14 August 2006

At the ICJG: Music to our ears

Monday night at the conference was very special. For the first time in my experience at the event, we had a great concert. Professor Joel E. Rubin and Pete Rushefsky, a klezmer duo on clarinet and tzymbal, performed rare pieces of klezmer and Hasidic music gathered in Russia.

From prayerful tunes to freilach or happy dances, the sea of concert-goers were tapping their collective toes. Many pieces were gathered by a research trip in the early 1900s in shtetls and cities at the time our ancestors were still there. Among klezmer musicians, many pieces were known by the cities in which they originated, and we heard "Vinnitsa," "Breslov" and more.

A few years ago, at the Feher Music Center at Tel Aviv's Museum of the Diaspora, I was delighted to discover that the Ukraine Archives has recorded a set of CDs with this music, including the names of the pieces, the performers and the places they were recorded by an enthnographic expedition.

When we thought it couldn't get better, there was a quick scenery change, and the piano took centerstage, with Zalman Mlotek, Folksbiene Yiddish theater executive director. An internationally acclaimed authority on Yiddish folk and theater music, a conductor and pianist, Mlotek provided a panoramic view of this genre.

From Yiddish theatre and films, from comedies to dramas, Yiddish music that became pop music, to lullabies and songs of immigration, Yiddish summer camp songs and more, we sang along and clapped. I sat next to Jewish genealogy's guru, Steve Morse, whose Yiddish was surprisingly good. Who knew?

Even those who didn't know a word of mamaloshen caught on. A standing ovation brought an encore and a mass of people went up to thank Mlotek personally for his performance.

Before he performed, Peter Nash of Australia and Valery Bazarov, head of the HIAS Location and Family History Service, presented Mlotek with records pertaining to his father and uncle's journeys to safety with Sugihara visas to Shanghai and then to America. The records were found in Jerusalem, and the Jewish Genealogical Society of New York (conference hosts) contributed to the microfilming and preservation of these records.

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