Hockey Schtick Night’s big stars – besides the Coyotes, that is

Consider the Arizona Coyotes and gefilte fish, could there be two more incongruous images? One is a wild animal that can inflict pain and the other a Jewish culinary tradition that satisfies Passover appetites.

Well, they’re teaming up, sort of, for Hockey Schtick night, the Coyotes’ annual outreach to the Jewish community. It’s taking place this Thursday, Dec. 11, at the newly renamed Gila River Arena in Glendale. The highlight, of course, is the game between the ‘Yotes and the Nashville Predators, which starts at 7 p.m. The game will be preceded indoors by the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Cantor Melissa Berman of Congregation Or Tzion.

But for Yehudie and the Gefilte Fish, the highlight of their musical career might well be their appearance outside the arena playing Jewish music for passers-by and avid Coyotes fans before the game.

“We’re thrilled,” says Michael Alexander, the band’s “de facto leader.” “We got connected up to Hockey Schtick Night through our member Jason Kaller  who does some business together with Dan Berman (who helped set up the special discount tickets for the Hockey Schtick game, see details below). We’re thrilled that Dan reached out to us and asked if we could participate.”

The band’s Thursday gig will run from about 5:30 p.m. to 6:50 or so, Alexander says, to give people time to get into the arena for the game.

So we had to ask first thing, we know there’s Yehuda brand gefilte fish, but isn’t the band name a reference to a once-hotter-than-a-comet rock band known as Hootie and the Blowfish?

“Yes,” says “de facto leader” Michael Alexander, chuckling. “There are people that don’t get that reference. We thought it was catchy, so I hope it is catchy and not confusing. We thought about spelling it Yehootie, but it didn’t quite make it, and the Yehudie business card is printed now.”

The group started when Alexander and two other congregants at Temple Kol Ami starting playing with the congregational rock band that plays monthly at Cafe Kol Ami events. The group’s current lineup started in 2013 and played its first gig at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center’s open house that August.

The current lineup and their affiliations are:  Alexander on keyboards and vocals, Jason Kaller on drums and David Manley on guitar and vocals, all from Kol Ami;  Josh Ornstein on bass and Keyle Kosowsky on vocals (the band’s first female member recently joined), both from Temple Solel; and David “DR” Rosenfeld on lead guitar, from Congregation Or Tzion. So this is like a major tour to schlep from the Northeast Valley to the wilds of Glendale.

“The material that we play is really from decidedly Jewish songwriters, contemporary Jewish songwriters and recording artists, Rick Recht, Josh Nelson, Todd Herzog, Rabbi Joe Black,” Alexander says. “I’ve had my non-Jewish friends say, ‘Jewish rock? I don’t get it.’ I say, ‘Well, do you know what Christian rock is?'” That helps them sort-of get it, Alexander says.

“Easily half of our songs are sung in Hebrew,” he adds. “It’s a rock band format, though. It’s not klezmer, it’s not chamber music, it’s decidedly rock – Jewish rock.”

Their Shabbat appearances at Temple Kol Ami are all about Shabbat liturgies and melodies, Alexander says. “We were doing that for about a year, and we were like, ‘Let’s take it to the next level and see what we can do with this thing.'”

They do it for the love of Jewish music and the camaraderie of playing with people of a common background, he adds. “A lot of our gigs are done as a service. We provide that as members of the community.” (In fact, after the Hockey Schtick gig, Yehudie and the Gefilte Fish’s next appearance is to head a Thursday, Dec. 18, jam session as part of the Hanukkah in the Hallway activities being held by the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center, Dec. 17-24.)

–Details: Discounted tickets from the game are $21 for the upper level ends, Row H and higher; $36 for the upper level center straights; and $44 for the lower level ends, Row T and higher. To access the discounts, visit and use the code: schtick – or contact Dan Berman at 602-680-5550, ext. 1 or


A history of American society through the lens of Maybelline

great-lash-clear_model-shot_144055Who knew that there was such a great story behind the pink and green container of Maybelline Great Lash mascara?

I was fortunate to hear this story firsthand from Maybelline heiress Sharrie Williams at the Brandeis National Committee Phoenix Chapter’s annual luncheon on April 25 at the Orange Tree Golf Resort in Scottsdale. And because she was gracious enough to give every attendee a copy of her book, “The Maybelline Story and the Spirited Family Dynasty Behind It,” I’ve been learning even more while reading it over the weekend.

