Chanukah Action:

Options for taking action:
Option 1: Share the following message on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.): “I support Ferguson Action’s call for a Comprehensive Review of systemic abuses by local police departments, including the publication of data relating to racially biased policing, and the development of best practices. http://www.fergusonaction.com/demands”

Option 2: The Department of Justice has been identified as a primary target in the fight to end racialized police violence. This Chanukah, contact the Department of Justice and voice your support for change. Here is a sample script you can use:

“Hello, my name is _______. I am calling to urge the Department of Justice to: Conduct a comprehensive review of systemic abuses by local police departments Publish data related to racially biased policing Develop best practices for racially just law enforcement. Repurpose funds to support community-based alternatives to incarceration.”

You may contact the Department of Justice at: 202-353-1555 or by email at AskDOJ@usdoj.gov.

Here is the full Action Toolkit (PDF).

I am taking this action in advance of tonight’s 4th candle in order to enjoy Shabbat when it comes in this evening, right after Chanukah candle-lighting, and to allow for my participation in the local #BlackYouthMatter #SouthEastMatters action just across the river from my DC home.
BlackYouth

May the light of our candles and actions help bring about a new way of seeing, in our own lives and in the country.

Yentl at Theater J, Post-Show Panel on Women and Religious Tradition

yentl

UPDATE: Change of panelists for September 14

Theater J’s new production of Yentl, based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story, explores issues of gender and religious tradition. Panel discussions following Sunday matinees extend the conversation.

Virginia Spatz, co-organizer of Washington Friends of Women of the Wall, is joining a post-show panel on Sept. 14, so Theater J is offering a discount to friends WfWOW and their friends for any date of the run:

Tickets: Visit Buy Online or call Box Office Tickets at 800.494.8497.

Find out about ticket discounts here.

SPECIAL OFFER: Use coupon code ‘YENTL10’ and save $10! Buy online or call and mention the code.

 

“Jewish Women and Religious Tradition”

September 14 panel, post-matinee, approximately 5:30 p.m.

  • Sarah Breger, managing editor, Moment Magazine
  • Bonnie Morris, Professor of Women’s Studies, George Washington Univ; Author and Historian
  • Virginia Spatz, writer, educator, activist and WfWOW co-organizer

 

YENTL

AUGUST 28 – OCTOBER 5, 2014

Based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy”

Adapted for the stage by Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer

With new music and lyrics composed by Jill Sobule, additional music by Robin Eaton

Directed by Theater J Associate Artistic Director Shirley Serotsky

As a girl in 19th Century Eastern Europe, Yentl is forbidden to pursue her dream of studying Talmud. Unwilling to accept her fate, she disguises herself as a man. But when she falls in love, Yentl must decide how far she’s willing to go to protect her identity. Invigorated with a bracing klezmer/pop/rock score from Jill Sobule (the original “I Kissed a Girl,” “Supermodel”), Yentl asks up-to-the-minute questions about gender and sexuality.

For more on this production, see Exploring Divine Fluidity

DC Voices for Religious Freedom — Solidarity with Women of the Wall

Hallel is my favorite prayer service. As an individual who cannot carry a tune in a satchel but loves to sing and loves the psalms, I find a Hallel [psalms 113-118] sung with gusto a great opportunity to join my off-key voice into a larger sound of praise.

So, as I watched video of Women of the Wall suffering through abuse for raising their voices in prayer on Rosh Hodesh Av and heard reports that a loud Hallel appeared to be a driving force behind the arrest of WoW Chair Anat Hoffman, I decided I would have to raise my voice…in Hallel for the new month, as a wake up call toward a more just new year and in solidarity with WoW.
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Rosh Hodesh Elul

Rosh Hodesh Elul
a cross-community celebration
in solidarity with Women of the Wall
and for a better 5771

Location: Adas Israel, 2850 Quebec Street, NW
(Metro: Red Line, Cleveland Park)
Time: 7:30 a.m.

Women of the Wall, or Nashot Hakotel נשות הכותל in Hebrew, is a group of Jewish women from around the world who strive to achieve the right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem, Israel. The Western Wall is Judaism’s most sacred holy site and the principal symbol of Jewish people-hood and sovereignty and Women of the Wall works to make it a holy site where women can pray freely. WOW chose Rosh Hodesh as the day to gather as a women’s prayer group and celebrate, through prayer at the Wall and reading the special portion for Rosh Hodesh from the Torah scroll.

A non-denominational group of women and men will be gathering in Washington, DC, on August 11, for Rosh Hodesh Elul in solidarity with WOW and to begin our own journeys toward the new year. Like the services held by Women of the Wall in Jerusalem, the DC service will accommodate participants from across the Jewish spectrum. While women will lead services, men are encouraged to come.

Please bring a tallit and a siddur, if you are able to do so.

A number of people have asked, so: Yes, we will blow shofar, as is traditional throughout Elul, beginning on the second day of Rosh Hodesh.
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