Klezmatics bringing a healthy dose of heresy on tour


Grab your children and your grandparents! A band of Yiddish heretics are zingen their way to Southern California!

Not that you should worry. These heretics, the Klezmatics, are happy and coming to share their zest for Eastern European Ashkenazi-inspired music.

What is so heretical about a long-established Grammy-winning group setting out on its 30th anniversary tour with December stops in Los Angeles and Costa Mesa? Along with the usual Yiddishe party music — which also includes songs by Woodie Guthrie — the band will perform songs from its new album, provocatively titled “Apikorsim/Heretics.”

For many Jews, the Yiddish word apikorsim — used as a cutting term by one Jewish denomination to describe the perceived religious deficits of another — is mostly familiar through its use in Chaim Potok’s best-seller from the mid-1960s, “The Chosen.” But Lorin Sklamberg, the Klezmatics’ longtime lead vocalist and accordion, guitar and piano player, doesn’t see it that way. For him, the word’s meaning moves beyond a Jewish showing of disrespect to representing one of the joys of the Jewish world.

“It’s not unusual for us to take things that have a stereotypically negative connotation and turn them around,” Sklamberg said in a recent phone interview the morning after he had flown to New York following a Klezmatics performance in Poland. 

As Sklamberg explained, the band likes to find a “positive aspect of something that might be somewhat controversial.” For instance, the title track of the new album, “Apikorsim,” represents the coming together of a traditional Yiddish dance tune by Klezmatics co-founder, vocalist, and horn and saxophone player Frank London with lyrics by contemporary Yiddish linguist Yuri Vedenyapin, who the band asked to write on the topic. “They just completely went to town on it,” Sklamberg said. And with lyrics like “Happy heretics don’t think about God … Happy heretics have no rabbi … Happy heretics don’t get circumcised,” it’s clear the writers not only had “gone to town,” they had left the shtetl

“You could take it literally or you could take it metaphorically,” Sklamberg said when asked about the song’s provocative lyrics. For him, the song invokes the thoughts that “you don’t need to have all those strictures in your life to enjoy life” and that “you don’t have to abide by Orthodoxy,” he said. 

“One of the nice things about the Jewish world,” he added, “is that there is a tacit acceptance that people allow everyone else to be Jewish in their own way.”

Sklamberg described the band’s following as comprising “everything from religious Jews with yarmulkes and beards to hipsters with tattoos and beards.”

“All of these Jewish worlds have been allowed to co-exist. I think that’s one of the delights of being Jewish,” said the musician, who had a Conservative upbringing at Temple Beth Torah in Alhambra.

Another song on the “Apikorsim/Heretics” album shows the group’s knack for turning around meaning. “Ver Firt Di Ale Shifn?” (Who Guides the Ships?) — with Yiddish lyrics by Zishe Landau (1889-1937) and music by Chava Alberstein — asks, in the form of a riddle, “Who plays with the children, and takes some of them away?”

Sklamberg said initially he was puzzled by the song’s lyrics. “As it turns out, Landau had lost a child, an infant when he was young,” and the poem “was kind of a lullaby for the child,” Sklamberg explained. But he sings the song with a broader meaning. It’s “for all parents who have had the tragedy of losing a child,” he said. “It’s one of the most well-received songs in our concerts.”

Growing up in Monterey Park, Sklamberg was in high school when he began playing accordion in a band called Rimonim that performed Israeli folk-dance music at weddings and bar and bat mitzvah parties.

“I didn’t know how the music was connected to my heritage and how the music I was hearing in shul was related to what we were playing,” he recalled. “There were people around I could have asked, but I didn’t think to do it.

“When I moved to New York and started studying Yiddish and getting involved with the Klezmatics, I started to see how all these things that I had grown up with were interconnected,” said Sklamberg, who as an original member has been with the band for 30 years.

His experience with listening to Chasidic music in shul and studying Hebrew at his synagogue’s school and Los Angeles
Hebrew High School helped ease his evolution to klezmer. “All these tools were really helpful in becoming proficient in Yiddish instrumental and vocal music,” he said, voicing a conclusion he laughingly acknowledged would make his Hebrew school teachers happy.

One of the ways the Klezmatics keep their audiences happy is when they conclude each show with “Mazel Tov,” a “little lullaby waltz” written by Yiddish singer, actor and impresario Boris Thomashefsky. The group plays it at the end to “wish everyone well and off into the night,” said Sklamberg, who sings it sweetly and innocently — without a heretical note.

“Every star that shines above us,” it begins, “should always shine on our future.” 

The Klezmatics will perform Dec. 19 at the Pico Union Project in Los Angeles and Dec. 22 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. For more information, visit Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa or Pico Union Project.

Brooks Arthur brings stars’ hearts and humor to ‘Jewish Songbook’ CD


The decor in Brooks Arthur’s office chronicles what Billboard calls his “career as a behind the scenes superstar of the record industry.”

One photograph depicts Carole King hugging Arthur while working with him after her LP “Tapestry” hit in the 1970s. Nearby is a picture of Bruce Springsteen, who recorded three albums (and his hit song, “Born to Run”) at Arthur’s old 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, N.Y. Pasted to the wall are images from the comedy albums Arthur produced for Jackie Mason, Robin Williams and Adam Sandler, who has employed Arthur as the music supervisor on most of his films — including the new Israeli action spoof “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.” Arthur’s office, in fact, is directly across the hall from the comedy impresario’s office at Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions in Culver City.

Sandler is just one of the artists featured on Arthur’s latest endeavor, “The Jewish Songbook: The Heart and Humor of a People,” a recently released CD of new and veteran artists performing classic Jewish songs. Sandler croons a heartfelt (and joke-free) rendition of “Hine Ma Tov” in a duet with his cantor, Marcelo Gindlin of Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue (the sheet music from that recording session is taped above Arthur’s desk).

The album’s other 12 tracks include comic Rob Schneider doing the 1940s novelty tune “Bagels and Lox”; saxophonist Dave Koz in an instrumental version of the Yiddish song “Raisins and Almond,”; comic Robert Smigel adding irreverent new lyrics to “Mahzel (Means Good Luck)” in the persona of his puppet character, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog; and “Seinfeld” alumnus Jason Alexander in “Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max,” an Allan Sherman ditty about a salesman with too many relatives.


Promo Video: ‘The Jewish Songbook: The Heart And Humor Of A People’

Arthur, sporting a Brooklyn Dodgers cap, says the idea for the “songbook” stems from the childhood years, when he worked at his father’s Brooklyn candy store and avidly listened to Jewish radio.

“All four of my grandparents came from Russia and Poland and spoke Yiddish fluently,” Arthur recalled. “I used to love getting together with them and my parents and listening to the Yiddish station WEVD, because the music made them so happy. After the shows were over, they would go back to their daily routines, but I used to witness them coming alive listening to the Hebrew and Yiddish songs interspersed with comic ditties.

“It’s a dying art form,” Arthur said of that format. “I wanted to produce an album that hearkens back to those days.”

On the CD, Arthur himself performs “Sheyn Vi Di L’vone” (“Beautiful Like the Moon”) with Lainie Kazan; he says he discovered he had a voice while humming along to such tunes on WEVD.

“My parents’ candy store was at the subway station at 22nd Avenue-Bay Parkway, and, at age 9, I’d take the train another five stops to Coney Island, where I could pop some quarters into a booth and make a little acetate recording, a ‘single’ of myself singing,” he recalled.

Arthur also was cantor of the junior congregation at his Orthodox shtibl before launching a career as an audio engineer, overseeing 1960s hits such as “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “The Locomotion” and “Leader of the Pack.” Eventually he won grammys and produced LPs by artists such as Bette Midler and Liza Minnelli.

He segued into movie work when producer Jerry Weintraub asked him to be the music supervisor for his film “The Karate Kid” in 1982. The same year, Weintraub introduced Arthur to Chabad of Westwood, where the musician experienced a Jewish reawakening while dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah.

“I began to take Hebrew lessons and became very interested in learning,” Arthur recalled. “I found myself sponging up Judaism; I hadn’t been drinking that kind of elixir since my bar mitzvah.”

Arthur drew Sandler’s attention in the early 1990s, after he earned a Grammy nomination for producing Jackie Mason’s “The World According to Me.”

“I absolutely loved Adam on ‘Saturday Night Live,'” said Arthur, who demonstrates by imitating Sandler’s florid “SNL” character Operaman. “I loved his brand of humor, and I’m so lucky that he liked me.”

Their first album, “They’re All Gonna Laugh At You,” went double platinum, and Arthur went on to produce all five of Sandler’s CDs (copies are lined up on the console of Happy Madison’s recording studio next door). Arthur became a regular member of Sandler’s creative posse of friends and collaborators, co-writing Sandler’s animated Chanukah film, “Eight Crazy Nights,” and even playing a part in the success of the legendary “Chanukah Song.”

“I saw Adam performing it in its embryonic form on ‘Saturday Night Live,'” Arthur said, “and while he was still on the air I called his apartment in Manhattan and left the message: ‘Sandman, this is a reason to make your next album.'” (Sandler awoke him at 2 a.m. to agree.)

Arthur initially assumed Sandler might do a humorous piece for the “Jewish Songbook,” but Sandler said he “wanted to do something that makes your heart hurt,” Arthur recalled. His choice was “Hine Ma Tov,” because hearing his cantor sing the melody reminded him of going to synagogue as a boy in Manchester, N.H.

Arthur says the other “songbook” musicians also turned nostalgic in the studio about their childhood.

“They were conscious of keeping alive these great Jewish songs of the past,” he said.

Arts in L.A Calendar


SEPTEMBER
 
Sat., Sept. 16
 
“The California Modernist Portrait.” Exhibition of portraiture from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s by Victor Arnautoff, Otis Oldfield, Mabel Alvarez and others. Sept. 16-Nov. 11. Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts, 9200 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite 200, Beverly Hills. (310) 273-8838.
 
www.helfenfinearts.com.
 