Williams, the grand-niece of Maybelline founder Tom Lyle Williams, said during her talk, “To you, Maybelline is a corporate name. To me, it means family.” It was a reminder that although there are many businesses that are now household names, many originated in the mind of one person in one household.

Maybelline – which was originally a family business, named after Williams’ sister, Mabel – had its share of family “scandals” (children born out of wedlock, marital affairs, an intimate relationship between two men – things that have become mainstream in American society since Maybelline’s founding in 1915). In fact, Maybelline’s main mission was considered scandalous in its early days – it was founded at a time when women who wore eye makeup were primarily “performers and prostitutes,” according to the book.

“Those attitudes are changing,” Tom Lyle told his brother, Noel, at age 20. “Women are done being plain and submissive. … The age of cosmetics has begun.”

Maybelline started as a mail order business and went through its share of ups and downs – through the DepressioThe+Maybelline+Story+front+covern and World War II, the family approached bankruptcy more than once but then prospered again each time. In the 1930s, the company moved away from mail order and moved to working with owners of retail chains.

According to Williams, Maybelline was at the forefront of advertising elements that are still popular today, such as celebrity endorsements and “before and after” photographs. The focus of the ads and the business changed to reflect the decades: glamorous actresses featured through the 20s, less expensive “purse-size” versions during the Depression, pin-up type ads for soldiers overseas during wartime, bride-focused ads after soldiers returned home and glamour focused on young mothers during the baby boom of the 1950s.

So far, I’m only halfway through the book, but I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about America’s history and society in the past century through the story of one business.



Sharrie Williams, author of “The Maybelline Story,” second from left, was the featured speaker at the Brandeis National Committee Phoenix Chapter luncheon on April 25. Also pictured from left, are Lori Roth, past co-president; Carol Abrams, new Brandeis president; and Marcy Strauss, past co-president. Photo by Leisah Woldoff

Here’s what’s happening this weekend

Jewish News is launching two additional editions of our JN Now newsletter: One on Monday that focuses on news that occurred over the weekend and looks forward to the new week and one on Friday – which starts on Feb. 21 –  featuring weekend events.

Here’s a look at some things happening this weekend:

“State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda,” a free traveling exhibit from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is now on display at the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix.

Chabad of Arizona celebrates its 37th birthday this weekend. Congratulations to honorees Allyn and Bonnie Kluger, Dr. Stuart and Susan Turnansky and Mindy Wolfe.
The organization recently opened its 19th Chabad center in Arizona.

Tickets are available for the Phoenix Coyotes Jewish Heritage Night on March 2. Earlier this month, Jewish News spoke to Coyotes center Jeff Halpern, who grew up in a Conservative Jewish home.

There’s still time to catch a film at the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival; the festival concludes this weekend.

Sign up here to receive the newsletters.

Shabbat Shalom!

Happy new (arts) year!

I look forward to the end of summer for so many reasons (most of which have to do with my aversion to living in a oven approximately five months a year), but the halfway mark in September is also a typical starting point to the arts and culture season.

The 2013-14 season has a number of events of Jewish interest, starting with Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which opens tomorrow in their intimate Actors Café performance space. Desert Stages will also do “Fiddler on the Roof” in January 2014. Visit

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts is bringing the man behind George Costanza to Phoenix for one night only: “An Evening with Jason Alexander and His Hair” comes to town on Oct. 26. Also at SCPA, Dec. 3 marks the season premiere of “Keyboard Conversations” with Jeffrey Siegel; the piano-and-commentary series will take on Beethoven and Schubert this season, among other topics. Visit

If comedy is more your thing, you can catch a number of Jewish comics at local clubs in the coming months: Pauly Shore (yes, he’s Jewish) will be at the Tempe Improv Oct. 17-20, as will Comedy Central roaster extraordinaire Jeff Ross (Nov. 8-10). Visit “30 Rock” alum Judah Friedlander will be at StandUp Live! in Phoenix Nov. 14-16. Visit

Finally, for movie buffs with deep pockets, there are still a limited number of tickets available for what will undoubtedly one of the coolest events in recent memory: composer John Williams’ benefit concert with the Phoenix Symphony. Williams will take the stage to conduct the orchestra in some of his famous film scores — “Star Wars,” the Indiana Jones movies, “Jaws” and “Schindler’s List” are a just a few of them — while scenes from the films play in the background. The other special guest of the evening is Steven Spielberg, nice Jewish boy, former Valley resident and Williams’ constant collaborator. The $500 price tag is a small price to pay to watch two Hollywood legends work their magic, right? Visit
And for the trivia-minded among you, here’s a question: Williams has scored every Spielberg film since 1974 except for one — which one?

