Robert Windeler, Bistro Awards

Carla DelVillaggio -By Robert Windeler
“Streisand: The Greatest Star”, Laurie Beechman Theatre  –  July 11, 18, 25

Carla DelVillaggio as Streisand:
The Greatest StarIf you, like me, long ago grew tired of men in drag lip-synching to Barbra Streisand records and calling that an impersonation, have I got a girl for you. A Real Live Girl.

Carla DelVillaggio, an RLG based in Florida, made her New York debut this month in a tri-partite show about Streisand, and she was sensational. Not only can DelVillaggio look enough like Streisand, up to her nose and wig, to pull it off, she has the mannerisms and accent down pat. She uses Barbra’s arrangements and even some of her dresses, to the point that if the star were dead, you’d swear DelVillaggio was channeling her. (Don’t expect any reinterpretation or insight—that’s hardly the point of this tribute.) And anyone who can sing the wide-ranging Streisand songbook this well certainly has a terrific voice of her own. I can’t wait to see her in a cabaret as herself.

It takes three sets of almost two hours apiece (with intermission) to cover Streisand’s 50-year career with any sense of completeness. Each of DelVillaggio’s three evenings had a theme. The first, subtitled “Barbra: The Way She Was,” was concentrated solidly in the 1960s, when Streisand was in her 20s and at her most natural and charming.

Appropriately, DelVillaggio’s only accompaniment for this segment was the subtle piano of Rich Siegel. Their satisfying collaborations included faithful recreations of such early Streisand chestnuts as “Second Hand Rose” (James F. Hanley, Grant Clarke), Fred Fisher and Billy Rose’s “I’d Rather Be Blue Over You (Than Be Happy with Somebody Else),” “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” (Burton Lane, Alan Jay Lerner), and Milton Schafer and Ira Levin’s “He Touched Me.”

The second evening, “Streisand Songbird: Memories,” was largely devoted to her disparate and sometimes debatable output in the 1970s and 80s, including “The Way We Were” (Marvin Hamlisch, Alan and Marilyn Bergman), “Evergreen” (the Oscar-winning melody she wrote with Paul Williams lyrics for her version of A Star Is Born), “Stoney End” (Laura Nyro), “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” from Yentl (Michel Legrand, the Bergmans), and Bruce Roberts and Paul Jabara’s “No More Tears (Enough is Enough),” her 1979 hit duet with Donna Summer. For this middle section of the triad, which I did not see, pianist Rich Siegel was joined by Eliot Zigmund on drums and Bob Renino on bass. Fortunately, this trio remained in place to back up week three, with rich results.

“Hello Gorgeous! Barbra—Back to Broadway,” the finale set, found “Barbra” at age 70, looking back on her own Main Stem career (with a couple of movie versions thrown in) and her recordings of musical theatre songs made famous by others. DelVillaggio sang three Stephen Sondheim songs: “Send in the Clowns”; “Children Will Listen” as part of a medley with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from South Pacific; and “Somewhere” (Leonard Bernstein, Sondheim, from West Side Story). She reached way back to her own debut showstopper, Harold Rome’s “Miss Marmelstein” from I Can Get it For You Wholesale, and even further back to her favorite audition song, “Sleepin’ Bee” (Harold Arlen, Truman Capote, from House of Flowers). Abetted by her backup trio, a Hello Dolly! (Jerry Herman) medley and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl (Jule Styne, Bob Merrill) were particular knockouts. Enough audience members knew “Miss Marmelstein” well enough from the 1962 musical to chime in with the echo “Miss Marmelstein”s, uninvited and at the appropriate times, but not enough people remembered it well enough to make it quite the show-stopper for Carla it had been for Barbra.

“Don’t Rain on My Parade” was one of four selections from Funny Girl (stage or screen version) to appear in all three evenings. The others were the title song from the movie; the Fanny Brice signature song that was interpolated into the film, “My Man” (Channing Pollock, Maurice Yvain, Albert Willemetz, Jacques Charles); and, of course, “People.” These were all as astonishingly affecting as Streisand’s own renditions. Also included in all three sets was a funny send-up of the 1964 Streisand/Judy Garland television duet of Milton Ager and Jack Yellen’s “Happy Days Are Here Again” and “Get Happy” (Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler), with “Barbra” singing live and “Judy” chiming in from a screen above the stage. The many audience members who had seen two or even all three of the evenings didn’t seem to mind these reprises, and certainly neither did I.

DelVillaggio here was self-directed, and sometimes her between-songs chat seemed a little silly, and occasionally redundant. A director might tighten that a bit for future engagements. Also, while the 15-minute intermission in each evening may be understandable (the Beechman wants to sell more drinks and food and DelVaggio wants to change clothes), it does break the rhythm of what is, after all, a cabaret act and not a theatrical piece. Still, it’s a pleasure to say “Hello, Carla,” and please hurry back here where you belong: on a New York nightclub stage.

Mark Dundas Wood, Simply Show-Biz

Storied Bon Soir Niterie Reopens with Turn by Talented Faux-Barbra
by Mark Dundas Wood, Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Simply Showbiz
The Bon Soir, back in its heyday.

