I auditioned for The Voice Season 7. Watch the premiere on Sept. 22 to see how I did!

I auditioned for The Voice Season 7. Watch the premiere on Sept. 22 to see how I did!

Welcome

Michael Stein is a world renowned performer, composer, producer, and recording artist. A Grammy Award winner (cELLAbration) and nominee (Dreamosaurus), his songs have been recorded by the late Patsy Montana and have been in movies such as "The Little Traitor." He has recorded fiddle for artists such as Mary Chapin Carpenter and Tom Paxton. His songs have been published by Warner Chappell (We Are With You) and have played on thousands of radio stations world wide. In addition to producing cutting-edge music and concerts, he also serves as the cantor at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, California. He is the father of three sons who are accomplished musicians of their own. Together with his wife, Kelley, they perform nationally with their group, the Rolling Steins. Thanks for vising my site and be sure to join my mailing list.

Fifth Day home  

Fifth day home: 

I woke up this morning at the highly unusual time of 0700 am (but with jet lag, this is the new me—until I stop going to bed at 10 pm) and realized that I have to read three aliyot for minyan which includes a bar mitzvah. My first thought was, where is Jeremy Stein? (Jeremy did most of the Torah reading in UG) Then I started thinking about what I was going to say about the Torah portion. The bar mitzvah is a young man who is part of our special needs program (I prefer extraordinarily talented)—is not extremely vocal and I know will not stay in one place very long. I put together a program with his family for this wonderful day and it will be, as his parents say, “what it will be.” But he will know how special the day is simply by all of the fuss and love coming his way. 

Then I thought about the Torah portion (Ki Tissa) and how the word tissa besides its meaning of “taking” also means to carry or to raise. So that in that context everyone of a certain age will “raise up their head” to be counted. Meaning of course that each one of us is important, counts and makes an impact on this world. And each one gives a half shekel—rich and poor alike so that no one is counted as something less than who they are. The bar mitzvah will do that today, and I am so proud of him and his family for stepping forward, raising their heads and saying that yes, he matters and can never be marginalized. Such love is inspiring. 

I think that we felt that from the Abayudaya communities. In the face of poverty and conditions that make life more difficult than any of us can imagine, each one seems to stand up and say “count me amongst the Jews of the world.” I think that, (as Jack Chomsky pointed out in a recent article), is one of the things that make their story so inspiring. 

Also in this parashah, when the Israelites give the half shekel for the census, the word used is ונתנו (to give) which is a palindrome. When we give, it goes both ways—both the giver and the receiver are benefactors. I am so inspired by how much each one of our participants gave to go on this trip to Uganda and Kenya. Besides the substantially more than half shekel that each one spent, there was the worry of traveling the roads, dealing with immunizations, and so much more—everyone traveled, as we often say about going to Israel when someone asks, as an act of faith--knowing the dangers involved but still doing it to support Am Yisrael, the people of Israel wherever they are. 

Oh, and BTW, the bar mitzvah’s brother plays banjo—you guessed it, we are going to play music as people enter the sanctuary. He felt shy about doing it, but after we rehearsed yesterday he is psyched. 

Later in the day: 
— the bar mitzvah ceremony was among the most beautiful services that I have ever done. The young man was active, and at times his parents had to get on the floor to speak with him (their speech to him was done on the floor). He did say “amen” to several prayers, and most of all—he got it!! Tears and laughter characterized the morning, but most of all a deep sense of knowing that we all matter—we all can stand up and be counted and make a difference in the world. And in stead of a closing hymn, like adon olam, his brother played the banjo beautifully while I played guitar and sang “Lcha Dodi” to “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes” 
'She' being the Shabbat Queen. Okay so it isn’t Shabbat, but each day is meant to be in preparation for that special day—and today ranks as one of the most special that I have ever experienced.

Uganda Day 6 

DAY SIX 
On one of my trips to Uganda Dr. Scott Calig, a member of Temple Aliyah, gave me a centrifuge to bring to the newly built Tobin clinic in Mbale—built by the Jewish community and serving the entire community of Mbale. The clinic said that they needed a centrifuge, so Scott and his wife Holly, graciously donated one. I carried it in my suitcase (it was pretty heavy, but my back was good back then). It is still working perfectly 10 years later and has been an important tool to diagnose disease and save peoples lives. I am so proud to have been part of that process, and so very proud of our wonderful Dr. Scott and Holly Calig, who are always so generous in spirit and delightful to be around. 

