I auditioned for The Voice Season 7. Watch the premiere on Sept. 22 to see how I did!

I auditioned for The Voice Season 7. Watch the premiere on Sept. 22 to see how I did!

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Mike Stein on NPR's MORNING EDITION!!!

Cantor Mike Stein featured on NPR's Morning Edition, April 29, 2020. Click here: https://www.npr.org/2020/04/29/847732030/pandemic-inspires-creative-way-to-fill-needs-cantor-at-la-synagogue-says



Michael Stein is a world renowned performer, composer, producer, and recording artist. A solo artist featured with Pete Seeger and Sweet Honey in the Rock on the Grammy Award winning, cELLAbration and nominee forDreamosaurus) his songs have been recorded by the late Patsy Montana and have been in movies such as "The Little Traitor." He has recorded fiddle for artists such as Mary Chapin Carpenter and Tom Paxton. His songs have been published by Warner Chappell (We Are With You) and have played on thousands of radio stations world wide. In addition to producing cutting-edge music and concerts, he also serves as the cantor at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, California. He is the father of three sons who are accomplished musicians of their own. Together with his wife, Kelley, they perform nationally with their group, the Rolling Steins. Thanks for vising my site and be sure to join my mailing list.

Release of Lemba CD 

From the CD cover:


The Lemba Jews of Zimbabwe by Modreck Maeresera (President of the Harere Lemba Synagogue, educator and shochet)  Excerpts: 

Our ancestors migrated from Judaea soon after the destruction of the Second Temple. Their first stop was Sena,Yemen (perhaps modern day Sana), then to  Mozambique, and eventually to Zimbabwe, where they settled in the area of what is today Masvingo Province near the Great Zimbabwe, an historic archaeological site from which the country takes its name.  

The Lemba believe in one G-d who we call Musiki (The Creator) and we pray directly to Him.  Lemba cultural traditions like dietary laws, circumcision and the observance and celebration of holidays are strongly linked to the belief in one G-d. (and are the same as found in the Torah) 

Over the years, many writers have recorded the claims of Jewish descent by Lemba leaders from Zimbabwe and South Africa; they have pointed to Lemba religious observances as proof of their Jewish origins. But without written documentation by the Lemba, or anyone else, much of this was discounted.  In the last few years, advanced DNA research has found the same “Cohen modal haplotype" among the Lemba, as is found among Jews worldwide, both Ashkenasic and Separadic.  

More than 52% of all males in the Buba clan, who in Lemba oral tradition, served as the Lemba priests and had a leadership role in bringing the Lemba out of Israel, have the Cohen modal haplotype.  These results appear to validate our oral tradition. 

The Nusach Project:

In the summer of 2017, Kulanu board member and activist Sandy Leeder  and I were wading in Yam Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee. We  talked about the Lemba and Kulanu “Nusach Project” created to compose melodies for the Lemba synagogues.  He sent me some recording by composer Hamlet Zhou and I was deeply moved--by the emotion and the African sound. With the help of donations from Kulanu, myself and my dear friend, Sandy Perlo z’’l, I was able to coordinate the recording process in Zimbabwe and in Los Angeles.  Hamlet and his choir recorded at Black Identity studios in Harare.  His engineer,  Kuda Maestro sent the files (songs 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7) to me and I worked with Palo Henderson (son of famed guitarist Marlo Henderson) to add tracks--my son Justin played bass and I played violin and mandolin. Palo masterfully recorded and mixed those tracks.  The others were completely recorded and mixed at Black Identity in Harare--with Hamlet playing mbira and guitars with his choir. This project is a magical fusion of African Lemba music with a sweet taste of western funk.  But the ingredient that ties it together is it’s magnificent Jewish character!!!!  HMS



1.         Oseh Shalom  (May the Holy One create peace) 

2.         Ahava Rabba  (We are loved with a great love) 

3.         Birchot HaShachar, (Morning Blessings) 

4.         Ein Kamochah  (There is none like You) 

5.         Halleluyah Psalm 150 

6.         Dayenu  (It would have been enough) 

7.         Sim Shalom (Make peace) 

8.         Amidah (The “standing prayer”) 

9.         Ein Keloheinu (There is none like our G-d) 

10.       Adon Olam  (Master of the World) 

All songs written by Hamlet Zhou based on siddur liturgy 

Guitar:  Hamlet Zhou 

Rhythm Guitar (cut #1 only): Hazzan Mike Stein 

Mbira:   Hamlet Zhou 

Keyboards: Palo Henderson 

Bass: Justin Stein (except #9) 

Percussion: Palo Henderson 

Mandolin:  Hazzan Mike Stein 

Violin:  Hazzan Mike Stein 

Choir:  Nomsa Hwingwiri; Brenda Maeresera; George Zvakavapano; Brighton Zhou; Hamlet Zhou;  Sheron Zhou 

Executive Producer:  Hazzan Mike Stein 

All songs recorded at Black Identity Studios in Harare. 

1, 3, 4, 5, 7 & 10 Mixed, arranged and programmed in Los Angeles at PЯH Studios by Palo Henderson. 

Violin, mandolin and guitar on song #1 recorded at Eilat Studios. Bass recorded at Justin Stein Music.