In Intimate Nights, his 1991 book on the history of New York cabaret, writer James Gavin described the celebrated (some would say notorious) Bon Soir nightclub:

“[The] fabled café opened on September 6, 1949, in a basement on 40 West 8th Street in Greenwich Village. Much of the Bon Soir’s appeal came from its out-of-the-way, almost illicit feeling. A walk down thirty-one steps led to a square black room owned and run by the Mafia, where blacks and whites, gays and straights mingled without a trace of tension. On one side of the room was a gay bar. Those seeking a highbrow atmosphere had to look elsewhere.”
Among the entertainers who performed at the plaster-walled club were Phyllis Diller, Kaye Ballard, Alice Ghostley, and Larry Storch. But the Bon Soir is best remembered for the early performances of Barbra Streisand between 1960 and 1962. The nightclub closed in 1967, after hobbling along with performances by mediocre Borscht Belt-style performers. Streisand, meanwhile, had moved uptown to Broadway—en route to Malibu.

Last week, reported that Streisand fans had been thrown for a loop with reports that the Bon Soir was reopening and that Barbra Streisand herself would be singing there on Monday, June 4. The news was only partly true. The “square black room” that Gavin described has in fact been refurbished. It’s part of the new locale for a club called The Pink Elephant. But the woman who reopened the room was not Streisand but rather a young singer named Carla DelVillaggio, who impersonates the mega-diva.

“Je m’appelle Carla.”

I attended the second show on Monday thanks to an invitation extended to by the show’s producer, Chip Duckett. My companion and I descended a dizzyingly lit staircase down to a small bar area where customers drank a grapefruit-based concoction called—what else?—a Bon Soir. These beverages were served by tall, elegant and stunningly beautiful young women.

Just before 9:30 audience members were ushered into the refurbished room. The bright, elephant-pink tablecloths on the small tables and the soft pink lights projected on the bottles behind the bar may have suggested the 1960s, but a 1970s influence was also evident, most notably in the form of a DJ booth and a large Deco-ish fixture that seemed to be a modified disco ball.

The following day I spoke with Duckett, who told me that—at least for now—the Bon Soir will function as a cabaret only on certain nights (notably, Mondays) and that the audiences for its shows will mostly be invited guests. There won’t be long engagements by headliners. Instead, for the time being, the space will feature special one-off events.
As for Carla DelVillaggio, she is a slight young woman with more than a passing resemblance to Streisand. On Monday she dressed in a recreation of Streisand’s ultramarine-blue sailor dress, accented with a bright red bow. DelVillaggio has the Barbra shrug down pat, and is especially adept at recreating the infectious Barbra giggle. She proved deft also at coping with shouted comments from a raucous, liquor-lubed audience–including one notably crude remark having to do with Funny Girl composer Jule Styne.

DelVillaggio sang a string of early songs from the Streisand repertoire, including “Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair?” and “When Sunny Gets Blue” (the latter featuring a lovely solo turn by pianist Rich Siegel). DelVillaggio demonstrated a spooky ability to channel the icon—at times you would swear you were seeing a hologram of a teenage Streisand. DelVillaggio even captured the star’s particular way of narrowing her eyes while singing, during moments of intense concentration.

Did she sound like Streisand? Yes. When she talked, that is. DelVillaggio has a pleasant and expressive singing voice. But nobody has ever quite been able to capture the peculiarly raw yet crystalline sound of Streisand at 19 or 20—not even the more seasoned Streisand herself at 33 or 34. But that doesn’t mean the show wasn’t a good one. It was highly entertaining, and people seemed to go away happy. Duckett bubbled with excitement.

The follow-up? Next Monday at the Bon Soir will be a concert (and EP release celebration) for Broadway performer Matt Doyle of Broadway’s Spring Awakening. And in July DelVilaggio will have an engagement at the Laurie Beechman Theater in midtown Manhattan, performing three different programs of Streisand music.

The Way to Peace

Music and Lyric by Rich Siegel

Inspired by quote: “There is no way to peace.  Peace is the way.”  -A.J. Muste

The way to peace is peace
It’s not deception, it’s not invasion, it’s not lies
The way to peace is peace
So sad to see a family’s grief, hear a widow’s cries

The way to peace is peace
We are not safer for toppling statues, for dropping bombs
The way to peace is peace
The only peace, the peace the heals, the peace that calms

The way to peace is to live and let live
It’s to be and to simply let be
The way to peace is to dwell in that knowledge
For it is the truth that will set you free

The way to peace is peace
It’s not imposing our will on others for our own gain
The way to peace is peace
So let’s end the violence, end the suffering, end the pain

The way to peace is equality, justice, fair trade,
and real freedoms for all
The way to peace is to worship in our way
While others may follows a different call

The way to peace is peace
It isn’t war, even if loudly they proclaim
that peace will be achieved through war
It isn’t true, it can’t be done, for this we know,
the way is peace, in God’s name

The way to peace is peace

Copyright Rich Siegel All Rights Reserved
Way to Peace Music Publishing ASCAP

One Truth, Many Paths

Music and Lyric by Rich Siegel

There’s one truth, but many paths to God above
There’s one truth, but many ways to claim his love
In a church or in a temple, in a mosque or in a shrine
There’s one truth, one truth, but many paths

There’s one truth, but many names for God on high
There’s one truth, but many ways to call him nigh
The Muslims call him Allah, the Lakota say Great Spirit
There’s one truth, one truth, but many names

In this world of ours the ego takes the stage
Things get misunderstood
There are those who say they ‘re right
That they have the only way
But standing in that judgment is the enemy of truth
For cultures are many, religions are many, paths are many,
God is one

There’s one truth, but many paths to God above
There’s one truth, but many ways to claim his love
His love is the same for everyone, no matter what you call him
There’s one truth, and that one truth is, God is one

In this world of ours the ego takes the stage
Things get misunderstood
There are those who say that their God is dealing in real estate
But God does not play favorites, that’s a sacrilege to truth
For cultures are many, religions are many, paths are many,
God is one

