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 visiting my site and be sure to join my mailing list.

Blog #6: God Neither Sleeps nor Slumbers 

Guess I'll try anything to find spirituality. When I was younger, so much younger than today, I searched for meaning in different worship and meditation forms. I became what is known as a Jew-boo, finding spirituality in chanting and soaring towards nirvana. When I was young, even though I loved Judaism, it left me with a lot of information and no skills to find God. So I chanted Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, with my legs crossed in the lotus position. I also really loved Ram Dass' Be Here Now ("We're fascinated by the words--but where we meet is in the silence behind them.").

So after years of searching, I went to Danbury, Conn., where my parents had a little cabin and where my mother spent her last days of life. I went down to the lake, swam to a rock, got in the lotus position, and started chanting. I guess in facing my mother's imminent death, I wanted some way to enter a place of calm and connection with the universe. As I was chanting, I realized that the Buddhist mantra's quick chanting was really no different from davening--(speedily saying the Hebrew liturgy), and a light bulb went off. Why was I chanting in a language and adopting a culture that I did not truly understand? All of a sudden, like Forrest Gump, I stopped (remember him running across the country?), climbed off the rock, abandoned my search, and went back to square one--my Jewish roots. When my wife Kelley converted, her learning vaulted me further on my Jewish journey. I would go to the hospital in those times and would sing at her bedside.  Eventually I had to leave and go back to DC, and she passed a week later.  I was at the ocean and the moon was full, and as I walked on the beach near Rehobeth, Del., I felt her soul begin her journey.  I wrote a song about her and I am including it in this blog. 

Sometimes when the moon is full  
I remember the night you passed  
Standing at the edge of the ocean  
Like the waves my heart had crashed  

In the moon's soft glow I steal a glimpse of  
The mother I could never replace  
I hear your song in the voice of the sea  
How I love this place  

God neither sleeps nor slumbers  
Hinei lo yanum v'lo yishan  
Neither does a memory fade  
In the darkness of night or the stillness of dawn!  
Esa einai I lift my eyes  
To the Holy One Blessed Be He to the skies  
The light of your love………..never dies  

Every year I light a candle  
Place it in the sand  
When the full moon paints a line  
From horizon to the land    

I tell your story to my children  
They sense your presence here  
I see your beaming face shine down  
As moonbeams draw you  near…..chorus  

As waves of memory wash over us  
Your help is ever flowing  
Ezri Maim Hashem  
We're comforted in knowing

God neither sleeps nor slumbers   
Hinei lo yanum v'lo yishan   
Neither does a memory fade   
In the darkness of night or the stillness of dawn!   
Esa einai I lift my eyes   
To the Holy One Blessed Be He to the skies   
The light of your love………..never dies    
(Tag) I can feel it in the moonlight I can feel it in the ocean  
You live inside my heart.  

I remember when uncle Jule died. It was a fantastic send-off with the world's greatest composers like Marvin Hamlisch and Stephen Sondheim telling humorous stories and relating fond memories. And I went to the private graveside ceremony. I wanted to make sure that someone who knew how to say Kaddish would be there. Margaret (Jule's wife) and Nicky (Jule's son) turned to me and said they were glad that I was there.  I remember Nicky's wedding Jule saying the motzi prayer over bread. He sounded like everyone else in my Eastern European family. My dad, first-generation, my mom, second-generation--aunts, uncles, cousins--I guess the tie that binds us all together is our history and our religion that God-willing will carry on. God neither sleeps nor slumbers!

Blog #5: In the Navy 

One of my students from many years ago sent an email that she has graduated OTS and will now head to Pensacola for more training. Of course, this reminded me of my days in the US Navy and my many trips to Naval Air Station Pensacola. I remember buying a 12 string Takamine guitar there, in one of the many pawn shops which lined the boulevard on the way to the gate. I brought it home and made it into a six-string. I wrote a song about the guitar because I gave it to Jacob to bring to college in New Haven. I wrote a song about him going away, and I didn't realize how affected I was by his leaving home. So I start to cry pretty heavily, and as I was bawling my heart out, my friend Michele called, and she asked what was going on? I had just written the words "every turn of the key is another year gone by," and the idea that Jake was leaving broke my heart. Where did the time go?  I was gone so much when I was in the Navy.  Some weekends the kids asked on Sunday night--was dad home this weekend?  It was constant travel up to 275 dates a year.  

Back to Pensacola, I replied to the young woman who wrote to me and told her the story about one of my experiences flying there.  We were transported on a DC 3, and I remember sitting in the plane on the tarmac, looking out the window and seeing pieces of the aircraft. All of that activity is hidden when you fly commercial (it does not inspire confidence!) Then we were flying in a terrible storm, and because the plane was old, it could not fly above 10,000 feet--so we swayed back and forth, bumped up and down and every which way. I realized then, that I shouldn't worry about flying on a commercial jet--if that plane could fly in that weather, so could anything! 
Anyway many more Broadway, Navy, and hilarious stories to come!  Tune in next time!!

Blog #4: Broadway and Purim 

Purim Day what a happy holiday. Something happened when I was a kid on Purim, either my costume was the problem or the food --I don't have the answer. I only know that it wasn't such a merry time for me. Maybe it is costumes. When I played Peter in Jesus Christ Superstar, I was asked to understudy one of the Pharisees. The backstage crew flew us in standing in the skeleton of some kind of animal--I guess it represented what was past and needed to be updated. The priests wore a very heavy hat, and when I wore it a few times, the hippy, anti-establishment kid in me said, "no, I don't want to do this!" Even though I knew quite well that whoever played this particular role became Judas' understudy. 

