Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Our jobs and last night.

Last night, January 27th, marked the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of the Death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Soviet Army--a camp where 1.1 million Jews were murdered.

To commemorate the anniversary, the Streicker Center of Temple Emanu-El on New York's Upper East Side put together an event that featured prayers, songs and readings.

Tovah Feldshuh read a story of a young woman who, when facing Dr. Joseph Mengele, cosigned her mother to death. The young woman survived but cosigned herself as well to a lifetime of guilt.

Joel Grey, who won both a Tony Award and an Oscar for playing the Master of Ceremonies in Kander and Ebb's "Caberet" was there. In fact, he sat directly in front of me. 

Grey is directing a Yiddish-language rendition of "Fiddler on the Roof," and his off-Broadway cast was there to sing three songs from the show--in Yiddish, a language the Nazis failed to destroy, though they came close.

The highlight of the evening to my ears was the final act, the Klezmer Conservatory Band with Hankus Netsky, Lorin Sklamberg and a half-dozen other surpassing Klezmer musicians.

Making a guest appearance with the band was the acclaimed violinist Itzhak Perlman who staged a Klezmer showdown with an amazing mandolin virtuoso, Andy Statman.

It was dueling banjos but not banjo versus banjo. Violin versus mandolin.

The music summed up, for a moment, life. In the bent and long twisted notes you could hear the pain of persecution, exile, poverty, hunger and death. 

Then, moments later, with the fast, alive and exhilarating duel among all the performers the joy, fun, laughter and uplift that comes from play and community.

Seeing Perlman and Statman battle each other--I can do it faster...No, I can do it faster...and so on, was a lesson in the passion and love that can come from creative expression.

Yeah, we're in advertising.

In these dark days when it seems like the bean-counters are ascendant and creativity is time-coded and margined and holding-companied nearly into oblivion, it makes sense to my mind to think about that which we rarely think about.

That we are creative beings.

Even when we're taking orders. Even when we're on Rich Siegel's Round Seventeen. Even when we're kicked to the curb and seen as a cost--not the core of our decaying business, our job is to look not outward at the despair that surrounds us, the despair of doing a nearly impossible job for people who disparage it and no longer understand its worth.

Our job is to look inward.

And find the joy and the subversive smile inside creative beings that says, "I will make it good. I will make it special. I will make it real. I will make it me."

It might be a single small note that somehow escapes the giant blanderizing machine that seems to mow down all hope. It might be a word, or a phrase, or a parenthetical spark of humanity that somehow escaped the all-powerful wit-seeking missiles that are always poised to strike. And it might mean nothing to no one but you--because no one but you will ever notice it.

But our job is to fight.

To not go gentle into that good night or AI-derived data-driven inhumanity that means nothing to any living thing save an algorithm.

Our job is to resist formulas. Resist regression to the mean. Resist the prevailing, that's-the-way-we've-always-done-it-ists, and bring our hearts to bear.

Our job is, no matter how dark it is outside, is to search for and bring out the light that no matter how dimly, still flickers inside us.

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