There’s one truth, but many paths to God above
There’s one truth, but many ways to claim his love
His love is the same for everyone, no matter what you call him
Dios, Gott, Allah, Ha-Shem

There’s one truth, and that one truth is, God is on
There’s one truth, and that one truth is, God is one
Shema, Col Ha-Olam, Adonai Elohainu, Adonai Echad

Copyright Rich Siegel All Rights Reserved
Way to Peace Music Publishing ASCAP

In Palestine

Music by Rich Siegel
Lyric by Dave Lippman and Rich Siegel
Copyright 2009, all rights reserved
Way to Peace Music Publishing, ASCAP

You tell me all peoples need land of their own
All the others have theirs, why not leave us alone?
We bought it, we brought it to bloom in the sun
It’s ours- always was

We won’t let them take back our homes and our trees
We won’t have them driving us into the seas
That’s why we are forcing them down on their knees
(pause) But the children are dying in Palestine

You tell me of centuries caught in despair
Pogroms, persecutions, and final solutions
The need of a homeland, safety for Jews
I hear you

You tell me of hatred, of fear and attack
Of enemies everywhere, we must fight back
The border town’s under the gun-
(pause) But a hundred to one, the children are dying in Palestine

You say
There can never be peace
’til their outrages cease
Of course, they say the same

You say it’s not true that we forced them to leave
That Jews would do that you just cannot believe
The Arabs are treacherous, born to deceive
The hate us

Well, it’s true we’ve been hated, but when we arrive
And take over their country in the name of our surviv-al
Is it any wonder that peace cannot thrive
While the children are dying in Palestine?

Instrumental break

I’m told
Every state has its Jews
Even Jews have their Jews
They’ve been there all along

You say we must search for some moderate way
We must find a middle ground to save the day
We shouldn’t have settlements, they shouldn’t prey on our nation

But where is the middle and where the extremes?
We’ve settled their farmlands and stolen their streams
Our generous offers are not what they seem
And the children are dying in Palestine

We’re trapped in this horror, it won’t go away.
We’ve conquered, but conquering won’t win the day
We inspire their hatred, we watch in dismay
It’s madness

Suppose we did take their land, planned it all along
Can we look at ourselves and admit we’ve done wrong
Can we all live together, can we all belong
Can we stop all this killing in Palestine?

Please God no more children dying in Palestine

Help is On the Way/ Nuestra Ayuda Llegara

Music and English lyric by Rich Siegel
Spanish lyric by Estephany Madera and Manny Perez
Arabic lyric by Salma Habib

Don’t ever doubt that all the world is one family
All of us children of the same God
And don’t ever doubt that when there’s hardship and suffering
The children of God get together
to help all our family in trouble
Help is on the way

We will help you, we will help you
Help is on the way
We will help you, we will help you
Help is on the way

Nunca lo dudes que el mundo es una familia
Somos los hijos de un mismo Dios
Nunca lo dudes cuando Ustedes esten sufriendo
Los hijos de Dios nos unimos
en la adversidad como hermanos

Nuestra ayuda llegara
Llegaremos, alli estaremos,
Nuestra ayuda llegara
Llegaremos, alli estaremos,
Nuestra ayuda llegara

And even when things are looking worse than impossible
Even when darkness descends on your world
The light of your love connects with friends who are near and far
And all ‘round the world we are gathering,
to help all our family in trouble
Help is on the way

We will help you, we will help you
Help is on the way
We will help you, we will help you
Help is on the way

Llegaremos, alli estaremos,
Nuestra ayuda llegara
Llegaremos, alli estaremos,
Nuestra ayuda llegara

We will help you, we will help you
Help is on the way
We will help you, we will help you
Help is on the way
(In Arabic):
We will help you, we will help you
Help is on the way
We will help you, we will help you
Help is on the way

Copyright Rich Siegel, Estephany Madera, Manny Perez, Salma Habib (Khshaiboon) All Rights Reserved
Way to Peace Music Publishing ASCAP

A Short Story

The following short story was published in “Allegro”, the newspaper of the New York local of the American Federation of Musicians. Rich was working at the Omni Park Central at the time, and the incident described occurred in front of that hotel.

short story

Illustration: Louis Fulguoni

Another cocktail hour. The room was full of people not listening to music. They were paying more attention to the free hors d’oeuvres, enjoying their end-of-work-day conversations, closing their deals, and having a few to ease the tensions of the day, but not listening to music. Some all-too-familiar feelings drifted into his head. “Is this worth it?” “Do I even like what I’m playing?” He instructed himself, “Shift into automatic and get through the night.”

He glanced at his watch. Time to take twenty. “Why not?”, he thought. “Local 802 says I can.”

Outside in front of the hotel he watched the flow of traffic and the occasional pretty girl. It was a cool, pleasant late summer’s evening.

A bum approached. A street person. (It seems that we’re supposed to refer to them as “the homeless” out of respect now that there are so many of them.) He had few teeth, needed a shave and a bath badly. His over-size winter coat which one imagines doubles as a blanket was filthy. His long gray tangles drooped over his collar. One might turn away but he had a friendly smile.

“Say, would ya’ hail me a cab?”

So as not to be impolite, even thought it was obvious that the man was not going to need a taxi, “I can’t but the gentleman over there can help you.” pointing to the doorman.


“Say, you look sharp!” he said, admiring the tuxedo. “Do you always dress like that?”

“Only when I’m working.” Oops. He hoped it didn’t sound like a slight against people who weren’t working.

“Well, if you’re working, how come you can’t get me a cab?”

“I work inside. I’m on a break.”

“Whattaya’ do? Maitre d’?”

“No. I play the piano.”

