Seattle’s Rapping Rabbi Revives Ladino Folksongs

Simon Benzaquen, an Orthodox rabbi of Moroccan-Sephardi ancestry, has recently teamed up with his congregant Alex Hernandez, a Mexican-born convert to Judaism, to perform Ladino folksongs in rap form. Jerry Large writes:

Benzaquen [said] that just a few years ago he thought of rap as disgusting, The change in Benzaquen’s view of rap came from another collaboration with a member of the congregation, the Seattle rapper Nissim (who used to be known as D. Black before his religious conversion). . . . Benzaquen was hooked on the idea of using hip-hop to reach a wider audience, which led to his partnership with Hernandez, another member of the congregation and a rapper and guitarist.

Hernandez grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico. He [said that] his grandfather used to read to him from the Bible, and he was attracted to the stories of the Israelite kings. He said he was a Christian for twelve years, then “One day I was like, ‘who wrote the Bible?’” He wanted to get closer to the original, so he learned Hebrew, and that led to a closer study of Judaism. Six years ago, he and his wife, Netzah Hernandez, who helps with the music, moved to Seattle for the conversion process. Most people may come to pursue the American dream, making money and all that, but Hernandez said he and his wife came for the religion. “I’m here because I wanted the Jewish dream.”

Read more at Seattle Times

More about: Arts & Culture, Conversion, Jewish music, Ladino, Popular music, Sephardim

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood