Posted Dana Addadi Israel/Europe
In the city of the biggest international cultural festival I end my cultural quest. (for now) Did you know Edinburgh festival was initiated by a Scotsman with aspiration for inter-European reconciliation after the 2nd world war?
I find it symbolic enough to gain self resolution with the different identities fighting within Dana in this city.
And so I did.
Budapest: the Israeli cannot find peace among Hungarian Jews. In her eyes they are way too obsessive. It takes “only” one year to comprehend that this manifestation of Judaism is basically crucial after years of oppression in this Eastern-European capital.
Then, working with colleagues in a Zionistic movement, one native Kibbutznik declares his disdain towards an orthodox life-style. And she’s stuttered. It takes until summer for her to agree that for him- secularity was his only choice to obtain a sane Judaist affiliation.
Then in Poland, a significant group of non Jews consider Judaism to be an inseparable part of their heritage, and she cannot find arguments against it. For her it is the first time that she has acknowledged “her” Judaism is not only hers as she had thought.
In Holland Jews discussed a great deal about their connection between the nation of Israel to their Judaist image, and in Edinburgh a total secular Jew prefers going to the orthodox synagogue, and deliberately not to the liberal one, because Judaism for her must be in Hebrew. (This approach was my favorite).
Every time I arrived in a new place I had to re-construct my values all over again. Any pre-assumptions I brought with me were bound to make encounters fractious.
What will be the ultimate Jewish identity? Who’s a real “Mench”? I guess, ultimately, I’m not that far from being Jewish. Whether I want it or not, I cannot dismiss my Israelity either, not for the obvious fact that I’m loud and even vulgar to some Europeans, but for my point of view on the world:
My Tel-Avivian capitalistic tool-box was not appropriate in the social environment of a Hungarian Jewish community. Although I willingly accepted the new set of rules or social principles from which the Jewish state was established in the first place, once in the UK this set didn’t find its use- where every second Jew in London declares proudly he went to a private school.
I think in Israel, capitalistic as it might be, the word ‘private school’ would not be uttered from anyone’s lips, because it would be a total disgrace. As if we ultimately set-up an official social structure of classes, which in England is very fundamental.
Neither of these ways is absolute. I learned to tolerate Israeli Jews celebrating their atheism, hand in hand with Jews that their cultural background privatizes their education. I fell in love with the variety it comes in. I hope to express this love with the Jewish cultural festival I’m putting on in Israel next year; to showcase my precious discoveries. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to partake in this quest; Join me and I’ll share it with you.
I’m taking part in an inter-European training program at the moment. It is about humor and education, diversity and human rights. I just experienced my first real-life scenario of directed antisemitism pointed at me. Something I thought exists only in books.
It was a mind-blowing experience: Intelligent educated Europeans conditioned with dangerous perceptions, openly telling racist jokes. I’m thankful for this experience. I am dedicated now more than ever to put on the 1st Jewish humor festival in Israel.
Real Jewish humor is the most humanist, and would never allow an expression of one’s superiority upon another.
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April 19, 2012 | 4:08 am
Posted Kristina-Ruth Vasileva
Somehow before visiting and learning more about the United Nations, I thought that this institution should be an ultimate human rights defender, whose views are more or less objective and truthful, fighting the world’s biggest injustices. Many people react at a headline starting with “So the UN reported”, the same as if it was “And God spoke to Moses”. But unfortunately, it is au contraire. In the role of God Gadhafi who himself, held the Chair of the UN Human Rights Council until 2010.
I guess, whenever you have politics involved, you can’t be completely objective and devoted to truth anymore, even when it is concerning human lives and suffering. Even when it is too obvious, that Human Rights greatest violators sit at the round table of the UN and try all possible strategies so that their state’s crimes will not be revealed and condemned. Those are countries with mainly dictatorship regimes like China, Cuba, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Mauritania, Libya, Uganda, Benin, Costa Rica and so on…
Honestly speaking, I am one of those people who are no longer touched by campaigns promoting aid for hungry children in Somalia and such like. I grew colder to them after experiencing the tragic reality of those kinds of organizations, who raise funds for the people in Africa. I used to work for an organization where they paid 12 Euros an hour to stand and collect money for those kids suffering in Africa, and it would be better not to know how much the director and all the managers working there earned.
Until this year, when I had the opportunity to attend the 4th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, organized by the UN Watch, which is a NGO, monitoring the work of the UN and promoting human rights.
This summit started with the testimony from a victim of the Burmese army. This girl had to suffer a lot from the government only because she belongs to the Korean minority in Myanmar. She expressed her wishes for the international community to put pressure on the dictatorship which has ridiculously repressive laws.
A Vietnamese activist elaborated on how Vietnam pretends to be clean on the surface, but a terrible abuser in fact. And they are on the list applying to join the HRC which is, as he said “the same as a thief joining the police.”
There were further testimonies on North Korea’s despotic regime on the propaganda taught in schools, no trial for some prisoners; all political opponents are automatically declared as criminals.
A jailed Cuban pro-democracy activist called his country a state of oppression and barbarity. A country, where political activists are being assassinated, beaten to death, eliminated on demand, therefore, he said, there is no Perestroika, no Spring, no Orange revolution: “Cuba remains trapped, with its policy of state vandalism and no reforms.”
To me this did sound somewhat familiar, from all the movies and stories about the USSR I’ve seen and heard. I just never realized that this is still the reality nowadays in so many countries.