His eyes lit up. “No kidding! You play the piano in there?”

“Yeah. In the lounge.”

“That’s great! I’ll bet you can make a buck.” He looked out at the street. “Y’know, ya’ gotta make nine hundred dollars a week just to get by in this town.”

The pianist winced a little as his earnings that week were pretty nearly guessed.

The man continued, “I’m not from here, and I’m thinkin’ about gettin’ out soon.”

“Oh yeah, where are you from?”
“Providence, Rhode Island. Where are you from?”

“Rockland County, upstate.”

“So you play the piano in there, huh?”


“You sing, too?”


“I used to sing.”

He stepped closer to where a bad smell became very noticeable, and with breath that stank of cheap wine, he chimed,

“It’s not the pale moon that excites me,
That thrills and delights me,
Oh no!

He continued, and the beauty of his voice was startling! Though a little gravelly from exposure to the elements and too much alcohol, the full, rich baritone shone through. His phrasing was lovely, and his pitch and intonation impeccable, starting in D-flat and ending precisely in D-flat.

The pianist was taken aback, “You have a lovely voice.”

A little embarrassed, the man responded, “I went to Catholic school. We sang Gregorian Chant. They teach you how to sing good. You never forget.” Excited, he repeated, “I went to Catholic School. We sang Gregorian Chant.”

The pianist suppressed the inclination to make some platitude about pursuing a singing career.

“Things used to be easier. I used to live in Chelsea. 23rd Street, 24th Street, 25th Street. You could always get a room. That’s all I needed. Just a room.” Then, “I live on the street now.”

An uncomfortable silence. The pianist did not want to say, “I know.”

The homeless man continued, “Maybe the East Village. I haven’t been down there in awhile. Lots of struggling artists. Struggling artists are good people. Y’know, they all chip in on a place together.”

To which the pianist replied, “It’s tough down there, too. The whole city is tough.”

“You know how tough it is, don’t you?” asked the homeless man inquisitively.

“Yeah.” answered the pianist cautiously, aware that the time he spent “paying dues”, living in uncomfortable shared apartments, was still a far cry from the street.

“Down in the East Village, they got those condos down there too now, huh?” Y’know what they do when they wanna make a condo? Throw a little cash at you. Tell you to get out. Like in Chelsea…” He was becoming a little overwhelmed at being taken seriously.

Sensing break-time was over, the pianist wished he could invite his friend inside. He glanced at his watch. “I have to go back to work.”

Offering a grimy hand, the man said, “Thanks.”

Accepting the hand but not the thanks, “It was nice talking with you.”

“Good luck.” said the man, enthusiastically, as if to say, “Sing for me, too.”

“Good luck.” he repeated, and offered his hand again.

“Good luck.” a third time, as they shook hands.

“Damn!” thought the pianist as he returned to the keyboard. “Why didn’t I give him twenty bucks?” He turned to the mike, and pouring from him quite spontaneously came his most joyful rendition of “THE NEARNESS OF YOU” in D-flat. And somehow it didn’t matter that the people still weren’t listening.”


My Story

whendowejewsnoticeMy Story                                     Rich Siegel

Rich Siegel is on the Board of Advisors of Deir Yassin Remembered.

Thanks for checking out my “Activist” page. I’m going to be doing a lot more with this in the near future, but in the meantime, a brief statement, some suggested informational web-sites and charities, and a suggested reading/viewing list.

I am an Ashkenazi Jew. My ancestors came to America from countries in Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century, four sets of great grandparents from four different countries. Of those family members that remained in Europe, we know for sure that three of them were murdered by the Nazis. We can imagine that numerous relatives that we don’t know about may have also been murdered, as all of the four countries my family came from were occupied by the Nazis and all of the Jewish communities in those countries suffered heavy losses. At the time of WWll, only one of my grandparents was in touch with family in the “old country”. We therefore know nothing of the fate of the family of my other three grandparents.

When I was a young child my parents and a group of their friends founded the Beth Am Temple in Pearl River, NY. The synagogue was very active in promoting the Zionist agenda, and in promoting Israel Bonds, the purchase of trees in Israel, sponsoring a Zionist youth group, and other pro-Israel activities. As a teenager, I was president of a Zionist youth group, and member of two others, including the one at my synagogue. Also as a teenage, I participated in the massive demonstration at the UN against Arafat’s speaking appearance there, this on the grounds that he was a “terrorist”. In my early 20’s I worked in Israel for a short time, as pianist at the Plaza Hotel in Tiberias (which I never include on my resume!)

Several years ago, as I got sick and tired of all the bad news coming from Israel, and caring deeply about it, I decided that I needed to educate myself thoroughly on the subject. I considered myself fairly well-read and well-informed, but I wanted to know everything. So, I began reading everything I could get my hands on- from both sides of the issue, and talking to everyone I could find who had first-hand knowledge- again from both sides. I fully expected this process to deepen my support for Israel. It did not.

What I found out is that I had been lied to all my life, by people who were also lied to, and that I had supported something that I never would have supported had I been told anything resembling the truth. The truth is this: Zionism was a political agenda which sought to take a land with a 95% non-Jewish population on it, Palestine, and make it into a Jewish-exclusivist state. It accomplished this in 1948 through massacres, campaigns of fear, and military forced mass expulsions, making three quarters of a million people homeless. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine was not completely accomplished at that time, as Zionism failed to conquer all of Palestine and large Arab communities remained, but the process has continued since 1948 by various means, including the military conquest in 1967 of the portion of Palestine not conquered in 1948, and the brutal occupation an illegal settlement of those territories which continues to this day. The Palestinians have been resisting what anyone would resist: having literally everything stolen from them.