There is a young woman who works at the clinic’s birthing center, called the Puah and Shirfrah Birthing Clinic at the Tobin facility. Her name is Susan. When I was in Uganda many years ago, she was ill and had to have dialysis. I was carrying donations from our shul and had the exact amount of money that was needed for her treatment. She told me yesterday that the dialysis saved her life. Today she has three beautiful children 
and is a vibrant member of the Abayudaya community. Her sisters, Bina and Boya, Dafnah and Igaal Sizomu recalled with genuine love and heartfelt words the times that I visited them through the years and sang songs that they never ever forgot—including I’m So Happy, Today is Shabbat! I recall them dancing in the small living smiling and laughing. One of things that make life so meaningful. 

Speaking of meaningful, after davening a beautiful fusion shaharit (morning service) filled with Ashkenazi and Abayudaya music. We realized that today was the World Wide Wrap—a day that Conservative Jews from all over the world celebrate the mitzvah of tefillin. And there we were in Africa!!!!! How perfect. 

Then we presented a Torah to the community, brought by Cantor Jerry Berkowitz from Milwaukee. We marched the Torah under the chuppah from the guest house to the synagogue where the new Torah met the other sifrei Torah and kissed each other under the chutzpah. We marched in to the sanctuary singing an Abayauday melody for Psalm 24 and after reading from the new Torah parshat Ha’azinu first in Hebrew and then in the very first Abayudaya melody ever composed in Luganda, the local language. 

After that, we presented our other gifts both religious and ritual objects and musical instruments. I was proud to present a trombone, trumpet and violin, all donated by Jeff Goldsmith owner of West Valley Music who always is so generous to all communities. 

Have an easy late afternoon and evening and maybe a chance to catch up on rest.

Kenya First installment  

Travel from Mbale to Kasuku with Jeremy Stein was long and arduous. But I am so glad to have made it. I miss my beautiful family and I miss my colleagues, but seeing the mountains of Kenya, Mount Kenya, the lakes and the completely different terrain was very inspiring. And then, meeting the Kehillat Kasuku congregation, Yehuda and his father Yosef, the leaders, brought me back to 2007 when I first visited Nabagoya. A brand new perspective, new people, new ideas, new ways of worshipping the One God. Once again, as in 2007, I am met by people who have a deeply spiritual connection to Judaism—the middle of the countryside of East Africa. Yehuda, as was told to me by Harriet Bograd, president of Kulanu, is a brilliant and responsible community leader—the word mensch was invented for him. His father, Yosef, is a strong prayer leader, spiritual leader and teacher—but he is also a sponge who wants to soak up every bit of Jewish knowledge that is possible. We had a wonderful few hours around Shabbat mincha time when I taught him about the rituals of Saturday afternoon—prayer and Torah reading. We went on to talk about the Shema, and rolled the kehillat’s paper Torah (they do not yet afford a real Torah) to the place in Deuteronomy where it appears and showed him the large ayin at the end of the word shema and the large dalet at the end of the word echad. He beamed upon learning how a different spelling would change the meaning and how the ayin and dalet spell the Hebrew word ayd which means witness. Every time we read the shema when we close our eyes we should feel that we were standing there with every other Jew receiving Torah. He said “I am there!” Lunch at Yosef’s home was delicious and we spent a good hour after dinner discussing Torah. The question of Nidah and women’s issues, and the difference between Ashkenaz and Sephardic traditions and the idea that we should be able to have disagreements as long as our argument is for the “sake of heaven.” Jeremy brought up Hillel and Shammai and I brought ilu v’ilu “this AND this” are correct. We are a great team—it is a pleasure doing this work together. In terms of nidah (the time when a woman is menstruating) and permission to do certain activities such as attending synagogue brought up issues of woman’s health and access to needed supplies. It was brought up that young women will not go to school if they do not have the proper supplies during that time. Of course, our belief is that women are always welcome in the synagogue, and yes, they should have proper access to hygienic supplies. As I sat in Yosef’s house, I thought to myself how fortunate I am to be sitting in the modest home of a Kenyan Jew, eating carefully prepared food and discussing Torah. What a blessing. 