All songs mastered at SwanSound Studios, Brad Swanson engineer

For more information about the Lemba go to kulanu.org

Visit the Harere Lemba Syngagogue at facebook.com/hararelembasynagogue 

For more information on Hazzan Mike Stein go to michaelsteinmusic.com


Last Week in Zimbabwe 

Zimbabwe Monday and Tuesday 

After a long trek to the Great Zimbabwe and meeting with Dr Rabson Wuriga, I spent most of Monday relaxing and catching up on sleep and much needed rest.  On Monday evening I was picked up by a man named Pastor Gary Cross who grew up with my dear friend and congregant Amir Harnoy.  It is a small world!  I went to dinner at the pastor’s home and had a wonderful home cooked meal with great conversation. We talked about our spiritual paths and how we both work in our own communities to achieve the same thing.  It was fascinating to hear about his work—placing orphans in homes rather than institutions, ministering to people in need and supporting causes that help the under-served. He has a wonderful wife and four daughters, one of whom is at Calvin University in Michigan.  It used to be Calvin College, but now with the name change I told Gary that it just means that they can charge more—we had a good laugh.  A beautiful family living in a city that is stricken with poverty, lack of electricity and in places running water and very high unemployment. But each one of Gary’s family is committed to the work of the church and that is a machaya. 

On Tuesday we had lessons at 11:00 am.  We reviewed the Ma’ariv service for Shabbat, and then went on to the Birchot Hashachar, Psukei D’zimra and the Shaharit services for Shabbat morning.  Hamlet wrote a fantastic melody for the Birchot HaShachar, the morning blessings—we talked about the blessings and how they relate to starting our day. We got to one of my favorite parts of the service which is a metrically compelling wording that through repetition of the word Mah (what) asks the questions: What are we? What are our lives? What is our loving-kindness? What is our righteousness? What is our salvation? What is our strength? What is our might? What shall we say before You Lord our God and God of our ancestors? In the words of my teacher Hazzan Abe Golinkin this is like a mini tachanun— a cry out to God for answers and a wake up call on how we should live our lives. 

We looked at the sections for study and particularly at the principles for understanding and interpreting the Torah and the Talmud. And then, of course the Kaddish d’Rabbanan. Oh and I taught them the Sheyebane Beit HaMikdash.  Then we got to psalm 30, mizmor shir hanukkat habayit—the song of the dedication of the Temple—and it’s relation to the holiday of Hanukkah.  Baruch She’amar we learned Craig Taubman’s melody and I pointed out that this among other prayers were written by the Men of the Great Assembly.  The rest of psukei d’zimra we talked about the different prayers and how we deviate from the weekday on Shabbat and Holidays.  Hoshea et amecha has ten words which we use to count a minyan instead of counting people as numbers—which is dehumanizing.  I talked about how particularly evil and calculated Hitler was to brand numbers on Jews in concentration camps.  We learned a few melodies, my Y’hiu l’ratzon and mi ha’ish among others.  We talked about the halleluyah psalms 145-150 and that the word halleluyah means praise God.  Most wonderfully, the sound of the hey with the dot (dagesh) in it creates a breathy sound so that Yah, one of God’s names has in it the source of life—-our breath which was breathed in to us when we were born. It is so that we can sing kol haneshama t’hallel-ya. All of our soul (breath) praises God. 

We talked once again about the ayin and dalet being large in the shema, particularly to remind us that the word eid means witness— when we say the shema we should all feel that we were there receiving Torah—all Jews even those not yet born were there including Lemba, Abayudaya, Jews of Choice, Jews by birth—everyone.  I also pointed out that the aleinu prayer has the same formula—the beginning of each paragraph starts with ayin and the ending is a dalet. 

Oh and BTW we talked about the Shema appearing early in the siddur, so that those listening for the shema, a forbidden part of the service in some periods of history, soldiers would not be expecting it so early in the service and miss the recitation—also the same reason is used for the shema in kedusah in the music service. 

Kol haneshama t’hallel-Yah is repeated at the end of ps 150 to indicate in ancient times to a public without siddurim that the section of psalms was over. We also talked about ps 145 is in alphabetical order, without the nun—taken out because of its negative implications. 

The next section includes paragraphs from Tanach and so we stand in honor of those sections.  The first is from Divrei Yamim which is Chronicles. I pointed out the section of the Torah service which is from that paragraph—it is fun to realize where specific prayers come from—Tanach and piyutim, religious poems. 

We came to the Shirat Hayam, song of the sea and I pointed out that the melody that the shul sings is from the Portuguese tradition. It also contains the mi chamocha and we talked about Nachshon’ mouth being filled with water and only able to say CHamocha instead of Kamocha. And the Macabees name taken from the men, chaf, bet and mud first letters of the phrase.  Once again Adonai Yimloch L’Olam Va’ed is repeated to indicate the end of that section. 

Barechu we reviewed the meaning of the word and its many forms and we also talked about yotzer or uvorei choshech, Blessed are you God who created light and darkness. However the words from Isaiah read “created light and evil.” This did not sit well with the sages and thus here is another example of changing the wording to suit intent of the prayer. 

There are many beautiful melodies that Hamlet has written for this section of the siddur, the blessings before the shema.  especially the Eil Adon—I thought that it was from somewhere else, it sounded so beautiful.  That surely brought a smile to his face. I pointed out that Eil Adon is in alphabetical order, and yes, the nun is there as Moderick pointed out.  Once again we have the prayer for creation, and the prayer for revelation leading to the shema and the prayer of redemption before the Amidah.  Also I talked about the Kadosh kadosh kadosh section before the shema, that section being called the “kiddushah d’yeshiva.”  This is literally the “sitting kedushah.” Comprised of many of the same verses that we read in the Kedushah of the Amidah, it is a recreation of the angels appearing before Hashem in Isaiah and Ezekiel in the Prophets.  There is also the kedusha d’sidra found at the end of the morning service on weekdays, the mincha for Shabbat and other places. All have in common this dramatic scene from the Prophets. 