The idea that Jews could find a safe haven by committing a monstrous crime against humanity is patently absurd, and yet so many still cling to the tragically ridiculous romance of the Zionist “dream”, more like a nightmare. It is also a terrible irony that the victims of the horrendous crime that the Nazis perpetrated, are now the perpetrators of another horrendous crime. I personally feel very angry that the memory of my murdered relatives is being used cynically, to promote a criminal agenda.

This is obviously the short story, without much detail. I’m thinking about how to use my web-site to offer information on the issue in greater detail. One thing I can do is offer links where more information can be found. And I’m going to shamelessly promote the web-sites (See next page) put up by friends of mine who are doing a great job.


I sent this page to a few rabbis that I’m acquainted with. Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation B’nai Yeshurun in Teaneck, NJ responded with his blackberry, from the airport, coincidentally- or not so coincidentally, on his way to Israel:EVERY country on earth was founded through military conquest, including the US. You should be asking yourself why it only bothers you when it involves Jews. You should be more concerned about Indian rights. My flight to Israel is boarding. Answer the question to yourself, but think about it first.

My response to the rabbi:

Thanks Rabbi. That’s the most candid you’ve been. I think your statement is historically incorrect, especially in that you use the word EVERY. However, you are correct in equating what America did to the Native Americans to what we Jews have done to the Arabs of Palestine. It bothers me very much that a man of G-d such as yourself would be cynical enough to justify one monstrous crime against humanity by comparing it to another. It reminds me of badly behaved children on a playground. “Well, Teacher, HE did it, too.”

The ethnic cleansing of the Native Americans happened long ago. The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians is happening right now. 53 Palestinians were expelled from East Jerusalem just yesterday. (August 2, 2009)

My Prayer

This essay originally published on “Righteous Jews

I recognize that there is One God, One Love, everywhere present, that the fabric of the Universe is made of this One Love, One Spirit, that The One expresses as star, as rock, as sand, as tree, as flower, as bird, as snail, as fish, as mammal, as all of matter, and all of life from the lowest to the highest, that this One Love expresses as Humanity in all its races and cultures, and that all of Humankind’s religions are attempts to embrace and access the One Love which is our truest, deepest, eternal nature; are attempts to KNOW our eternal nature, and to unite with our source, One God, One Love.

I know, that as God expresses as Me, that God and I are One. I know equally that as God expresses as my brothers and sisters, that I am One with all my brothers and sisters, and that my brothers and sisters are all One with God. I know that the three Abrahamic faiths all teach that there is One God, and so I know that I am one with all Muslims and Christians and Jews, and one with all peoples of all faiths around the world and one with people who do not acknowledge faith. I am unified in Spirit with all of God’s human family. That spirit is made of Love and it thrives in an environment of peace. I embrace all of my human family, and all of the planet, with all its life forms, in the spirit of peace.

I affirm that the spirit of peace lives and thrives in the Holy Land. I affirm that all its children grow up in an atmosphere of peace, justice, equality, abundance, nurturing, and good will. I affirm, as it is written, Lo Yisa Goy El Goy Cherev, V’lo Yilm’ Du Od Milchama. Nation Shall Not Lift Up Sword Against Nation, Neither Shall They Know War Any More.

I deny that old and antiquated ways of thinking have any power any more. I deny that any association of religion with ideas of bigotry, tribal chauvinism, or preferential relationship with God, have any sway over the followers of the three Abrahamic faiths any more. I deny that true followers of the One God, will ever misinterpret the will of God in such a way that they use it to harm their fellow man, any more. I deny that selfish economic motive can have any more power in a spiritually evolving humanity.

I re-affirm that the followers of the three Abrahamic faiths, and all faiths, and those that do not follow a faith, live an accordance with their awareness of all humankind as brethren. I see swords being turned into plowshares in the Holy Land, and all over the planet. I see America shutting down all of its overseas bases and bringing all of its troops home. I see the dismantling of all nuclear warheads, beginning in a place called Dimona. I see my Jewish people re-interpreting our history, taking responsibility for it, ceasing to consider “What’s good for the Jews”, and instead considering “What’s good for all humankind”, knowing that what’s good for all is what’s good for the Jews. I see the end of Jewish supremacy in the Holy Land, and I see those who have been cast out invited to return to conditions of peace and brotherhood. I see Jews humbly surrendering properties that have been stolen to those who lost them.

I see the followers of the three Abrahamic faiths removing any and all notions of bigotry from their religious teachings. I see the end to all bigotry against ethnic and religious groups, the end to all bigotry against women, the end to all bigotry against homosexuals. I see the end to all un-evolved notions of God, as a man with a beard and a book, sitting on a cloud, having any dealing with favorite tribes or people or real estate. I see the end to the concept of “chosen-ness”, and I see all peoples aware that all are equally chosen.

I see myself bringing my family to enjoy Gaza as a peaceful beach resort, with no threat of IDF bombs. I see myself harvesting olives in the West Bank, with my Palestinian brothers and sisters, under conditions of peace, with no threat of settler violence. I see myself traveling the Holy Land, north to south, east to west, being equally welcomed in mosque, synagogue, and church. I see the teachings of Mohammed, of Jesus, and of the Jewish prophets, respected by all. I see the joy of peaceful co-existence, of diversity, and the awareness of unity in that diversity.

I see all these things because I know that all my human brothers and sisters are infinitely capable of knowing their oneness with God, and with each other, and are infinitely capable of taking on their first and most important responsibility: to care for the angels that God gives us to care for: our children and our neighbors’ children.