But the situation in Tibet is even worse because it is pure genocide. The Tibetan language is banned; spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama are not allowed to enter the region. Young Tibetans are setting themselves on fire in protest, with the hope that the world will hear about them and do something or intervene. But not only by sending humanitarian aid, as one of the activists declared we need the notion of humanitarian aid to become a notion of human rights.
An Egyptian peace activist talked about his imprisonment during the demonstrations in Cairo.
Another victim of the Iranian regime, abused for years in jail said that Islamic fundamentalists use radical propaganda against minorities, but a lot of young people in Teheran oppose it and there is hope. We witnessed that with the FB campaign “Iranians, we love you.” It is indeed a powerful, pacifist message, which would in fact never succeed in Pakistan.
Not only because of their most inhumane laws like for instance, the law of blasphemy (impiety, lack of respect towards Islam and Prophet Muhammad), whose first victims are Muslims themselves then Christians being second class citizens and to be a Jew or a Gay in Pakistan doesn’t even enter into people’s mind, it is the death penalty without a trial.
By the way, a curious story, my friend from there told me that Pepsi in Pakistan went bankrupt because Coca-cola agents may have spread a rumour that Pepsi is a Jewish company and its name is an abbreviation that stands for “Pay Every Penny to Save Israel”. Pepsi rapidly disappeared in this country.
The biggest problem with Pakistanis, as my friend says, is that once it’s deeply rooted in people’s minds it’s acted upon. Therefore innocent Pakistanis are easily manipulated by the religious leaders and even family elders where the concept of honor killings comes into play. One girl shared her story on how she was sentenced to death by her own parents after refusing to marry her handicapped cousin. She is one of the very few who managed to run away and escape. The author of the book Burned Alive was recovering in hospital after enduring 28 operations due to burns when her mother came with a phial of poison. I guess on Pakistani crimes there is a whole extra article needed. So let me stop here.
The summit hosted a Syrian regime’s victim as well, a 20 year old girl who was captured at an anti- government demonstration, jailed and abused while there. Her concluding words were: “Syria deserves living in peace with all its neighbors, including Israel.” In a private conversation a few days later, she told me that she had lost a lot of friends on Facebook, who condemned her for that last comment. But she doesn’t regret saying it, she said.
The question is, did her testimony at the UN in front of the Syrian ambassador, representing and defending his government, make any difference?
His Excellency, the Syrian Ambassador, pointed out at the 19th Session of UN HRC that while discussing what is happening in Syria, we ignore the bloodshed in Palestine. And here he actually summed up the strategy of the UN HRC. He made it clear and simple to see the obvious.
See, every country has some issues and problems, even on Iceland there was an hour or two session condemning human rights violations. But only those who have really big issues are those whose show time starts at Agenda Item 7. This is the day, when they all go until time is up, and using all possible metaphors to express that Israel is the one and only enemy that ever existed and it is the biggest violator of human rights and a big threat for world peace.
Now it is extraordinarily needful to point out that the HRC’s sessions have different agendas. For instance, Agenda Item 3 is “Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the rights of development”. Big topic, isn’t it? It includes all the violations of the entire world in these spheres . Item 4 is called “Human Rights Situations that Require the Council’s Attention”. Item 8 is “Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance, follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action”. And you remember who was blamed for racism in Durban. But item 7 is the only Agenda item which is devoted to one single country –Israel, called “Human Rights Situation in Palestine and other Occupied Arab territories”.
So this whole session reminded me of a Eurovision vote, where every country supports the statement of its neighbor. Only one country has no friends among its neighbors. After Syria and Egypt illustrated that innocent Palestinians are dying, however Denmark inserted, let’s not forget the rockets from the innocent fellows flying towards Israel. And everyone expressed their feelings towards the occupied Syrian Golans. I recently watched a video about the Syrian Golans. Mama-mia, it is indeed a beautiful place, a piece of paradise. No wonder why everyone mentions them with greed…
I was also introduced to a new term for me which was presented as another big crime against humanity – “the Judaization of Jerusalem”. And in this tone, it went on and on.
It was a black Monday for the Jewish people. At the same time while the 19th session of the UN HRC were condemning Israel on 19th March in Toulouse a shocking, terrifying murder was taking place.
Three days before it happened, our delegation from the EUJS (European Union of Jewish Students) visited the permanent mission of France in Geneva. Unfortunately his Excellency, the Ambassador himself didn’t have the time for our questions, however a friendly, cute press attaché welcomed us.
First thing we asked him was about the Burka Law. He replied that it is a law to stop discrimination against women. I wonder, if it is still called discrimination when the affected themselves want to imply it. I guess on both sides of a) religious and b) democracy rulers, are all men who simply didn’t learn that they should first ask women, what they actually want.
My question followed: many French Jews are leaving the country. The reason is aggressive anti-semitism, which is exercised too often lately by the Arab population of France. If we compare France with the UK for example which also has a big Arab population, we see the country protects or at least shows better support towards its Jewish community and Jews feel still safe there. Why is it different in France? Can it be the polluted French air from all the revolutions, which affects people to act in a more aggressive manner?!
The young Frenchman apologized that he is not able to answer my question and I quote his exact words: “I am sorry but I am not Jewish, I don’t know how the situation is with anti-Semitism.”
I am sure, on Monday, he already knew something about the situation. He thought he didn’t answer my question but in fact he did.