The word Amida I pointed out is like the word yeshiva. It is the noun form of the verb to stand as yeshiva is the noun form of the word to stand yoshev.  Hence the Amidah can be called the Standing Prayer, Ha’tefillah THE prayer or the shemoneh esrei (the 18 blessings—really 19).  The Amidah for shabbat has 7 blessings representing the seventh day, Shabbat.  There are a standard three in the beginning and three at the end, with the middle being the “holiness of the day,” and ends with Mikadesh HaShabbat. 

We learned where to bow and how to do it and going back three steps at “Adonai S’fati Tiftach,” and three forward at “ufi yagid t’hilatecha.”  The idea is to approach the space of prayer and also to remember that we carefully approach the King. 

We sang some melodies for the repetition including Hamlet’s v’shamru and my L’dor Vador. We also recorded vshamru this week. We went on to the Torah service—Hamlet, once again has written some beautiful melodies for that section as well. You have to get a copy of the Lemba Jews of Africa—Ancient roots—new traditions. Let me know if you want to buy one—all monies go back to the Lemba. 

Side note—we recorded five new songs with my little MacBook Air and Studio One.  Hamlet is an amazing musician and composer and it was a delight.  The only drawback was some tech difficulties, but we managed to record mbira, lead voice (Hamlet) and harmony voices (George, Sharon and Nomsa).  Can’t wait to mix and see what we have.  I left Hamlet with my audio interface in the hopes that he will be able to create his own studio in Harare. 

I let Moderick know the standard form of the Torah service—calling up aliyot, misheberach, hatzi kaddish, maftir, etc.  Also to be aware of when we do the Birchat HaChodesh, the blessing for the new month, the community needs some Hebrew calendars!  I sent out printable calendars to Moderick when I returned.  I loved reading in Dr. Rabson’s book about a bowl of water’s reflection of the moon indicating the new moon in Lemba history.  The new moon was a festival and a very important part of Lemba life. 

We went through the musaf service and learned melodies for the kedushah and others.  We talked about ein keloheinu being an acronym (first letters of each verse) for AMeN and Baruch Atah Adonai.  We are at the end of the service and say amen but always we continue on with our worship, represented but the Barach Atah… 

Next blog will be about the trip home and the continuing work going on her in the USA.

Zimbabwe Shabbat  

Zimbabwe Friday to Sunday 

So much to tell it is hard to know where to begin.  I will do it chronologically. 

Friday we had class at the place that I am staying in Emerald Hill.  A wonderful BnB that has electricity, hot water and meets all of my needs. 

We began with a review of our last lesson—and so we started with the barechu.  We discussed the meaning of the word baruch whose three letter root, beit reish chaf takes many forms.  Berech, knee;  braycha, pool; Barach, kneel; and b’racha, blessing.  Usually translated “blessed are you, God,”  but how can we, mere mortals bless God? God who has bestowed everything upon us?  Perhaps “Praise you God, source of all blessings.”  When we look at the word braycha, meaning pool, and knowing that water is the absolutely necessary for our existence—at the same time knowing that the Torah is like water—vital to our survival and ever-flowing in its nourishing enrichment of our world. 

I sang for them the Ashkenazic melody—Hamlet the musician understanding the concept of raising the leading tone a half step. I love his musical abilities—he wrote all of the melodies for the Lemba prayer service.  We joked because one of the melodies is actually in a minor key—not commonly found in most African music.  Anyway I also recorded for them one of my melodies with a niggun as part of it—Irene, Brenda’s sister told me that she really loves the idea of the niggun—melodies without words.  Note—I was so pleasantly surprised that every concept that I taught in my first lesson was remembered by the group! 

We then talked about the blessings leading up to the shema. The first for the blessing of creation, how Hashem formed the world and how the world is kept in order.  The second blessing of revelation, God revealing Her Torah.  I sang several versions of Ahavat Olam and at each step BTW I asked what the congregation knows—most were what you would hear in a shul in the US, but that is great.  At each opportunity I ask Hamlet to write a Lemba melody.  He agrees each time, so we will see how much new beautiful music will come out of this project. 

Then of course the Shema—I talked about the large Ayin and Dalet there so that the correct spelling of the words Shema (hear) is not read as “perhaps” and Echad (one) is not read as acheir, “another.”  We discussed the words Eil Melech Ne’eman at the beginning, said if there is not a minyan—it means God is a faithful King. It also is an acronym for AMEN. Aleph, mem and nun. They three words serve the same purpose as the three words at the end, Adonai Eloheichem Emet—the shema has 245 words. If we add three more we come to 248, known to be the total parts of the body in the ancient world—there are also 248 positive commandments, 

We then went to mi chamocha—I spoke about Nachshon ben Aminadav—who when he had the faith in God to take the first steps in to the Sea of Reeds, had water in his mouth and pronounced Mi CHamocha, because his words were garbled. After the waters receded he then was able to say Mi Kamocha with a clear sound. (mi KamoCHa ba’Elim Adonai, Mi Kamocha nedar ba’kodesh).  Also those words are an acronym for MaKaBee. 

We talked about why the amidah for the evening prayer was not said out loud—a compromise since the prayers that replaced the sacrificial service were based on when the sacrifices were done—there was no evening sacrifice, but yet it was felt that there should be an evening service—based on the Avot section of the Amidah—Avraham—morning (When he arose early for the Akeida); Yitzchak (afternoon)—when he saw Rivka and prayed that this is his future wife; and Yaakov (evening) who wrestled with the angel in the evening.   So the compromise was to have the evening service but NOT chant the Amidah out loud. This is like the idea of the mezuzah—one rabbi thought it should point straight up to God, another said it should point forward in the direction of the inside and how the tablets were laid in the ark.  Compromise?—make it slanted! 

We concluded with the ma’ariv service for Shabbat, took a break, and Hamlet and I then did some recording on my MacBook Air.  He is an amazing Mbira player!  He did take after take perfectly.  What a cool guy. 