I release this prayer to God and God’s Universe, as I see the gentle hush of peace in the Holy Land and all over the planet, as I lay myself to sleep with the joyful expectation that the morning will bring the sounds of the playful laughter of all the children of the planet, living in peace.

And I am grateful.
And so it is.

The Cult of Atheist Zionism Posing as Judaism

“This essay was first published in Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists. (2012). Editor: Avigail Abarbanel. Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle UK.”

I consider myself a cult survivor. I was raised in the cult of Atheist-Zionism-Posing-as-Judaism. I stated this to a few select friends several years ago, and they thought it was funny. The statement brought with it a pregnant pause, as though a punch line was going to follow, as though I were telling a joke. No punch line. I’m serious. More recently, subsequent to Israel’s 2006 Lebanon war and the massacre in Gaza of 2008-2009, I find that I can say this and it is taken seriously. People know that something is very seriously wrong with Israel, and with the culture that supports Israel. They may not understand it, but they’re more open than they were.

My family’s involvement with Zionism goes back to its beginnings. It includes a grandfather who fought with the Jewish Legion to “liberate” Palestine from the Turks in WWI, great-great-grandparents who went to Jerusalem for their retirement in the 1920’s, the best buddy of an uncle who smuggled arms from Czechoslovakia to Jewish terrorist groups in Palestine in the lead-up to the 1948 war, grandparents who were officers in their local B’nai Brith chapter, and a cousin who was involved in “Operation Mural”. He currently represents Jewish/Zionist NGOs at the United Nations office in Geneva. His wife writes Muslim-bashing books under a pseudonym.

During my childhood, Zionism and Israel were held up on a pedestal. They were central to our existence, our identity, our raison d’être. They were our sub-cultural equivalent of “Mom and apple pie”. I grew up convinced that they were perfect and beyond reproach. There was simply nothing in my environment to indicate otherwise. Finding out that I had been lied to all my life, and that I had been supporting something that I would never have supported had I been told anything resembling the truth, has been absolutely shattering.

My Atheist-Jewish parents got together with a group of their Jewish friends in 1963 to start up a new Reform synagogue in the suburb of Pearl River, New York, which previously had not had a synagogue. Some in this group were atheists, some had religious beliefs. I grew up in Beth Am Temple, where the belief system echoed that of my parents:

“We’re proud to be Jews, members of this ancient group that everybody hates for no reason. We love Israel, our Jewish country that we need as our refuge in case another Hitler comes to power. Everybody hates Israel for no reason, just like everybody hates Jews for no reason.”

We knew about relatives who had perished in the holocaust. Although they were distant cousins, the holocaust loomed large for us. Our awareness of the massive loss of Jewish life during that dark time formed a significant part of our sense of who we were. This combined with the liberal political agenda of the 1960s and 1970s. We opposed the war in Vietnam. We supported African Americans in their struggle for equal rights. We opposed American overseas military activity while supporting Israeli military activity, and saw no contradiction in this. Israel was different. There were antisemitic Arab hordes trying to drive the Jews into the sea. It was about survival.

I took Hebrew School and Judaism seriously. When I was old enough, I began fasting on Yom Kippur even though my parents did not fast. Lessons on the holocaust were presented to me both in Hebrew School and in my parents’ discussions of their personal philosophy. One aspect of the history made a big impression on me: There were Germans and other Europeans who protected Jews from the Nazis, often at great personal risk. I thought about what I might do if I were in their situation. What would it be like to know that your people were committing monstrous crimes against humanity, and to have to make a choice between loyalty to them and doing the right thing? Opposing America’s crimes in Vietnam was a clear choice, but considering the possibility of having to oppose my people, the Jews, seemed impossible. I was glad that there was no reason to do this.

There was a paradoxical element to our worldview. We considered that it was through our “Jewish values”, our superior Jewish intellect and morality, that we were able to embrace progressive agendas. As contradictory as this was—I consider chauvinism antithetical to anything progressive—there was evidence to support it in my environment. Jews tended to be liberal Democrats, anti-war and pro-civil rights. The majority of the population in my town, Irish and Italian Catholics, tended to be conservative Republicans, pro-war, and racist. This was back when there were real differences between Democrats and Republicans.

My sub-culture didn’t mix well with the local majority culture. In the second grade a girl told me that her father said I killed Jesus. I told her I’d never killed anybody. I was a skinny smart kid who wore glasses, got very good grades, and sucked at sports. In my family, sport was not stressed and academic achievement was. I was a target for the tough non-Jewish kids I grew up with. And I was bullied quite a lot. Taunts of “Jew-boy” and “faggot” were frequent—lack of prowess in sport being ample evidence of homosexuality in the tribe of the playground, and there was occasional violence. I was also a bully, although it took me many years to see this. I took my humiliation out on kids who were more vulnerable than me: the fat kid at school, and my younger brother at home. I found refuge in music, discovering early on that music was power. It earned the respect of my peers. I didn’t get bullied on school concert days. Music also provided something else, which I did not have language to describe at the time. It filled a void produced by the spiritual desert I was raised in. The rejection of God, the belief in the privilege of belonging to a universally despised and superior people, and the pressure to achieve academically to prove that we were indeed superior, were not working for me, although consciously I accepted all of it. Music was spirituality—a term I would have rejected at the time. It provided a sense of wholeness, which my anti-religious religion was not providing.