There are countless other moments of teaching that took place on Shabbat morning and afternoon. The community asked for songs for Purim and an explanation of the rituals. Jeremy Stein and I taught songs and had a blast joking around and setting the mood for Purim. The children of the community had questions about how they should answer questions from other students about their Judaism. One was about baptism and the fact that Jews are immersed in a ritual bath upon conversion (and at other times). I told the young man to tell the questioner, who insisted that our practice was Christian in origin to ask his priest how long before Jesus Jews were immersing in the mikveh. Hopefully he will get the honest answer from his religious leaders. Other students asked about prayer ritual—every question was deeply meaningful and showed a genuine interest in Jewish practice. 

The services in the morning were an interesting mix of Sephardic, Abayudaya and Ashkenazic mix of melodies and prayer style. They really wanted to show us what they do, so that we can guide them in small ways in areas that at least in their minds, improve. Jeremy read the first aliyah from the paper Torah, and the rest were read by Yosef in Swahili. I chanted the haftarah. 

By the way, it is very cool here in the mountains. A great relief from the 90 degrees of Uganda. In fact, I have borrowed a jacket from Yehuda for the evening time. Last night we chanted havdallah under the Kenyan sky.

Kenya Second post  

Kenya Installment 2 

Sitting at JFK watching a flight to LAX leave before my eyes—but I booked a later flight so that if the connection went badly I could make it. So I sit here, longing to get back but also afforded the time to do some writing. I am so glad that I decided to travel with my now traveling pal Jeremy to Kenya. He had developed a relationship between his Milwaukee congregation and Kehillat Kasuku in the Ol Kalou district when Yehuda, the son of Yosef, one of the founding elders of the community visited Jeremy’s synagogue. For me it was, as I mentioned, 2007 all over again—the first year that I visited the Abayudaya in Mbale. Yehuda’s community was all new to me—and I was blown away by their commitment to Judaism, their passion, their music and their optimism. Shabbat as I described was a full day of active learning and sharing. Sunday was filled with recording, interviews and more learning. We finished the day with dancing—I played the violin, and Jeremy taught everyone to dance Zemer Atik—to say that it was magical is not enough. There are no words. To record the children singing Hatikvah, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav and Al Kol Eleh in perfect Hebrew with strong earnest voices was an experience that will stay with me forever. Jeremy said to me “how could Israel even consider these children to not be Jews!—we should send a recording to Netanyahu.” What was even more amazing was the adult community singing their songs in Kikuyu, the language of their tribe!! They sing psalms and other pieces including one about crossing the Sea of Reeds—so perfect for our Haggadah project. What is even more interesting is that these songs originated in the Messianic Church that was their original home. They substituted Adonai for Yeshu (Jesus) and made the content fit the theology of Judaism. The elders, such as Yosef, were originally Messianic Jews, but when the church in Kasuku approached the Israeli Embassy in Kenya for recognition as Jews, they of course learned that being Jewish does not include the belief that the Messiah had come. This inspired Yosef to break away from the Messianic Church because he wanted to be truly Jewish and worship the one true God. He inspired founders of the community, including a wonderful couple, Avraham and Sarah (no coincidence that they picked these names upon converting) to reject Jesus and begin worshipping according to the Jewish tradition. They sought the help of Rabbi Gershom who visited and was impressed—now the group is officially a part of the Abayudaya community, and all themselves Abayudaya. They are totally egalitarian, but are eager to learn from whichever Jewish sources are available. There are three prominent ways that they learn: 1. The Jewish Congregation of Nairobi 2. The Abayudaya Congregation and Rabbi Gershom and 3. YouTube. 
Now they will have number 4—The Cantors Assembly. Already Jeremy and I created YouTube videos to teach them songs for Purim and others. 

