From Broadway to cantor, Mike Stein competes on NBC’s ‘The Voice, JEWISH JOURNAL, September 2014

From Broadway to cantor, Mike Stein competes on NBC’s ‘The Voice’

by Cyndi Bemel

2 days ago

<em>Chazzan Mike Stein will be competing on “The Voice.” Photo by Cyndi Bemel.</em>

Chazzan Mike Stein will be competing on “The Voice.” Photo by Cyndi Bemel.

Chazzan Mike Stein never really considered himself a singer, but rather, he said, an instrumentalist who sings. But when an agent called and invited him to audition for the upcoming seventh season of NBC’s TV hit singing competition “The Voice,” something within him that had lain dormant since his teen years on the Broadway stage was ignited once again. 

“I don’t think that I would have done it if somebody hadn’t approached me. Up until the day of the audition, I thought, ‘Why am I doing this?’ My wife and sons are the ones who said, ‘Dad, you should do this for yourself.’ ”

And they were right, Stein, 62, admits now: “There is a deep sense of satisfaction in this business that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s a totally different kind of satisfaction than what I get being a cantor — it’s total ego, and I really enjoyed every minute.”  

Bound by contractual silence, in a recent interview Stein, a Grammy winner and, since 2000, chazzan at the Conservative Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, had to tip-toe around sharing any stories of his TV experience. He is the first cantor to appear on the show — there have been a few music ministers, and a nun once won the “Voice” competition in Italy. Stein entered into the process openly displaying his affiliation, he said. “I was representing the Jewish people. I insisted that I could wear a yarmulke, and I talked about being Jewish a lot, in almost every interview.” At his first audition, Stein sang Romemu from the Friday night service, and he added a yodel to it. “I just want to be the Matisyahu [Jewish rapper] of country music,” Stein said with a laugh.

Stein has been singing since he was a young boy growing up in New York. One of his favorite things was going to the synagogue and listening to his cantor sing in the classical chazzanut style. In third grade, Stein started to play the violin and later picked up the guitar when the Beatles came to America. Even though his mother was a pianist and his great-uncle was the famous Broadway-musicals composer Jule Styne (“Funny Girl,” “Gypsy”), his parents weren’t supportive of his passion. “My parents didn’t want me to be a singer or actor, anything in the entertainment business — for them, that was a failure. The older actors on Broadway that I met became my surrogate parents; they adopted me. … Later, I learned from this, and that’s why my children have 300 percent of my support in the arts,” said Stein. 

At 16, he entered Queens College, majoring in drama. He soon left to pursue a career in acting. It was really tough; he recalled living in a condemned building on the Lower East Side, selling everything in order to eat and sweeping floors in hopes of landing some kind of opportunity. Stein’s first break on Broadway came as part of the chorus in the rock opera “Soon.” Then, at 19, he landed a spot in the original cast of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and toured in the original road show of the rock opera “Tommy.” Then his journey took a detour. 

“I felt that all the things I was doing on Broadway were amazing, but they didn’t have the substance for me. I left my career and went to live on a farm in Pennsylvania with my girlfriend, and we lived like hippies and grew our own food,” he said.

Eventually, Stein moved back to civilization and landed in Washington, D.C., doing street theater, entertaining people as they waited in lines for museums. It was there that he met his wife, Shelley (a trained opera singer); they married and started a family. (They now have three very musically talented, now-adult sons — Jacob, Justin and Jared — and a family band called the “Rolling Steins.”)

While in D.C., Stein also auditioned for the United States Navy Band, which needed a fiddle player at the time. Stein played with that band for 17 years, including numerous concerts at the White House, performing for four presidents, as well as around the world. 

In the mid 1980s, Stein attended a Jewish music festival, where he met Cantor Arnold Saltzman, which turned out to be a pivotal moment in his life. He went on to study with Saltzman, and soon after answered an ad for a synagogue looking for a cantor on Friday nights — Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Md. That’s where his career as a cantor got its start, and he moved from there to Temple Aliyah in 2000. 

“Being a cantor is an amazing privilege,” Stein said. “I try to help people find another entrance into the synagogue through music. It helps them look at Judaism as something that they can participate in. … I enjoy being invited into people’s lives, in all stages of life, and being entrusted with their emotions.” 

