Jewish Nightlife is Back! Fall 2017 at UCB

This Fall Semester Jewish Nightlife will return to UC Berkeley, and feature weekly workshops with the internationally acclaimed artist, Victoria Hanna (Jerusalem). The course will include history, performance, ethnographic fieldwork, and an in-depth study of Jewish protective amulets from The Magnes Collection.

Find out how to register here (for Jewish Studies) and here (for Music).

Stay tuned for more information, but in the meantime, enjoy Victoria Hanna’s video, 22 Letters…

…and read & download the course flyer:

Jewish Nightlife | (Un)Announced Response Exercise #3 | 12.1.2014

On the occasion of the final response exercise for Jewish Nightlife this Fall Semester, all students are asked to reflect on and practice FIELD WORK, by completing the following:

  1. Work in chavruta (pairs) by re-composing the same pairs of students already created on the occasion of our Mid-term exam
  2. Access this document via bDrive (you already know the drill…) at this shortened URL:
  3. Formulate the three extremely focused questions:
    1. Jewish music and art: one question for Yair Harel (investigate his personal/artistic background, his knowledge and skills)
    2. Jewish music and research: one question for Francesco Spagnolo (investigate his personal/academic background, his knowledge and skills)
    3. Fieldwork of the Self: one question addressing your personal relationship with the specific piyyut that is assigned to your chavruta on the basis of the following parameters
      • text of piyyut
      • music of piyyut
      • culture of origin of piyyut
      • own culture(s) of chavruta partners
  4. Post your three questions (preceded by the names of each chavruta partners) on this document no later than Tuesday, December 2nd, at Noon

Select questions will be discussed and answered by the instructors on the last day of class, on Wednesday, December 3rd.

Would You Like to Sing Like That? (You Can…) | Welcoming Yair Harel to “Jewish Nightlife”

Would you like to be able to sing like this?


Well, as a student of Jewish Nightlife you have a chance to work with Yair Harel (whose musical direction inspired the music in the video included above), who will begin to co-teach our course today, and stay with us through the end of the Semester.

As described in the page about the Instructors on this blog, Yair Harel is a performer, and artistic director, and a community organizer from Jerusalem, Israel. He is the Schusterman Visiting Israeli Artist at The Magnes, UC Berkeley, this Fall semester.

Harel received a traditional Jewish education in Israel before going on to study zarb(Persian drum) in Israel and France with Roger Yshay and Daghmeshid Chemirani, tar and Persian classical music with Peretz Eliyhau, improvisation with André Hajdu, and Jewish-Andalusian Vocal traditions with Rabbis Meir Atiyah and Haim Louk. Over the last twelve years, he has focused on exploring, teaching and performing traditional Jewish music from North Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, taking a major part in numerous multimedia productions based on encounters between traditional and contemporary music, in Israel and abroad. He has been the artistic director of the Ben Zvi Piyut Vocal Ensemble since 2008, has led workshops and courses in traditional Jewish vocal music, Middle Eastern percussion and improvisation at The Hebrew University, the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, and The Jerusalem Academy High School for Music and Dance. In 2010 he created the New Jerusalem Orchestra. As one of the main figures behind the Piyyut scene that has revolutionized the face of Israeli musical culture, he is a founding member of the “Singing Communities Project,” the founder and the present Editor In chief of the “Invitation to Piyut” website, the artistic director of the Jerusalem Piyut Festival, and a co-founder of Piyyut North America. He is part of Tafillalt Ensemble, which in 2010 released a new album under John Zorn’s Tzadik label.

In addition to teaching the music labs of Jewish Nightlife, Harel will be presenting concerts at The Magnes and across the San Francisco Bay Area. (More information here).

How Languages Evolve (And How Hard it is to Represent That)


This excellent summary is a valuable resource in our “mapping diaspora” project this week.

Following the thought process explained in the video, we see how the two-dimensional mapping approach (the visual representation of linguistic evolution as a “linguistic tree”) suggested at the beginning is valuable, and, at the same time, it simply does not work.

Looking at the advantages and the disadvantages of linguistic approaches to the evolution of language is a great way to introduce a discussion of the multi-dimensionality of (Jewish) culture!

Let’s begin with a “Wordle” (or three)

These typographical layouts usually help me frame what I am writing/thinking, so here you go:

Jewish Nightlife Wordle 01

Jewish Nightlife Wordle 02

Jewish Nightlife Wordle 03

The content is the same (and it is based on the introduction to Jewish Nightlife as written in the course syllabus). But the layout changes highlight different aspects of the thinking behind the syllabus. It’s good to visualize things now, and then, eventually go back to them later in the semester to see if what has been developed is in line with its premises.

Jewish Nightlife: Course Introduction

Jewish Nightlife: Poetry, Music, and Ritual Performance
From Renaissance Italy to Contemporary Israel

MUS 74 & 139 | MO & WE 2-4 PM | The Magnes, 2121 Allston Way

Instructors: Dr. Francesco Spagnolo (lectures); Yair Harel (music lab).
(Read more about the instructors here).

Jewish Nightlife is a multi-disciplinary exploration of the nexus between the ritual performance of Jewish texts and social changes across Jewish history, including the study of Hebrew poetry, music, and synagogue liturgy in Renaissance Italy, in North Africa, the Middle East, and present-day Israel.

Klezmorim, playing at a wedding in an 18th-century Megillah from Germany (Israel Museum)

A post shared by spagnoloacht (@spagnoloacht) on


The course explores the inter-relations between the ritual performance of Jewish texts and social change across Jewish history, and focuses on three related topics: the rise of Kabbalistic nocturnal rituals in the Italian ghettos in early-modern period; the performance of Hebrew poetry in North Africa and the Middle East in the modern era; and the renaissance of piyyut (Hebrew liturgical poetry) in Israel from the 1970s to the present, from the singing of bakkashot among Syrian and Moroccan Israelis to the current transcultural activities of online and participatory communities.

The course will incorporate field trips to Berkeley synagogues, and will leverage the resources of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, including liturgical and poetic manuscripts and printed texts, written music manuscripts, audio and video recordings, iconographic sources, and ritual and everyday life objects from the global Jewish diaspora. In addition, the course will be complemented by weekly workshops led by Israeli artist, Yair Harel, during a residency at The Magnes, sponsored by the Schusterman Visiting Artists Program of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation. Harel is also the creator of the website, An Invitation to Piyyut, which integrates scholarship, digital archiving, and crowdsourcing, in the study and the performance of Hebrew liturgical poetry and music.