Then I had a few minutes to shower and get ready for Shabbat which I spent in the synagogue which is also Moderick’s house.  It was very comfortable and I felt very much at home. 

The Lemba in Harere have their erev Shabbat at home—it is too hard and too expensive to get to the synagogue.  And so we lit candles, sang and discussed Torah.  It was absolutely lovely. 

The next morning services began at about 10:30 am.  I met several new people and Moderick led the psukei d’zimra masterfully with a strong, confident voice. The shul is in good hands! 

I was asked to read the Torah and so, with the Tikkun that I brought with me I chanted all of the alliyot and gave a brief explanation of each section that I read.  I realize that there is going to have to be some training in trope—but I have already begun that work in our lessons—the same is true for the congregation in Ol Kalou.  Moderick read the Haftarah in English and I then led the musaf service—teaching some new melodies and giving everyone a “taste” of hazzanut. 

We then had lunch which was delicious and then were plied with mango wine—I took one sip and realized that it was almost 100% alcohol. whew!!!  Took a good nap and we chanted havdallah. Of course there was no electricity so the candle took on a new meaning.  It was beautiful seeing the faces of Moderick’s family lit up by the candlelight.  What a blessing. 

The next day George procured his friend Atwell who is a good driver with a smaller car that is good on fuel and we traveled to the ancient home of the Lemba near Mazvingo, about 310 kms from Harare.  We went from there to the Great Zimbabwe, about 20 kms from there.  The Great Zimbabwe, for which Zimbabwe was named after independence, is a world heritage cultural site.  It was designed and built by the Lemba which is a part of the larger Shona tribe in about the 11th century CE—the Shona culture began about 300 CE. There is much written about it, but not much being able to be confirmed. It is a spectacular structure made of hand hewn granite stones laid one atop the other without mortar and set in spectacular mountain terrain. The technology and the back breaking dangerous labor, makes it a major accomplishment of mankind. It is a proud reminder that great and advanced civilizations in ancient Africa have existed contrary to the claims of Europeans that only others could have built this magnificent structure. 

I did not have a chance to go to Mapakomhere, in Masvingo District where there is one of the Lemba villages.  We had several mishaps along the road, including a flat tire which delayed our progress. But I did have time to have a meeting with a great man, Dr. Rabson Wurigo who works at the Great Zimbabwe University. It was my opportunity to speak with a man who, as a Lemba, has written the story of the Lemba culture and it’s connection to Judaism with an academic slant that is most enjoyable to read.  We discussed where we all stand in terms of Jewish identity, what it means to be Jewish and how we mix ancient tradition with the post biblical changes that identify modern Judaism.  What can be changed, what needs to be changed—for instance, Dr. Wurigo encouraged the Lemba to resume observing the Passover festival—so they did what their ancestors and verbal history demanded—they sacrificed the pascal lamb and sat down to eat as a community.  Rabson had to tell them that the said sacrifice was not being done anymore since the Temple was destroyed.  The Lemba circumcise at 8 years old.  Do we make it happen at 8 days?  One thing we certainly do not do, according to Rabson, is practice ha’tafat ha dam—the drawing of a speck of blood from the penis, which “legitimizes” in the Jewish faith a circumcision that was not kosher.  To do that he says, is to deny the entire foundation of Lemba culture.  It is a legitimate brit milah not in need of perfection—it is perfect already.  We talked about Jewish organizations from religious institutions to NGO’s. I really look forward to further discussions with him and possibly working with him, his community, and the Harare community to bring not only create an understanding with world Jewry, but a united front to have the Lemba embraced by Jews everywhere. 

I returned on Sunday night quite exhausted, but quite thrilled to have had the experience of visiting the Great Zimbabwe and meeting with Rabson.  This is a rest day for me.  My host at the BnB just made a wonderful Indian brunch and tonight I have dinner with a friend of the Harnoy’s in Harare.

Zimbabwe Day 2  

I woke up at 09:30 this morning after getting at least 10 hours of sleep which I badly needed. Went to the Lemba Synagogue to teach around 11:00 am. George picked me up—he had waited for gas from 3-6 am.  I had 8 students, three women and five men.  We discussed the idea that as community prayer leaders it was vital to know about the meaning and context of prayers. They learned that the siddur literally means “order,” and is written in the order of our daily prayers.  They are using the Koren siddur which is very nice.  I taught that the siddur contains sections of Tanach (acronym for Torah, Nach-Prophets, and Ketuvim, the Writings—includes tehillim which are the psalms of David).  But also there are piyutim which are poems written and added to the prayer book in addition to biblical quotations. 

We talked about what Kabbalat Shabbat means literally and in the spiritual sense.  The basic piece was learning that Kabbalat Shabbat in Hebrew means receiving Shabbat and that is what we are doing--it started with the Kabbalists dressed in white in Tsfat Israel in the 16th century standing on the mountain receiving Shabbat.  So the first prayer in their siddur is “y’did nefesh” pretty much a love poem to God.  They know the “traditional melody” which includes the niggun at the end. At that moment I discussed the word niggun (melody without words) and taught about the Baal Shem Tov (BESHT) who founded Hassidism.  The poor were not able to study because of time and monetary obligations, so the BESHT taught that we did not necessarily need to be a scholar and if we didn’t the words we could use our hearts to sing God in a melody.  I challenged Hamlet Zhou, the composer laureate of the Lemba to write their own niggun!   I pointed out that y’did nefesh was a piyyut written in the 16th century in Tsfat.  The first letter of each of the verses spells “yud-hey-vav-hey” God’s holiest name. It also is a love poem, and so I talked about our relationship with God. I spoke about the verse from Hoshea that says “I will betroth you to me forever, in justice, in kindness, in mercy and faithfulness..and then I will know God.” When we are able to emulate those above mentioned qualities then we become “btzelem Elohim” in the image of God.  God in Her love gave us the Shabbat the greatest gift of all. 