“Vaudeville Extravaganza!” With variety acts by Janet Klein and Her Parlor Boys, Davis and Faversham and juggler Beejay Joyer; and screenings of a cartoon, vintage newsreel, Charlie Chaplin comedy “One A.M.” and Buster Keaton’s “Pardon My Berth Marks.” Alex Film Society. 8 p.m. $12.50-$19.50. Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. (818) 243-2539.
 
www.alextheatre.org.
 
“Mexico — Mi Tierra y Mis Pasiones” by Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company. Features “De Cara al Mar,” choreographed by Viviana Basanta Hernandez in collaboration with Los Angeles’ Grandeza Mexicana. 8 p.m. $25-$30. Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. (323) 461-3673.
 
www.fordamphitheatre.org.
 
Sun., Sept. 17
 
“Five Days of Freedom: Photographs From the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.” Images by Austrian photojournalist Erich Lessing. Opening Reception: 3 p.m., Sept. 17. “The Art of Photojournalism” symposium: 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m., Sept. 18. On view: Sept. 17-Dec. 17. Doheny Memorial Library, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. (213) 740-3270.
 
www.usc.edu/libraries.
 
Mon., Sept. 18
 
Writers Bloc Presents Michael Tolkin in Conversation With Stephen Gaghan. Tolkin, the writer of “The Player” and “The Return of the Player” is interviewed by Gaghan, screenwriter of “Traffic” and “Syriana.” 7:30 p.m. $20. Fine Arts Theater, 8556 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 335-0917.
 
www.writersblocpresents.com.
 
Tue., Sept. 19
 
Classical Pianist Gabriela Montero in Concert. 8 p.m. $35. Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 655-2520.
 
www.livenation.com.
 
Wed., Sept. 20
 
“SIDES: The Fear Is Real…” Comedic play about six hopeful actors and their audition nightmares. East West Players. Sept. 20-Oct. 1. $20-$60. David Henry Hwang Theater, Union Center for the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles. (213) 625-7000.
 
www.eastwestplayers.org.
 
Fri., Sept. 22
 
“Yosemite: Art of an American Icon — Part I: 1855-1969.” Includes works by Albert Bierstadt, William Keith, Maurice Braun and Ansel Adams. Sept. 22-Jan. 21. Free (children under 6), $3-$7.50 (general). Museum of the American West, 234 Museum Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 221-2164.
 
www.autrynationalcenter.org.
 
Sat., Sept. 23
 
“On Being Human: Expressions of Faith, Love, Shame and Hope.” Exhibit of works by figurative artists representing free and captive societies around the globe. Sept. 23-Oct.21. Johnson Art Collection, 8304 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 655-5738.
 
www.johnsonartcollection.com.
 
Fri., Sept. 29
 
“Un Domingo en La Alameda/A Sunday in the Alameda.” World premiere play inspired by a mural by painter Diego Rivera. Sept. 29-Nov. 5. (All performances in Spanish, with English performances from Oct. 12-15 only.) $20-$35.Teatro Carmen Zapata, Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, 421 N. Avenue 19, Los Angeles. (323) 225-4044.
 
www.bfatheatre.org.
 
Garth Fagan Dance. Fagan is perhaps best known for his choreography of the musical “The Lion King.” Program includes “Prelude From Discipline Is Freedom,” “Oatka Trail,” “Touring Jubilee 1924 (Professional),” “Life: Dark/Light” and “Translation Transition.” 8 p.m. $20-$36. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. (562) 467-8818.
 
www.cerritoscenter.com.
 
Sat., Sept. 30
 
Jules Massenet’s “Manon.” The opera is performed by Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón, and conducted by Plácido Domingo. Pre-performance lectures occur one hour prior to each performance. Sept. 30-Oct. 21. $30+. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Music Center of Los Angeles, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 972-8001.
 
www.laopera.com.
 
OCTOBER
 
Sun., Oct. 1
 
2006 Mak Architecture Tour. Sample L.A. modernism with houses by Irving Gill, Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolph Schindler, John Lautner and Peirre Koenig. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. $65-$135. R.S.V.P., (323) 651-1510.
 
www.makcenter.org.
 
Wed., Oct. 4
 
Cinema Italian Style. Screening series celebrates contemporary Italian cinema and is the official site for Golden Globes for best foreign picture eligibility screenings. In-person guests include actress Valeria Golino. Oct. 4-8. $6-$9. American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (323) 466-3456.
 
www.aerotheatre.com.
 
Fri., Oct. 6
 
“The Marvelous Wonderettes.” The pop musical tells the story of four high school girls and features songs from the ’50s and ’60s. Oct. 6-Nov. 26. $40. El Portal Forum Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (866) 811-4111.
 
www.marvelouswonderettes.com.
 

“Transforming Vision: The Wood Sculpture of William Hunter, 1970-2005.” First retrospective exhibition of the seminal artist’s work. Oct. 6-Dec. 10. Free (members, children under 12 and all Fridays), $6-$7 (general). Long Beach Museum of Art, 2300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. (562) 439-2119.
 
www.lbma.org.
 
Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montréal. The contemporary ballet company presents “Noces,” a fast, energetic piece choreographed by Belgian dance maker Stijn Celis, and “TooT,” by Dutch choreographer Didy Veldman, known for her humor and energetic dance theater. Oct. 6-7. $25-$95. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Music Center of Los Angeles, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500.
 
www.musiccenter.org.
 
Three Mo’ Tenors. The trio of African American operatic tenors perform Broadway and gospel music. Oct. 6-7, 8 p.m. $42-$67. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. (562) 467-8818.
 
www.cerritoscenter.com.
 
City Ballet of Los Angeles performs “Behind the Red Door.” The cabaret-style ballet explores the Greenwich Village jazz scene of the 1950s and celebrates the music of John Coltrane, plus classical ballet works. 8 p.m. $12-$20. Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. (323) 461-3673.
 
www.fordamphitheatre.org.
 
Sat., Oct. 7
 
The Folk Tree Collection Presents Joel Nakamura. The award-winning illustrator and fine artist uses a sense of humor and critical social eye to reflect on contemporary issues in his paintings on tin. Opening reception: 2-6 p.m. On view: Oct. 7-Nov. 4. 199 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena. (626) 795-8733.

The Circuit


Doctor in the House

On Sunday, April 9, American Jewish Congress, StandWithUs and Beth Jacob Congregation welcomed Dr. Raanan Gissin, strategic analyst, international spokesman and senior adviser to Israel’s prime minister, to Los Angeles. More than 150 people learned about Israel’s next course of action regarding West Bank disengagement and consolidation; the move to create defined, defensible borders; the Hamas election; and subsequent prospects for peace. Gissin stressed the urgency of making aliyah and increasing Jewish population in Israel to keep it the majority. Gissin is a fifth generation Israeli, born on Kibbutz Hasollelim in 1949.

Wine and Wishes

The historic Beverly Hills Post Office, future home of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, was the setting for a multivintage wine tasting hosted by Beaulieu Vineyard, the Peninsula Beverly Hills and Eunice and Hal David.

There to see a preview of the new architecture, guests sipped wine, schmoozed and nibbled goodies as they discussed the endless possibilities for the soon-to-be-a-reality long awaited project.

A dramatic multimedia preview of plans for the Performing Arts Center slated to break ground in 2007 was the evening’s highlight. Guests included Beverly Hills Mayor Stephen Webb and wife, Bonnie; Bram Goldsmith, and Vicki and Murray Pepper.

Kudos for Dr. Katz

Music, laughter and everyone dressed up and determined to have a great evening, sums up the recent Junior Philharmonic 69th anniversary Concert Spectacular.

Rainy weather couldn’t deter these die-hard fans that showed up en masse to celebrate the evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion that paid homage to Dr. Ernst Katz’s extraordinary accomplishments over seven decades.

In addition to the melodic strains of Mozart, John Williams and Tchaikovsky, the annual Celebrity Battle of Batons brought levity and some show business legends to the stage. A cocktail party in the founder’s circle began the festivities and Wink Martindale served as host for the evening while, Army Archerd led the Battle of the Batons.

Participants included Peter Graves, who also narrated “The Impossible Dream” with the orchestra; June Lockhart; Mark Kriski, and Linda Gray. But local KTLA morning newsman Carlos Amezcua took home the honors and received the golden baton from last year’s winner, Florence Henderson.

Amezcua won over the audience with his spirited dancing (in the style of Zero Mostel) as he led the talented musicians in the strains of “To Life” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” while a stirring violin solo by Smbat Atsilatsyan had everyone enraptured.

Henderson presented a rendition of the score from “The Sound of Music,” which actually had the audience singing along. (Hard to resist that “Do Re Mi.”)

The evening really was specia,l and Katz really deserves all the kudos for his tireless work keeping this amazing group of talented musicians playing.

Time for Tikvah

Camp Ramah’s Tikvah program will be have a new leader this summer.

The one-of-a-kind Tikvah program for special needs children will now have Elana Naftalin-Kelman, a Columbia University and Bank Street College trained social worker and educator at its helm. This follows the announcement of the resignation of previous director Tara Reisbaum, who led the program for eight years.

Camp Ramah’s Tikvah program is especially designed for Jewish adolescents, ages 11 to 18, with learning, emotional and developmental disabilities. The Ezra program, Tikvah’s counterpart for young adults, offers participants a summer vocational training course at cCamp.

Throughout its 34-year history, Tikvah has sought to create an environment of inclusiveness for special needs children, adults and their families both at Camp and in the greater Jewish community through education, exposure, socialization and fun.

For more information about Camp Ramah or the Tikvah program, call (310) 476-8571.

Yiddish Spoken Here

What could be better? An evening of Yiddish poetry, a nosh, interesting guests. It was all a wonderful evening of “tom” when Pen USA, a club for writers, recently presented one of its entertaining salons organized by Helen Kaufman.

It was like channeling Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman and the members of the Algonquin Roundtable as Miriam Koral delighted attendees with Yiddish poetry readings from such noteworthy poets as Fradel Shtok, Rosa Gutman and Avrum Reisen, among others.

