Read about the decision to pull the plug on KlezKamp after this year’s gathering. My story in The Forward explains that KlezKamp’s founder Henry Sapoznik made the decision because he felt that the yearly immersion in Yiddish folk arts had accomplished its mission.
I did not include in The Forward piece the chatter among Klezmer’s major movers and shakers, with whom I have a nearly 30 -year connection. One veteran Klezmer musician told me that KlezKamp had suffered declining enrollments in recent years and that the event was nearly cancelled last year. I was also told that Sherry Mayrent, the wealthy Boston-area patron of KlezKamp, had tired of under-writing the project. One Klezmer band leader spoke of the contrast between KlezKamp with KlezKanada. The latter being considerably cheaper and held in the summer when it is easier for many participants to get away.
In the synagogue where Milton Berle, Henny Youngman and two of the Three Stooges once worshiped, Irwin Corey recited a limerick about farting and decried the killing going on in the world today. Listen to my report on NPR and read the limerick in its entirety on The Forward’s Arty Semite blog.
An appreciation of Margo Adler appears on-line today at forward.com and will be published in The Forward newspaper this week. Because of space limitations, the thousand words I wrote were trimmed. The full piece appears below.
When Margot Adler, the longtime Manhattan-based NPR correspondent, succumbed to cancer this week at the age of 68, I thought back to the mid-1970’s when she worked at the left-leaning radio station WBAI-FM. I was a cub reporter there and when a clash between management and producers took the station off the air briefly in 1977, we met at Adler’s sprawling Central Park West apartment to strategize. Knowing that she was a self-declared witch, I half-seriously suggested that maybe she cast a spell on management to end the impasse. If only witches had a potion to stop tumors from spreading.
Adler, by the way, was not the only Jewish witch on the air at WBAI during the 1970’s. The other was Marion Weinstein, who was also part of the Gardnerian tradition of witchcraft, named for the British civil servant and scholar of magic Gerald Gardner.
The drift away from traditional Judaism in the Adler family began in the early 20th Century. Margot Adler’s grandfather grandfather Alfred Adler, the famous Jewish psychotherapist and contemporary of Sigmund Freud, became a Protestant in 1904. Her mother, Freyda Nacque, was a Jewish agnostic according to Adler’s bio on a witchcraft web site. Her father, Kurt Adler, was a self-professed atheist. Some yichus, huh? Oh, and not only was Margot Adler a major witch, she was a member of a Unitarian Universalist church in New York. Oy.
And yet when you talk to people who worked with Adler at WBAI-FM where she started her journalism career and later at NPR, you get the sense she was a prototypical New York Jewish character.
Robert Siegel, the venerable “All Things Considered” host wrote in an email that he considered Adler a secular Jew.
Larry Josephson, an Upper West Side neighbor of Adler’s who worked with her at WBAI, said: “Jewish ethics and culture were part of her DNA.”
And Manoli Wetherell an NPR engineer who regarded Adler as a big sister, says she learned the meaning of the Yiddish word “heimish” from Adler, who attended feminist seders and always brought a menorah to NPR Christmas parties.
I see Adler as one of the many prominent Jews in the 1960’s counter-culture, Jews like Allen Ginsberg and Abbie Hoffman who rebelled against the established order in a variety of ways. She was participated in the free speech protests in Berkeley and was one of many New York Jews who went south for Freedom Summer organizing efforts as part of the civil rights movement. Adler was one of very few alumnae of WBAI or its parent network Pacifica to mention her radio roots in an official NPR bio. When she worked for WBAI she shared an office in the National Press Building with investigative reporter Seymour Hersh at the time he broke the story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. Her activist roots include traveling to Cuba to cut sugar cane as part of the Venceremos Brigade.
It was during the Vietnam War that Adler got involved in witchcraft. Paul Fischer, who hired Adler at WBAI, sees her embrace of witchcraft as “a rejection of the rational universe, her way of rejecting the Adlers.” He remembers Adler as someone who was never cynical but always skeptical and idealistic. “Sounds very Jewish to me,” he said.
Adler’s involvement with witchcraft came in 1973, according to Jim Freund, her intern at WBAI who inherited the early morning science fiction show she began, “Hour of the Wolf.”
“I’ll take credit or blame for that,” Freund told The Forward.