We continued by noting that the beginning of Kabbalat Shabbat is six psalms, representing the six days of the week, follow by Lcha Dodi and then the psalm for Shabbat and the psalm for Friday. 

For L’chu Neranana (psalm 95) I taught them the Abayuday version—they LOVED it and were singing it pretty instantly. I taught about the chatima the final “signature” of the prayer, which in their siddur has an arrow.  The role of the sheliach tzibbur (literally messenger of the community—to God) is to start of the prayer and end with the last few lines—although there are exceptions to this rule.  Also in the Koren siddur the number of the psalm is written at the end of the first line.  It is in Hebrew so we discussed the concept that each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is assigned a number—we talked about 18, which consists of chet (8) and yud (10)—the word chai is life —just like when we say l’chaim! 

For Psalm 96 everyone Carlebach’s melody to Ki Va Moed and so we sung it—but utilized the niggun — so we started at the beginning and skipped down to the hatima. In between we sang the niggun and at the end.  I asked everyone “how did it feel singing the niggun—did it have more meaning and spirit than the words?” and all answered a resounding “yes!”. 

Pslam 97 we sang my reggae version of Or Zarua—the group picked it up very quickly and we had a blast!!!! 

Psalm 98 we learned Craig Taubman’s Romemu—note here—when I asked do they have a melody for Romemu the response was the melody from the Torah service. it was a perfect opportunity to say that the source for the romemu words in the Torah service are from Psalm 98—we learned Craig’s version and it was, once again, a blast!!  Everyone sings so beautifully and intuitively! 

You will note that there is a pattern with the psalms—95-98.  The next psalm in 29. Why is that? The very mystical and numerically minded Kabbalists liked the idea that Psalm 29 has God’s name mentioned 18 times —representing chai the word for life (see above).  Also the word “kol” voice is mentioned seven times in honor of the seventh day, Shabbat. I taught that the poetic nature of psalms means that all of nature “sings” to God, and that God’s voice speaks to nature.  This occurs many times especially in the psalms that begin “sing a new song  unto God, sing a new song all the earth.” 

We went to Lcha Dodi and people knew several melodies.  I taught the Abayudaya version. I also pointed out that this piyyut was written by Shlomo Ha’Levi, spelled out in the first letters of the verses.  We also talked about Shamor v’Zachor—two different ways the fourth commandment was written in Shemot and Dvarim.  How can this be? The Kabbalists say the these two words were spoken “b’dibor echad” as one word—something that only Hashem can do. 

We sang Carlebach’s mizmor mizmor shir for the 92nd psalm and for the hatima we sang the Israeli melody for Tzadik Katamar. 

Pslam 93 for Friday we sang Nava Tehilla’s Mikolot Mayim Rabim. 

Then we discussed the sections of Mishna that are studied at this point.  The rabbis knew that since we had everyone in shul, we could get in some Torah learning. Also the sages said that even five minutes of Torah learning is better than not studying at all. Hence in several places in the siddur a section is there for study.  I pointed out that also on Saturday’s musaf has such a place.  At the conclusion of the study there is the Kaddish d’Rabanan.  We talked about the five different kaddishim—Kaddish d’Rabanan; Hatzi Kaddish (between sections of the service); Kaddish Shalem (between sections were there is ha-tefilla, the Amida); Kaddish Yatom, the mourner’s kaddish and Kaddish D’etchadatah (at a funeral and the conclusion of study of a tractate of Talmud).  Musaf for Shabbat is a perfect example.  We looked at the Hatzi Kaddish before the Amidah. The Kaddish Shalem after the Amdah. The Kaddish D’Rabanana after studying Mishna and Talmud and the Mourner’s kaddish after aleinu.  Four out of five of the kaddishim in one short span. 

We took a break, and agreed that we did a lot of learning and we would continue tomorrow Friday.  However the women would have to be home preparing for Shabbat—so we would meet at 11:00 am, just the men.  After that Hamlet and I will lay down some tracks for new recording. 

The learning session was fantastic—I told them that they would have to be sponges, and that them teaching others what I taught them would be my greatest joy—just as I have learned from others and was teaching them. 

But more fantastic was having a jam session with Hamlet on guitar and Moderick and his wife Brenda on mbira.  It was truly a global blend!! 

Tomorrow night I spend Shabbat at Moderick’s home.  Erev Shabbat is spent at the home celebrating with family—it is too hard and expensive to come to synagogue two days (just like in Ol Kalou). Saturday morning I will get to hear how the Lemba do their services. 

I probably will not write again until at least Sunday.  Shabbat Shalom.

Zimbabwe Harare Lemba Synagogue  

Wednesday 10 July 2019 

In one evening I am in heavenly shock.  To learn from Moderick about the Lemba.  They have circumsicion at 8 years old.  They do as many other tribes—many young boys together. Then they learn the Lemba ways—-including how to shecht (slaughter) in the ancient ways which are the actual laws of kosher slaughter.  They are given three knives, for chickens, small animals like goats and larger animals like cows which they keep for their entire lives. Being brought in to the Lemba tribe means learning how to be a shochet.  This blows my mind.  This is an ancient practice that goes back to beyond anyone’s memory.  The Lemba combine Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in to one holiday.  They choose two goats.  They pour a liquid on their back and the first one to shake it all off (you know goats hate water) has expiated the tribe for their sins.  The second goat is sent away. The first goat is slaughtered and there is a feast to celebrate the new agricultural season. 