Koral, an expert in all things Yiddish also read one of her own selections. And although we know it is always lost in translation, the essence, the tone and the wonderful reading had everyone mesmerized. Literary notables like Dr. John Menkes, author of “After the Tempest,” sat eyes closed as Koral read or played some of the pieces set to music.

Everyone’s presence seemed to say, Yiddishkayt is very much alive and well and appreciated in Los Angeles, and can we please have more?

 

Jewish Music Fills Big Easy


Think of New Orleans music and you don’t usually think of Hebrew or Yiddish song.

But Hebrew, Yiddish and English tunes filled the ears of nearly 1,000 music lovers last weekend as a variety of acts — ranging from New York pop singer Gershon Veroba to Moldovan crooner Efim Chorny — converged on New Orleans for a two-day benefit concert.

Organizers said the New Orleans International Jewish Music Festival was expected to raise at least $75,000 for local Jewish institutions shattered by Hurricane Katrina last year. That includes $50,000 in donations already collected from private individuals and institutions, and another $25,000 from the sale of tickets, CDs, T-shirts and other souvenirs.

But this was more than just a fundraiser. The gathering also brought badly needed joy to a city that has seen mostly suffering in the seven months since Katrina’s deadly visit.

“Music is a very powerful thing,” singer Neshama Carlebach said. “Being in New Orleans has been heavy for me; it’s very difficult seeing all this destruction first-hand. So I hope I can bring some healing.”

A city famous for jazz, blues, Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras certainly could use a little of Carlebach’s healing.

Fewer than 200,000 of New Orleans’ approximately 500,000 residents have returned since the storm. The Jewish community has fared a little better: About 70 percent of the Big Easy’s pre-hurricane Jewish population of 9,500 has returned.

“The idea was to bring Jewish music back to New Orleans,” sculptor Gary Rosenthal said. “You can talk about how important it is to get jobs and rebuild bricks and mortar. But I’m an artist, and I focus on spirit and on making Jewish children happy.”

Billed as a sort of Jewish Woodstock, the event kicked off Saturday night at the Howlin’ Wolf, a club in New Orleans’ Warehouse district, then continued Sunday afternoon at a half-filled auditorium on the Tulane University campus.

Organizers had hoped to attract more people, but they were forced to compete with the NCAA basketball Final Four, in which nearby Louisiana State University was a semi-finalist, as well as other Jewish and secular events taking place around town.

Still, those who showed up weren’t disappointed.

“My grandfather saw an ad in Moment magazine and told me about this,” said Tulane student Zack Rothbart, 19. “I think it’s great all these musicians were able to put on such a concert.”

Faye and Chip Merritt drove four hours from Pensacola, Fla., to attend the Sunday show.

“All the entertainers performed very well,” Faye Merritt said. “The diversity of the Jewish music was great. I really enjoyed the Yiddish stuff, because my mother was from Poland.”

Some of the most popular acts included West Coast musicians Fran Avni, Sam Glaser and RebbeSoul, as well as Nashville singer Stacy Beyer and New York’s Voices for Israel and Blue Fringe.

Also well-received was Veroba, whose adapts Jewish lyrics to such 1970s standards as Earth Wind & Fire’s “September” and Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park.”

“Most of us Jewish musicians are just getting by,” Veroba said, “so it’s amazing that so many of them gave up gigs to come here and play for free.”

The event was put together in just three months by Rosenthal, of Kensington, Md., and his friend Michael Monheit, the Washington-based publisher of Moment.

Rosenthal said he came up with the idea after one of his New Orleans clients, French Quarter gallery owner Dashka Roth, lost her home in Katrina.

According to Monheit, the event was produced for $50,000, but only because the artists donated their time. He hopes to make it an annual event.

While local bands such as the New Orleans All-Star Klezmer Band were paid for their time, out-of-town performers were not. The idea was to help local musicians, many of whom also have lost their homes and possessions.

That’s also why admissions were kept artificially low; Saturday night’s show was only $15 and Sunday afternoon’s performance $10. Students were given $5 discounts.

Avni, who’s been singing in Hebrew and English for close to 30 years, said she didn’t have to think twice about performing for free in New Orleans.

“Having a music festival with people who aren’t getting paid, but donating their efforts, is very special,” she said. “We rarely get a chance to do something like this.”

 

It’s the Swan Song for Hatikvah Music


On a recent afternoon, boxes were scattered around the floor of Hatikvah Music International on Fairfax Avenue. Stacks of CDs, piles of mailing envelopes and piles of boxes to be mailed threatened the barely discernible order of the store. Aside from owner Simon Rutberg and his visitor, the store was empty.

You’d never know that this is the world’s largest outlet for musical Judaica, because it looks like moving day. And come January, it will be moving day for real, when Rutberg is forced to give up the Fairfax Avenue store that has been a landmark for Jewish music lovers for decades.

Fairfax is changing, and to many long-time business owners and visitors, not for the better. Gentrification has been threatening the street for some time. Hatikvah isn’t the only store on the block to feel the heat, but fans are already concerned about the store’s demise.

“For me, that [Fairfax] strip of the Borscht Belt was always defined as much by Hatikvah as Canter’s or Diamond’s Bakery,” broadcaster Rene Engel (KCRW-FM, KUSC-FM, KCSN-FM) told The Journal. “It was the only music store my mother ever shopped at, and that was my link to the music she grew up with. It was also the only place to go for Israeli music. I can’t imagine Fairfax without Hatikvah.”

Neither can KCRW general manager Ruth Seymour, who builds her annual “Philosophers, Fiddlers and Fools” radio show around what Rutberg selects for her.

“I’m from New York,” she said, “the East Bronx, and I can tell you uncategorically that there’s nothing like Hatikvah [even] back there.”

Many viewed the store as a music archive.

“Universities came to me when they wanted rare field recordings,” Rutberg says. “Record companies like Columbia tell me that if I ever close, they’ll discontinue certain records because there will be no place to buy them.”

Rutberg finds a rare CD and holds it up for inspection: “Shba Hoth: Iraqui Jewish Songs from the 1920s.” Then there’s the album of Jewish music from the southern coast of India. “You can’t go anyplace else for this,” he says.

Although Rutberg will vacate the shop next month — with no current plans of how or where he will relocate — the store’s doors stand customarily open on this December afternoon, music wafting onto the sidewalk. Even louder are the persistent clacking noises from across the street: A group of boys practice skateboard maneuvers outside a store selling T-shirts that looks like a Melrose transplant — evidence of a transforming Fairfax.

Despite the racket, the compact, well-groomed Rutberg lowers his voice when asked about why he started Hatikvah back in 1987. He says he wanted to help save Yiddish, and specifically Yiddish music — part of a national trend that now includes institutions such as Yiddishkayt Los Angeles and the National Yiddish Book Center.

The long, narrow store — laid out like a shotgun shack — has a fascinating history. It opened in 1948 as Norty’s, Rutberg says. Some 50 yards from Fairfax High, it went on to sell music — both Jewish and pop — to generations of music-hungry kids, including Phil Spector and members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Jerry Leiber worked there as a teen, before he met Mike Stoller and they went on to write one of the largest and greatest catalogs of rock ‘n’ roll songs. When Herb Alpert played weddings and bar mitzvahs, he put his flyers there.

Steve Barri (nee Lipkin) also worked at Norty’s, and the store was his springboard to a job as an A & R man for Dunhill Records in 1963. Rutberg casually touches the counter as he notes, “Steve and Phil Spector wrote ‘Secret Agent Man’ right here.”

Rutberg discovered the place when his family moved to the area after emigrating from Poland in the 1950s. Norty’s became his neighborhood music store, and Rutberg even worked in the shop in the 1960s. Eventually he moved on to other pursuits — downtown retail clothing, a Westwood record store — before returning in 1987.

These days, some of the store’s biggest sellers are displayed near the cash register: “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish & When You’re in Love & The Whole World Is Jewish (Double Length)” and Mandy Patinkin’s “Mamaloshen.” Also on display are two CDs Rutberg released on his own Hatikvah Music label: “Leo Fuld Sings His Yiddish Hits” and Martha Schlamme’s “Yiddish Songs From My Father’s House.”

What’s this? “Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites”? A twinkle appears in Rutberg’s eye as he explains, “Continues to sell, year after year.”

On the wall behind the counter, a small shrine to Jackie Wilson? “Sure,” he affirms. “A great singer and a good friend of mine. You ever hear his record of ‘My Yiddishe Mama’?”

Just then a young blond woman walks into the store. Rutberg greets her, and they confer. While the proprietor disappears into the back of the building, she says she’s in the process of converting to Judaism.

“[My temple] told me that I should come here to get some music for my seder,” she says.

When Simon returns, he has found exactly what she needs.

Over the years, Rutberg has also served numerous celebrities, including Johnny Mathis, Steve Lawrence and Theodore Bikel. Folksy singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen once wanted some cantorial music. Bette Midler was looking for something by the Barry Sisters, citing Claire Barry as her prime influence.

“I picked up the phone,” recalls Rutberg with a sly grin, “dialed long distance and said, ‘Claire, there’s someone I want you to speak to.'”

Asked what will become of Hatikvah, Rutberg shakes his head. “I don’t know,” he says.

In recent years, he has done much of his business online at www.hatikvahmusic.com, so possibly that will continue. But the landmark store loved by so many will be a blank storefront by next month.

Rutberg believes he did his part to save rare Jewish music. “But I couldn’t save myself,” he adds, ruefully.

For more information, call (323) 655-7083.

Simon Rutberg, owner of Hatikvah Music International will be interviewed on KCRW-FM’s “The Politics of Culture” on Monday, Dec. 26, at 7 p.m.

Kirk Silsbee has been writing about music in Los Angeles — mostly jazz- — for the last 30 years.

Tova’s Songs Good for Yiddish’s Image


 

As a youngster in Calgary, she was the Yiddish valedictorian of her high school. As a theater major in Edmonton, she was “the first Jewish Medea.” Later, she became known across Canada as a character in a popular prime-time drama.

Now Theresa Tova is Canada’s reigning diva of Yiddish song, and she’s on her way to Los Angeles.

Tova will bring her smoky contralto to Gindi Auditorium at the University of Judaism on Dec. 24 in a concert that will culminate the California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language’s sixth annual Winter Yiddish Intensive, “The Art of Yiddish,” this year subtitled “Knights, Mystics, Partisans & Scribes: Heroes of the Yiddish World.”

While not well known on the West Coast, Tova has a following on the East Coast, across Canada and in Yiddish and jazz circles. About 15 years ago, she began singing Yiddish standards such as “Belz,” “Papirosn,” and “Sheyn vi di Levone” infused with jazz syncopations and a sensuality that turns nostalgic reminiscences into walks down a dark street, and love songs into pillow talk.

“She lends a whole new image to Yiddish music,” said the institute’s director, Miriam Koral.

Tova, 50, was born in Paris, the daughter of Polish Jews. Her father’s family survived World War II after fleeing to Russia, while her mother, who lost her entire family, fought with the Polish partisans.

The family moved to Canada when Tova was a baby, and she grew up in Calgary, whose Jewish community was large enough to support three synagogues and two Jewish day schools. Yiddish was her mama loshen, and she attended the Yiddish day school in town. She then studied acting at the University of Alberta.

“I didn’t know I had a Jewish accent until they told me,” Tova told The Journal.

Her greatest visibility as an actor came as a regular on the Canadian series “E.N.G.,” a newsroom drama that ran from 1989 to 1994. It was during this time that Tova started performing as a cabaret singer.

She had a steady gig at a Toronto gay bar and, just for fun, would sometimes sing a Tin Pan Alley song in Yiddish. One night, a representative of a Jewish gay and lesbian group recruited her to sing for the local Holocaust Remembrance Committee.

“The next thing I know, I have these five Jewish matrons with bouffant hair sitting there in the gay bar checking me out,” Tova said. After that, she became a frequent performer at events for Jewish organizations.

In her performances, Tova mines the realism and grit of Yiddish lyrics. “I love the sexiness, the earthiness of this music; I love the stories,” she said.

Her live performances and two CDs also include Yiddish translations of American standards such as “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” and “Night and Day,” cabaret favorites in English, and, recently, a contemporary song by New York poet Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, “Der Saksafon Shpiler,” about a sax player on a subway platform.

Tova has been criticized for giving the classic Yiddish tunes too much of her own sassy personality and musical stamp, but she replies that she’s applying her actor’s skills to the material.

“That’s the way I hear it in 2005,” she said. “Are we just historical preservers, or do we want to keep this language, God forbid, alive?”

Besides, she suggests, other people who first heard these songs as youngsters are willing to come along for her ride. When they hear the jazz beat, Tova said, “those old [folks] are sitting there saying, ‘Hey, this is a sexy tune!'”

Well acquainted with the Jew’s outsider status in society and acting roles far removed from her own experience, Tova uses Yiddish music to be Jewish and to be, well, Tova.

“I can stand on a stage 60 years [after the Holocaust] and announce who I am … we ain’t hiding any more,” she said. “To be able to come back to this music and back to who I am is such a joy.”

Theresa Tova and the Strauss/Warschauer Duo will perform Saturday, Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. at the University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. $40. For tickets, call (310) 745-1190.

 

“ART OF YIDDISH” EVENTS

The sixth annual Winter Yiddish Intensive presented by the California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language (CIYCL), to be held Dec. 18-24 at the Skirball Cultural Center and the University of Judaism, will focus on “Heroes of Yiddish Culture.”

The week kicks off with a Sunday “Yiddish Experience.” Each weekday morning will feature Yiddish language classes at four different levels of reading ability, plus two levels of conversational Yiddish. In the afternoons and evenings, scholars and entertainers from across the United States, as well as Europe and Israel, will present lectures and workshops on a number of cultural topics.

Admission is available to the entire program and any of its components. To see a brochure with program details and ticket prices, visit www.yiddishinstitute.org or call CIYCL at (310) 745-1190.

It’s Not Your Zayde’s Klezmer Anymore


Musician Eric Stein felt disillusioned with rock ‘n’ roll. He spent years slogging away in a band without “making it,” so he started looking for something else.

He considered being a history professor, but then, a new instrument and an old style of music changed his mind.

The instrument was a mandolin and the music klezmer.

“There was level of musical sophistication that goes with the kind of music you can play on the mandolin, and my intention was to start a new acoustic-fusion thing, with an emphasis on string and wind instruments,” said Stein, who went on to form Beyond the Pale, a klezmer-fusion band.

“I had been brought up as a secular Jew, and I didn’t know much about Jewish music except that it was dorky,” said Stein on the phone from Toronto, where his band is based. “But when klezmer got hot a few years ago, I found that the music really spoke to me on a cultural level. All the time, I was trying to play other people’s music, but this is the music of my family and my history.”

Stein’s approach to klezmer — seeing it as part of his heritage, but wanting to put an innovative, modern stamp on it, is typical of today’s klezmer revival. More and more musicians are attracted to the music, but want to move it beyond its European folk roots.

Hence, bands like Beyond the Pale fuse klezmer with reggae, jazz, ska and bluegrass music. As a result, klezmer keeps one foot in its shtetl past and another in the post-modern present.

“That’s why we called the band Beyond the Pale, because the expression means something that is unexpected and beyond the bounds,” Stein said. “[The name] refers to the Jewish roots of the band, but it also refers to the idea that we want to get outside of the rules — to pay homage to the traditions, but at the same time express ourselves.”

“Consensus” is the name of Beyond the Pale’s new CD, but while the title implies harmonic accord, even compromise, the tunes on the CD do not. Although not disharmonious, the tunes startle the listener with their complex boldness.

In “Whassat,” for instance, the 10th song on the CD, a clarinet melody starts off plaintive and wailing, only to be overlaid by a thumping base beat that builds into a rhythmic crescendo that is less “Tevye” and more jazz club.

In “Skalavaye,” Beyond the Pale gives a modern, ska-tinged rendition of a 1940s Yiddish classic, with contemporary nods to Yiddish humor. “Halevai (I only wish that) I was a keg of beer,” warbles vocalist Josh Dolgin. “So you could quench your thirst with me, my dear'”

For Stein, the CD, a live recording of a Toronto concert, epitomizes the new direction of klezmer.

“Historically, klezmer music was just about extinct by the mid-60s, for all sorts of different reasons, such as demographics and the Holocaust,” Stein said. “So for the first 15 to 20 years of the klezmer revival, [which started in the 1970s], the overriding influence was about ‘Let’s rescue what was forgotten and bring it back.’ But in the 1990s, we have the second generation of the klezmer revival, and that is when things really started to evolve. [The musicians] were marrying klezmer to jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, funk and reggae.”

Klezmer was not only becoming musically assimilated, but moving beyond the confines of the Jewish community. Stein is the only member of his five-piece band who is Jewish, and the band’s audiences have also changed.

No longer do klezmer bands attract only the bubbes and zaydes who remember the music from the old days. Now, in many venues, klezmer audiences can be primarily non-Jewish.

“People from within the Jewish community are embracing it, and using it as a way to express their own cultural heritage, but it is also having a life outside of the Jewish community altogether,” said Martin Van de Ven, Beyond the Pale’s clarinetist. “It has become [a style of music] with its own direction and way of doing things. More and more musicians are getting involved with it….”

“It is really evolving beyond just a Jewish form of music,” he said.

Beyond the Pale will perform June 1 at 9:30 p.m. at Tangier Restaurant, 2138 Hillcrest Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 666-8666. For more information on the band, visit

Singing Klezmer Isn’t Hard to Do


Neil Sedaka is a punctual, polite musical legend, and at 65, he still likes being a mama’s boy.

“I do. I like being protected,” Sedaka said. He grew up in a loving Sephardic/Ashkenazic home in Brooklyn, where he practiced piano for hours. It was a sheltered Coney Island Avenue universe in which, “my sister fought my battles in school,” Sedaka said. “To me, the raising of a voice was very jarring. My mother told me that everything I did was perfect.”

When it comes to catchy tunes with perfect melodies, the world often has agreed with Mama Sedaka (now 88 and living in Ft. Lauderdale). And while having Andy Warhol paint your portrait and seeing one’s songwriting skills praised in Bob Dylan’s recent autobiography are great, it is the Yiddish songs he grew up listening to that now claim Sedaka’s melodic soul.

His CD, “Brighton Beach Memories: Neil Sedaka Sings Yiddish,” cost less than $10,000 to produce, prompted a Carnegie Hall concert last summer and is now coming to the Wilshire Theatre this weekend — complete with a klezmer band. The show’s second half will be from Sedaka’s own large repertoire, with the show’s first half dedicated to Yiddish tunes such as “My Yiddishe Mamme” and “Shein vi di L’Vone” (“Pretty as the Moon”).

“I grew up on these songs. I wanted to do something that was close to my heart,” Sedaka told The Journal in telephone interview from his Park Avenue apartment. “But I have to tell you that this CD has taken a life of its own.”

Since dropping out of Juilliard in 1958, Sedaka’s 1,000 songs have included nearly 50 hummable and singable hits, including “Love Will Keep Us Together,” “Calendar Girl,” “Stupid Cupid” and “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.” A product of Manhattan’s 1960s Brill Building songwriting factory, his music has been sung by Frank Sinatra, Cher, Sheryl Crow, ABBA, David Cassidy, Mandy Moore and The Monkees. A hit single this year came out of “American Idol” — Clay Aiken’s rendition of “Solitaire.”

“It’s a big body of work,” Sedaka said. His high baritone voice prompted a compliment decades ago from fellow Las Vegas Hilton staple Elvis Presley. “He said to me that when he was in the Army, he would go to the jukebox and sing the ‘Sedaka songs,'” he said.