Is it that French people just don’t care so much about others?! Even if its not the majority, let’s not generalize, but when there’re people who represent France and this guy was young, he probably just graduated and now he’s on his way to make career at the French Permanent Mission to the UN, and doesn’t care about the situation of minorities in his own country.
It made me learn what it means to care about human rights which are not only regarding me. Because when I care about Jews and Israel, it is understandable why. When I care about the problems in Bulgaria or Belarus, it is also clear to me why as a citizen of these countries it bothers us. But when after the Human Rights Summit, I started to care about those who are really far from me and those to whom I have no connection whatsoever, it feels just right.
I am happy that I am able to care for others and that my religion is not making me insensitive to human sufferings and injustices but just au contraire.
And when I sit at the Passover Seder, I have many questions to ask, one of them is why this night is no different from all other nights? It’s because on this night, millions of human beings still remain enslaved, tortured and abused just as they do on all other nights. As we celebrate our freedom, we should not forget those who remain enslaved. I wish that all of us think about that. If we are able to care about others and abolish any form of hatred from this world, it will make a big difference.
April 19, 2012 | 3:41 am
Posted Pavel Pustelnik
Try to click ‘beshert’ into Goggle and you will receive a list of Jewish dating websites. No, it’s not going to be about ‘webwise ways to find love’. Not this time.
I was not looking for a perfect match or a date for the next weekend. I was just very much intrigued by a youtube video on a book that is a living platform of a culture that was convicted to death. Wait a second, convicted to death but alive?
On the day of her mother’s death Suzanna Eibuszyc opened a box full of papers and notes. Those were meticulously taken observations, memoirs and thoughts written in Polish. Being born in Poland she was able to read the stories told by Roma Talasiewicz-Eibuszyc. Suzanna felt astonished and decided to translate the whole set of writings into English.
Suzanna writes that her mother’s story ‘is a heroic tale of a young woman who survived, against all odds, as a child and teenager in Warsaw from 1917 till 1939 and as a young woman in Soviet Russia from 1939 till 1946.’ The story seems to be one of those that keep you awake during the night and you can almost feel the spirit of time. The book per se does not exist yet. There are short excerpts being published online but the whole story is still hidden.
Beshert is a work in progress. There is no deadline for the publication, it is not known how many chapters there will be or how the cover would look like. The author is looking for supporters who would help her publish the memoir and make the story travel further.
Webiste of the project:
April 17, 2012 | 2:21 am
Posted Linda Katz- NY
Linda Katz (blog: identity5772.wordpress.com)
I am a wandering Jew, currently rooted in Brooklyn, NY. Unaffiliated, more assimilated than I would like to believe, yet, very connected to my confused identity as a Jew. Even more confusing, I find myself in the middle of an Orthodox neighborhood, surrounded by synagogues, yet, without a sanctuary for my secular and spiritual soul.
So what’s a nice Jewish girl to do when she wants to explore what it means to be Jewish and secure her own sense of Jewish identity? Go to the former center of Jewish life – go to Eastern Europe.
It may sound counter-intuitive to take a conversational journey around Jewish identity to communities where six million (Jews) were killed during the Holocaust, and, where those who survived and remained were assimilated into communism. A little naive, or perhaps overly optimistic to seek answers ‘here’ where ‘ghosts’ outnumber the living. Yet, realizing communities existed, albeit small ones, I had faith members of these communities knew. Knew what it meant to be a Jew. Knew because they had made a choice, a decision to be Jewish.
A month of conversations in Berlin, Warsaw, Vilna, Krakow, Budapest, and Zagreb, left me wide-eyed and awakened to Judaism’s pull as communities there grow. I heard and recorded stories of miraculous survival, and survival of interest in Judaism, overcoming fear from history’s horrors during the last eighty plus years. Yet, the more I learn, the less I realize I know as answers raise even more questions.
Questions I hope to share and ask through Jewrnalism. I hope to learn with and from bloggers, from readers, from those of you who are exploring and living your definition of Jewish identity.
Tell me what you think: what does it mean for YOU to be Jewish?
April 16, 2012 | 3:00 pm
Posted Simon Adomeit- Germany
(You can find this article also here: http://www.jewrnalism.org/home/news/itemlist/category/4-religion)
Being Jewish is not easy outside of Israel. Some people you come into contact with behave weird when they hear you are Jewish. Some react negatively or are even hostile. Some give you the feeling that it does not matter to them if you are Jewish or not, these people are the most relaxed I’ve ever met. But there is a fourth group. The group who is interested in what you do, where you come from, what your parents or grandparents did during Shoa and how they survived it. Then, like an unwritten rule, there are always the questions which leads to a conversation that becomes more than awkward. As if it’s not distressing and annoying enough to be reminded of the Shoa and the loss of loved ones. The question: “What do you think about the settlements in the West Banks, are you for or against Israel?” Or even worse, leaving you no choice for an answer: “Why is Israel doing this or that? Aren’t you ashamed? And by the way: Do you guys have the A-bomb or don’t you?” ...
Well, these kinds of questions occur to everyone of us once in a while. Sometimes more, sometimes less.
Do you see why people ask these questions?
It’s not because they know about the widespread diversity of Judaism or Israel’s colourful traditon and culture or the differences and similarities between Israel and the Diaspora. Not to mention anything about Shabbat or Pessach, Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur or the solemn atmosphere in a synagoge during services.
All they know is what they have seen or read in their own country, in their local medias or heard in bars. They only know a little about the politics and the Shoa.