We are also launching a campaign to do a few things that are very important to the community. A Torah is being donated to them, and we are going to provide funding for a mahogany ark. I also talked to Yehudah about registering the community with the Kenyan government—this provides legitimacy and provides the ability to have a bank account. We are also going to help with creating NGO status so that donators can receive the tax credit. 

There is so much to do. To teach, to provide, to help the community survive in a place where there is poverty and lack of access to so many things that we take for granted. I like that Yehuda wants to create a musical project that can be sold and bring in funds for the community. We can provide only so much, and we need to create ways to sustain the Jews of Kenya. 

Look for Jeremy Stein and Mike Stein to put out info on fund raising for the ark and the registration. Of course, this may turn out to be a competition amongst Steins—and I know that my friends and congregation won’t let me down!! 

Oh, and yes, we went on a walking safari yesterday -- will post some photos --FUN!!!

Finding my "Voice" 

So now you know what I was doing doing during part of my vacation in June and July.  I was in sequestration in a hotel in Los Angeles near the Universal studios for almost three weeks. To get there I had to pass two major auditions in Los Angeles, in a process that auditioned talent  all over the country.  And after 45,000  people auditioned 103 of us found ourselves living together in what we called “music camp!”  Every step of the process was secret, for that is the nature of “reality” television.  I told my wife Kelley that it was like going to an Ivy League school — you might be a star in your own town, but once you get there, every one is a genius.  That’s the way it was. And it truly inspired me.  You know the article in the Jewish Journal which was very accurate except for my wife’s name (does anyone have a spare couch? LOL) quoted me as saying that I always thought of myself as a musician who sings.  Well guess what? That changed in the three weeks that I prepared for the show.  We had wonderful coaches and producers who worked with us—and every moment of every day people were singing in the lobby, around the pool, in the parking lot, in the restaurant—that is the sign of a true singer—you don’t stop—ever!  I was that way with my musical instruments.  I always joke that you have to have a fanatical stage—and I did.  I am surprised that my musician sons still have hearing-I practiced for hours and hours when they were very young sitting in front of me.  So what did I sing when I was sequestered?  Yes I sang with my peeps around the pool, etc., but in my hotel room I sang songs from our tradition. I had an anthology for the High Holy Days, I had Yiddish songs that I was working on and just plain traditional Hazzanut.  Why? Because I knew that working on that music would be fulfilling and force me to work on my craft, which is being a Hazzan, first and foremost. 

I don’t know if you noticed a change, but I did on the Yamim Nora’im.  I sang with confidence and with purpose, not just the words and the prayerful content in my heart and mind, but with the mindset of a singer whose desire to perform hiddur hamitzvah, beautifying the mitzvah was in my thoughts.  I thought of myself as a singer.  I had spent a good deal of time working on my craft and when it was time to step on to the stage of the television studio, kippah on my head and tzitzit underneath my shirt, I was the complete person.  I did not even notice that the judges had not turned around. I did what I always do—I got in to it and did the best job that my vocal instrument allowed me to do. 

 

So “Aizeh ashir?….Hasameach b’chelko?” (Ethics of our Fathers 4:1)  Who is rich?  One who is happy with his portion.  I went on the Voice because an agent called.  My family encouraged me to do it—and I am glad I did.  It felt good getting those two callbacks—like I felt when I was a kid auditioning for Broadway shows.  But when I was young I could not find substance in what I was doing—singing other people’s songs and devoting time to issues that were not important to me.  So I struggled and had great success as a writer of children’s music.  I loved to teach and singing that material had meaning and instilled a love for music and thirst for knowledge in so many young people.  Then I re-discovered my Judaism and became a cantor, singing the music that I grew up with and always heard in my head.  This created the opportunity to sing about values and ideas that are very very close to my heart.  I am so rich, so completely satisfied with what I do in the community, with the many opportunities to be close to people, to help, to counsel to teach and to inspire.  My ego was stroked by being on television, but my deep sense of worth is enhanced daily by my work in the Jewish community. And not to mention by the loving reaction of so many to my appearance on the show.  An overwhelming response of “they should have turned their chairs, but remember that we love you!” —from adults and children alike. What else is there to reach for?  Okay I wouldn’t mind a contract with Universal studios.  But for now, which holiday is next—OH YEAH— HANUKKAH and my friend Peter Yarrow!  Don’t miss it, December 14— LIGHT ONE CANDLE!