Sedaka has had a noteworthy place in American music for four decades; he became a comfortable perennial who did not let himself turn into a tortured titan like Sinatra or a forgettable one-hit wonder like The Imperials, Haircut 100 or Luscious Jackson.

One does not cringe when VH1 asks “Where Are They Now?” of Sedaka, because he usually has a hit somewhere, including at least one Billboard chart-topper each decade since 1958. Even while touring the Great Wall of China, the songwriter marveled at his Chinese guide singing one of his songs on the tour bus, the tour guide then refusing to believe Sedaka when he identified himself.

His hit-making consistency and songwriting discipline also have made him a man entirely lacking in public scandal. His work is remembered more than anything else, overshadowing even his enviable 42-year marriage to fellow New Yorker Leba Strassberg. The couple, who met in the Catskills, have two children — daughter Dara, a recording artist, and son Marc, an L.A. screenwriter — and twin granddaughters, Amanda and Charlotte.

He also finds Israeli audiences enjoying him when he sings Hebrew versions of his hits; his decidedly “charitable” last name (tzedaka means charity), he said, “has been very helpful.”

Yet, Sedaka admits that for all the pop hits he has written and heard played, hummed or sung in elevators, supermarkets and cocktail lounges, writing pop music is not bubblegum and can require as much elaborate creation as a Bach symphony.

“The hardest thing is to write a simple melody,” he said. “I do wish that I could write something a little more complicated, but it’s not me; it’s not my makeup. I’m very disciplined. It was kind of a long, long career. It never went to my head.”

His evergreen tunes (before Aiken, Elvis recorded “Solitaire”) means Sedaka has not had to work the ’50s hits revival circuit.

“I love oldies, but I never had to do those shows,” the songwriter said.

Sedaka’s choice of rock ‘n’ roll and pop over classical notes initially irked his mother, who saw her baby as the next Arthur Rubinstein. When someone suggested that young Neil, with his unique high voice, become a chazan, his mother dismissed that, too, insisting he would be a concert pianist.

But success smiled on his mother’s dashed dreams when at 19, his songwriting brought in royalties of $42,000.

“I bought her a mink stole,” Sedaka said. “That made the difference. We call it her Hadassah tallit.”

Neil Sedaka performs Saturday, Dec. 4 at 8 p.m, and Sunday, Dec. 5 at 2 p.m. at the Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets are $35-$55 with an eight-ticket limit. For more information, call (323) 468-1770 or go to

A Jewish Visit to Guthrie’s Land


 

Arlo Guthrie draws a direct line between his beloved bubbe and his Dec. 6 concert, “Holy Ground: The Jewish and Spiritual Songs of Woody Guthrie.”

Arlo, the son of the legendary folk singer and composer, says that his father’s mother-in-law, Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt, inspired Woody’s largely unknown lyrics for Chanukah, Holocaust and Jewish children’s songs.

These songs will be performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall by Arlo; his son, Abe; guitarist Gordon Titcomb, and the six-piece Klezmatics, who set the lyrics to music.

Guthrie, 57, whose own career exploded in 1967 with the release of “Alice’s Restaurant,” recalled growing up as a “Jewish kid” in Brooklyn, with his famous dad and mother — Woody’s second wife — Marjorie Mazia, a professional dancer.

In preparation for Guthrie’s “Hootenanny Bar Mitzvah,” his parents hired a “sweet young rabbi” as a tutor, Guthrie told The Journal during a phone interview. The rabbi’s name was Meir Kahane, who went on to become the extremist founder of the Jewish Defense League and the Kach political party.

“Rabbi Kahane was a really nice, patient teacher, but shortly after he gave me my lessons, he started going haywire. Maybe I was responsible,” Guthrie said with a laugh.

When Mazia abandoned her Jewish husband to marry Woody, “this little guy from Oklahoma,” her parents took the news in different ways.

Her father, Isidore Greenblatt, stopped talking to his daughter until the first of her three children with Woody was born.

But Bubbe Aliza took to the new son-in-law right away.

“She was a poet and songwriter in her own right, and she immediately recognized Woody’s talent,” Guthrie said.

Woody Guthrie himself was aware of the tension between Isidore and Aliza Greenblatt over his marriage and started studying Judaism.

“He wanted to know what he had gotten himself into and, with his typical thoroughness, started reading every book he could find and took courses on Judaism at Brooklyn Community College,” Guthrie said of his father.

The grandmother’s impact on young Arlo went even deeper.

“We would go to her home on Friday night for Shabbat dinner and she was a great cook. Nobody ever came close to her blintzes,” Guthrie reminisced. “She was also a very creative person, a great storyteller, and I loved her stories about growing up in Russia.”

Best of all, “She liked me as I was,” Guthrie said. “She always thought I was funny and she took great pride in me. She was interested in everything I was interested in. You always hope that someone in your family feels that way about you.

“The first time I performed in Carnegie Hall,” he continued, “She sat there in the middle of the front row and just kvelled.”

Once bubbe visited the Guthries when they were living on a small farm in Massachusetts, where they kept some goats.

When she arrived, she started crying, and Guthrie asked, “Why are you crying, Bubbe?”

“Because I haven’t seen a goat in 75 years,” she answered between sobs.

Like Woody, bubbe was an early anti-fascist, who fought for social justice and organized labor, and was an ardent Zionist, as well.

In the early 1950s, the Greenblatts moved to Israel, but when Woody was struck with a severe degenerative disease a few years later they moved back to help take care of the grandchildren.

Woody Guthrie, who wrote some 3,500 songs in 20 years, in addition to books and pamphlets, never heard the Jewish songs performed in his lifetime. It was only after his death that his daughter, Nora, discovered the lyrics and had them set to music. Among Arlo Guthrie’s favorites are “Happy, Joyous Chanukah,” and, in another mood, a chilling ballad about the sadistic Ilse Koch, “The Bitch of Buchenwald,” in the voice of a concentration camp inmate.

“The Holy Ground” concert starts at 8 p.m., Monday, Dec. 6. Tickets ($25-$75) are available at the Walt Disney Concert Hall box office, online at www.LAPhil.com, or by calling (323) 850-2000.

 

Music Man Silenced at 82


Film composer Elmer Bernstein, who died last week at the age of 82, was born in New York, the son of immigrants from Ukraine and the Austro-Hungarian empire. After being blacklisted during the McCarthy era he came back to pen such classic scores as "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Man with the Golden Arm," "The Magnificent Seven," "The Age of Innocence" and "The Grifters." In a 1998 interview with The Jewish Journal, he shed light on his musical roots.

"I spoke Yiddish before I spoke English. I was largely brought up, for the first four years of my life, by my grandmother and grandfather. They were "Fiddler on the Roof" kind of people, like people from Anatevka. Their friends used to come over and sit around the kitchen with the glasele te, and I stayed for the stories. My maternal grandmother, who lived with us — I was very fond of her — was conventionally religious.

I was brought up listening to my grandmother sing Jewish songs all the time. The first songs I learned were in Yiddish. It influenced me in the sense that it’s powerful."

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Chug on down to the Getty today or tomorrow, as they present Sharon Katz and the Peace Train as part of their Garden Concerts for Kids series. The Grammy-nominated South African ensemble gives a family-oriented performance of jazz-/folk-/rock-infused African music and teaches South African songs and dances.4-6 p.m. Aug. 14 and 15. Free. 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300.

Sunday

On a somber note, the Workmen’s Circle hosts a Soviet Yiddish Writers Commemoration this afternoon. Aug. 12 marked the 52nd anniversary of the Stalin regime’s execution of 14 Yiddish writers, in an attempt to suppress Jewish culture. Today, a coalition of secular Jewish organizations presents a dramatic recreation of the writers’ “trials.”2 p.m. Free. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

Monday

The Jewish “Frankenstein” comes to the Silent Movie Theatre’s big screen tonight. See the 1920 horror classic “The Golem,” with musical accompaniment by Rick Friend. Film scholar David Shepard provides a rare print from the film, as well.8 p.m. $10-$15. 611 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 655-2520.

Tuesday

Tonight, Improv Olympics presents “Beta Male,” featuring the comic stylings of Dave Kessler, who tackles dating, Jewish parents and other neurosis-inducing topics for your amusement. His buddy, Kurt Bodden, does a half-hour of his own schtick, as well.8:45 p.m. $10. 6366 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 962-7560.

Wednesday

Now on display at Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts are “California Modernist Works on Paper.” The survey of from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s features watercolors, graphite and charcoal drawings, linoleum block prints, woodcuts, serigraphs and lithographs by Peter Krasnow, Paul Landacre, Henrietta Shore and other significant modernist artists.Through Oct. 30. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.), and by appointment. 9200 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 273-8838.

Thursday

For those whose summer vacations don’t include Broadway,a piece of it is now available for the masses. Recently released, the originalcast recording of Tony Kushner’s “Caroline, or Change” features the soundtrackto the show about the civil rights movement, the 1960s and the relationshipbetween a Southern Jewish family and its black maid. $20.99. www.amazon.com

.

Friday

In 2001, actress Kathryn Graf’s husband died suddenly of a heart attack, just shy of his 51st birthday. Left to care for their two young children and to deal with the tragedy of his death and life as a young widow, Graf eventually enrolled in a playwrighting class for therapeutic purposes. The result was a play titled “Surviving David,” which her instructor encouraged her to produce. It opens today, for a limited 16-performance run. Ten percent of proceeds benefit “Our House” grieving center.Through Sept. 9. 8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.). $20. 2100 Square Feet, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. (800) 595-4849.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Harken back to the beginning, when it was Adam, Eve and some girl named Little Suzy. Playwright-producer Ron Petronicolos takes some liberties with the Genesis tale in “The Adam and Eve Show.” On Sunday, Petronicolos presents “The God Monologues,” “an ode to the Big Guy Upstairs” from every religious perspective, including atheist.
“The Adam and Eve Show”: $15. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, through April 17. “The God Monologues”: $7. 6 p.m. Sundays, through April 18. The Space Theatre, 665 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 839-7738.