Freund remembers accompanying Adler in late 1972 to a presentation by a Witch Walli at a midtown Manhattan store devoted to the occult arts. Looking back, he remembers that, “For some reason, many of the witches were Jewish.” Freund says Adler rose extremely high in the witchcraft hierarchy and that among the people who attended the gathering of Adler’s coven was Whitley Streiber, author of “The Wolfen,” “The Hunger” and other horror novels, as well as the best-selling non-fiction account of his alleged encounter with aliens, “Communion.”
Mirroring her ascent in the witchcraft scene was her rise among NPR correspondents. Adler was universally respected at NPR. When I worked with her at NPR’s New York bureau in the 1980’s it was located in a building across from the Israeli consulate on Second Avenue. Our floor was also home to the Office of Tibet and the porn magazine High Society.
I remember that in 1989 Adler applied for one of the host jobs on “All Things Considered.” She was not offered the gig and joked about about being passed over. ”I’m the victim of double religious discrimination,” she told me. “I’m a witch and a New York Jew.” The broadcast already had one New York Jew, Robert Siegel, and some NPR insiders believe there was a reluctance to have a second. If that indeed was the case, it was apparently overcome in 2003 when Melissa Block became an anchor of the afternoon newsmagazine.
More likely it was Adler’s Wiccan life that made NPR brass uneasy about having a host who was an “out witch.”
“The last thing they would ever do is have a Wiccan as a host,” says Karen Michel, a veteran NPR freelancer based in New York’s Mid Hudson Valley. Michel is another Jewish woman who dabbled in witchcraft. In 1982 she was a member of a coven in Alaska. Michel participated in a radio broadcast celebrating the winter solstice. Adler was the anchor of the program. Michel visited Adler in the hospital shortly before her death and they had a good laugh about the solstice special. Adler, it turns out, blessed Michel’s home in Pleasant Valley, N.Y., standing on a large rock as she performed the ceremony. A day after Adler’s passing Michel went out to sit on the rock. She also read from the Tibetan Book of Liberation and burned a yahrtzeit candle for Margot Adler, the Jewish witch.
Sculptor Dennis Sparling of New Haven, Vermont made a 9-foot tall sculpture of Leonardo Da Vinci. In early July he began what he had thought would be a long road trip to find a home for Leonardo. But things didn’t pan out that way. Listen to the story on Vermont Public Radio.
Earlier this month a car with a license plate frame proclaiming “Proud to be a Sikh” pulled up to the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, MA. The Jewish driver got out and delivered a custom made book scanner that was built by a guy raised as a Baptist in Indiana. If this sounds like a set-up for a joke, it’s not, though the book scanner was designed by a North Dakota dumpster-diver who dropped out of a PhD. program in neuro-science. Is this a great country or what? The story is in The Forward newspaper this week.
Listen to a story on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday about the New York Mandolin Orchestra, which is not, it turns out, the oldest mandolin orchestra in the country. A concert celebrating their 90th anniversary takes place on Sunday, June 1st here in Manhattan.
Bob Heller has created a new eating utensil that slips over your ring finger. The concept is not sitting well with authorities on etiquette. Or Bob’s wife Fran. Read about the new utensil, T.I.M. For info on how to order one, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why is a film archive dedicated to preserving the history of the Black Panther Party housed in a small town in Vermont? Listen to a story on Vermont Public Radio about Roz Payne, keeper of the archive.
Rubin Carter is terminally ill. He’s being cared for by John Artis, his co-defendant in the infamous triple homicide case that sent them both to prison. The convictions, of course, were overturned and Carter settled in the Toronto area. Read more in the New York Daily News. An obit for NPR is here.
Listen to a report on All Things Considered tonight about the WikiHouse project. This London-based open source construction group uses CNC machines to cut plywood pieces that slot together to form the frame of a house. We hear from WikiHouse founder Alastair Parvin, an architecture student who built and lived in a WikiHouse in Utah and the author of a book on the Sears kit homes, the 20th Century analog version of WikiHouse.
Read about the great clarinetist David Krakauer’s latest project, a re-interpretation of movie scores with Jewish themes. Krakauer commissioned original videos to be projected on a screen while his sextet performs these tunes on stage. The story is in the Jewish Daily Forward.
Listen to a story on NPR’s Morning Edition about the wacky musicians, engineers and video producers collectively known as CDZA. Their experimental web videos are a hoot. CDZA has more than a quarter million subscribers to their YouTube channel. Oh, and about the above photo… well, uh, they don’t look nearly that good in person.
The Klezmatics were given a lifetime achievement award by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research on November 19. The hard rockin’, hard workin’ klezmer ensemble was lauded for offering “a provocative model of how to respond to the destruction of Europe’s Yiddish culture.” The band’s trumpet player Frank London said, “We are blessed to be a link in the chain of Yiddish continuity.” Read all about it on the Arty Semite blog.