For them, we not only represent Judaism. We also, and for most of them, represent solely the state of Israel in everything we do, say, laugh about, talk about and worry about. In our every day behaviour we represent Judaism and the state of Israel. The way we behave, some will say that’s the way the Jews behave. That’s the way Israel thinks. If you are ruthless to somebody, its not just you who behaves like that. It’s the Jews who behave like that, it’s Israel who behaves ruthlessly.
Always keep that in mind. This does not mean, that you should hide your religion, your beliefs or where you come from, it just means that you should remember that the next time when you yell at your neighbour because his music is to loud, or you are mad at your fellow employee because something went wrong.
One should behave like the prophets and the wise and the way our parents raised us. Be nice in every single way, to everybody you meet, you talk to, you see. Do your part in tikkun olam (repairing the world) and take action.
You are responsible for your actions, more than you probably thought.
April 9, 2012 | 11:53 pm
Posted Ian Shulman
Each of them alone could be a headliner of any festival. David Krakauer, clarinet magician and klezmer legend of The Klezmatics; Fred Wesley, funk master and James Brown’s composer, and SoCalled, Jewish Canadian rapper and experimentator. You don’t even need to a rapper C-Rayz Walz to make the mixture explode and rock the splendid Furth Town Theater building. Once upon a time, jazz music was simultaneously shaping by similar and different, Yiddish and African-American experiences. Abraham Inc. shows how easily the prototype of the first, klezmer, can merge with the products of latter - funk and hip-hop. A revival, a reunification, a rethinking - none of these are actually standing behind the music. What really drives the musicians is the deep love to their music, openness, freshness and curiosity. So they are behind the scenes - friendly, talkative and excited with the things they are doing. David, SoCalled and Fred on roots, experiments, bubamaises and Abraham.
Ian: I am happy to have a chance to interview all three of you together. Frankly, when I first heard about the band, I though it’s a bit of a strange idea. All three of you are great musicians, each sounds perfect in his own style, but I wasn’t sure how good it all sounds together. It appeared to be much more than I could have expected. I’d like to start with a question which I was discussing with Frank London yesterday: what klezmer actually is? Is there something which can cover all those styles which were present at the festival during those days? Is there something in common?
SoCalled: Klezmer is technically Eastern-European instrumental dance music, which surrounded the Jews and which they were a part of. All that Ukrainian, Serbian, Romanian, Russian, Bulgarian music. And then, of course Roma, Gypsy music, which influenced the Jewish music. The music for celebration, cantorial synagogue music; technically all that is what klezmer music is. That’s the style, because Jewish music is something entirely different. Jewish music could be Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, could be Sephardic music or African music, the music of Ethiopian Jews. Jews are weird, because they are the culture, they are the race, they are the religion. Jewish music can be all those things, but klezmer is Eastern European Jewish dance music.
Ian: So does this mean that for you the festival which is taking place now is more like a ‘Jewish music festival’ then a ‘klezmer music festival’?
Ian: Good then. I’m just asking this question because it’s something which amazed me as well. It’s all too broad to be labeled by one name, be it klezmer or whatever.
SoCalled: The word ‘klezmer’ just means ‘musician’, so in a way the word klezmer was flapped on this Eastern European Jewish music, but in a way it’s not about a word for all types of jewish music.
David: Well that’s a bit loaded. Certain people may say ‘oh, i’m playing Gershwin, so it’s Jewish, so it’s klezmer. I think that the first thing you said is very important, because there is a specific style. I got to the klezmer music through my work with The Klezmatics in the late 80s. There was a certain klezmer revival in the United States and also in Argentina with Giora Feidman and so on. People say: ‘oh wow, there was this old Ashkenazi Eastern European Jewish music, let’s do it again, let’s bring it back!’. There were actually different bands in the mid 70s bringing it back, almost duplicating the records, which was cool, just like being able to hear it live. Older people were happy about it. Then The Klezmatics came and there was this desire to innovate the music, to do it differently, to play it electric etc. The thing is that now, over the past 25 years I’ve observed that klezmer, more then let’s say sephardic music, Buchari Jewish music or mountain music from Azerbaijan, became a sort of catalyst, which made people curious. So they call it a klezmer music festival, but there is a spectrum. Klezmer is just a handy word, but as I observed it, there was a catalyst from klezmer music, which has exploded in many different directions.
Ian: Speaking about directions and styles. Can you possibly name different music styles which can describe your music now?
Fred: Well, I’m from Alabama, and the first music I ever heard was blues, and then I’ve been into jazz, and then jazz became R’n’B, and then R’n’B became funk. And I was just introduced to klezmer music recently by these two gentlemen. I have heard klezmer music and to put it together with funk was thought to be some kind of adventure. To try it at least would have been a great thing to do. I have this song called ‘Breakin’ Bread’, it’s about people sitting down together, actually breaking bread and making a house party. What’s good with klezmer is that it’s about celebration, having a party. That’s exactly the direction we’re going to now: togetherness, breaking bread and a house party. We will do more of that with the new album and that’s the way it’s going now.
SoCalled: Our rapper, C-Rayz Walz, calls it ‘blendation’.
Ian: And from the klezmer perspective, as well as all other directions which your music includes, when did you first get the idea that these different styles can actually work together?