Music thoughts from Bela Fleck

You can’t get them excited 12 times in a row in a year, so if I have something that I’m really passionate about, I want to record it beautifully, get a version of it that is highly representative not only of what it is, but of what I want it to become. — Bela Fleck

Given the space issues that crop up when we do arts features in Jewish News, we tend to focus on a single angle, but many times the interviews with musicians and authors and the like are far ranging affairs that offer some interesting ideas that don’t fit into the piece.

If you’ve already read the preview article I wrote on Bela Fleck’s show coming up next Wednesday evening (if you haven’t, check out Fleck trek: To boldly go where no banjo has gone before when you’re done here), you might be interested to know his thinking on the value of making albums as opposed to performing live, especially in the age of streaming music and music downloads.

Jewish News: I know that it’s affected people who are primarily recording artists and you’re more of a live performer who documents some of what he does, but has the change in the delivery of recorded music affected much of your thinking about how you approach that?

Bela Fleck: Well, yes and no. I don’t expect the records to sell as much as they once did, but I still think the idea of being really clear and not offering too many things all at once is wise. It fits the public perception. Because of the way people’s minds work, you can wear people out. I remember that this one year [when] Wynton Marsalis put out 12 records in one year — and I think that it was artistically an amazing thing to do — but I think it was hard for people. Some of them [the recordings] didn’t move at all and a few of them did, but I know the promotion team, I don’t want to talk in terms of marketing and stuff like that, but the truth is that it’s confusing. It’s hard on people.

You can’t get them Bela Fleckexcited 12 times in a row in a year, so if I have something that I’m really passionate about, I want to record it beautifully, get a version of it that is highly representative not only of what it is, but of what I want it to become. In other words, I worked so hard on that recording that it’s better than what I can do at the moment, and then I grow into it, and by the end of that year, I can play that music way better than the recording and I’ve stood behind it and grown in the process, had the growth to perform it, and taught the audience about it too.

So there’s that, but also the fact that I’m performing in a lot of different settings could be confusing as well, but it’s just sort of working out that way, because the Flecktones, when we perform, is a full-time occupation, and so when we stop all of these other projects that have been sitting waiting kind of come forward and beg for attention, and it makes me a better musician to be this diverse, to be playing with a lot of different musicians. So while it’s good for the general public for you to stick to one thing that they can understand and build a relationship with it, it’s actually good for musicians to do a lot of things and stay fresh. I’m trying to balance all of those things at the same time.

JN: Well, it sounds like you have it really well thought out. I hadn’t thought about how you put out something like a record and it be better than what you can actually do live at that time and then growing into it – I’d never thought about that before.

BF: Well, that’s the main reason to make records for me.

JN: I see.

BF: Otherwise, just play live. You can put out a live recording of what you’re playing it like today and that could be quite good or it could suck, one or the other or somewhere in between, graded by your perspective obviously, or you can go in the studio and practice like crazy and record like crazy and work on it till you’ve created basically an artifact. You know, that’s an optimum idea of what you wish you could play it like, and the odd thing about that is that after you’ve lived with that document for a little while, you can play it that way. But you couldn’t play it that way unless you went through that process. So I use recordings both as a way to create an optimum version of the music that I can grow into — really most of what the audience hears is an idealization of what you wished it would sound like — but even more so, so that I will eventually sound like that, so that every record can be a growth process that forces me to really learn this music and not slough it off or, you know, let things slide.

Robyn Helzner Trio kicks off Passages in high style

Robyn Helzner. Photo by Yvonne Taylor.

Robyn Helzner. Photo by Yvonne Taylor.

Upwards of 350 people gathered in the auditorium of Lexis Preparatory Academy on the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus on Sunday for the opening of the 2013 Passages series presented by the Bureau of Jewish Education.

The Robyn Helzner Trio, which thanks to it basic approach (mostly guitar, bass and mandolin with three-part harmony vocals) resembles a bluegrass group, gave the audience a whirlwind tour of Jewish music from Ashkenazic, Sephardic and Israeli sources.