Fans of “Doonesbury” have been doing without the Pulitzer Prize-winning comic strip since the summer. The strip has been on vacation. But its creator, Garry Trudeau, has not exactly been chilling at the beach. Trudeau spent the last several months in a New York film studio making a sitcom called “Alpha House.” The show is being launched online on Amazon. It chronicles the misadventures of four fictional Republican senators who share a Washington, D.C., townhouse. We visit the set and and talk to the great cartoonist-turned-TV-producer in this NPR story.
Listen to a radio story about Ben Zion Shenker, the composer of beautiful chasidic melodies or negunim. Shenker is a Modzitzer chasid and the Modzitzters, of course, are known for their beautiful negunim. A 15-minute podcast on Shenker can be streamed from the web site of The Forward.
The new series Jersey Strong on Pivot TV focuses on two unconventional households in New Jersey. Listen to a feature on The WBGO Journal about the show, which is produced by the team behind the Newark reality series Brick City,
Bread and Puppet Theater began 50 years on New York’s Lower East Side. Since 1974 it is based on a farm in the town of Glover in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Listen to an 11-minute report about Bread and Puppet’s life in Vermont on “Vermont Edition" on VPR, Vermont Public Radio. And a shorter piece on NPR.
Why is there a portrait of the Chofetz Chaim on the wall of a Hudson Valley mansion owned by one of America’s elite WASP families? The answer to that question can be found in the pages of this week’s Forward.
Waste Plastic Used to Make Filament for 3D Printers
College student Tyler McNaney became obsesses with 3D printing and not long thereafter designed a machine that grinds waste plastic down, melts it and creates spool of filament that can be used in 3D printers that make plastic objects. Listen to a report on Vermont Public Radio. And, Tyler, get your butt back in mechanical engineer class!
Listen to Only A Game this weekend to hear a story about Jahmani Swanson, the 4’5” point guard for the New York Towers, a basketball team comprised of men that are between 4’ and 4’6”. The 27 year-old New York City native is poetry in motion on the basketball court.
Martha Hennessy divides her time between Vermont and Manhattan’s East Village where she volunteers at a house of hospitality founded by her grandmother, Dorothy Day. Listen to the story on Vermont Public Radio.
This is a lower receiver for an AR-15 rifle. It’s the chassis on which all the other components of the weapon are attached. It was made on a 3D printer and there are amateur gunsmiths who think that one day almost an entire firearm will be produced with a 3D printer. Oy.
Listen to my report on All Things Considered.
Radio Ambulante is a long-form narrative radio project that aspires to create the kind of storytelling magic a anumber of public radio prograns are known for but they hope to do it for Spanish-speaking listeners. Read about the Radio Ambulante crew here.
Sam Lovejoy, the Anti-Nuke Firebrand Who Became a Civil Servant
39 years ago today Sam Lovejoy toppled a tower in Montague, Massachusetts and declared the Montague nuke will never be built. He was right about that. But who could’ve predicted that more than 30 years later Lovejoy would become a civil servant in the state of Massachusetts. Listen to a story about a key figure of the anti-nuke movement of the late 1970’s. It aired this morning over WFCR in Amherst, MA.
Larry Selman will collect no more. He passed away last Sunday at the age of 70. I wrote a remembrance for the NPR web site that you will find here. You’ll also find audio there for a short piece on Selman that aired this morning on Weekend Edition. There are also obits on-line for the New York Daily News and The Forward. The Forward obit includes a link to 10-minute podcast I produced about Selman surviving Hurricane Sandy. The last time I saw Larry Selman he told me he wanted a kitten to replace his cat Happy, who died in the days after the hurricane.
So, Paul Krassner gets up one morning out there in the desert of Southern California and forwards me an email with a link to a wonderful new web site dedicated to the Satmar mensch Nechemya Weberman, who is facing a serious time out behind bars for sex crimes. I’ve long struggled with the question of who is more despicable: African-Americans who won’t “snitch” on a someone who has killed a black person or haredi Jews who won’t go to law enforcement authorities when they know a child has been raped. A pox on both their houses. Read this piece in The Forward about the family of Nechemya Weberman. And remember: you don’t need a Weberman to know which way the wind blows.
Thanks to a saint from the Bronx and a cabal of neighbors in Greenwich Village, Larry Selman survived Hurricane Sandy. Listen to the podcast that details doings on Bedford Street on the web site of The Forward.