Sunday

“The Cat in the Hat” converts today, as the Skirball presents a performance of “Di Katz der Payatz,” a Yiddish retelling of the beloved Dr. Seuss classic, based on the new book of the same name. A hat-making workshop is sandwiched between morning and afternoon presentations of the book by translator Zachary Sholem Berger and his wife and publisher, Celeste Zollod. For more grown-up fun, hit the cultural center at 1:30 p.m. as special-effects maven Ron Magid presents a double feature of “Invaders from Mars” and “Invasion USA” as part of the Skirball’s “Red Menace” film series. A moderated discussion follows the screenings.
“Di Katz der Payatz”: $9. 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. “Red Menace” series: $5-$8. 1:30 p.m. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 655-8587.

Monday

Stay in tonight for the made-for-TV biopic we’ve all been
waiting for. Jamie Lynn DiScala (née Sigler) stars in “Call Me: The Rise and
Fall of Heidi Fleiss” (formerly “Going Down: The Rise and Fall of Heidi
Fleiss”). Brenda Fricker (“My Left Foot”) and Corbin Bernsen (“L.A. Law”) also
star in this film about the infamous Hollywood Madam. March 29, 9 p.m. and 11
p.m.; April 3, 5 p.m. USA Network. “>www.laemmle.com

.

Wednesday

Yet another flick worth checking out opens this week. Sony Pictures Classics’ “Bon Voyage” represents a reunion for “Cyrano de Bergerac” director Jean-Paul Rappeneau and actor Gérard Depardieu. Isabelle Adjani and Peter Coyote also star in this French film about a young man facing adulthood, just as the world is sobering as well, with the start of World War II.
Laemmle Theaters: Royal in West Los Angeles, Encino Town Center 5 and Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. www.laemmle.com.

Thursday

A Passover musical montage for the dancing fountain might be too much to hope for, but the Grove does welcome some Jewish holiday cheer today. The Jewish Community Library takes its act on the road to Third and Fairfax, where puppeteer Marilyn Price will celebrate Passover by animating objects from Nerf balls, to feather dusters to toilet paper tubes.
11 a.m.-1 p.m. The Grove, Third Street and Fairfax Avenue. (323) 761-8648.

Friday

Up your Kafka quota tonight with two events incorporating old Franz. First, Perino’s Restaurant gets its last hurrah before being demolished. The pink landmark presents Collage Dance Theatre performing “A Hunger Artist after Franz Kafka” in two performances this evening, Saturday and Sunday. Guests are requested to wear pink. Later, it’s Write Act Repertory Theatre’s production of “The Trial,” a social satire about a man who is falsely accused of a crime, by guess who.
“A Hunger Artist”: 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. $25-$40. April 2-4. (April 1 gala performance costs $125.) 4101 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 655-8587.
“The Trial”: 8 p.m. Runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday, through May 1. $15. Write Act Theatre, 6128 Yucca St., Hollywood. (323) 860-8894.

Clarinetist Finds His Klezmer Voice


"I came to klezmer quite by accident," said virtuoso clarinetist David Krakauer.

He was a noted classical musician around 1987 when a chance encounter on a Manhattan bus changed the direction of his career.

Seated nearby was the accordionist from a klezmer band that played in front of Zabar’s, across the street from Krakauer’s 10th-floor apartment on the Upper West Side.

"The music used to waft up through my windows," he said. "Suddenly, I realized it had made an impression."

The son of a psychiatrist and a violinist, Krakauer had known little about Jewish music or culture growing up in an assimilated home in Manhattan. Yiddish was the language his grandparents had used when they did not want younger relatives to understand their conversation. At Juilliard, Krakauer assumed he would embark on a career of playing Brahms and Mahler with perhaps some jazz on the side. He did so while making a name for himself as a member of the Aspen Wind Quintet, by performing with new music groups such as Continuum and teaching at Vassar and the Manhattan School.

But Jewish music crept up on Krakauer, 42, who’ll perform his unique brand of nouveau klezmer at the Skirball Cultural Center March 21. Around 1978, he said, he attended a concert by the then-elderly clarinetist, David Tarras, who had merged klezmer and swing in the 1920s.

"He didn’t play so well anymore … but there was just something about his sound that gave me the shivers," Krakauer said. "[It] was the rhythm, the cadence, the way the sounds went up and down. It reminded me of my Belorussian grandmother’s voice, when she said things like ‘David, so nu?’"

Krakauer’s own gravely voice crackled with excitement as he recalled meeting that klezmer accordionist on the 104 bus headed uptown in the late 1980s.

"She asked me to recommend a clarinetist who could play with her band, and I think she assumed I’d name a student," he said. "Instead, the words spontaneously flew out of my mouth: ‘I’ll do it.’ It was as if I instinctively realized, ‘I know nothing about being Jewish, but I want to connect.’ I felt like klezmer could be my connection, through sounds, notes and music."

So Krakauer began studying old recordings, learning the proper ornaments and the lilting or frenetic technique required to perform traditional dances such as the doina or freylach. He played weddings and bar mitzvahs, assuming the endeavor would become a musical hobby, not a career.

But then he was invited to play with The Klezmatics, an American band spurring the exuberant klezmer revival of the 1980s. When he traveled to Germany with that group around 1989, he performed in front of thousands of dancing, cheering non-Jews. The same thing happened throughout Eastern Europe and especially in Poland, where Krakauer returned more than seven times to teach and perform. While coaching a group of young musicians in a ramshackle barn off a dirt road in Sejny, he recalled, even a dour farmer paused to tap his feet in the adjacent field.

Of the continuing non-Jewish obsession with klezmer, Krakauer said, "I think enough time has passed, since the Holocaust, for Europeans to wonder, ‘What Jewish culture have we been missing?’ We klezmorim are viewed as representatives of that part of the Eastern European soul that was destroyed in the Shoah."

But Krakauer, like The Klezmatics, wasn’t content just to perform traditional pieces in a straightforward style. In the mid-1990s, he formed his own band, Klezmer Madness!, which weds classic Jewish music with contemporary forms such as jazz, rock and hip-hop. Today, he is part of a wave of musicians who are continuing to push the klezmer envelope, according to Yale Strom, author of 2003’s "The Book of Klezmer." Such bands include the world fusion-infused Flying Bulgars and Strom’s Afro-Cuban Klazzj.

Krakauer’s latest forward-thinking CD is "Live in Krakow," which he recorded last year in the city that bears his name. The energetic album features samples and beatbox by DJ Socalled; it also includes Krakauer’s original composition, "Klezmer a la Bechet," based on an imaginary 1920s meeting between black New Orleans jazz clarinetist Sidney Bechet and the Ukrainian Jewish clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. Another track, "Love Song for Lemberg/Lvov," combines a waltzy melody with atonal sounds mimicking "screams of the Jewish dead," said Krakauer, who is still prominent in classical music circles.

But even as he stretches the genre, he still wants klezmer to sound like klezmer. It has to remind Krakauer of the music he heard wafting in through his windows back in 1987: "It has to suggest my grandmother’s voice," he said.

For information about the Skirball concert, call (310) 440-4500. For tickets, call (323) 655-8587.

Where It’s Hip to Be Yiddish


Hip-Hop music might be cool, funky and ghetto, but DJ Socalled thinks that an infusion of an Yiddish could make it even better.

“Hip-hop is all based on breaks, and the Yiddish theater records have amazing breaks in them, and they are original breaks,” said Montreal-based Socalled, who is known as Josh Dolgen when he isn’t working the sound sampler. “You never hear anyone do them — everyone has sampled James Brown breaks, but nobody has sampled these records.”

Socalled is going to be bringing his Yiddish-hip-hop-funk-jazz-dance music collage to Los Angeles on Dec. 18, where he will sample the night away at an early Khanike (Yiddish for Chanukah) concert for a new group called Avada.

Avada is the young and hip offshoot of the Yiddish language and culture promoting organization Yiddishkayt Los Angeles. It aims to make the Eastern European shtetl language chic with the 35-and-under crowd. Tali Pressman, 23, who started Avada with the help of a grant from the Righteous Person’s Foundation, launched it with a spooky splash in August. The first event was a screening of the 1937 Yiddish film, “The Dybbuk,” in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. More than 700 people attended the screening, and Avada, which comes from the Yiddish word avade, meaning of course, was in business.

“It was actually a revolutionary idea, programming Yiddish events in non-Jewish venues,” Pressman said. “And it’s appealing to me and my generation on their own terms — you can connect with your Jewish identity and that fringe identity in a room with people your age and in a way that speaks to you. There are a lot of young Jews who don’t feel comfortable in the institutional Jewish world, and that are reaching out but … don’t know where to reach out to. We are trying to create that kind of alternative space.”

Pressman became interested in Yiddish culture after studying Jewish and Holocaust studies in college and interning at Yiddishkayt Los Angeles, but she noticed that she was the youngest person by about 30 years at all the Yiddish events she went to.

“That was a little bit discouraging,” she said. “I was going to these events and listening to the music realizing that there is a [Yiddish] contemporary art scene, right now mostly in New York and Montreal, and it just has to be presented to young people in a way that they can appreciate it and in a way that it can be relevant to their lives.”

Pressman is planning four major Avada events every year, including an alternative Passover seder with a Yiddish-saturated haggadah that will take place in a space like the Knitting Factory, featuring celebrity play readings and film screenings. She hopes these events will not only support and nurture the local Yiddish art scene, but that young people will be able to connect to a Yiddish identity and preserve the Yiddish language, which, with the advent of modern Hebrew, many Jews see as largely irrelevant.

“We are constantly trying to reinvent people’s concept of what Yiddish is,” said Aaron Paley, who is the founder and board chair of Yiddishkayt Los Angeles. “I’d say, ‘I’m doing a Yiddish festival,’ and people would say, ‘Great — I’m going to bring my grandmother,’ and I’d say, ‘No — bring your kids.’ I think that Yiddish doesn’t belong solely to the generation of our grandparents, but it belongs to all of us.”