Voices of Hope 

It is sometimes hard for me to get started on my articles or, for that matter to write any kind of piece.  It has to kind of rumble around in my head, like a song—until it comes out in some kind of form that is ready to be shared. People who know me, know that I really don’t like to talk much, and I will often say before I begin to speak I public the following-- “I would much rather be singing.”  But then there are times when something hits you so hard, makes such an impact that there is no question that a stream of thought will quite quickly become a river of ideas and form itself into a piece of work.  That happened to me during one of my Sunday rehearsals with Kolot Tikvah, Voices of Hope choir.  I am always touched by the experience of working with this group of young people—no, more correctly, I am inspired.  I am definitely emotionally attached to the work of singing with young people with what I term “extraordinary abilities.” One of the reasons is that my mother Florence Stein z’’l taught me the value of music as a tool to reach people. She was kindergarten teacher in NYC, who played piano in the classroom and every summer she would volunteer during most of her summer off to work for the newly created “Headstart” program in a rural school where we spent our summers. She insisted that I bring my guitar and play and sing for the children. No questions asked, this was my duty.  We lived near an institution in Queens, Creedmore Hospital (where my hero, Woody Guthrie was hospitalized), and my mother insisted that I go with my high school music buddies to the hospital and play for the patients. 

 

So on Sunday afternoons, when we rehearse, I am so tired as it is the end of a what is typically a long weekend of Shabbat services and teaching on Sunday mornings—our students are tired as well, but music is the cure all for that ailment.  We start with a Hello song –

(Group) Hello _____  shalom shalom tell me how are you ha’yom?

(____) I’m fine thanks, todah rabbah 

(Group) we welcome you Baruch Habbah. 

Then we move on to vocal exercises, making sure that we use our hands as well as our voices to show the progression up or down of the musical notes—music theory 101. “Mamma made me mash my M&M’s” is a popular lyric for that exercise.  Then on to the real work – we will do a song that we know as a good warm up and then on to music that we need to learn for our next performance, whether an outright show, or a worship service in the synagogue. Oh yes and the drums—drums are a very effective tool in helping the brain connect to music.  Sometimes hitting a drum for every syllable helps the non-verbal person actually say the words.  I don’t know the science but I know the almost miraculous effect.  Speaking of miracles, we were rehearsing for Hanukka and doing a Debbie Friedman song, “Miracles Aren’t Just Magic.” The words continue  “…..they need people to help them along.”  We talked about the miracles of Hannukah, not just the oil but the defeat of Israel’s enemies. I stated that we couldn’t just stand there and expect God to help us win the battle, and one of the students said “We have to be partners with God and do our part!” We later sung another beautiful song by Rabbi Menachem Creditor, “Olam Chesed Yibane,”  “ We shall build this world with kindness.”  We made up our own words as we continued “I shall build this world with SONG…PEACE.” The words of the song represent a progression—“I shall….you shall…if we…THEN GOD will build this world with peace.”  I asked how this was like the miracle song, and one of our members said “it is the same thing—if we don’t work to make it happen and be partners with God then it doesn’t work…we have to do our share!”

I enter our Kolot Tikvah rehearsal tired every Sunday afternoon, but leave refreshed, inspired and filled with awe and love.  Working with this choir and my other childrens choirs remains the most fulfilling work that I do.  This last rehearsal I was a little bit in tears—I realized that m’dor l’dor, from generation to generation, the values that my mother taught me continue well in to the later years of my life.  I have worked to instill those values in my children, and yes my grandchildren as well.  

The Kolot Tikvah choir, as well as Shir Aliyah and other choirs will be participating in a service on January 16th called “Voices of Freedom—Dr. King, the Legacy Lives On!” The focus of the service is Interfaith worship with representatives and choirs of different faith groups in our community coming together to make Dr. King’s reality of all peoples living together in freedom. 