With the High Holy Days just around the corner, Stein noted, “It’s a great time. When I start on the first night, that first phrase that I sing in front of the ark emotionally opens me up in a place of awe and thankfulness. I work hard [at] not letting it feel like pressure, like work; and it is work. We do avodah — avodah is worship, and it’s the same word for work. Yom Kippur feels like a marathon, because I am very weak by the end; it’s hard.”

A few days before the holidays begin, Stein will be getting another call from “The Voice,” this one to let him know when his performances will be airing during the premiere week of Sept. 22. 

Being on “The Voice,” he said, “gave me a lot of confidence and made me realize that I am worth a lot more than I think I am. It made me feel that I have so much to give, and people are ready to listen and accept what I have to give. … It gave me a big lift.” 

Good luck, Chazzan Stein. We’ll be watching. 

Blog #12: NYC in the late 60’s 



I found myself looking back with great affection to the time that the acting bug first hit. In 1966-67, a program called "The Workshop" that the NYC Department of Parks offered.  Thousands of youth auditioned, and I was one of 25 that were accepted.  Attached is an article and below an excerpt from the NYC archives: 

"The Workshop, under the direction of Gordon Duffey of the Parks Department will present two full length plays this season. The plays produced will be one musical play and two short operas for children. One play is an original musical   Asterisk on the Moon! (book and lyrics by Gordon Duffey, music by Edward Mannato). This play will be for younger children. There will also be performances of two short operas for older children,. "He Who Says Yes" and "He Who Says No" (librettos by Bertholt Brecht, music by Kurt Weill). In addition, weekly sessions in creative drama, jazz forms and movement, singing and acrobatics for the stage will be held for all children who register for the Workshop. Registration for participation in the Gimbels-Parks Department Theater Workshop will take place in Gimbels 6th Floor  Any school child in New York (from grades 1 through 12) may register for the Workshop and audition for one of the two productions." 

Yes, rehearsal was on the 6th floor of the Gimbels Department store.  My parents did not want me to go, but I made it work--I had to pay for the subway and bus fare. I want to think that their resistance was because rehearsals were on Shabbes, but I am confident that their wish for me to be a doctor was more substantial than their desire to make me Shabbat observant.  In 1966  I was 15 and in my last year of high school.  Most students would have been 17 or 18, so perhaps that was also part of the equation.  Anyway, that is why I support every artistic endeavor that my three sons pursue.  Even when I was on Broadway, to my parents, I was a failure.  It's taken years to wipe that from my memory or at least to deal with it positively.  

Anyway, getting into the NYC Theater Workshop was a fantastic achievement that filled me with pride.   We did Bertholt Brecht's "He Who Says Yes" in the style of Japanese Noh Theater.  I will never forget how we centered our bodies, crouched almost in a sitting position, and moved our legs in a stylized way. I had played Petruchio in Kiss Me Kate in high school, but this was in walking distance with Broadway, just about 20 blocks away--in the big city!   

I started Queens College in 1968 and was hugely disappointed that I was not allowed to even apply for anywhere else (where I could get away from the rents).  Tuition was free, and I lived at home and majored in drama. I got to work with Stacy Keach (who was with La Mama at that time) and director Gene Frankel (director Tony award-winning "Indians"). When I got a part in an off-broadway show, forced to decide-- school or working actor, I left school. The show was called "Heat" and workshopped at the Public Playhouse where "Hair" originated. I got my first review in a show called "Contributions," where the reviewer panned the show but loved the actor who moved the scenery with flair (me).  
In 1969 I was accepted to the  Lake Placid Playhouse Summerstock company, where I played in many shows, including a "Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Forum" and "Showboat."  The most impressive memory of that summer was watching the moon landing. What a huge step for humankind! Mind-blowing to a kid who watched a NASA representative tell us all about the project at a school assembly in 1964!

Blog #11: A True Feast of Freedom!!  