David: Before I left The Klezmatics in the mid 90s, I was always bringing in electric guitars, different kinds of influences, some jazz, some funk, some rock. I was also working with samplers, but in a kind of more ‘poetic’ way, especially on the albums I did at John Zorn’s Tzadik label. Then in 2001 I met SoCalled; we were at the festival in Canada called KlezCanada and SoCalled gave me the CD he made called Hip hop Seder. I thought ‘Oh God! Passover music with the hiphop beat is going to be like the worst nonsense I ever heard!’ But then i say ‘Well, he is a nice guy, I’ll listen to his CD.’ I listened to it and it’s just absolutely amazing. We did a couple of albums together and I felt that he is a visioner. Hip hop is coming to all kinds of world music, but SoCalled was the first one working with klezmer music, looking at the jewish heritage, and bringing that together. We were working together and co-produced the album called ‘Bubamaises: Lies My Grandma Told Me’. As we were touring with this album, we were just on the road thinking ‘What is the next step? What would be cool? SoCalled, what about Fred Wesley?’ And this was like a wow, a revelation, a lighting bolt, bell ringing…
Fred: Trombone solos…
David: Yes, so we called Fred, he was asking what it’s going to be and was a bit unsure, but once we got into the studio and started to work together, it worked really well. Funk is the root of hip-hop, and klezmer is an old music,
Fred: And jazz is the element which combines it all. You played jazz, you studied jazz, I played jazz. This guy (points at SoCalled) studies all music, he knows everything about music, so he had the vision to put it all together.
SoCalled: Each of us is really always been into trying to mix things together. You worked with African music, also country music and I was always trying to sample sounds and put them into different cultures together. It just wouldn’t work with everybody.
Fred: I would say that if you got a random klezmer musician, a random hip-hop producer, and a random funk musician and put them together it wouldn’t necessarily work. I think we consider each other to be very open, and that’s what matters.
Ian: On your opinion, what actually attracts the listener to your music: this kind of strange combination or specific elements of it? Why do you think people actually like your music?
Fred: Because people can dance to it, they can celebrate to it. When David plays strictly klezmer music, like for example the solo of ‘Der Heisser Bulgar’, I like it a lot, because I can dance to it. But we always ask: what about breakin’ bread? They understand what is this about, and when we do a houseparty, all of that in combination makes them enjoy the entire show.
SoCalled: I am a traditionalist. I love pure funk, I love pure klezmer, I love pure hip hop. I always wanted to see what happens if you mess around a little bit, and if on top of it you just pumping and rocking music. We thought a lot about the tunes, to find really catchy melodies and lyrics with it which mean something. It just everything you like about any kind of music.
Ian: Do you think that klezmer as a genre can still be popular as a pure klezmer without any mixings and influences from other styles?
David: Oh sure. Most of the people coming to our show are klezmer fans.
SoCalled: I’m not so sure, maybe Krakauer fans or SoCalled fans, meaning fans of klezmer as it is today, but pure klezmer fans are not there.
David: Well, maybe a very small percentage. Klezmer festival is like doing classical music. There’s a place for it as well as fans for it, but I think traditional fans are not so many.
Fred: I don’t think we have a lot of funk fans.
SoCalled: What’s up with that?
David: I think people just don’t know about it.
Fred: We’re trying to get a funk element and then I see there are a couple of people here who came to see me.
David: I remember there was a guy who came from 300 miles away to see Fred; he was like freeking out.
SoCalled: But if you know about funk, you wouldn’t miss any chance to see Fred Wesley playing!
Fred: And you wouldn’t miss this show too!
David: It’s sort of a funny problem with klezmer: you have the Shoa, you have Communism and especially Stalin, who brought a heavy hammer down on any Jewish culture in Eastern Europe, and then you have a desire to assimilate. My grandparents stopped speaking Yiddish when they came to the United States; they wanted to leave it behind, and believe me, we travelled in Russia, Poland and Eastern Europe; there were places where Socalled and I said: ‘Oh we know why our grandparents left, because it’s so hard’. We have a lot of empathy for the people which are still there, we can see how hard it often is. My grandparents came to the United States and definitely had a better life, My father says he wouldn’t been here, he would have been killed in Holocaust if he would have been born in Poland. So the culture has been basically destroyed. When you play klezmer music today, no matter how perfectly you play it - it’s a fish out of water. No one cares about hearing klezmer music on weddings anymore. Really virtually no one cares. If jewish people have klezmer music at the wedding, they have to think about, they have to think ‘Oh, maybe this could be cool!’ In Eastern Europe hiring musicians was a part of the culture, almost like going to a supermarket now. It has all been destroyed. So we are in a particularly weird position with Jewish music and Jewish culture.
SoCalled: You say it can never be popular. But it has never been popular.
Ian: What I mean is that there are bands which play only traditional klezmer tunes in traditional arrangements. But those are not the artists which became really famous.
SoCalled: You mean that even The Klezmatics made it rock’n’roll and not quite traditional. Brave Old World played sort of traditional.
David: But Brave Old World just can play tunes in traditional manner. Everybody can, and so do we, but it’s always a matter of choice.
SoCalled: In the commercial world that we live in playing instrumental dance tunes is not enough, you have to add words, you need to add sense, something different.
Fred: Like it is in jazz.
SoCalled: So the best thing so that to get known is always marketing.
Fred: In Alabama state, where I was born, it was not allowed to play jazz at the rehearsals. Jazz was not allowed just because we were trying to assimilate into the white world. Allthough some of the greatest musicians in the world came out of Alabama state, they couldn’t practice jazz at the rehearsals.
David: And there’s such thing even in Jewish music, where Klezmer was really put down.
