Thursday, July 26, 2007

Musical Star-bucks?

Joni Mitchell, an artist who has been dear to my heart for more than thirty years, has signed a deal with Starbucks.

From the AP story off her website:

NEW YORK: Joni Mitchell is following the lead of Paul McCartney in joining with the coffee giant Starbucks to release her comeback album.

Hear Music, a record label formed in partnership with Starbucks Corp. and the Concord Music Group, said Wednesday that Mitchell is its second signing. "Shine," her first album of new compositions since 1998, will be released on Sept. 25.

McCartney's album "Memory Almost Full" came out last month and was played relentlessly at Starbucks franchises, where listeners could purchase it with their coffee. The disc has sold 447,000 copies, 45 percent of them in Starbucks stores, the company said.

The new venture has attracted interest from veteran artists both because the music business is collapsing around them, and their fans are much more likely to be spending time in Starbucks these days than in music stores.

Mitchell worked with Hear Music two years ago as it released a disc of favorite Mitchell songs selected by various artists. She had essentially retired from making music and said this project was one of the things that rekindled her interest, said Ken Lombard, president of Starbucks Entertainment.

I have mixed feelings about this. I understand the reasoning and I know that Joni would never give up the most important thing--creative control of her work. And as I pointed out earlier this month, this is a coffee culture generation, so this signing represents a huge opportunity for her music to be heard. But the fact that she's aligned with Starbucks just strikes a bitter chord within me.

I'm not rabidly anti-Starbucks, but I hate the way they have become the McDonalds/Burger King of coffee shops. They are everywhere, peddling their (in my opinion) sub-par coffee and all-too-sickly sweet faux coffee drinks to a nation already overfilled with bad food and sugar. There's a one-block stretch on 7th Avenue in Manhattan that has three Starbucks--one on each corner and one in the middle of the block--all on the same side of the street! And like the other fast food venues, they're infiltrating the rest of the world. I've seen Starbucks in Wellington, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia.

It's hard to imagine Joni Mitchell associating with Starbucks. I think of her as such an independent artist, always going her own way. Starbucks represents the worst of globalization to me, an example of the mass cloning of culture, a forerunner of a Fahrenheit 451 kind of world. Yes, I exaggerate somewhat, but the echos are there.

All this said, I'm sure I will buy the cd, just as I occasionally find myself getting coffee at Starbucks. They are not the evil empire, and I know they do give support to many good causes, both local and global. The times are changing, and I must move with the times or get left behind.

I'll end this with a clip from a 1970 Joni Mitchell performance of "Big Yellow Taxi"and ask a question I've seen in other blogs -- does this mean it's okay to pave paradise and put up a coffee shop?

(For a recent performance of this song by Joni Mitchell which includes a Bob Dylan impersonation, click here.)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Breaking Down to Build Up

Tisha b'Av, the fast day on the Jewish sacred calendar that commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, as well as other calamities that have befallen the Jewish People, starts this evening at sundown. For my teacher Rabbi Alan Lew, it begins the period of preparation for the Days of Awe, the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In his book, This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared, he writes:
"Tisha B'Av comes exactly seven weeks before Rosh Hashanah, beginning the process that culminates on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Tisha b'Av is the moment of turning, the moment when we turn away from denial and begin to face exile and alienation as they manifest themselves in our own lives -- in our alienation and estrangement from God, in our alienation from ourselves and from others. Teshuvah -- turning, repentance -- is the essential gesture of the High Holiday season. It is the gesture by which we seek to heal this alienation and to find at-one-ment; to connect with God, to reconcile with others, and to anchor ourselves in the ground of our actual circumstances, so that it is this reality that shapes our actions and not just the habitual, unconscious momentum of our lives."(41-42)
This idea of starting this gesture of turning, of looking to strengthen one's foundation out of a moment of destruction resonates with me this year. I feel the rebuilding process in both body and soul coming out of the five year transition from my bout with cancer. What I have learning in those years, about myself and others, will serve as my foundation as I move forward in my life.

I also think there are times it is necessary to break down walls in order to rebuild. My friend Tannis asked me to talk about the significance of the breaking of the glass at her wedding last year. Along with some more traditional explanations, I proposed that the glass breaking represents the destruction of the last bit of wall between the couple, creating an opening that they can walk through together on this new journey together.

Tisha b'Av remind us of the need to break down those stagnant parts of our lives in order to create an opening to fill with our teshuvah. To quote Rabbi Lew once more:
"Tisha B'Av is the beginning of Teshuvah, the process of turning that we hope to compete on Yom Kippur, the process of returning to ourselves and to God. And t he acknowledgment of the unresolved in our lives, as a people and as individuals, is the beginning of the sacred power the Days of Awe grant us -- to transform our lives in his moment when we feel the pull of both the waning moon and the setting sun; in this place, in this life, here and now." (50)
May all who are fasting have an easy fast, and, through the breaking down, may you each find your opening.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Shaken up on Tisha b'Av, in Body & Soul

Early this morning we experienced an earthquake. Reports are that it was not too powerful, centered in Oakland on the Hayward fault, with a magnitude of 4.2. (For those who need a reference, the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake had a magnitude of 7.1) It was a big enough jolt to wake us up at a quarter to five this morning.

