Sounds of Sephardic Yom Kippur

I’m currently obsessed with this playlist.

Growing up in a sephardic shul, this was the kind of liturgy/music I was surrounded with. Though not quite — imagine no musical instruments, and about twenty old men refugees from Iran, Syria, Iraq, etc chanting instead.

Even back as a kid who was in an itchy suit, generally bored, and unhappy about being there, these songs (and I experienced them as songs) were really powerful. There was a sort of dusty, strained, longing in the voices of these men around me. Recreating, for just a few days a year, the accents, the music, the feeling of the countries they fled for their lives, in their youth.

When I was young, I heard a fair amount about my parents’ story — or rather my mother’s family. My dad was always closed-lipped about it. I know about how my grandparents fled Iran on the last ever commercial flight from Tehran to Tel Aviv. (Story here). But it was a personal story, not a larger historical-political one. What I missed was an understanding that everyone in that synagogue had a similar experience to my parents.

There was only one Sephardic shul in town. I say “Sephardic” and “Shul” kind of loosely — everyone not Ashkenazi [including persian, sephardic, mizrahi jews] was there. While “shul” generally refers to orthodox places of prayer, (“synagogue is for conservatives, temple for reform jews”), we covered everyone. Especially since for non-Ashkenazi jews, the whole “orthodox” “reform” “conservative” split is kind of alien.

I think a lot about jewish refugees from arab countries. Their old lives are gone. Very few jews are left in places like Afghanistan. The people in vibrant towns and enclaves were pogrom’d, harassed, and kicked out. And for those that ended up in places like Rochester, NY — they didn’t really fit the mold of what “jewish” tends to be assumed to mean in the US.

Anyway. This music takes me back. It makes emotional. I think you’d like it.

Start with #2: Et Sha’areh Ratson.

Thanks to The Kitchen for making this available on Soundcloud. Specifically Asher Shasho Levy



A friend and I were playing Starcraft (o.g. Brood War) the other day. We were chatting with some strangers on multiplayer, and here’s what we found:

  • No more spamming of slurs. Seems like either Blizzard’s filters have finally caught up, or all the idiot teenagers are no longer playing a 20-year old game.
  • A lot of players (even in US leagues) are from south america, or Korea.
  • One comparatively longer conversation online was with a guy who said he couldn’t wait for the pandemic to be over. Cheekily, we said something like, “why? more time for starcraft”. He answered that he was a single dad working 60 hours a week. That dampened that conversation.
  • The people who play starcraft these days are really, really, good at it.

My first experience with antisemitism was through starcraft. In the cloud of slurs (anti-gay, anti-black, etc), was weirdly the word “jew”. It was clear from the context that it wasn’t meant as a compliment, or even anything specific. Just another way to insult someone you’ve never met before.

It’s kinda nice to finally be able to play this game without running into it any more.