The elders of the tribe are living in the countryside where it is possible to be tribal and stay together as a group—oh and by the way—there are 12 tribes!  Moderick and the Harare Congregation are there to be a hub and to be a place of learning.  He wants to train leaders so that they can go out in to the countryside and lead congregations.  Will they accept the rabbinic changes in their practice?  Moderick feels that they need to be in contact with the world-wide Jewish population so that they can ensure that their ancient traditions and new traditions are recognized as valid. He was thinking about whether to align with the orthodox, conservative or reform and said that all you need to be is Lemba. We laughed and he whole-heartedly agreed. That is why the Nusach Project begun by Kulanu is so important—the Lemba have their own unique music.  I gave Moderick a box of CD’s and he is blown away as is his nephew George. George has been driving me around town.  He is a great young man and is being groomed to be one of the leaders. 

Conditions in Zimbabwe are difficult. There is no electricity all day except from 10 pm until 5 am.  The home that I am staying in, an Air BnB has solar and a well so I have water and electricity.—and internet.  But there is huge unemployment and the prices in the market are very high. More on that later. 

Anyway, I am going to teach tomorrow and I am thinking about how to make it work—I will just see where everybody is—I know that Hamlet (who composed all of the Lemba melodies) and Moderick are very high level, but they are happy to review and learn some new angles on prayer.  This is fantastic!

Fifth Day home  

Fifth day home: 

I woke up this morning at the highly unusual time of 0700 am (but with jet lag, this is the new me—until I stop going to bed at 10 pm) and realized that I have to read three aliyot for minyan which includes a bar mitzvah. My first thought was, where is Jeremy Stein? (Jeremy did most of the Torah reading in UG) Then I started thinking about what I was going to say about the Torah portion. The bar mitzvah is a young man who is part of our special needs program (I prefer extraordinarily talented)—is not extremely vocal and I know will not stay in one place very long. I put together a program with his family for this wonderful day and it will be, as his parents say, “what it will be.” But he will know how special the day is simply by all of the fuss and love coming his way. 

Then I thought about the Torah portion (Ki Tissa) and how the word tissa besides its meaning of “taking” also means to carry or to raise. So that in that context everyone of a certain age will “raise up their head” to be counted. Meaning of course that each one of us is important, counts and makes an impact on this world. And each one gives a half shekel—rich and poor alike so that no one is counted as something less than who they are. The bar mitzvah will do that today, and I am so proud of him and his family for stepping forward, raising their heads and saying that yes, he matters and can never be marginalized. Such love is inspiring. 

I think that we felt that from the Abayudaya communities. In the face of poverty and conditions that make life more difficult than any of us can imagine, each one seems to stand up and say “count me amongst the Jews of the world.” I think that, (as Jack Chomsky pointed out in a recent article), is one of the things that make their story so inspiring. 

Also in this parashah, when the Israelites give the half shekel for the census, the word used is ונתנו (to give) which is a palindrome. When we give, it goes both ways—both the giver and the receiver are benefactors. I am so inspired by how much each one of our participants gave to go on this trip to Uganda and Kenya. Besides the substantially more than half shekel that each one spent, there was the worry of traveling the roads, dealing with immunizations, and so much more—everyone traveled, as we often say about going to Israel when someone asks, as an act of faith--knowing the dangers involved but still doing it to support Am Yisrael, the people of Israel wherever they are. 

Oh, and BTW, the bar mitzvah’s brother plays banjo—you guessed it, we are going to play music as people enter the sanctuary. He felt shy about doing it, but after we rehearsed yesterday he is psyched. 

Later in the day: 
— the bar mitzvah ceremony was among the most beautiful services that I have ever done. The young man was active, and at times his parents had to get on the floor to speak with him (their speech to him was done on the floor). He did say “amen” to several prayers, and most of all—he got it!! Tears and laughter characterized the morning, but most of all a deep sense of knowing that we all matter—we all can stand up and be counted and make a difference in the world. And in stead of a closing hymn, like adon olam, his brother played the banjo beautifully while I played guitar and sang “Lcha Dodi” to “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes” 
'She' being the Shabbat Queen. Okay so it isn’t Shabbat, but each day is meant to be in preparation for that special day—and today ranks as one of the most special that I have ever experienced.

Uganda Day 6 

On one of my trips to Uganda Dr. Scott Calig, a member of Temple Aliyah, gave me a centrifuge to bring to the newly built Tobin clinic in Mbale—built by the Jewish community and serving the entire community of Mbale. The clinic said that they needed a centrifuge, so Scott and his wife Holly, graciously donated one. I carried it in my suitcase (it was pretty heavy, but my back was good back then). It is still working perfectly 10 years later and has been an important tool to diagnose disease and save peoples lives. I am so proud to have been part of that process, and so very proud of our wonderful Dr. Scott and Holly Calig, who are always so generous in spirit and delightful to be around. 

There is a young woman who works at the clinic’s birthing center, called the Puah and Shirfrah Birthing Clinic at the Tobin facility. Her name is Susan. When I was in Uganda many years ago, she was ill and had to have dialysis. I was carrying donations from our shul and had the exact amount of money that was needed for her treatment. She told me yesterday that the dialysis saved her life. Today she has three beautiful children 
and is a vibrant member of the Abayudaya community. Her sisters, Bina and Boya, Dafnah and Igaal Sizomu recalled with genuine love and heartfelt words the times that I visited them through the years and sang songs that they never ever forgot—including I’m So Happy, Today is Shabbat! I recall them dancing in the small living smiling and laughing. One of things that make life so meaningful. 