The last quake I felt was August one year ago. That quake was less powerful but memorable because it took place on the evening of Tisha b'Av--the time when Jews mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples as well as other dark times in our history. I was at Ner Tamid, participating in the evening service, preparing to chant Eicha, Lamentations.

This morning's quake is in that same time in the Jewish calendar. We are presently in the three-week reflective period that starts with the 17th of Tammuz and ends with Tisha b'Av, which begin this year at sundown on Monday, July 23rd.

For two years in a row, an earthquake is linked to Tisha b'Av. Today as I prepared for my chanting of the haftarah for Tisha b'Av morning--most of it chanted in the same mournful trope used for Lamentations--I was struck by the much too appropriateness of the first few verses:

I will utterly consume them, says Adonai;
there are no grapes on the vine,
nor figs on the fig-tree,
and the leaf is faded;
Whatever I have given them is gone.

"Why do we sit still?
Let us gather into the fortified cities,
and meet our doom there,
for Adonai our God has doomed us,
made us drink a bitter draft,
because we have sinned against Adonai.
We looked for peace, but no good came;
for a time of healing, and behold terror!'

The snorting of their horses is heard from Dan;
at the sound of the neighing of his steeds
the whole land quaked;
They came and devoured the land and what was in it,
The towns and those who dwelt in them.

Jeremiah 8:13 - 16

Once again, the teachings of our ancients bring us messages we can use today. No, I don't believe that God brought us an earthquake because we were bad, but the link that gives us to the words of Jeremiah should get our attention. One more reminder of the need to be mindful of the consequences when we mistreat our world and the people we share it with. The killing, both of our environment and of our fellow inhabitants, must stop. To this end, the haftarah concludes with words of help and hope and guidence toward a rightful path:

Thus said Adonai:
Let not the wise glory in wisdom;
Let not the strong glory in strength;
Let not the rich glory in riches.
There should be just one glory,
An earnest devotion to Me.
I, Adonai, act with kindness, justice, and equality in the world.
In these I delight--says Adonai....

Jeremiah 9:22 - 23

Monday, July 16, 2007

Prime Numbers

Today I celebrate my 53rd birthday.

Today Nathan Mass celebrates his 101st birthday.

This birthday--this whole year--is a milestone of a sort for me. Five years ago at this time I was going through treatment for breast cancer. Today I remain cancer-free. I've made it to the first plateau of the disease on the positive side of the statistics--five years of survival with no recurrence.

I feel as if I've reclaimed my body. I've written here and here about working to lose the weight gained in these past five years. There's also been weight lifted from my mind. That change is more subtle, but equally important. I notice it in the deepness of my yoga practice and my connections in prayer.

What is hard is to wrap my brain around the fact that I am middle-aged. Am I in, as they say, the prime of my life? Could be. Fifty-three is a prime number, so it's as good a place as any to start. Stay tuned to this blog and I'll let you know how it goes.

One-hundred-one is also a prime number, which brings me to my friend Nathan. He's already made an appearance in this blog on the 11th day of the omer--another prime number. He may not hear much, but his mind is still very much in tact. He still finds ways to enjoy life, flirting with all the young women around him--which, in his eyes, includes me--with much wit and laughter. Yesterday I went to his birthday party, and saw him surrounded by family and friends. He occupies a prime place in many hearts.

Five years ago on my birthday I sent out this photo of Ken and I with our bald heads together.

Today I also post this photo of Nathan and I, taken at his birthday party yesterday.

We may be on different edges of life's prime, but I'd say we're both survivors.

Happy Birthday to Nathan

Happy Birthday to me

Friday, July 13, 2007

The more things change........

Today was one of those summer days we are happy to see in San Francisco--warm, sunny, bordering on hot but saved by a cooling breeze. A time for reflection as I strolled down Valencia Street towards the Marsh to drop off the finished DVD for Sunday's benefit.

My Baby Boom Generation is known for being fueled by drugs; this generation--I don't know if it has a name--is definitely fueled by caffeine. I passed three independent coffee houses along the way--no Starbucks on this strip--filled with 20 & 30 somethings with their phones/PDAs/iPods and laptops. I laughed to myself as I realized they are closer in spirit to the Beat Generation of the 50s than they are to us or the Gen Xers before them.

As the Beats congregated in North Beach, the Mission is now the hip place to gather. It's an area that retains its gritty city vibe--cars, sirens, hustle and bustle--populated by people from diverse backgrounds who still, for the most part, manage to smile at each other as they pass on the street.