SoCalled: Yes, klezmer was a dirty word. If you were playing klezmer, you were an uneducated musician. There was a kind of negative connotation. But it’s interesting about the dance music, because jazz in the 30s was actually the pop music, the dance music, so it you’re talking about African-American culture, they were totally entrenched into the common culture. You could go hear Count Basey and dance to it without going through all those steps. In the late 60s you could go see James Brown and just dance to it as well.
Ian: I really enjoyed your Hava Nagila interpretation, which actually reminded me of the early recording by Bob Dylan of Hava Nagila in blues. I just thought that this is a tune with an interesting fate, since a lot of musicians are producing their own interpretations.
SoCalled: Basically we did it because I’m sick and tired of people which say when they hear of klezmer music something like ‘Oh, that’s Hava Nagila.’
Fred: That was the only Jewish song that I knew.
SoCalled: So we say: if you want Hava Nagila, we give you Hava Nagila! So we made the funkiest Hava Nagila ever. There are all versions, including a reggae version of Hava Nagila from the 70s. There’s a film being made right now about Hava Nagila, and hopefully the closing credits will be our version of the song. There’s also a Habana Nagila written by a Cuban Jewish keyboard player.
David: I had written some riffs in a klezmer mode, and I gave it to Fred asking what did he think about harmonizing it, and SoCalled said just do what you do, turn off the breaks. Then three of us together shaped the arrangements and it appeared to be pretty rocking. One of our guitar players, Allem Watsky, Jewish but grew up playing funk, came up with a great opening tune. A nice Jewish boy from New Jersey…
Fred: But he knows how to play funk, believe me!
Ian: Well, that just proves once again that these all styles and communities perfectly coexist together and make a perfect, how you called it, blendation. You were mentioning the second album?
SoCalled: We met for four days in South Carolina, where Fred lives, and we had this beautiful space, like a jazz club there. We just hang out, each brought some ideas. There was a piano, a trombone, so we made a plan, a wishlist. It’s not just a bunch of old klezmer tunes, its different materials, also chassidic nigunim. We are really trying to bring all the cool stuff together, so we’ve done the same thing again. There’s some klezmer, some chassidic tunes, some original songs too.
Ian: So are your future works actually going to take a different direction?
SoCalled: I think it’s just going to get more comfortable in its scheme; it’s going to be less of explanation, less of trying to tell the story. Tweet-tweet is really about the tweeting, about klezmer, funk and hip-hop; it was a sort of introduction, like ‘Hey, it’s possible!’ The next album is just going to be more like: ‘The story has been told, you know what it is, here is some more.’
David: We are sort of creating our own genre. In fact, there was a crazy caricature of a black fat character with a big hat and a big Jewish star. That should probably become our logo.
Ian: How did your band name appear, what is the story behind?
David: I had a friend down in North Carolina; once we went to an incredible African American church. There were probably two or three non African Americans there. We came and were sitting there. The preacher saw us, and maybe I have a kind of Jewish looking face, ‘cause the preacher said: ‘Let’s welcome our guests, let’s always remember that Jews and African Americans stood side by side during the civil rights movement, and if it wasn’t for the seed of Abraham we wouldn’t have our saviour’. I began to think: ‘Wow, Abraham was sort of an important figure for Jews, for African Americans, for Christians, Muslims. Abraham is sort of all encompassing father figure. That’s how the name appeared.
April 9, 2012 | 11:41 pm
Posted Ian Shulman
Yuriy Gurzhy: music can’t change the world anymore, but might still help
Yuriy Gurzhy is a Ukrainian-born musician and DJ living in Berlin, who won his fame as a founder and a DJ of Russen Disko (Russian Disco) as well as the lead singer of RotFront band. His concert at the Klezmer festival in Furth required some re-tuning of the audience, since it was not really a concert, but another thing he is engaged in - a disco. The re-tuning was a piece of cake - the program labeled as Shtetl Superstars - Funky Jewish Sounds From Around the World had everything its name says and makes everyone dance, regardless of one’s age or cultural attribution. Yuriy Gurzhy on cultures, stereotypes, Russian disco and many more.
Ian: Yuriy, could you tell us a bit about the program for today. I’ve read the name ‘Klezmer disco’ and my first obvious association is ‘Russen Disko’. Tell us a bit about what are we going to hear today.
Yuriy: Actually I keep on asking the organizers still from the first year of the festival not to label my part as ‘klezmer’. They always say ‘of course’ and keep on writing ‘klezmer’ in their program. So I decided not to pay attention to these conventionalities anymore. The program is going to be bright and diverse. I had this question from the very beginning, a rather rhetorical one, to which I either could not find any answer, of could find a whole bunch of. The question is what Jewish music really is and how can it be defined. In reality, it can be defined however you like and a lot of different musical directions can be classified as Jewish. There is a musicological term saying that it should be music somehow reflecting a certain Jewish experience; directly or indirectly, in music or in lyrics. On the other hand, it should be music written by Jews. In other words, there’s a lot of opportunities for interpretation. So I’m using these opportunities and playing things I just stumble upon. At the same time I have certain musical preferences which always emerge, both in Russen Disko and in my own band RotFront. I am attracted by certain genres, certain instruments and try to compile the music set accordingly, so that it is harmonized both for me and the audience and danceable as well. It’s going to be like this today too. Of course, there’s a certain part of klezmer in there, which is even a significant part, but partially it’s really not klezmer, not really klezmer, or maybe even some kind of Israeli hip-hop. Well, may be, but won’t be. Actually classifying music is a dead frost today.