Speaking of meaningful, after davening a beautiful fusion shaharit (morning service) filled with Ashkenazi and Abayudaya music. We realized that today was the World Wide Wrap—a day that Conservative Jews from all over the world celebrate the mitzvah of tefillin. And there we were in Africa!!!!! How perfect. 

Then we presented a Torah to the community, brought by Cantor Jerry Berkowitz from Milwaukee. We marched the Torah under the chuppah from the guest house to the synagogue where the new Torah met the other sifrei Torah and kissed each other under the chutzpah. We marched in to the sanctuary singing an Abayauday melody for Psalm 24 and after reading from the new Torah parshat Ha’azinu first in Hebrew and then in the very first Abayudaya melody ever composed in Luganda, the local language. 

After that, we presented our other gifts both religious and ritual objects and musical instruments. I was proud to present a trombone, trumpet and violin, all donated by Jeff Goldsmith owner of West Valley Music who always is so generous to all communities. 

Have an easy late afternoon and evening and maybe a chance to catch up on rest.

Kenya First installment  

Travel from Mbale to Kasuku with Jeremy Stein was long and arduous. But I am so glad to have made it. I miss my beautiful family and I miss my colleagues, but seeing the mountains of Kenya, Mount Kenya, the lakes and the completely different terrain was very inspiring. And then, meeting the Kehillat Kasuku congregation, Yehuda and his father Yosef, the leaders, brought me back to 2007 when I first visited Nabagoya. A brand new perspective, new people, new ideas, new ways of worshipping the One God. Once again, as in 2007, I am met by people who have a deeply spiritual connection to Judaism—the middle of the countryside of East Africa. Yehuda, as was told to me by Harriet Bograd, president of Kulanu, is a brilliant and responsible community leader—the word mensch was invented for him. His father, Yosef, is a strong prayer leader, spiritual leader and teacher—but he is also a sponge who wants to soak up every bit of Jewish knowledge that is possible. We had a wonderful few hours around Shabbat mincha time when I taught him about the rituals of Saturday afternoon—prayer and Torah reading. We went on to talk about the Shema, and rolled the kehillat’s paper Torah (they do not yet afford a real Torah) to the place in Deuteronomy where it appears and showed him the large ayin at the end of the word shema and the large dalet at the end of the word echad. He beamed upon learning how a different spelling would change the meaning and how the ayin and dalet spell the Hebrew word ayd which means witness. Every time we read the shema when we close our eyes we should feel that we were standing there with every other Jew receiving Torah. He said “I am there!” Lunch at Yosef’s home was delicious and we spent a good hour after dinner discussing Torah. The question of Nidah and women’s issues, and the difference between Ashkenaz and Sephardic traditions and the idea that we should be able to have disagreements as long as our argument is for the “sake of heaven.” Jeremy brought up Hillel and Shammai and I brought ilu v’ilu “this AND this” are correct. We are a great team—it is a pleasure doing this work together. In terms of nidah (the time when a woman is menstruating) and permission to do certain activities such as attending synagogue brought up issues of woman’s health and access to needed supplies. It was brought up that young women will not go to school if they do not have the proper supplies during that time. Of course, our belief is that women are always welcome in the synagogue, and yes, they should have proper access to hygienic supplies. As I sat in Yosef’s house, I thought to myself how fortunate I am to be sitting in the modest home of a Kenyan Jew, eating carefully prepared food and discussing Torah. What a blessing. 

There are countless other moments of teaching that took place on Shabbat morning and afternoon. The community asked for songs for Purim and an explanation of the rituals. Jeremy Stein and I taught songs and had a blast joking around and setting the mood for Purim. The children of the community had questions about how they should answer questions from other students about their Judaism. One was about baptism and the fact that Jews are immersed in a ritual bath upon conversion (and at other times). I told the young man to tell the questioner, who insisted that our practice was Christian in origin to ask his priest how long before Jesus Jews were immersing in the mikveh. Hopefully he will get the honest answer from his religious leaders. Other students asked about prayer ritual—every question was deeply meaningful and showed a genuine interest in Jewish practice. 

The services in the morning were an interesting mix of Sephardic, Abayudaya and Ashkenazic mix of melodies and prayer style. They really wanted to show us what they do, so that we can guide them in small ways in areas that at least in their minds, improve. Jeremy read the first aliyah from the paper Torah, and the rest were read by Yosef in Swahili. I chanted the haftarah. 

By the way, it is very cool here in the mountains. A great relief from the 90 degrees of Uganda. In fact, I have borrowed a jacket from Yehuda for the evening time. Last night we chanted havdallah under the Kenyan sky.