 

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Previous events

David Grisman Quintet with The Rolling Steins

American Jewish University , 15600 Mulholland Dr. , Bel-Air. California 90077

The amazing David Grisman with his quintet-David played with the Grateful Dead and all the greats of bluegrass and folk. Opening for David is Mike Stein and the Rolling Steins! For nearly half a century, mandolinist / composer / bandleader / producer David Grisman has been a guiding force in the evolving world of acoustic music. David skillfully combines elements of the great American music/art forms - jazz and bluegrass -- with many international flavors and sensibilities to create his own distinctive idiom: "Dawg" music, the nickname given to him by Jerry Garcia.

David embraces many styles, genres and traditions. His discography is filled with notables including Stephane Grappelli, the Grateful Dead, John Hartford, Del McCoury, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Earl Scruggs, James Taylor and Doc Watson.

David founded Acoustic Disc, producing over 80 critically acclaimed CDs, five of which were Grammy-nominated. In 2010 he launched AcousticOasis.com, the first download website devoted to acoustic music offering over 70 releases which are available in full cd resolution.

David Grisman has always been a revolutionary. He has deeply influenced contemporary acoustic practitioners through his own musical explorations and has helped make artist-owned independent labels a viable force in today's music business.

Join us to hear the indomitable David Grisman play his original "Dawg" compositions and more with this talented group of musicians.

The David Grisman Quintet includes:

Bassist Jim Kerwin Violinist Chad Manning Percussionist George Marsh and Guitarist George Cole Reception with David Grisman at 6:30 PM, includes Preferred Seating at the concert (Please select Row D): $98 General Tickets: From $20

Mike Stein and the Rolling Steins with Fumani Thomas

 —  —

The Lamplighter Restaurant , 9110 DeSoto Avenue , Los Angeles, CA 91311

Featuring Voice Contestant Michael Stein playing with his family band the Rolling Steins! And guest vocalist Fumani Thomas. Bluegrass, Americana, roots jazz and in honor of St Patty's day some Irish fiddling—makes a complete evening of great music and fun! NO MINIMUM, and a regular and reasonably priced menu. Drinks start at $4.00. Call for reservations 818 882 1877.

Free and no minimum purchase required

Voices of Freedom: Dr. King's Legacy Lives On!

Temple Aliyah , 6025 Valley Circle Blvd, Woodland Hills, CA 91367

We have a dream at Temple Aliyah--to bring together all religions, pray for peace, sing and walk together hand in hand. Join Life Choir under direction of HB Barnum; St Bernardine's; Islamic Society of West Valley Voices of Hope Choir and others!

FREE and open to the public

Light One Candle with Peter Yarrow and the Rolling Steins

Temple Aliyah , 6025 Valley Circle Blvd, Woodland Hills, CA 91367

Peter Yarrow (of Peter Paul & Mary) and The Rolling Steins (Mike, Justin, Jared, Kelley, Jamie and friends) are playing a concert to help celebrate Hannukah with the man who wrote the Hanukkah standard "Light One Candle." Also appearing is the legendary icon, Theodore Bikel!~!~

General admission $48; students $18; Tzedek sponsor $250; VIP sponsor $100

Mike Stein & Jerusalem Stone

Viva Cantina, 900 W Riverside Dr, Burbank

Original and hard-driving, traditional Bluegrass at a great venue. Sponsored by the Bluegrass Association of Southern California. Featuring the Stein Brothers, Justin (Bass) & Jared (Fiddle), Pat Cloud (Banjo), and Fred Sokolow (Dobro/Mandolin). Free and open to the public. Great Mexican food and drinks available for sale. Mike's CD's are available for sale as well.

Free

Bluegrass Worship Service

Temple Aliyah , 6025 Valley Circle Blvd, Woodland Hills, CA 91367

Original bluegrass and country tunes to ancient Hebrew liturgy--joyous, foot stomping, spiritually uplifting--the best way to lift your soul to the heavens!! With Pat Cloud (banjo); Fred Sokolow (dobro and mandolin); Jared Stein (fiddle); Justin Stein (doghouse bass); Michael Stein (guitar and fiddle); David "ZZ" Cohen on the keys.
Free and open to the public!

FREE and open to the public