It reminded me of when my dad's first cousin Jule Styned said to me, "darling if you want to use the spelling of my name to help your career, you are welcome to do that." Of course the hippy, non-establishment long-haired freak in me said, "No, I want to be real and use the real spelling." More about my wonderful relationship with "uncle" Jule Styne in another segment. 

So this Purim, I felt great! Maybe it was the Zoom feel---meaning not much pressure--I did most of it in advance! It was really lovely. Kelley and I had our Seudah (meal) and drank an entire bottle of wine. I did not know the difference between Haman and Mordechai, and I also did mind wearing a wig and a funny hat. It was a blast. Maybe I have turned a corner in my old age--my hat it has three corners............

Blog #3: Dogs 

I  vividly remember the day I went to the animal shelter in the SFV to look at a poodle that a friend of mine said I had to see.  I went there absolutely sure that I would not take the dog home--it was during the Aseret Y'mei Tshuvah, the days in between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  I was pretty sure that I did not want to deal with a new pet during the most stressful time of the year for cantors.  I often joke that it is our tax time for accountants.  Now, as I think about it, we are reviewing the last year and taking an accounting. Hmmm.  Anyway, I went into the shelter, and this little white poodle immediately jumped up onto my legs and put his paws in my hand.  That was it! Against all rational thinking, Kelley and I brought this little puppy home. It was one of the best decisions of our life--well, maybe besides having Jacob, Justin, and Jared.  

We had trouble naming this little guy. We wanted to name him Napoleon because he scared our 50-pound standard poodle into submission as soon as he entered our home.  But we did not want to have him called Nappy for short. Then we thought about the character Shorty from de Bronx and, with a little change in the spelling, named him Shortie. Still not very politically correct, but that name seemed to stick.   
Why am I writing about him?  Because he is sitting in my lap with his snout on my laptop keyboard.  He is my "therapy dog" because he senses when I need comfort and is right there for me all of the time.  What a blessing.  It feels like a gene in these animals is like a missing link that connects them to human beings. It reminds me of when we lived in Temple Hills, MD. In the parking lot behind our little synagogue, Shaare Tikvah, an entire litter of cats were living on the platform on top of the playground sliding board.  One little kitten got on the sliding board and slid down, landing with a plop on the ground. Once again, Kelley and I said, "no more cats!' But we went back to the shul a few days later. The same kitten got on the sliding board and slid down in the exact same way. Elliot found his way to enter our hearts and the rest was history. 
When I was a child I wanted a dog more than anything in the world.  I will never forget the black lab that we got from the ASPCA who I named Colonel. Unfortunately, training him was too much for my parents and they could not tolerate his barking and needs. Why they brought him home in the first place puzzles me to this very day. They were well intentioned but also short-sighted. They took him back and it completely broke my heart. If you ever wonder why I had up to three dogs living in my house, now you know. As soon as I lived on my own, I got a dog from the ASPCA and named her Mushmouse--more on that another time!   
As I write this, I am hearing that Lady Gaga had her dogs stolen. That is cosmic and I am going to keep real good tabs on Shortie and Uncle Jasper!

Blog #2: Mom and my work 

I am thinking today about when I went to the hospital to get my tonsils out at the age of four, and it seems like the next memory that I had was waking up on my first day of school at PS 133. I can clearly see the gates of the school and feeling my mother’s hand holding mine. She was a kindergarten teacher in NYC, and the very first time I played guitar in public was in her classroom over the summer. She was one of the earliest teachers to participate in the Head Start program in 1965, and she insisted that I come to her classroom to play for the children. Children of all races and economic status. Two things resulted from those trips—a love of teaching and the practice of giving back to the community. My mom worked in that Head Start classroom after an entire year of teaching. There was no money (or very, very little), just the satisfaction of helping kids who needed a “head-start.” In high school, she encouraged me to take my folk music group to play for the patients at Creedmoor Psychiatric Hospital in Queens. Once again, her encouragement led to a love of working with neuro-diverse individuals. I remember very clearly the sights and sounds of that visit, and while a little scary for a young person, I was not discouraged.  It was, in fact, the catalyst for the passion I feel today about advocating for those in need or who do not have a voice.   Thanks, mom—you passed away 43 years ago this summer, but you are still alive in the work that I do. And your grandchildren have taken up the torch!!

Blog #1: The Miracle of Sight 

Sitting with my beautiful granddaughter, who is almost 5 months old. Took her outside to see if the sounds, the sights, and the feel of the wind would stop her fussing.  Instantly the world around her was the distraction that took her mind off of whatever was bothering her. I sat with her and looked out across the backyard to the mountains, looked up to the palm trees blowing in the wind.  We listened to airplanes, and as she looked up in the sky, I remembered. I remembered that when I was born at Kings County Hospital, I was a premie. The doctors had to decide whether to put me in the incubator, but my active and healthy little self convinced them that I did not need it.  As it turns out, all the children in incubators at that time had become visually impaired because the temperature was not monitored correctly. What a blessing for me—and as I watch my little Jazz Glory look at the world around her, I have her to thank for reminding me that the gift of sight is miraculously beautiful.  Every day let's take account of the blessings that accompany us through life. Today the sky never looked bluer, the mountains clearer and the trees greener. Baruch HaShem, thank you God!

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.

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Previous events

Shabbat Miracles

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