DAVID ZASLOFF PLAYS
CONGREGATION SHAAREI TORAH
By Linda Parker Horowitz
What happens when East meets West, Japan comes to L.A., and you eat sushi with kreplach? David Zasloff’s shofar concert/workshop and comedy experience at Congregation Shaarei Torah, a cross-cultural musical soup with a decidedly Jewish flavor.
Opening the evening with the traditional T’kiah G’dolah shofar blast, David’s sweet, spiritually haunting call to worship, fills the sanctuary and echoes through building, awakening our souls to begin the New Year, the tone lasting for what seems to be minutes, not the usual, countable seconds.
David’s shofar calls are musical, almost mellow, not the bright, harsh sound of even the most experienced Bal Tekiah (shofar player). As he continues, we happily discover David plays shofar like a musical instrument, treating the audience to a variety of tunes, including “Hatikvah.” We sing along.
After sharing the shofar’s history, vaguely resembling the Hebrew school version, David invites audience members with shofars to the stage for a lesson. Examining each, he politely asks if he might try to make a sound, both to prove the shofar will produce a note (with David, it does) and assure each owner that the instrument is Kosher. He coaches kids and grown-ups, helping those brave souls improve their technique for the High Holy Days. The youngest audience members, Ben Shilling and his big sister Hannah, and Bradley Horowitz wow everyone with their facility to produce loud, long shofar blasts – future Bal Tekiahs all, though from his stance, Ben may be destined to take his place with jazz horn greats, Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie.
Throughout the evening, David jokes amiably, putting everyone at ease, his deep-set eyes connecting with the audience. Moving seamlessly among instruments, he plays an exquisite piece on the autoharp, then a haunting melody on shakuhachi (Japanese) flute, playing diverse musical instruments with extraordinary ease and dexterity. He also plays trumpet, piano, percussion, and guitar. An audience of close to 100 members of Congregation Shaarei Torah and folks from the greater San Gabriel Valley Jewish community enjoy his music and comedic riffs. A Wynton Marsalis on shofar, David plays his own composition, “Jumpin’ In Jerusalem,” grooving and tapping the rhythm with his foot as if playing “Jig’s Jag.” Ending the piece, he raises his shofar in victorious punctuation. “Next year in Jerusalem,” he exhales. The audience breaks into cheers and applause, astounded by his virtuosity.
David began is musical odyssey in the Bronx at age 8 learning the bugle then trumpet, expanding to percussion, guitar, shakuhachi (Japanese) flute, and of course, shofar. He studied music at the High School of Music & Art in New York City, of “Fame” fame, then set-off on a journey toward spiritual enlightenment and whatever else intrigued him, stopping first in Vermont to be a ski instructor. After nearly dying on the McKenzie River, rather than developing a fear of water, David faced the rapids, not just learning how to run white water, but becoming a river guide on the Rogue River. Yet throughout his life, for David, “playing music has always been a spiritual pathway to consciousness; every time I pick-up an instrument, I experience God.” And his joy and connection to God translate to everyone present.
After one conversation with David, even his more offbeat adventures are not surprising. His demeanor seems relaxed and hip yet hamish. He easily intertwines his deep New York Jewish roots with a spirituality some might call New Age, delivering his thoughts casually, but never missing the opportunity for a comedic “throw away” to entertain.
His references to vices are far in the past, now leading a strict vegetarian, non-smoking, non-drinking, no sugar or carbs lifestyle. “Sugar will kill you. It’s like heroin,” he says matter-of-factly, as we chat by the table displaying his multiple CDs, his off-handed statement made just as the gooey baklava heads toward my taste buds. “Uh huh,” I mumble, filo dough flakes falling onto my skirt. I know his truth, but can’t beat my addiction. But there’s no judgment from David. He’s been down that road and many others to the here and now.
His commitment to Judaism matches his ardent dedication to music. He recounts the moving story of his recent visit to Cuba with his wife whose family escaped Castro, bringing aid in suitcases full of everyday items like toothbrushes and bandages, which aren’t available in Cuba. His surreptitious journey to a Cuban synagogue to daven is disheartening and sad; I see the crumbling bricks and worn pews of the sanctuary, the dark room dank and musty. Yet David’s Yiddishkayt and effusive heart endow the story with humor, bringing laughter and more importantly, hope. David launches into how similar the Jewish and Cuban souls and cultures are, proving his theory with a few bars of Latin music. He’s absolutely right – sounds like Klezmer.
He concludes the evening with all newly-appointed Bal Ti’keim standing for one communal G’dolah blast, though after an evening with David, our souls are not merely awake, they are jivin’ toward Jerusalem.
Linda Parker Horowitz is a marketing strategy, branding, and communications consultant and freelance writer. She is also the Marketing & Membership Vice President for Congregation Shaarei Torah.
David Zasloff is a master Japanese shakuhachi flutist, multi-instrumentalist, and comedian. His CDs include “Born to be Happy,” “I Feel Great,” “Meditations of the Heart,” “Honey, Take Me Home,” and “Courage and Wisdom.” David has written two books, “Zen Judaism, The Joy of Suffering” and “The Complete Book of Everything, Part I,” a collection of his comic monologues. He can be contacted via telephone 818-566-1442, or e-mail at: email@example.com. To experience his talents or purchase his CDs or DVD, go to www.davidzasloff.com.
MUSICIAN "PRAYS" KOL NIDRE WITH SHOFAR
By Lawrence Goldberg
Many have likened the Shofar's call to a "wake-up" call for our souls. Jewish Renewal Congregation B'nai Horin (Children of Freedom) of Simi Valley, California took this one step further this High Holiday Season when musician David Zasloff "prayed" the entire Kol Nidre on his Shofar. Those piercing tones, combined with the haunting Kol Nidre melody left the entire Congregation stunned, awed, and moved beyond what many, including this writer, had ever experienced for Kol Nidre.
It all began when Zasloff discovered he'd forgotten the mouthpiece for his trumpet. At the impromptu urging of Rabbi Stan Levi – who had heard Zasloff play Hatikva on a Shofar – Zasloff put the Shofar to his lips, and staying true to the melody of Kol Nidre, "prayed" the Shofar's starkly rich tones, completely filling the vast and magnificent space of the House of the Book at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute with what might be best described as pure musical prayer.
While this was certainly the first time in history that Kol Nidre was "prayed" with a Shofar, the powerful juxtaposition of the other worldly sound calling us back to our true selves within the prayer asking forgiveness for broken vows and promises was all that more compelling because Zasloff had never attempted it before, never rehearsed it. The extraordinary Kol Nidre prayer seemed to sweep the entire congregation into a collective state of grace.
Many congregants reported to be so inspired they were not tired late into the night, yet returned refreshed and still glowing for morning services the next day. Many said the Kol Nidre experience was like riding a wave of inspiration that lasted throughout Yom Kippur. At least one went home and sounded the Shofar late at night in his neighborhood. Every person who expressed a reaction reported an unprecedented level of emotional lightness, freedom, and connection.
Music has always been a mainstay of services at B'nai Horin. Rabbi Stan Levi believes that music is a direct path to the elevation of the soul, an approach he credits to the Hasidic tradition, where more than one story can be found that equates pure prayer with pure music.