There was one childhood incident that gave me pause. On a visit to see an elderly aunt who lived at an Orthodox Jewish nursing home, my brother and I encountered Orthodox Jewish kids. Their parents did not allow them to play with us. My parents explained that because they were Orthodox they viewed us as goyim. It occurred to me that even the kids at school who bullied me were still allowed to play with me. By the time I reached high school the bullying had become overt Jew-hatred. Kids would throw pennies at me. “Pick it up, Jew boy.” They were just as cruel to the very few African American kids at Pearl River High School, delivering taunts of “nigger” and making jungle noises. My parents decided to leave this racist town, and move to a place with a larger Jewish population.

Spring Valley was only a few miles away but worlds apart. The daily humiliations ended and I thrived. My experience of what we called antisemitism had served to make me more committed to Judaism, and by extension to Zionism, as the two were inseparable in our belief system. I believed Jews were persecuted, and that I had been personally persecuted, for being moral, intelligent, progressive.

I was an active teenage Zionist. In 1974 I went with a group of kids from my Jewish summer camp to protest against Arafat’s appearance at the UN, on the grounds that he was a terrorist. I had never seen so many people in one place before. The sea of humanity stretching several city blocks reassured me that I was on the right side. There was a disturbing incident at a Zionist youth group I attended. Our adult sponsors wrote Zionist lyrics to songs from West Side Story, and passed around lyric sheets for a sing-along: “When you’re a Jew you’re a Jew all the way.” One repeated line stated, “We’ll kill those Syrians.” I remember feeling uncomfortable. Did I really want to sing about killing people? I rationalised that it must be OK. Arabs are our enemies. The adults in charge wouldn’t do something wrong. I sang along. (Apologies to Leonard Bernstein, and to Syria.)

After I graduated from college I took a trip with my family to Israel, to celebrate my youngest brother’s Bar Mitzvah. The previous Bar Mitzvahs in my family, mine and my other brother’s, were held at Beth Am, but now my mother was fulfilling a life-long dream with her youngest, celebrating a Bar Mitzvah at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Afterwards I was approached by an Orthodox Rabbi and it was the first and only time in my life that I’ve ever laid tefillin.

While we toured Israel I managed to secure employment playing piano at a luxury hotel. My family left, and I began my adventure in my Jewish country. My experience there was confusing. I was often taken for being a goy. I am light-complexioned, with light hair and green eyes, but so are many Ashkenazi Jews. Perhaps I don’t carry myself Jewish. I often heard disparaging comments like sheygetz, that people assumed I didn’t understand. Then when it was revealed that I was indeed Jewish, there was warmth and welcome. Acceptance was clearly conditional. I didn’t like the way it felt. It was not lost on me that I’d had my ass kicked as a kid for being a Jew, that Orthodox Jewish kids were not permitted to associate with me, and now as an adult in my Jewish country, I was rejected as a presumed goy.

I didn’t like the feel of the place and was glad to leave, when an offer came to play shows on a Caribbean cruise ship. The job was fun at first but it soon became a challenge. I was getting burned out from many months at sea, but I was afraid of getting off ship, being unemployed and forced into medical school—something my father wanted me to do. It wasn’t just that I didn’t want to be a Jewish stereotype (“my son the doctor”), but that I had my own direction as a musician. I would take a week or two off here and there, and run up to New York to look for work, without success. On one road trip back to the Port of Miami I checked into a road-side motel in Southern Georgia.

I realise that in discussing my “revelation on the road to Miami” I leave myself open to various interpretations. Some might not be so kind. However, simply stated, I checked into a motel an atheist who was going through some emotional turmoil, and checked out a believer in One God. I have remained one ever since. Not a god who had an only son who died for my sins, and not a god who deals in real estate, but One God, One Love that connects us all to Him/Her/It, to each other, and to Eternity, to the fabric of the Universe, which is One Love.

I immediately had to re-think my childhood, my atheist parents who were founders of a synagogue, the tribal paranoia and martyrdom and the disdain for any notion of spirituality. I saw clearly the worship of the twin idols of Jewish identity and Israel. I identified the spiritual desert for what it was, and brought my new awareness home to a family that included two troubled younger brothers. My parents assumed that I had been converted by a Catholic girlfriend. I offered that if they would care to look into the Jewish religion, they would find that God is actually a big part of it.

I quit working the ships, settled in New York and soon became an in-demand freelance musician. I began to look for a Jewish place of worship where I would be comfortable. Orthodox Judaism was out of the question because of its multitudes of laws and the endless debate and analysis about them. Why would the Master of the Universe give a hoot if I push a baby carriage on the Sabbath, inside or outside a wire perimeter hung between telephone poles? I wasn’t going near any of that. I investigated Reconstructionist Judaism but found that they were worshipping Jewish tribal identity and Israel much the same as in my Reform synagogue.

Finally and reluctantly I began looking outside Judaism. The “New Thought” movement, consisting of various types of churches and centres, has worked nicely for me for many years. I’m a member of the Congregation of Universal Wisdom, which does not offer religious services, and I attend services regularly at Unity churches and Religious Science centres. I enjoy the focus on One God without tribalism, and often provide music for religious services.

Remarkably, for many years, having identified contemporary Jewish culture as a cult, and having gone outside Judaism to worship, I was still so totally indoctrinated into Zionism, that I continued to believe all the mythology. I still believed that Israel had never done anything to harm anyone, that we went to Palestine wanting good neighbourly relations, but the Arabs just hated us for no reason. Distanced from Judaism and Jewish culture, I still held a “liberal Zionist” stand politically.