For me this year, preparing for Pesach, Passover, is not only about cleaning. It’s also about putting together the finishing touches for the Cantors Assembly "A True Feast of Freedom" Haggadah. Based on the experiences of a Cantors Assembly trip to Uganda to support the Abayudaya and celebrate the community’s 100 years of existence, it tells the story of Idi Amin's overthrow on the 14th of Nisan, the very day that Pesach begins. After eight years of terror and living underground as Jews, the Pesach of 1979 was spent in the open, a true celebration of freedom from the despotic Pharoah, Idi Amin. 

Our trip was in 2019, and it has been a two-year journey to finishing this project, including spoken word and music. Every time I edit the piece, I think of something I might have left out or could improve. Sometimes you just have to let it go! (Now I hear my beautiful grandchildren singing in my head! Thank you, “Frozen.”) 

Still, I worry there will not be matzah or wine at the seder table of the Abayudaya this year. Usually, they are provided by travelers who visit the area, but that is not the case in this pandemic. Flash—just got a message from Gershom that they procured what they need! I also recently heard from one of the Abayudaya’s Stern Synagogue prayer leaders, whom I teach, that he is ill and cannot get the medical care he needs. A COVID test costs 250,000 UGX, which is about $70 USD. The average salary of a Ugandan worker is $17,000 a year, which prices the COVID test at a little over 20 percent of a weekly salary! 

(I keep thinking—what if they had a manufacturing business that made a finished product that could be sold to the world market? It’s done with great success in other developing countries.) 

This Pesach, let us be grateful for the things we have. There is a quote from the Abayudaya’s Rabbi Gershom in our Haggadah that “food is not obvious even on this holiday.” He suggests we put aside food, give to pantries, and understand the process of farm to table. We are encouraged to plant bitter herbs for next year's seder to catch a small glimpse of what it takes to live in an agricultural society. And can you pass a 40-pound jug of water around the table? Imagine what young children and their mothers are asked to carry every day from the borehole well to the table. 

This year, think of what you can give. Not just money (although that’s always helpful), but more importantly, time—the time to take action that will help bring future success to this spiritually thriving but financially struggling Jewish community and others like it that, despite their living circumstances, continue to live Jewish lives. I can't wait for you to hear the music and read our Ugandan brothers and sisters' words.

Blog #10: The Muse  

Betzalel was the artist endowed with Ruach Elohim, the spirit of God, who was tasked with using his talent to build the tabernacle in the desert. I have always understood the concept of a holy spirit, but not until now have I really looked at the name Betzalel and broken it down. 

B'tzel, (in the shadow of) El (God). “In the shadow of God." 

If there is one belief that I can truly grasp about the Holy One's existence, it is the universe's fluid harmony. Every minute of every day, I feel connected to this wavelength of creation that’s present in everything: the sounds of all that surround me, sometimes even images that create a vibration of being. According to Hassidism, there is life in everything, and this life creates a pulse. When I hook into this pulse -- singing, playing an instrument, even hearing the subtle hum of a fan -- I am in awe. 

This Heschel-ian radical amazement is my channel to reaching spiritual heights. It is, for me, ruach Elohim. It happens when I close my eyes to play as my fingers find that spot on the fingerboard. It happens when I sing on behalf of the congregation to the living God. It happens when I walk outside and hear a bird sing or even the rhythm of a jackhammer. 

When we first moved to California, my younger sons would throw jam sessions at our house that started late (and LOUD) at night. Eventually, I had to get to sleep. I would get in bed, close my eyes, and if the drummer was not playing in time, it would keep me awake -- not the loud banging but the varying interpretation of time. However, if an even louder drummer (how could that possibly be?) would play in time, I slept like a baby! 

I remember when I realized that the music was in me. In third grade at PS 133 in Queens, I was given the choice either to take an arts and crafts class in model making or to play the violin in the orchestra. I chose the model-making class. About a month later, I came home crying because I was so bored. My parents got me into the orchestra, and my love affair with music began. 

Attached to this blog is a picture I drew in kindergarten that my parents kept for years. Clearly, the muses had already conscripted me. 

So it is in the shadow of God, in that ever-present pulse, that my creativity resides. It may not be God -- who really knows? -- but I do know it is a unifying force that transcends all.

