Monday, March 23, 2009

Lionel & Joanne

Of Lionel by J. Lessing Teitler

esoteric stops
like you arriving unannounced so late on shabbas
unravel allegories of twinkling wit and trembling fear--
you have to be like a shaman
to see the signs

as it is above
it is below
its true ya know--

where did the missing shofar go?
place the chicken soup just so
4 more inches back to the right
on the shabbas tinfoil
over gas on low
so it won't evaporate tonight
that broth,
those misshapen heavenly matzoh balls
home cooked by the wife of an angel
brought all the way from Brooklyn--
look in the bottom of the fridge
can you believe all the stuff they bring me?
why me?

can you still hear Ziprin's voice?
the mameloschn inflections,
of Abulafia,
of old lower east side
co-mingled with bebop's crescendos,
a devout hipster confection
sacred and profane
is it any wonder Charlie Parker
would come to his table
to chill?

there he is stepping around frozen horses
dodging rats as big as cats
he didn't stay much in school
but he went to school
they let him pass--
when he was very young,
he didn't even know that people weren't Jewish

he rented horse and buggy, moved uptown
he drove it in the cold
to 3rd and 17th
he learned
that America had been good to the Jews

like some Valentino
Lionel, all lush eyebrows and luscious lips,
enchanted the Kansan girl
Marlon Brando stole away with
at the Actors Studio

sitting on the corner
upright on his folding stool
his advance toward shul
undeterred by East Broadway
sweltering in the summer sun
do you see his finger pointing
toward the window on the second floor,
he lived there as a boy
next to the House of the Sages,
or there
behind Bialystoker,
where the Home of the Sages stood
after the schism
enough room now to nap or break bread
where Harry taped the songs of his grandfather's world--
its not called Misirlou! the melody is aaaaaancient!

this spring will bring no seder
the spare one last year
like a comedic last supper--
don't woooorry about it!
you have to pour the wine so every cup overflows
you haaaave to!
a solitary sprig of parsley to share
we climb around each other
careful of Sheba's settee
to empty the collected drops of plagues into the commode--
periodic flushing
oddly not incongruous
with the bare joy of our convenant
the prayers covered
in his knowing sing-song drone

in this late winter of his passing over
he announced
I like turtles very much
and told me
my name meant planter of date trees
and that angels morph more easily than people
they are more elastic, right?

he spoke of
"highly confidential material
to soften our hearts. . . .
of flirting with terminating angels
beckoning to cross the river styx. . . .
thats how it happens, ya know
thats what they're called, ya know. . . .
what do you think, I'll be here forever?"

"this time is different
are you listening?
its not the doctor who cures you
he is the agent of heaven. . .
I have only one heart to lose for my people, thank god!"

j. lessing teitler
march 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Radio Documentary by John Kalish

Rabbi Abulafia's Boxed Set

TUE MAR 24, 2009
Lionel Ziprin passed away last week on New York’s Lower East Side. Rabbi Abulafia’s Boxed Set tells the story of Ziprin's grandfather, a New York City rabbi who recorded 15 LPs of Jewish liturgical music with the eccentric ethnomusicologist Harry Smith in the 1950's. Ziprin’s life mission was to find a record label to distribute these recordings. He was 85 years old when he died. Today in his memory, we are rebroadcasting Jon Kalish’s award-winning documentary.


For more than two years in the 1950's, avant-garde ethno-musicologist Harry Smith recorded a Lower East Side Rabbi's cantorial music, folk songs and Yiddish story-telling. The Rabbi's eccentric grandson, 81-year old Lionel Ziprin, is hoping to re-release a condensed version of this material. It's a holy mission for him. The program you are about to hear was produced for KCRW by Jon Kalish. It has been honored with this year's Gabriel Award recognizing programs that uplift the spirit, sponsored by the Catholic Academy for Communication Arts Professionals. Originally aired in December, 2005, we broadcast it tonight on the occasion of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which begins this evening.

Santa Monica-based public radio station KCRW commissioned veteran New York City public radio reporter Jon Kalish to produce the documentary. Kalish has covered the Orthodox Jewish world for NPR and other news organizations for 22 years. He was producer-in-residence at KCRW in 2000 and has produced original documentaries on two other New York characters -- Jimmy Breslin and Spalding Gray -- for the station.

"To my ear, Ziprin sounds uncannily like the late Lenny Bruce. But, unlike the comedian, Ziprin hangs out at a Lower East Side yeshiva and his life has been a lot wilder," said Kalish, who shares a Manhattan loft with his painter wife and two Siamese cats. "Of the hundreds of radio stories I have done in the last 30 years, this is hands down my all-time favorite."

Kalish first met Ziprin in 1998 when one of the reporter's elderly Yippie friends introduced him to the man. Kalish did a short radio piece and a newspaper article about Ziprin's rescue of the 15-LP's his grandfather, Rabbi Nuftali Zvi Margolies Abulafia, recorded with the eccentric Harry Smith. Kalish knew the story would make a compelling radio documentary.