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February 03, 1995 - Image 97

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-02-03

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

ETRuscan Fugnyruize

Destos op ITaly

CT.c(usive icuhu_n impoRcs

the United States.
"I never saw or spoke to
Natasha or the Karashkas again.
But my mother didn't let me for-
get them. She always talked
about how marvelous they were
to us."

R

obert Browning, Dante
Rosetti and Anatole
France all had something
to say about her. So did I.L.
Peretz and S.Y. Agnon. And you
can be certain Bella Abzug
wouldn't leave this subject un-
touched.
T iilith was a mystical being de-
scribed in biblical writings and
the frequent subject of East Eu-
ropean folklore (where she often
was portrayed as a seductive de-
mon). She has been the focus of
books, poems and plays. Exactly
how she appears in these writ-
ings is considered in Eve's Jour-
ney: Feminine Images in
Hebraic Literary Tradition
(Wayne State University Press)
by Nehama Aschkenasy.
Ms. Aschkenasy's book ana-
lyzes the many ways Hebrew
writings portray Jewish women,
from Eve to "the collective femi-
nine protagonist." Among the
works she reviews are those by
S.Y. Agnon, Aharon Appelfeld
and A.B. Yehoshua. She also
writes of women in the Bible:
Deborah and Judith are strong
women, who, in their resource-
fulness and charisma, save their
people from brutal tyrants. Yet
these two women's inner strength
stems from the firm confidence of
people who dwell on their own
land, and are called upon to pro-
tect their territory from a foreign
intruder. But as the fate of the
Jewish people changes and their
existence becomes more precari-
ous, the feminine strategy for sur-
vival is no longer spirited
militancy, but passive, yet tena-
cious endurance.

I

he rabbi was flanked on the
left by men in guns. On his
right were men with guns.
Behind him: men with

guns.
That's how it started that day
at the Riker's Island New York
City jail, where the rabbi, active
with the Lubavitch Youth Orga-
nization's prison outreach pro-
gram, was a visitor.
When he met with a group of
Jewish inmates, the rabbi told a
story about a song. It was called
"Shpoler Zeide's Niggun," and it
was no ordinary song.
Niggun: Stories Behind the
Chasidic Songs That Inspire
Jews (Jason Aronson), by
Mordechai Staiman, tells 38 re-
markable stories behind niggu-
nim (Jewish tunes that
accompany prayers).
There are tales of niggunim
that saved Jews from the Nazis,
of a tune that so touched com-
poser Leonard Bernstein that, for
the first time, he picked up tefill-

Leonard Bernstein was so smitten with
a niggun that he decided to put on
tefillin.

in, and the tale of the "Shpoler
Zeide's Niggun."
The story begins with Reb
Aryeh Leib, an 18th-century rab-
bi from Shpola in the Ukraine.
Known as the Shpoler Zeide, he
was said to be passionately com-
mitted to helping all Jews.
According to legend, Reb
Aryeh was determined to save
the life of a certain Jew who had
been thrown into a pit for not
paying his taxes. The man's one
chance of escape was to appear
before the Cossacks and outdance
a carefully selected competitor.
(Tithe Jew fell first, he was killed.
If the competitor was the first to
go down, the Jew was allowed to
live.)
After he heard of this, the Sh-
poler Zeide had a dream in which
Elijah the prophet came, teach-
ing him an extraordinary dance
and a remarkable tune certain to
outwit the Jew's competitor.
The story goes that Reb Aryeh
managed to switch places with
the man in the well, then ap-
peared before the Cossacks.
When he started singing the nig-
gun Elijah had taught him,
everyone began singing and danc-
ing. Finally, the Shpoler Zeide's
competitor fell, and the Jew,
whose place the rabbi had thken,
was allowed to go free.
That's when the rabbi at Rik-
er's Island began to sing the Sh-
poler Zeide's niggun. The
prisoners soon joined in.
Later, author Mordechai
Staiman writes, the rabbi would
say, "Some of these Jews hardly
had spent more than five minutes
with another Jew outside. Nev-
ertheless, in this long-silent room
with a heart, their Jewish spark
was kindled, and they all were
thoroughly involved in this dance
with me...these people were danc-
ing around and around and
around and around, and some-
body shouted, 'Hey, I think I see
the Shpoler Zeide in the circle op-
posite me'...There was no doubt
these inmates were being
touched by the hand of God." ❑

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