I got married in 1998 to my lovely wife Xuan who is Chinese. I married for love disregarding the Jewish directive against intermarriage. The following year we left the city for suburban New Jersey. In 2004 my wife, pregnant with our daughter Emily, came to visit me at an out-of-town job. While waiting for her outside the train station in Providence, Rhode Island, I discovered a table that activists had put out displaying literature about the Israel-Palestine conflict. (Outreach works!). Curious, I picked up some material, including Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer, by Phyllis Bennis. I got to the section about the Deir Yassin massacre. Jews massacring Arabs. My jaw dropped. This had somehow been concealed from me all my life.

I’ve been reading continuously since then. I’ve come to understand that Zionism has been a political agenda that sought to take a land with a 95% non-Jewish population, and turn it into a Jewish-exclusivist state. It achieved this in 1948 through massacres, campaigns of fear, and military forced mass expulsions—taking over most of Palestine and making over three quarters of a million people homeless, establishing the state of Israel on mostly stolen land. In 1967 it conquered the balance of Palestine, beginning an era of brutal occupation and settlement in occupied areas. It’s not rocket science to come to the conclusion that this is criminal, and just as easy to dismiss the various excuses commonly given for it.

Becoming active in the cause was automatic. I remembered having learned as a child about individual Europeans who protected Jews against Nazis, and having admired their commitment to doing right while insanity prevailed in the world around them. I had pondered what I would do in their position, later to discover that I had been in their position all my life without knowing it. I also credit my parents, because even in their atheism, and even though they taught me the lies they had been taught about Israel, they always valued justice and human rights more than anything else. I learned that from them. Today they are disillusioned with Israel.

It hasn’t been easy. I’ve lost long-term friends and some family members. But I really don’t feel a sense of loss about it. I see those relationships as having been Jewish relationships, based on a requisite tribal agenda, rather than genuine friendships. The friends and family that matter are still with me.

Perhaps the most difficult part was coming to appreciate the reality of the criminality of Zionism at the same time as becoming a father. It’s excruciating to know that Palestinian fathers cannot keep their children safe because of the insanity of this programme that unknowingly I supported all my life. This adds to my passion as an activist. I find it painful to witness the spectacular hypocrisy of a people who are still whining, “Where was the world during the holocaust?” while committing another holocaust in Palestine. It’s a depravity that paradoxically I find both familiar and unfathomable. The willingness among Jews to obsess with Jewish suffering while being completely immune to Palestinian suffering, scares me. I don’t want to believe that I come from a place that sick.

Remembering myself as a child, both a victim of bullying and an unconscious bully, I’ve sometimes been tempted to excuse Israel. But Israel’s leaders know. Zionism’s leaders through history have always known. And the public has always had the responsibility to know.

Having made a U-turn on Zionism, I still had to resolve my relationship with my Jewish tribal identity. Two incidents served to cement a decision about this issue. The first was in 2006. It was the story of Tove Johannson, a young Swedish peace worker. While escorting Palestinian children home from school in Hebron, the group was attacked by settlers chanting, “We killed Jesus. We’ll kill you, too.” A settler broke a bottle over the young woman’s face and caused her severe injuries. I remembered having been accused of killing Jesus at the tender age of seven, and was shocked that members of my tribe were admitting it, and proud of it, while acting in a depraved and violent manner. It seemed to me that they were almost begging for the next holocaust, and were making it unsafe to be a Jew.

Soon after, in 2007, I found out that a local Orthodox synagogue was planning to host a West Bank settlement real estate event. An Israeli company was touring American synagogues selling settlement homes directly to American Jews. I organised a demonstration against it (with no help from the local “peace and justice coalition”, a largely Jewish organisation that refused to get involved), and thought it a good idea to contact the rabbi and ask him to cancel the event. This led to a lively email correspondence, as the rabbi saw an opportunity to try to bring a wayward son back into the fold.

When it came up that I have a Chinese wife and a mixed-race daughter, he became disgusted and ordered me to not raise my daughter Jewish, because by Jewish law she is not. When I told him about having come to believe in God and that my belief directs me to reject tribal chauvinism, he insisted that I had invented my own god. It became clear to me that his god only exists in a book that can be misinterpreted and manipulated so perversely that it can lead to the justification of murder and theft. I saw clearly that he, and those like him, are atheists just as much as the atheist Jews of my childhood synagogue. (The real estate event went on as planned.)

I made the decision to stop calling myself a Jew, to simply leave the cult. I respect the Jewish activists who speak about the crimes of Zionism as antithetical to “Jewish values”, but I’ve had quite enough of “Jewish values”, and embrace only universal values. Judaism, like all ancient religions, is a mixed bag. You have to take what you like and leave the rest, or else be subject to its contradictions. Orthodox Zionists, who would be aghast at this notion, are the foremost practitioners of this, rejecting the “golden rule” found in Leviticus in favour of the tribalism and nationalism also found in various other writings.The honourable agenda of Reform Jewish anti-Zionists like Elmer Berger and Alfred Lilienthal failed miserably. They promoted a Judaism based on the universalism of the prophets, rejecting Jewish nationalism. Not only were they unsuccessful, but they’ve been all but forgotten. I take this as evidence that, despite other possibilities in the religion, the ethos of Jewish life is more about tribalism and nationalism than anything else. I do not wish to be part of it.

In considering whether I can be of better service to Palestine as an Anti-Zionist Jew or as an Anti-Zionist ex-Jew, I finally decided that representing myself honestly was the best path— the path more likely to bring better results.

I find I have little patience for those who advocate for a “two state solution” or for any solution that calls for continued Jewish exclusivity in any part of historic Palestine. Clearly, peace will come with justice, and justice calls for the return of the refugees and their descendants, and the re-making of this land into a pluralistic society. For me it’s simple: One God, one human race, equality, justice. We live in a world that tries to make those things very complicated. They are not.