It is literally a hot spot weather wise, which brings a tie to an even earlier time in San Francisco history. It's an area of sunshine in a city often covered with fog---with the added bonus of flat land in the midst of hills. The Spaniards that arrived from Southern California made the Mission District their home base, just as these new young arrivees do now.

Yes, the more things change, the more they remain the same. One constant in this city that touches me is how it reveres eccentrics and individualists. I think that's one reason I embrace this as my home.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Harriette & Seymour -- 59 years together

June 11, 1948, at the Menorah Temple in Brooklyn, New York, Harriette Levy and Seymour Heiss were married in front of their family and friends. Today, they celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary.

In the years they've shared together, there have been joys and sorrows...laughter and tears.. A strong bond of love guided them through it all.

They journeyed through life--from Brooklyn to Queens to Long Island to New Jersey to California to New Jersey to California to Arizona. Whatever steps they took, they took together. The scenery and the weather would change, but the sight they saw each night was always each other.


Through all the discussions, your love always shines through.

Friday, July 06, 2007

New Links to Jewish Women

In honor of Parsha Pinchas, in which nine women are mentioned by name, I just added three new links in the "Some Jewish Blog Favorites" section in the left hand column of DivahWorld. They all deal with issues facing Jewish women today.

Jewess: The Tribes Better Half is described as, "a blog about Jewish women's issues, and is part of the Canonist network of religion blogs." The most recent posting is a drash on this week's parsha, Pinchas, written by my friend and rabbi-to-be Danya Ruttenberg. Pinchas is my birth parsha, so it is close to my heart. In fact, I will be chanting the entire parsha tomorrow morning at Shabbat services. Danya's drash deals with the daughters of Tzelophchad, a group of five women who stand up in front of the entire community to ask for what is rightfully theirs. I fondly refer to them as "Women with Chutzpah."

The Jewish Women's Archive Weblog is part of the Jewish Women's Archive site--a link I also just added to the Links list. This blog is titled "Jewesses with Attitude: Where Jewish women tell it like it is." Do you get the theme here? The Archive is a great resource for all issues dealing with Jewish women. Explore on your own, but I would like to call your attention to the American Jewess Project, which is making this first English-language publication directed to American Jewish women, published between April 1895 and August 1899 available on the web.

I've also added The Lilith Blog, a part of the Lilith Magazine website. I have been a subscriber to Lilith--a quarterly magazine that describes itself as "Independent, Jewish, and Frankly Feminist"--for many years. It is a wonderful source of news, information, and literature by and about Jewish women. If you know any Jewish "women with chutzpah," this is a great gift for them.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Star Spangled Minyan

It seems that on holidays when you might think it would be harder to get a minyan together, we get a nice crowd. This morning we had about twenty people gathering at 8a.m. for Shacharit in the Shapiro Room at the Beth Sholom school building since the JCCSF was closed today.

There was a wonderful ruach, spirit, to our davening this morning. Maybe it was because everyone was in a relaxed place due to the holiday, maybe because we were together in our home, maybe because the bright sunlight showed the promise of a warm, fog-free day--whatever the reason, it felt really good. Rabbi Hyman, in his first week as our rabbi, gave a wonderful drash about the rights of all in our world--both on a human level and in nature. It's such a blessing to see him start this new journey with us and among us, as opposed to remaining separate and above us. It's a model of leadership that is not only what we need, but seems so appropriate for this holiday honoring the birth of our country.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Weighty Matters

This past April I started a dietary plan, to both release the toxins built up in my body and lose weight. I wanted to rid my organs of the last vestiges of the chemotherapy and other drugs taken during my cancer treatment. The weight had built up in the last five years, due in part to tamoxifen, menopause, and the natural aging process. It also didn't help that I continued to eat whatever I wanted--after all, I'd never had to worry about weight gain before this time. But now those aforementioned factors had contributed to a slowdown in my metabolism, and my BMI was coming close to the overweight zone.

The first part of the plan was a cleanse using products from Isagenix. As I reported here, while I felt good, and could feel the difference in my body, the scale showed only 4 pounds lost--a big disappointment.

But I didn't give up and when the cleanse period was done I continued to watch my caloric intake and eat primarily whole foods--lots of veggies and whole grains--while cutting way down on processed food products. I also weigh myself daily, and have gotten a better idea of my weight range. This knowledge has helped me better understand where my weight was before I started this eating regimen, what my weight status was after the cleanse, and where my weight stands now. I have determined that in this 3 month period, I have lost about 10 pounds--and it shows.

I've had people remark on my new leaner look. More important, I feel like I am back in my body. And even better, I have been able to take my yoga practice not just to where it was before my cancer diagnosis but even further--which keeps me connected to my body and my spirit.

So I encourage all of you struggling with body issues to find a healthy plan to follow and persevere. The changes may be small at first, but the continued pay off is huge.