- Especially Jewish music
- Not really, any music. There’s just good music and maybe bad music, which can still be alright though. So today we are going to have a real blast. The public is really grateful, at least according to the previous experiences here, so I hope on the mutual harmony.
- Speaking about Jewish music. Would you call RotFront a Jewish music, and if yes, to which extent?
- This sends you back to the previous answer. Sure: it can be Jewish music, can be Hungarian, or can be Russian/Ukrainian. All these elements are present there. I came from Ukraine, speak Russian and also have a Jewish background. We can be attributed to any culture or style, but I hope there’s no term for this hybrid invented yet. In other words, there’s a certain number of the elements mixed, and as for me, mixed in a rather unique way. So surely, we can be called a Jewish music, especially today, on such occasion. We have songs on different topics, Jewish as well (shows his t-shirt saying ‘Gypsy, Jewish and Gay’).
- That’s actually something I was going to talk about. In this song, ‘Gay, Gypsy and Jew’ there are many bands involved besides RotFront itself, including Ukrainian band ‘Perkalaba’...
- Yes, ‘Perkalaba’ has recorded 42 tracks; I can imagine how happy our producer was having realized he has to work with 42 files for one song, and this is not the end at all…
- Everyone recorded separately?
- Yes, they recorded everything separately and then sent it. They are all based in their own countries and we don’t have any means to gather them all together, like it was done in the video clip ‘We Are The World’.
- There is actually a connection between the two songs. What’s the story behind this one?
- The idea was prompted by the events in Hungary, since we play quite often there. It’s getting really serious when start to you hear about the problems of certain minorities from people which do not belong to them. When minorities consider themselves to be oppressed, it’s still somehow subjective, but when others start to talk about this, something should be done. In Hungary, these three groups precisely are facing such problems. I thought that there are some clear commonalities and this is something I should sing about. I was always trying not to make any direct political statements.
- I didn’t find any political statements in the song.
- True, but it is still the most direct thing I’ve ever done. The song is partially based on Nina Simone’s ‘Young, Gifted and Black’, which has a reggae version as well. The chorus is influenced by ‘Hava Nagila’ and ‘YMCA’ by Village People.
- I was thinking what does the song remind me of…
- See, it reminds you at least of three tunes. I really enjoy putting not really direct, not really obvious quotations, since each of them is disclosing a different layer. It’s clear with Hava Nagila, it’s clear with YMCA as well.
- I wasn’t trying to invent anything, it all just came by itself. This is a kind of song you sing all together. It sounds well live. Of course, music can’t change the world today anymore, but might still help.
- By the way, why most of your songs, like this one for example, are in English?
- You have probably listened to the new album, since the songs of the first one are mostly in Russian.
- I mean the hits first of all.
- Right. In reality it’s very pragmatic, since for some time we were singing exclusively in Russian, Hungarian and German. Meaning each one was singing in his mother tongue. Finally German remained, Hungarian remained there too, and Russian was put a bit aside, ‘cause I was singing more than all others. At this time we were touring quite successfully, when suddenly I received a phone call from Shantel from Frankfurt. He sent me the instrumental and asked to write the lyrics for it. He wanted it to be in English, and I wasn’t writing in English for a while, only when I was 15 or 16, in times of a terrible decadence in Ukraine, when it sounded appropriate to sing in English. Since then I thought it’s better to sing in one’s native tongue. But when I wrote the song for him, it appeared to be quite easy; it was actually the song ‘Discoboy’ which has its own, legendary fate now. We were singing the song live afterwards. Before that I thought that we have a perfect mutual understanding with the public of going crazy together. At the gig I realized that there is a different level too, that everyone understood everything in English, and our audience is not only Russian or Hungarian. This was a motivation for me to write more in English, to which I almost switched now, though now I write in Russian too sometimes. The main thing is that the audience should understand you.
- When I heard RotFront for the first time, it was the song ‘SovietoBlaster’. It seemed to me to be a sort of banter of all post-Soviet stereotypes…
- There is nothing Soviet in the song itself, and the clip doesn’t have any relation to us. Both clips were produced by a wonderful woman from the USA, Nathalie Lawhead. I’ve never seen her, she just sent us a mail saying that she’s our big fan and would like to make a video clip. I’ve looked through her other works and honestly, by that time I could not imagine how could this be combined with our work. I replied ‘of course, please’; it’s not everyday that people approach you with such offers; she requested the lyrics and in a month sent us the ‘Sovietoblaster’. The first impression was that she’s visualizing each line, but at the same time she’s chosen some weird bearded soldiers from Smolny, while there was nothing like this in the song. She sort of added things. So there was no banter neither in the song itself, nor in the very word ‘sovietoblaster’, a vague definition of some sort of device. Being involved in Russen Disko for many years, I’m acquainted with such aesthetics and techniques, this ‘recycling of the past’. From the first moment it seemed to me that she just goes too far. Then I realized that it’s already beyond good and evil. For her it’s not a banter at all, she actually doesn’t know all those Soviet things. She just juggles with some elements she likes, and actually it’s her right and she’s done it in a great way.
- The clip seems to impress even more then the song.
- Indeed, and when she’s heard that there’s a song planned called ‘Gay, Gypsy and Jew’, which wasn’t even recorded by that time yet, she immediately said that she wanted to do the clip. It’s rare that you get to meet such people. The second movie clip is wonderful too, seems like there’s nothing Soviet in it, thanks God.
