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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Where the Classroom Ends

                                                                                                                   March, 2012


Dear Family and Friends:

Shel Silverstein wrote a book I used to love called, “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”  Recently I’ve had a different title in mind.  I might call it, “Where the Classroom Ends.”  I guess if you think about it the classroom never ends.  Ben Zoma in “Pirke Avot, The Sayings of our Ancestors,” a book in the Mishnah, teaches us:  “Who is wise? He who learns from all men” (read, people).  Ain’t that the truth!

Last weekend, the classroom ended up late Saturday night in a bar here in Bloomington, Indiana.  I was learning sociology and those with me were learning a bit about Jewish education.  It’s quite unusual for me to be in a bar any night except to catch a local jazz band, and that’s the reason The Vid found the five of us in one of its booths at ten PM last Saturday.  Only, the band I hoped we were going to hear was not scheduled to play.  My mistake.  Turned out OK because it gave us an opportunity to sit and talk and laugh.  Camp stories abounded.  Talk of where one might be headed after a job ends and where another is headed after graduation, was on our menu.  Of course we played a little Jewish geography and caught up on old camp friends and what they were up to.  We laughed a lot.

We were in a bar so, of course, we had a couple drinks.  Nothing radical, but that was the vibe at The Vid .  I was amazed to learn what seems to be typical for college students .  I guess it’s been a long time since I lived on campus (about 43 years, actually).  We got to the bar at 10PM and the place was deserted.  By midnight it was just starting to fill up.  My comrades told me that this is the way of the world on campus on a Saturday night.  I learned that things didn’t really get started until around 1AM, and some joints stayed open until 4.  The more I thought about it the more I realized that it was as if someone turned the clock off here between dinner and midnight and then started it up again.  At ten when we arrived all was quiet.  By midnight when we were headed home (actually, just some of us headed home) the action was just beginning.  No wonder we hear the kids next door to us banging around sometimes at four or five in the morning.  They’re just coming home after a hard night of being IU students.  That was my sociology lesson for the day.

I added my bit to the conversation when someone asked me about our trip to Europe and Israel last summer.  You can read all about it in the blog if you look it up.  I started describing the trip and ended up in a soliloquy about the Holocaust, Auschwitz, and Israel.  I told them what it was like to lead a T’fillah (worship service) in the middle of what was a death camp; where more than a million of our relatives had found the end of their sidewalk, in a most terrible way.  I’m sure I surprised everyone by getting a bit emotional.  But thinking back on it, it was a cool classroom, an unusual student body, and, as it turns out, just the right moment to talk about things that really matter and are close to the heart.
 
That’s where the classroom ended this last weekend.  Ben Zoma was right, we were all a bit wiser by midnight…and we had a lot of laughs…and a few tears to boot.

Ron

Monday, February 20, 2012

Grapevine Article

Dear Readers:                                                                                   Feb, 2012

Trusty Max Klaben at G.U.C.I. has located a few old articles I wrote for our camp newsletter, "The GUCI Grapevine."  We started the Grapevine during the days of Mark Lerner's tenure as Assistant Director.  He came up with the tag line, "Hoda'ot to Carry and Tote."  We are still totin' it.

Here's one of the articles.  It's from 2006:


A WORD FROM RON
You’ve heard us say ,many times that we travel around the region during the fall and winter, talking to everyone about our great G.U.C.I. program and encouraging parents to sign their up their children.  I’m happy to say that camp is filling up nicely. 

When I speak in a different synagogue each Shabbat, it’s hard for me to remember where someone may have said something to me, but after all the trips are over I often remember what was said.  What I mean is, I don’t remember who or where I heard this, but I remember hearing it.   If you were in camp last summer you may remember that I started a new tradition of inviting every cabin to visit me in my rooms in the motel units.  Campers all came with their counselors for a half an hour or so of schmoozing with the Director.  It was fun.  I got to meet all the kids and answer some of their questions about camp. We all just had a relaxing time together.  Remember, we called it “Ron’s Room?”  To be hospitable, I offered everyone a can of pop (soda for you easterners), and so we sat and drank and talked.  It was nice.

Well, in some synagogue this winter, after a wonderful camp presentation, a little boy came up to me.  He looked at me with a puzzled expression that slowly melted into recognition.  Then he smiled and said, “Hey, you’re the pop guy!”  I told him, “That’s right, man.  I’m the pop guy.” 

Everybody has to be known for something.

See you at camp next summer.  Let’s have a pop together.