Helzner showed a deft touch for drama and comedy in explaining the stories the lyrics in Ladino, Yiddish and Hebrew told. And she got the crowd singing along with niggunlike, wordless choruses such as in the sprightly “Likrat Shabbat.” The audience also sang along enthusiastically the trio’s take on “Oseh Shalom” and its Selichot staple “Turn, Turn, Turn” (Pete Seeger’s take on Ecclesiastes, which was popularized by The Byrds way back in the Stone Age of folk-rock).

Bass player Matt Holsen and mandolinist Dov Weitman showed versatility as well, switching to electric keyboard and guitar respectively on several tunes. Weitman’s considerable songwriting skills were also displayed with his hot jazz setting of Hillel’s words from Pirkei Avot in “Hillel Haya Omer” and his gorgeously plaintive setting of the creation story in “B’reishit.” Helzner also contributed a lovely tune in her setting of the Shabbat poem “D’Ror Yikra.”

Kudos to the BJE for opening the new secular year with such a big bang … and it was good.

That’s a wrap — for this week, anyway

For a variety of reasons, Jewish News had an early deadline this week, and while it’s generally not cool to talk about how the staff sweats to get an issue done, I’ve got to tip my hat to my colleagues on the editorial and production staffs who worked together seamlessly.

It wouldn’t matter enough for me to mention it here, except that you might call this our Jewish music issue because of two articles that I wrote — an appreciation of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen’s late career success that includes reviews of their respective 2012 albums “Tempest” and “Old Ideas” and a first-person account of attending the Songleader Boot Camp held at Temple Solel this past weekend. (Check out video from the SLBC on Facebook.)

Maybe it’s the lack of sleep because I spent two late nights trying to get every word and comma just right in those stories – like when I misspelled “peace” as “piece,” yikes — but this Nov. 16 edition of Jewish News, which will go live online tomorrow afternoon at and will begin arriving in Valley mailboxes on Friday, is very dear to my heart.

It’s no secret that I was The Arizona Republic’s pop music reporter – which basically meant I covered any type of music except classical — from 1990 to 1997. I have missed that role and audience a lot, too much in fact, but two recent bits of advice have helped me finally get past the sense of loss.

One came from my co-worker Julie Goggin, who said something like, “If the life you have now doesn’t suck, then they did you a favor letting you go. Get over it, dude.”

The other came from musician Rick Recht, who founded Songleader Boot Camp, who told me and my fellow boot recruits last weekend that the most important performance you’ve ever done is the one you’re about to do. This applies to so much in life and creates an attitude of real Thanksgiving.

Thanks for checking out our paper and this blog. Thanks to the readers who are so kind and supportive of our work. I’ll certainly keep these things in mind as we head into Shabbat and Thanksgiving week.

‘Lincoln’ brings Honest Abe to life

It’s a foreign concept today, but once upon a time, U.S. politicians from both sides of the aisle came together to pass legislation that forever changed the course of America.

Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln.”

True, the path to the ratification of the 13th Amendment was paved with cronyism, back-room deals, coercion and truth-stretching, but it was worth it, because we got the abolishment of slavery out of it, right?

That’s the message in “Lincoln,” the soul-stirring new biopic by Steven Spielberg.

“Lincoln,” based partially on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s nonfiction book, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” covers the final months of President Abraham Lincoln’s life, beginning in January 1865.

At that time, as the Civil War waned, Lincoln, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, finds himself in a dilemma: Lincoln, who wants the 13th Amendment to pass because he believes in it, is portraying it as a way to end the war. However, the war is close to ending anyway, and Confederate emissaries are on their way to Washington to discuss a negotiated truce.

If the war ends before the amendment is voted on, it will surely fail, because a lot of the country and its Congress don’t actually want blacks to be legally equal to whites. But if Lincoln and his political allies can hold off the Confederate negotiators and turn enough votes their way before the deadline, they’ll make history.

Anyone who paid attention in history class knows what happened, of course, but it doesn’t really detract from the sense of urgency in the movie, which does a really good job of making political debate among men with waistcoats and beards compelling and entertaining. Tony Kushner’s script includes both moving speeches by men passionate about their political positions and plenty of amusing 19th-century insults.