- There’s a common stereotype that many of Russian emigrants in Germany or elsewhere are constantly fixated to their background and are not really well integrated. Indeed, if you visit a random ‘nostalgic’ Russian store in Berlin, the stereotype is easily proved. At the same time RotFront is showing the bright, diverse side of the emigration culture. How does the artistic perspectives of Russian emigrants look like in general?
- Can’t really say. But for example, I notice more and more Russian authors in German and American literature. The future surely doesn’t belong to those who are fixated. The younger you are, the easier you find it to adjust to the new conditions. As for me, it’s the natural course of events, this is how it should be and this is how it actually happens. I see a lot of talented people coming to live in Germany and it’s great if they are well integrated.
- You are originally from Ukraine. It seem that often Germans, as well as others, don’t see any difference between Russians and Ukrainians and label everyone as ‘Russian’.
- You know, lately I realize more and more that Russian and Ukrainian are totally different people, even though they have a lot in common. I grew up in the USSR, grew up Russian-speaking and still remember the times when one could get exempted from learning Ukrainian for health reasons, just like it was with physical education. I almost don’t have a single Ukrainian-speaking friend. It took time for me to notice the difference in the mentality. The common language unites. Of course, for Germans we all are ‘relatively Russian’. But I think that it’s going to change too.
- You mentioned Russen Disko. How did it all began?
- By a simple coincidence, like all the best things. Vladimir invited me to his place and I’ve seen his impressive collection of tapes and LPs. I asked him if I could take some with me. In a couple of days I came back again and we started to exchange and discuss LPs, tapes and books with each other regularly. Once I was there when we have received an offer to organize an event in Tacheles, in the legendary cafe Zapata. This was on the Novemner 7th, Russian Revolution anniversary.
- When was it?
- 11 years ago. Vladimir was a theater director and an actor, but his theater activity was almost in the past by then. So when we have received the offer, his spouse said: ‘guys, why wouldn’t you make a disco if you have so many tapes and disks’. So that was what we did. In reality, it appeared during the disco that our views on dance music were quite different from those of the audience. But from a certain moment everything went smoothly. There were people from Kaffee Burger there, which wasn’t open yet, but was already acquired. They offered us to do such events on the regular basis. That’s how it started. In half-year from then Vladimir Kaminer has published a book of his short stories, and he needed to find the name. The name was on the surface. And it’s already on Wednesday that we’re playing with RotFront on the RussenDisko movie premiere, based on his book. It’s a giant German project with a very popular young German actor Mattias Schweighofer playing young Kaminer. It’s being advertised all over Berlin and Germany.
- Seems like Russian emigrant culture is probably even more interesting to Germans then to Russians…
- Actually there’s no connection between the book and the emigrant culture. The book is originally written in German and for Germans. Even though in this book Kaminer writes about Russian, his next one, for example, is dedicated to his journey through the German countryside.
- Still, in TV shows he is always being presented exclusively as ‘Vladimir Kaminer, Russian author’
- ‘True, but he is also often invited to Jewish festival, where he is ‘Vladimir Kaminer, Jewish author’, and when he goes to Russia, they offer him an interpreter and announce him as a ‘German writer’. I don’t care about such things anymore. Once I was always correcting others, like ‘we are this, and not this by any means’, or ‘this one is good, but this is not what we are’. Whatever. Let it be any culture, even African. There might be actually some connections with this one, by the way.
April 9, 2012 | 2:10 pm
Posted Dana Addadi
Saturday night Purim party by OY GEVALT, a Jewish student organization. Their Moto: here EVERYONE comes to have a good time. NO CLASS divisions; no remnants for status orientation.”
It was my first night in London and I didn’t comprehend what they were talking about, later on I learned having money plays a major role in English society. http://www.shmultz.com/
BAT MITZVAHS REVISITED- an evening of poetry written by women in conjunction with the Jewish Book Festival. Intelligent, moving, and very intimate.
Hosted by Rachel Mars and Mekella Broomberg with the co-operation of JCC.
JCC’s new building is now under construction. This significant facility will stand out in the British capital, where 200,000 Jews live, and will mark a new mile-stone in the cultural life of Hampstead, which is notably considered to be a mainly Jewish area in London. http://www.jccventures.org.uk/
Ivor Dembina will be performing and discussing, to say the least, his unconventional stand-up comedy. If you are looking for pure Jewish humor, this is definitely it. Come open-minded but bring your critical self.
Mr. Dembina’s sessions are aimed at giving humour an importance in your life. They are open to everyone, be it the public or comedy artistes young or old. http://thinkbeforeyoulaugh.com/
Moishe House in Willesden is hosting a series of cultural communal events. These events could be the alternative festival celebration to those who are just taking their 1st steps in secular Judaism, or just to socialise in a relaxed atmosphere with other kindred folk.
The JLC Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership. Open Meetings are held in London as well as in other English cities. Wishing to make some change in the way women are (not) represented as a crucial voice. http://www.thejlc.org/consult.html
If to sum up the total London Jewish experience for me- not assigning it to any of the specific agents mentioned above (!)- it was in general very unpleasant and not at all friendly.
Organizations offering services to the community are shutting out their own customers on a base that security is high priority for Jews socializing.
Having spent my last May in Budapest at the Israeli Cultural Institute, while skin-head protested down the window, but we were still open and in business and welcoming took the entire paranoid Jews of London out of proportion in my eyes.