Convincing Generation X and beyond that Yiddish is more than just a shtetl language spoken by grandparents and frockcoat-wearing Jews with long beards and payes is a task that requires originality, artistic credibility and great graphics, which is why the promotional materials that Avada creates could be used to advertise any nightclub or dance venue in the city, and the events themselves have the maximum cool quotient possible.

At the Dec. 18 event, for example, Socalled plans on showing the crowd that you can dance to Yiddish, and you don’t have to put the language in “a museum.”

“The sounds that I use in the beats are often sampled from old Yiddish recordings, cantorial records, Yiddish art songs — which are a genre of Yiddish songs that are more for concert halls, klezmer, basically whatever little isolated funky sounds I could find in Jewish music,” Socalled said. “The root of the music is dance music, so this is new dance music based on old dance music.”

Socalled thinks that Jews need to stand up and reclaim their culture.

“Black music is ubiquitous in America — you hear jazz and blues and you see photographs of great jazz musicians, but because of assimilation and the Holocaust … Jews didn’t want to be Jewish, or be seen as Jewish. They wanted to disappear into America,” he said. “But they had such an incredibly rich culture. I want people to hear how funky we are, and we have to rediscover how funky we were, because we forgot. It’s complicated.”

DJ Socalled will be performing at the Extreme Khanike
Party at The Echo, 1822 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, on Dec. 18 at 8 p.m. For more
information, call (323) 692-8151, or visit www.avadaproject.org .

Conservative Cantors Converge


Several hundred cantors associated with the Conservative movement will be making beautiful music together in Los Angeles this week, even as they examine the roles of the cantor beyond that of liturgical jukebox.

The Cantors Assembly will base its annual national convention at the Universal Hilton May 11-15, with public concerts offered at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel Air on Monday, May 12, and Sinai Temple in Westwood on Tuesday, May 13. Scores of local chazzanim and other musicians will participate.

While the convention will include numerous presentations on traditional and contemporary synagogue music, during the week several of the highlighted speakers will address broader issues facing congregations and the Jewish community as a whole.

Aside from the exposure to new music and techniques and the camaraderie of being with peers, one purpose of the convention is to explore the role of cantor as klei kodesh (literally, holy vessel), or clergy member, a position that transcends music-making, said Joseph Gole, senior cantor of Sinai Temple, a local co-chair of the convention.

“The cantorate today is expanding beyond music and pastoral counseling,” said convention co-chair Nathan Lam, senior cantor of Stephen S. Wise. “There’s an outside world that’s impacting on Jews, and we cantors have to be ready to deal with that world.”

Speakers include Venice-based rabbi and author Naomi Levy, whose latest book focuses on creating one’s own prayers, and Rabbi Elliot Dorff of the University of Judaism (UJ), who will discuss the upcoming debate within the Committee on Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly, the Conservative rabbis’ organization, over whether openly gay and lesbian individuals can be admitted to Conservative seminaries and clergy groups; currently, they are barred.

The subject of homosexuals being accepted as students and clergy is relevant to cantors, as any decision involving rabbis covers cantorial students and cantors as well, Dorff told The Journal.

Beyond that, he said, “Cantors have gays and lesbians as members of their extended families and sometimes not-so-extended families,” and they encounter gay men and lesbians in their congregations.

Levy, who encourages readers to bring prayer into their lives in her book “Talking to God: Personal Prayers for Times of Joy, Sadness, Struggle and Celebration,” told The Journal she hopes cantors at the convention will “take the idea back that prayers doesn’t just exist in the siddur…. If we can empower our congregations to create personal prayer, it would be the greatest service we can give.”

Cantors are as important as rabbis in the formation of congregants’ prayer lives, Levy added, “since they’re the ones who express the liturgy; their impact is even greater, so it’s important to talk with them about personal prayer.”

Other prominent Los Angeles-based speakers are Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the UJ, pundit Dennis Prager and Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe. In addition, commentator and political adviser Steven Emerson will address the convention on global terrorism.

The convention will also include a presentation by the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation and a preview of the ambitious Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, which are both locally based, and it will kick off with a program on the image of the cantor in film, which includes screenings of the original 1927 “The Jazz Singer” and the 1937 Yiddish film “The Cantor’s Son.”

Holding the convention in Los Angeles allows a greater representation of West Coast cantors than an Eastern location does, indicated convention co-chair Chayim Frenkel, cantor at Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades.

“It used to be that the ‘great cantors’ were back East,” Frenkel said. “I think Los Angeles has a rich history of chazzanut, a heritage of unbelievable cantors that goes back decades.”

The first of the two public concerts sponsored by the convention will be an extravaganza celebrating American Jewish music and music makers, with Lam as narrator. Employing a light show and video projections along with a 13-piece band and a 100-voice choir, the show will present Yiddish favorites, synagogue art music and theater pieces.

The Tuesday night concert at Sinai Temple, featuring the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale along with soloists, will focus on masterpieces of the cantorial literature. Frenkel said the assembly hopes to raise $250,000 to help fund scholarships at the Jewish Theological Seminary cantorial school.

For more information about the public concerts, call
Debbie Gordon at (310) 476-8561 ext. 2228 for the May 12 event or Maureen
Rosenberg at (310) 481-3235 for the May 13 concert. For information on the
convention, log on to www.cantors.org .

Janet’s Retro Planet


It could have been a scene aboard the deck of the Titanic –before that pesky iceberg hit.

As the live band performed tunes from the early 1900s,couples swing danced on the black-and-white checkered floor of an elegant artdeco venue. In between songs, Cherry Tartes, burlesque strippers dressed inskimpy raincoats, strategically folded and unfurled their umbrellas to reveal,conceal and tease the supper club crowd.

While it may have felt like the turn of the 20th century,the supper club was in the Fenix Room of the Argyle Hotel on Sunset Boulevard.

In the center of it all was the self-proclaimed “ukulelechanteuse” Janet Klein — a svelte woman with bright eyes, a brunette bob and along gown that might place her as a contemporary of Theda Bara and Clara Bow.On a winter Monday night, she belted out vintage numbers such as “HollywoodParty,” “You Keep Me Living in Sin” and “Nasty Man,” with her backup band, TheParlor Boys.

“I like to say that I was born in 1908,” said Klein, whocoyly describes her age as “30-ish.”

Born sometime after that in Los Angeles, Klein grew up inthe San Bernadino foothills, with her parents, UCLA-educated educators with anEastern European heritage.

“I always thought I had the soul of an old lady,” Kleinsaid. “I was always very close to the older people in my family. I loved thestuff they had in their houses.”

Klein’s ancestors were Polish leather-workers, and she hasheld on to their handmade, knitted, sequined gowns.

“I had a vision of me in a long gown with a candelabra,”said Klein, who now dresses in these family heirlooms when she performs.

Even as a teen attending Pacific High School and TempleEmanuel, Klein cherished the 1910s, ’20s and ’30s.

“This period has been poorly stereotyped,” said Klein of thedecade maligned by visions of Betty Boop and the Charleston, when, in reality,”it’s blessed by some of the greatest ever music produced by immigrants andblacks.”

Brad Kay, the Parlor Boy on piano and coronet who hooked upwith Klein in 1998, agrees that there is relatively little appreciation for themusic.

“Our tendency in our culture to completely trash the past,”Kay said. “Americans especially are prone to dismiss anything that’s older than20 minutes, which is completely opposite of the rest of the world.”

A trained classical pianist, Klein first picked up theukulele in 1995. Within months, she went up to Santa Cruz to patronize a notedluthier, who created Klein’s customized black lacquer ukulele — adorned withcherry blossoms, a “Coeur de Jeanette” logo mugged from a French cologne labeland birdseed fret marks.

Lori Brooks, who works at Hi De Ho Comics in Santa Monica,brought down the staff of her shop to the Argyle show. She also caught Klein atFais Do Do in November when a building code violation bust — teeming withpeople dressed in period clothing — enhanced that evening’s allure.

“It really had this 1920s Prohibition feel to it,” saidBrooks, 24. “At the strike of midnight, the fire department showed up. Thebartenders was quickly getting out of there. It seemed like all of LAPD was outthere.”

Klein finds the vaudeville-era tunes, a lot of them writtenby Jewish songwriters, “lively and clever and heartwarming.”

Parlor Boys’ ukulele and accordion player, Ian Whitcomb(whose “You Turn Me On” was a pop hit during the British Invasion), observedthat Tin Pan Alley was a natural outlet for the East European Jews passingthrough Ellis Island.

“The professions, such as banking, were closed to them,”said Whitcomb, who recently scored Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Cat’s Meow.” “Sothey entered rogue businesses, such as cinema and Tin Pan Alley.”

These Jews developed an ear for the genre’s urbanvernacular, he said. “Being outsiders, they could see American mass culturemuch more objectively….In a way we can thank the czars for the pogroms [thatchased from Russia] Al Jolson, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and the like.”

Klein even tosses Jewish numbers into her sets, such as”Yiddish Hula Boy” and “Rebecca from Mecca.”

“Yiddish gives me a kick,” she said.

Kay said Klein excels at what she does because “she hasgreat respect for this music.”

“It’s not kitsch to any of us,” he continued. “It’s justmusic.”

Janet Klein will perform at McCabe’s on Feb. 7; at the Silent Movie Theatre on Feb. 14 ; and at the Argyle Hotel on March 3. For information, visit www.silentmovietheatre.com or www.janetklein.com . p>

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Chin up, ladies. The Jerry Herman musical that gave Yiddish diva Molly Picon her debut on Broadway is playing this week in concert performances at the University of Judaism. That would be “Milk and Honey,” the story of two American tourists in the Holy Land who keep running into each other. As Phil Arkin and Ruth Stein travel from Tel Aviv restaurants to Negev agricultural settlements, friendship blossoms into romance, secrets are revealed, relationships tested and everyone dances a hora. Herman’s music combines the best of Israeli folk music and Broadway show tunes.