Blog #9: Soon too Soon  


"Soon" is the first Broadway musical I ever appeared in. And it opened and closed soon – too soon: after three days. I had worked for the director in a theater company on East 4th Street where I literally swept the floors and did a little acting. He got a chance to direct “Soon,” and he hired me. I guess hard work pays off! It was spectacular for me to be in a Broadway show when I was still a teenager. I worked with Peter Allen, Barry Bostwick, Richard Gere, Nell Carter, Vicki Sue Robinson (Disco Fame), Joe Butler (Lovin' Spoonful), and Marta Heflin. I was in love with Marta Heflin, but she was much older than me (probably 30, but that seemed ancient). She was charming but made it clear that I was just a kid. Joe Butler and I hung around a bit. I was blown away when he invited me to his loft in the village to play music and see his recording studio. But what was truly impressive was that he had recently bought the place from John Lennon. 

I have a funny story. I forgot that a very famous actor was in “Soon;” it was probably one of his first plays. Many years later, Kelley and I went to see the movie “Chicago.” Richard Gere walks down the stairs -- and I recognized his walk! I had seen him in many movies, but I’d never made the connection until then. I checked the “Playbill” for “Soon,” and there was his name directly above mine! 

I was not out of work long because, lucky for me, the agent who was casting “Prettybelle” was in the audience. Word was already out that “Soon” would close, soon, so she was scouting performers. “Prettybelle” became my next show. 

After that, I started performing in backer’s auditions for a show called “Inner City Mother Goose.” The director was the great Tom O'Horgan. (More about him later.) I will never forget being in the living rooms of very wealthy people all over the city who might be interested in funding this show. The amount of money it cost to raise a show back then is equal to the cost today for a couple of Orchestra seats to “Hamilton.” Not really, but compared to today, it was laughably cheap back then to mount a show. 

It was actually in the first show that cost a million dollars to produce, called “Dude,” directed by the very same Tom O'Horgan. One of the singers in the troupe who was doing the backer’s auditions gave me some excellent advice. He wanted to mentor me in the art of singing pop music, so he asked, "Why do you sing with so much vibrato?" I answered that my only reference was the cantor in my synagogue. I wanted to sound like him. So this singer worked with me, and now it’s really funny: people tell me I’m a cantor who sings like a Broadway artist. Oh well, what goes around....

Blog #8: Prettybelle   

Energy-we believe that we need to light the fire, wind the springs and halfway explode out of the starting gate to get things done. Once we learn that we don't need all of that extra force, we realize that we can begin less intensely, and we will go farther on less fuel. I am amazed at how much fuel I still have.

It was 50 years ago. My second Broadway show never made it to the Great Bright Way (thanks Whoopi) and closed out of town at the Shubert Theater in Boston. So it was Friday, and my answering service (remember those) called me to let me know that rehearsal, instead of starting at 11 am, was going to start at 9 am instead. I never checked my messages, so when I woke up at 9 am and called in, I freaked! I got dressed as quickly as I could, jumped on the subway and got to the Japanese Theater on 96th St and Broadway for rehearsal. The old movie theater had all of the seats taken out and became a rehearsal venue for Broadway shows. 

The show, called Prettybelle, was written by my second cousin, whom I called “Uncle” Jule Styne. My Actors Equity name was Michael Jason. There was another Michael Stein in the union and two people could not have the same name. When I signed the contract for my first Broadway show, "Soon," at the Equity office, I arrived at 4:15 pm thinking that the office was open until 5. I found out at that time that I had to change my name in a couple of minutes!! I tried Michael David (my middle name), David Michaels--on and on, and no success. So I went out to the lobby and looked in the phone book--it was one of those classic wooden ones with the accordion door and hanging phone book. Then I remembered that my high school girlfriend, Beth Bender and I decided that if we had a child , we would name him Jason. So I went back to the office. "Michael Jason," I inquired. "Yes, that seems to be available," they replied and hence the name. 

I am telling you this because when I was asked to play a role in "Prettybelle" with Angela Lansbury (I was her musical conscience), the agent who saw me in Soon hired me on the spot for the role. So my Uncle Jule at first had no idea that I was in the show. 