Kenya Second post  

Kenya Installment 2 

Sitting at JFK watching a flight to LAX leave before my eyes—but I booked a later flight so that if the connection went badly I could make it. So I sit here, longing to get back but also afforded the time to do some writing. I am so glad that I decided to travel with my now traveling pal Jeremy to Kenya. He had developed a relationship between his Milwaukee congregation and Kehillat Kasuku in the Ol Kalou district when Yehuda, the son of Yosef, one of the founding elders of the community visited Jeremy’s synagogue. For me it was, as I mentioned, 2007 all over again—the first year that I visited the Abayudaya in Mbale. Yehuda’s community was all new to me—and I was blown away by their commitment to Judaism, their passion, their music and their optimism. Shabbat as I described was a full day of active learning and sharing. Sunday was filled with recording, interviews and more learning. We finished the day with dancing—I played the violin, and Jeremy taught everyone to dance Zemer Atik—to say that it was magical is not enough. There are no words. To record the children singing Hatikvah, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav and Al Kol Eleh in perfect Hebrew with strong earnest voices was an experience that will stay with me forever. Jeremy said to me “how could Israel even consider these children to not be Jews!—we should send a recording to Netanyahu.” What was even more amazing was the adult community singing their songs in Kikuyu, the language of their tribe!! They sing psalms and other pieces including one about crossing the Sea of Reeds—so perfect for our Haggadah project. What is even more interesting is that these songs originated in the Messianic Church that was their original home. They substituted Adonai for Yeshu (Jesus) and made the content fit the theology of Judaism. The elders, such as Yosef, were originally Messianic Jews, but when the church in Kasuku approached the Israeli Embassy in Kenya for recognition as Jews, they of course learned that being Jewish does not include the belief that the Messiah had come. This inspired Yosef to break away from the Messianic Church because he wanted to be truly Jewish and worship the one true God. He inspired founders of the community, including a wonderful couple, Avraham and Sarah (no coincidence that they picked these names upon converting) to reject Jesus and begin worshipping according to the Jewish tradition. They sought the help of Rabbi Gershom who visited and was impressed—now the group is officially a part of the Abayudaya community, and all themselves Abayudaya. They are totally egalitarian, but are eager to learn from whichever Jewish sources are available. There are three prominent ways that they learn: 1. The Jewish Congregation of Nairobi 2. The Abayudaya Congregation and Rabbi Gershom and 3. YouTube. 
Now they will have number 4—The Cantors Assembly. Already Jeremy and I created YouTube videos to teach them songs for Purim and others. 

We are also launching a campaign to do a few things that are very important to the community. A Torah is being donated to them, and we are going to provide funding for a mahogany ark. I also talked to Yehudah about registering the community with the Kenyan government—this provides legitimacy and provides the ability to have a bank account. We are also going to help with creating NGO status so that donators can receive the tax credit. 

There is so much to do. To teach, to provide, to help the community survive in a place where there is poverty and lack of access to so many things that we take for granted. I like that Yehuda wants to create a musical project that can be sold and bring in funds for the community. We can provide only so much, and we need to create ways to sustain the Jews of Kenya. 

Look for Jeremy Stein and Mike Stein to put out info on fund raising for the ark and the registration. Of course, this may turn out to be a competition amongst Steins—and I know that my friends and congregation won’t let me down!! 

Oh, and yes, we went on a walking safari yesterday -- will post some photos --FUN!!!

Finding my "Voice" 

So now you know what I was doing doing during part of my vacation in June and July.  I was in sequestration in a hotel in Los Angeles near the Universal studios for almost three weeks. To get there I had to pass two major auditions in Los Angeles, in a process that auditioned talent  all over the country.  And after 45,000  people auditioned 103 of us found ourselves living together in what we called “music camp!”  Every step of the process was secret, for that is the nature of “reality” television.  I told my wife Kelley that it was like going to an Ivy League school — you might be a star in your own town, but once you get there, every one is a genius.  That’s the way it was. And it truly inspired me.  You know the article in the Jewish Journal which was very accurate except for my wife’s name (does anyone have a spare couch? LOL) quoted me as saying that I always thought of myself as a musician who sings.  Well guess what? That changed in the three weeks that I prepared for the show.  We had wonderful coaches and producers who worked with us—and every moment of every day people were singing in the lobby, around the pool, in the parking lot, in the restaurant—that is the sign of a true singer—you don’t stop—ever!  I was that way with my musical instruments.  I always joke that you have to have a fanatical stage—and I did.  I am surprised that my musician sons still have hearing-I practiced for hours and hours when they were very young sitting in front of me.  So what did I sing when I was sequestered?  Yes I sang with my peeps around the pool, etc., but in my hotel room I sang songs from our tradition. I had an anthology for the High Holy Days, I had Yiddish songs that I was working on and just plain traditional Hazzanut.  Why? Because I knew that working on that music would be fulfilling and force me to work on my craft, which is being a Hazzan, first and foremost. 

I don’t know if you noticed a change, but I did on the Yamim Nora’im.  I sang with confidence and with purpose, not just the words and the prayerful content in my heart and mind, but with the mindset of a singer whose desire to perform hiddur hamitzvah, beautifying the mitzvah was in my thoughts.  I thought of myself as a singer.  I had spent a good deal of time working on my craft and when it was time to step on to the stage of the television studio, kippah on my head and tzitzit underneath my shirt, I was the complete person.  I did not even notice that the judges had not turned around. I did what I always do—I got in to it and did the best job that my vocal instrument allowed me to do. 


So “Aizeh ashir?….Hasameach b’chelko?” (Ethics of our Fathers 4:1)  Who is rich?  One who is happy with his portion.  I went on the Voice because an agent called.  My family encouraged me to do it—and I am glad I did.  It felt good getting those two callbacks—like I felt when I was a kid auditioning for Broadway shows.  But when I was young I could not find substance in what I was doing—singing other people’s songs and devoting time to issues that were not important to me.  So I struggled and had great success as a writer of children’s music.  I loved to teach and singing that material had meaning and instilled a love for music and thirst for knowledge in so many young people.  Then I re-discovered my Judaism and became a cantor, singing the music that I grew up with and always heard in my head.  This created the opportunity to sing about values and ideas that are very very close to my heart.  I am so rich, so completely satisfied with what I do in the community, with the many opportunities to be close to people, to help, to counsel to teach and to inspire.  My ego was stroked by being on television, but my deep sense of worth is enhanced daily by my work in the Jewish community. And not to mention by the loving reaction of so many to my appearance on the show.  An overwhelming response of “they should have turned their chairs, but remember that we love you!” —from adults and children alike. What else is there to reach for?  Okay I wouldn’t mind a contract with Universal studios.  But for now, which holiday is next—OH YEAH— HANUKKAH and my friend Peter Yarrow!  Don’t miss it, December 14— LIGHT ONE CANDLE!

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