The Pop Guy….aka Ron

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ella My Love 2

       
                                                                                             Nov.  2017

I went back in the archives to find this piece about Ella Fitzgerald.  Today I found out that Verve records discovered an Ella tape recorded live 60 years ago.  It was stored and forgotten.  On December 1st it will be released.  This is  surely a buried treasure.  I pre-ordered it from Amazon.  "Ella at Zardi's."  I haven't been this excited about getting a CD in a long while.  Check it out, it's bound to be great.





                                                                                        February, 2010

Dear Family and Friends:


It just occurred to me that I’ve never told you about Ella (well, my family certainly knows about her).  Ella and I have been on a first name basis since I fell in love with her when I was fifteen.  I took my senior prom date to hear her at the Empire Room in the Palmer House Hotel (fancy, schmancy) on Wabash Ave. in Chicago, and I  remained faithful to so many of her recordings over the years.  Oh, I’m sorry, it’s Fitzgerald, Ella Fitzgerald, the First Lady of Song, I’m talking about.  I’ve been a jazz fan all my life; have a favorite player for every instrument, and a few favorite singers.  There’s Mel Torme (nice Jewish boy from Chicago), Sinatra, even Diana Krall and sometimes Jane Monheit on the short list, but no one even comes close to Ella. 

No bio here.  You can find that on your own if you want to read about her incredible sixty year career (buy anything recorded before 1975 for Ella in best voice).  I just wanted to go on record as saying that no one should leave this world without having heard two Ella Fitzgerald albums (CD’s), “Ella Fitzgerald at the Opera House,” and “The Intimate Ella.”  Ella made dozens of great recordings, live and in the studio. But these two should not be missed.

In 1966, while studying at the University of Illinois, I was happy to be invited to spend a Shabbat with Rabbi Larry and Jan Mahrer at their home in Peoria, Illinois.  We had become close friends (sailing and water skiing partners, actually) the summer before at camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.    Jan was a great cook.  Larry and I loved to sip a beer and talk into the wee small hours of the morning (also a great Sinatra album).  And I loved playing with Jeff, Debbie, and Scotty, the Mahrer kids.  So, I was thrilled to be invited. 

One of those weekend nights, after everyone else had gone to bed, when the hours had become pretty wee and small, Larry told me he wanted to play a record for me.  He took out Ella at the Opera House.  The recording was of two almost identical concerts recorded in 1957 at the Opera House in Chicago (hence the name) and in LA.  That’s the night I rekindled my torrid affair with The First lady of Song.  Backed on the ballads by the Oscar Peterson trio and Ella’s drummer, and then by an all-star Jazz at the Philharmonic band on the last two tracks, Ella takes us on a moody and lyrical tour of Jazz standards.  After leading us down the garden path to romance and emotion, she cuts it all loose singing Stompin’ at the Savoy and Lady be Good, with the likes of Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Jo Jones, Roy Eldridge, J.J. Johnson, Sonny Stitt, Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz and Flip Phillips in the all-star band.  You won’t believe Stompin’ at the Savoy.  It will bring tears to your eyes and stop your heart.  That’s how intense is Ella’s scatting.   I’ve listened to it 100 times, maybe 200.  I can’t hear it enough.  But here’s a hint; start the CD on track number 10.  The first concert, the one recorded in Chicago, is not as outstanding as the second.  Listen to the LA recording which begins at number 10.  And, it’s not just the Savoy that is mind blowing.  It just hits you in the guts and leaves you breathless.  The nine or so tracks leading up to Savoy are amazing in their sheer beauty.  There is one particular note I listen for in the ballads that pulls at my heart strings each time it floats out of my speakers.  See if you can find it.  What a treasure. 

The second Ella recording that's a "must hear" is called” The Intimate Ella.”  It was recorded in 1960; just Ella singing and Paul Smith at the piano.  Three or so of the songs were included with Ella as a bar singer in the movie, “Let No man Write My Epitaph.”  This is the CD to listen to late at night with most of the lights off, preferably with someone you love. The Intimate Ella is a collection of the most beautiful jazz standard ballads you can imagine.  Ella sings them all with such style and warmth.  Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday each recorded many of these tunes on various records, but (and I love both of them) never with the feeling that Ella gives to each.  Ira Gershwin often said about her interpretations of his songs..."I didn't know our songs were good till Ella sang them!"


Ella Fitzgerald recorded over fifty albums in her near-sixty year career.   At the Opera House and The Intimate Ella, two very different recordings, are two of her best.  No one should be deprived of hearing these two recordings sometime in their life.  You never know, it could be the start of something big; you might just fall in love.


Ron