Back to my story. I am running into the rehearsal hours late, crossing the vast, empty orchestra with no seats--everyone is watching--Jule Styne, Angela Lansbury, Bob Merrill, Gower Champion (choreographer), and Charlotte Rae (more about her another time). I run up the steps to the stage and fall flat on my face!! Everyone laughed--and I suppose that they felt sorry for this rookie kid. No one was upset, but boy, were they amused!! I think at first they thought that I was a fantastic slapstick artist-- no, just clumsy. BTW, the recording of Prettybelle is available on the Original Cast Recordings label. 

Just a reminder that when you get all wound up you get all shook up.  Bye for now!

Blog #7: Theodore Bikel z"l 


Today was an exceptional day. I was invited to be part of a panel that celebrated the legacy of Theodore Bikel z"l, called Remembering Theodore Bikel sponsored by the UCLA Milliken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience and Hillel. Theo and I become very close after I moved to LA. I met him at a Jewish festival in Chicago when I was playing fiddle with Craig Taubman. The morning after the festival was over, I came down to breakfast, and Theo was sitting all alone. I had played fiddle with him the day before, and we spoke musician talk--but now I would have to talk with him in another language. I was very nervous because he was my hero, an icon to me--and I really don't like to talk that much anyway. But he invited me to sit with him, and we had a lovely talk. What a warm and wonderful man. That was about 1995. In 2000 when I moved to LA, I was invited to a jam session at Severyn Ashkenazy's home, and Theo was there. We not only resumed our musical conversation but we became very close friends. He loved my wife Kelley and the boys, and we started to have regular jam sessions. He even came to my house for a bluegrass jam. We also did a concert at the American Jewish University called Jewgrass!! Anyway, at the soirees at Severyn's and other places, we would stay till all hours of the night, and Theo would tell stories that kept us in stitches--it was like a dream come true for me. When I first got to LA, I gave him a call. He wasn't home but left me a voice message. I did not erase that message for many years--My idol was speaking to me, and that voice---THAT voice warmed my soul.   

When Theo met Aimee, she made sure that I continued to be involved in his life, and as his health deteriorated, I was there with him more and more. I sang at his wedding to Aimee--and my sons played as well. For his 90th birthday, I produced a concert at the Saban Theater with Aimee. It was spectacular--with Peter Yarrow, Arlo Guthrie, Frank London, Lorin Sklamberg, Craig Taubman, Tom Paxton, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, the Life Choir and of course the Stein boys!   

Theo and I felt like father and son. He said some very touching things to me and I knew that our relationship was extraordinary. He love my wife Kelley and my sons, and he wanted to become an honorary "Rolling Stein." 

In the year before he died, I produced a two-CD set-one spoken word the other music, including two new pieces that we recorded in his home. I co-produced this with Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer for Red House Records. I spent hours in his living room, asking him questions and recording his story. He let me use his very special guitar which was made for him in Spain. This instrument had been silent for years. I tuned it up, but the nylon strings didn't want to cooperate. I did my best to keep it tuned, and as Theo sang, I sat in front of him and prompted him. Here was my idol, a master guitarist and singer, and I was his guide. I was playing guitar for him! I was counting the beats and reminding him of the words. It was an act of love on both of our parts--it was like taking his hand and walking him on the path. It is one of the fondest memories of my life.  

Years back, I had traveled to NYC to the funeral of his wife, Tamara Brooks. I sang the memorial prayer, and I know that he loved me being there to honor her memory. I think that I was the only person from the west coast to come. When our beloved Theo passed, I officiated at his funeral. His faithful friend, Peter Yarrow, sang, and I did my best to eulogize the most incredible human being, performer, writer and activist, that the world has ever known. It has been challenging to tell this story since his death. I still listen to the tapes of our interviews, and I get choked up. Today's event felt different, magical, and freed me up to move on. I will listen to his voice, and I will not feel sad, only grateful and joyful for knowing this great man who lived every minute of life to the fullest and graced mine.

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!


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So proud to have my song “Sound the Great Shofar for Freedom” as a semi finalist in the Unsigned Only song writing competition. While you are viewing the YouTube subscribe to my station--thanks