I can’t overstate the quality of Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance. Like he usually does for his roles, Day-Lewis did extensive research and stayed in character nearly all the time while filming “Lincoln,” and it pays off: About halfway through the movie, I stopped seeing Day-Lewis and only saw Lincoln. I doubt the Academy will give him a third Best Actor Oscar, but it’s certainly a performance deserving of one.

Many of the secondary male actors, including Tommy Lee Jones as Senator Thaddeus Stevens and David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward, are also excellent. The supporting cast includes a large number of character actors, but I won’t mention them because it’s fun to recognize them as the movie progresses (I call it playing a round of “Who’s Under That Beard?”).

The one misstep in casting is Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln. Her acting is good, but she just turned 66 and in “Lincoln,” she looks it. She’s unbelievable as the mother of a son who can’t be more than 12.

I overheard members of the preview audience complaining that “Lincoln” was “cheesy” (their words, not mine), to which I say: This is Spielberg! What did you expect, cynicism? Spielberg’s work is always good-hearted, always straightforward, always values-oriented. “Lincoln” is no different. And that’s not a bad thing. As I sat in the theater and watched “Lincoln” the week before the election, I was proud of my country. And I couldn’t wait to go vote.

“Lincoln” opens today (Friday, Nov. 9). Check out the trailer at, then go see it.

Have you been to the Jewish Book and Cultural Arts Fair yet?

The Valley of the Sun JCC’s Jewish Book & Cultural Arts Fair is well under way this week – have you attended any of the programs yet?

So far there’s been a one-woman play, a women’s symposium, a program about Jewish baking, and a community read and coffee talk.

Here’s what’s coming up:

On Friday, there is an  author luncheon with Amy Ephron. 11 a.m. Cost is $25 JCC members, $30 nonmembers. Co-sponsored by Brandeis National Committee and Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Community Association.

This Sunday, there will be a 3 p.m. concert with Theodore Bikel that celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus. Tickets are $15.
Next week:

7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12: “Before a Canyon” featuring Jeremy Tucker with Victor Villaneuva. This event is co-sponsored by Temple Solel, NFTY Southwest Region, BBYO and Jewish Youth Alliance. Tucker’s memoir is set over the 1997-98 school year at an inner-city Phoenix middle school. Villaneuva was one of Tucker’s students. Cost: $5.

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13: “Yiddish Between Two Wars” featuring Israeli author Adina Bar-El. Free.

7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14: David Misch, author of “Funny the Book: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Comedy.” His first screenwriting job was “Mork and Mindy” and he co-wrote “Leave it to Dave,” the pilot for David Letterman. Cost: $8 members, $12 nonmembers.

6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15: “Girls Night Out: Cupcakes & Cosmos!” featuring Stacey Ballis, author of “Off the Menu: A Novel.” Co-sponsored by Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Community Association and Hadassah Valley of the Sun. Cost, which includes cupcakes and cosmos, is $15 JCC and Hadassah members, $20 nonmembers.
For more information on any of these programs, click here to see the brochure.

Reasons to love our job, part 1

One of the coolest things about working at a newspaper is you never know who will call. Late this week, it was jazz vocalist Ben Sidran calling out of the blue because he has a gig coming up at the Musical Instrument Museum.

First of all, it’s very surprising to hear of someone as accomplished as Sidran handling his own promotional work. And second of all, he clearly didn’t expect me to know who he was. Well, I happen to listen to a lot of jazz and found his “Dylan Different” album a sort of revelation. I mean, who expects to hear Bob Dylan in a jazz context. I remember Carlos Santana sneering to me about Dylan being a hillbilly.

But Sidran’s mind is clearly open, as is very evident just in reading the opening chapter of his book: “There Was a Fire: Jews, Music and the American Dream,” which arrived Friday at the office. In the opening chapter, he makes a case for King David as the first singer-songwriter rock star, with his excessive appetites (Bathsheba) and impressive body of hit songs (the psalms). “The salient fact here is that the Jewish narrative, from the beginning, was meant to be sung, to come alive in the raising of the communal voice. Music and meaning go together, and they are revealed through a community coming to an emotional consensus in song. This is exactly what a ‘hit song’ is. If we each knew what a hit song was, we’d all write them; only the community knows, and even then it doesn’t know until it hears one,” Sidran writes.

The book serves as the basis for his Oct. 13 concert at the MIM. For more details, click here: