Are you wondering what we do, why we do it, and who is behind us? Find your answer here!
Some of our family didn't have a traditional Jewish education.
On Seder nights, they'd sit politely but blankly when we launched into our favorite melodies--just because they didn't know Hebrew.
We couldn't let this go on.
So we translated and transliterated the singing parts into English. We had song sheets, and we revised them year after year.
We invented Singlish, so they could sing in English to the same tune as the Hebrew. Eventually, we had all the singing parts of the Seder service on our song sheets.
Then came our first family bat mitzvah. We couldn't find a book we liked for Bircat Hamazon (Grace After Meals). So we wrote our own, with Singlish, so that all our guests -- family and friends, traditional Jews and others -- could join in.
Once we had Bircat Hamazon and the rest of the Seder service, it seemed like a small step to finish up the Hagadah. It was harder than we expected, but we did it anyway.
Now you can have the Hagadah and the Bircon (Grace After Meals plus assorted songs) that let everyone join in. You'll have complete instructions, provocative commentary, Hebrew, transliteration, and a plain English translation in Singlish, rhymes, and prose. The Hebrew text is complete, so your festive meals will leave nothing -- and nobody -- out.
Joe Lewis was born in England in 1950 and came to the U.S. in 1972 with his American bride and his B.A. from University College London. He studied English at Temple University and in 1976 came to Detroit to teach at Wayne State. In 1979 he left teaching to write computer manuals. In the next few years, he worked his way up to running telecommunications and microcomputer software development for an insurance company. Then he directed the company's marketing communications and conference planning functions. Shortly before this company closed, Joe left to set up his own communications consulting business and later joined a major auto company. Meanwhile, in 1982 he finished his Ph.D. from Temple, with the dissertation: "Unfinished Works of the Sixteenth Century." This contribution to world knowledge has been read by one researcher, so far as we know.
On the Jewish side, Lewis studied "chazzanut" (the traditional cantorial style of leading services) under the late Cantor Louis Klein. He became Cantor Klein's regular substitute at Congregation B'nai Moshe; around 1990 he began leading High Holiday services, first at the Jewish Community Center in Oak Park and later at Congregation Or Chadash, also in Oak Park.
In 1989, Lewis, now a member of Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak Park, began producing Purim musicals for children. He wrote and directed several musicals that involved as many as 50 children and their families. Six plays are in "How to Present a Purim Play."
Lewis started the Singlish Publication Society to publish Hebrew books: a book of Friday night ceremonies for the home; the Hagadah; several custom books for Jewish celebrations (bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings) with the Grace After Meals and other materials.
In 1997, he was invited to create a siddur (Jewish prayerbook) for a program in Philadelphia called "Friday Night Alive!" The program drew 600 to 800 people to different synagogues in the Philadelphia area. The siddur is now in regular use in several congregations. Lewis later completed prayer books for Shabbat and the High Holidays, as well as for weekdays and festivals. He has also prepared customized siddurim for congregations Adat Shalom in Farmington Hills, B'Nai Zion in Key West, and others.
In 1993, Lewis won the first annual Julia A. Moore poetry contest, with his poem, "Death of a Manatee." Drawing over 800 entries from all over the world, the contest is named in honor of "the sweet singer of Michigan," widely recognized as one of the worst poets the world has ever known. For sentimentality and forced rhyme, her like has rarely been found.
He is married and has three children.
Joe to the World: The Manner of Joe's Birth
Well, if you really want to know, here's the beginning of Joe's autobiography.
My birth took place at home. My mother had twice suffered the iciness of hospital care and was determined to avoid it for her third baby. In the England of 1950, this was not hard to do; a midwife was easy to find, and domestic tapwater cleaned the vernix off many a squalling infant.
Marlene Annette Lewis, my sister, was born on January 29, 1945, nine months and seven days after my parents wartime wedding. For my mother, the experience was horrible. She knew nothing of the process of birth, the different stages of labour, the ways to cope with the bitter pain. Alone in a room in the hospital, cut off from those who loved her and ignored by the hospital staff, she screamed for six hours, more in terror than in pain. No doubt a nurse would come to her periodically and say, Oh shut up, woman. Youre disturbing the other patients. Neville was born on Christmas Day, 1948. Mum knew more or less what to expect this time, so she could endure the pangs of labour more easily. The doctors and nurses were having a grand time at the hospital party, and one of the nurses, beaming with Christmas cheer, said, Youre behaving much better this time, arent you, Mrs. Lewis.
Mum didnt want any more of that smug self-righteousness, so she had me at home.
My birth didnt go all that well. Mum had grown very fat. She wasnt five feet tall, but she measured 52 round the hip, and pregnancy didnt make much of a difference to her figure. The midwife had her walking round the bed to shake me loose, but progress was slow. With all her rolls of flesh, Mum was difficult to examine, so the midwife couldnt easily tell if I was coming or not. Finally, she said, The babys not coming for hours yet, woman. Im going to have my lunch.
Please dont leave, Mum begged. I can feel it coming. Cant you check again?
Oh well, get on to the bed (grope, poke) . . . Good heavens, woman, the babys coming at once!
Somebody do something!And here came Joe.