8 p.m.
Also, Sunday, Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. $30-$35. Gindi Auditorium, 15600
Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1547.

Sunday

What is it with Adat Ari El? The synagogue seems to have become a breeding ground for Los Angeles cantors. Seven of them, all of whom grew up singing at the Valley Village temple, join in a concert honoring their mentor tonight. Cantors Nathan Lam, Joseph Gole, Mindy Harris and others perform “A Time for Singing: The Legacy of Cantor Allan Michelson.”

7 p.m. $18-$100. Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.

Monday

A genuine Chagall over the mantle sure would be nice. But for those of us destined to settle for the next best thing, the Academy Award-nominated documentary, “Homage to Chagall: The Colors of Love,” is now available on video. The 1977 film includes interviews with the artist as he neared his 90th birthday and excerpts from his letters and poems. It also shows more than 100 of his paintings. Second best doesn’t sound so bad.

$24.95 (VHS), $29.95 (DVD). Available through “>www.amazon.com

.

Thursday

Described as “forward-thinking” and the “dance bridge to the 21st century,” Diavolo Dance Theater is anything but classical. Its latest modern, interdisciplinary production is titled “Dream Catcher.” It’s a work in progress, but tonight, the Skirball offers you a sneak peek of the piece about “freedom for exploited peoples around the world.”

8 p.m. $15 (general), $12 (members), $10 (students). 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 655-8587.

Friday

Skirball, take two. Today, check out its newest exhibition on Southern Jews, titled “Shalom Y’all: Images of Jewish Life in the American South.” The display at the Ruby Gallery features photographs from the book “Shalom Y’all,” taken by Bill Aron. Five related programs, including a Dec. 18 panel discussion with Aron and the book’s author, Vicki Reikes Fox, are also planned.

Through Feb. 9, 2003. Noon-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Saturday), 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Sunday). Free. Museum admission: $8 (general), $6 (seniors and students), free (members, children under 12). Admission is free for all visitors through the month of December. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Suddenly Seymour


In the days when National Public Radio flagship KCRW-FM was an obscure Santa Monica College station, general manager Ruth Seymour decided to create a live Chanukah show as an alternative to Christmas programming.

It was actually a Yiddish show — feting a culture Seymour imbibed during her 1940s Bronx childhood — but during its 1978 debut, the phones went dead and stayed there.

"Honestly, I thought we’d gone off the air," she told The Journal. "Then the show ended, and the switchboard exploded for three hours. People absolutely went berserk."

Since then, Seymour’s annual Chanukah time show, "Fiddlers, Philosophers and Fools," has become a holiday institution. Jews and non-Jews tune in to hear her play folk music, 1940s pop tunes and Yiddish prose translated into English, among other fare.

There’s also a Holocaust memorial segment, which is one reason Seymour refuses to record the show. "People are angry about that," said KCRW’s visionary leader, whose parents were intellectual, immigrant leftists. "But I always wanted the program to be ephemeral. This is really a show about a culture and a way of life that was lost."

"Fiddler" helped keep the mamaloshen (mother tongue) alive in Los Angeles, according to Yiddishkayt L.A. founder Aaron Paley. Years before, the klezmer revival helped fuel a Yiddish renaissance in the late 1980s, "the only visible evidence of Yiddish for the general public here was Ruth’s show," he said.

Seymour — who attended the rigorous Sholom Aleichem "folk schools" — takes the responsibility seriously. Every year, she trudges to Hatikvah music on Fairfax Avenue to pick up and peruse scores of albums. She said keeping "Fiddlers" fresh is easier because the Yiddish revival spurred diverse CDs by young artists.

Just don’t ask her to make any other changes to the show. "It’s the most personal thing I do on the air, because it’s so redolent of my childhood and my beliefs," she said. "So either take it as it is or turn the dial." n

A Taste for Yiddish


Every Saturday afternoon when he was 7, Aaron Paley ate lunch with his older siblings and begged to hear what they’d learned at Yiddish Kindershul that morning. “We’d always have corned beef on rye, Dr. Brown’s cream soda and a pickle,” said Van Nuys native Paley, now 45 and founder of Yiddishkayt Los Angeles. The first Yiddish words they taught him: broyt mit puter (bread and butter).

This month, Paley will help teach Angelenos about the mamaloshen by mingling two of his long-standing passions: Yiddish and food. His group’s third biennial festival, Food for the Soul: A Celebration of Yiddish, the largest Yiddishfest in the nation, will serve up Ashkenazi culture with a gastronomical twist. The dozen events scheduled — at museums, nightclubs and theaters — will include concerts and a discussion about delis with restaurant critic extraordinaire Jonathan Gold (see sidebar).

Musicians from The Klezmatics will present Esn! Songs From the Kitchen, in which they cook and schmooze about everything from the holiness of ritual foods to the oddities of a sisterhood cookbook. Pushcart vendors will hawk bagels-on-a-stick and “nickel-shtikls” (5-cent pickles) at a Lower East Side Festival at the Skirball Cultural Center. Even the four song concerts — including a Yiddish cabaret set to jazz — reveal the mamaloshen’s obsession with the stomach.

“The two ultimate songs identified with Yiddish are ‘Raisins and Almonds’ and ‘Romania, Romania’ — which is all about what you can eat in Romania, Romania,” Paley said. “We’re a culture that loves food, partly because we’ve lived through centuries of not having enough.”

“Food is the thing that lasts in ethnic communities after they’ve completely assimilated,” said Susan Lerner, co-chair of Yiddishkayt’s board of directors. “Even when you’ve lost everything, you still have the food connection; it’s the earliest memory. It represents home and hearth and family. It’s pretty much immutable.”

Hence the giant corned beef sandwich on the festival’s brochure. “We’re using food as a vehicle to draw Jews back into the Yiddish ‘kitchen,’ but what we’re serving up is actually nouvelle cuisine,” said Paley, co-founder of Community Arts Resources, Los Angeles’ preeminent festival organizer. “We’re offering new works by contemporary artists who use Yiddishkayt as a starting point … presenting Yiddish as a dynamic culture that is relevant today.”

The concept has been simmering since Yiddishkayt Los Angeles began in 1995, part of a general resurgent interest in the culture that all but died after the Holocaust. The Yiddish revival, Paley said, is fueled by nostalgia and the desire to reclaim heritage forsaken in past generations’ haste to assimilate. The phenomenon now includes an $8 million National Yiddish Book Center Complex in Amherst, Mass., and, in Los Angeles, at least three professional klezmer bands and dozens of Yiddish classes and clubs as well as the festival.

Yiddishkayt Los Angeles, which has a $200,000 budget and drew 5,000 visitors in 2000, has built a national reputation. “It’s been particularly successful at bridging the Yiddish- and English-speaking worlds, which is the trend of Yiddish cultural organizations trying to bring in younger, American-born Jews,” said Itzik Gottesman, associate editor of The Yiddish Forward newspaper. “Groups like Yiddishkayt are making the culture interesting, hip and fun.”

Paley and colleagues came up with the idea for Food for the Soul after hearing about Esn! an event they viewed as hip and fun. It’s created by members of the Klezmatics, perhaps the most popular and critically acclaimed group on the contemporary klezmer scene.

“We’re all food-obsessed,” said trumpeter Frank London of himself and Esn! co-creators Lorin Sklamberg and Adrienne Cooper. “My grandfather owned a deli in Brooklyn Heights, Lorin’s grandparents were Jewish chicken farmers in California and Adrienne’s grandparents were kosher butchers in Chicago. So one day we said to each other, ‘We all love food, we love Yiddish culture and songs’ so — as the ‘Little Rascals’ used to say — let’s put it all together and put on a show.”

At the University of Judaism Oct. 9-10, the musicians will cook Jewish classics over an electric stove and recount their culinary histories. London, 44, will describe growing up in a Reform Long Island household where meals “were a bizarre melange of Jewish fare and American 1950s cooking — like chicken a la king with kugel.”

He said he’ll cook cholent onstage precisely because he did not grow up with the quintessentially Orthodox Sabbath meal. Sklamberg will bake a challah and Cooper will fry matzah brie while debating whether the dish should be served sweet or savory. In between, the musicians will sing ditties such as the socialist anthem “Bread and Roses” and Mickey Katz’s “Seder Dance,” a parody of Khachaturian’s “Saber Dance.” “The song lists every thing you eat at the seder,” London said. “The last course is baking soda, which you need because you have indigestion from eating so much food.”

Not everyone believes such palatable fare furthers Yiddish. Sociologist Joshua Fishman told The Forward he dismisses festivals like Paley’s as “entertainment.” He contended the “real Yiddish revival” is occurring in the world of the Orthodox, who comprise most of the world’s estimated 750,000 fluent Yiddish speakers. Yet, he conceded that while, “People [arrive] nonspeakers, and they leave nonspeakers … maybe some of them will go on to take a class.”

That is Paley’s goal. “We know it’s not enough to do just a festival,” he said, citing his organization’s one-day Yiddish ulpan.

Yiddishkayt Los Angeles also recently hired a 22-year-old program manager, Tali Pressman, to run the organization and plan events appealing to young adults. One of the events, the Los Angeles debut of famed jazz-klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer, will take place Oct. 11 and 12 at The Knitting Factory, a nightclub on Hollywood Boulevard.

It’s a way to introduce assimilated Angelenos to the joys of Yiddish. “The culture nourishes the Jewish people, literally and figuratively,” Paley said.

For more information about the festival, call (323)692-8151 or visit www.yiddishkaytla.org .

Now Hear This


Jewish (and other) radio listeners will be able to time travel back to the world of their immigrant ancestors when "The Yiddish Radio Project" debuts March 19 on stations coast-to-coast.

The 10-part National Public Radio (NPR) series will resurrect the golden age of the Yiddish radio, roughly from 1930-1955, with its rich daily fare of dramas, music, game shows, advice columnists, talent shows, man-on-the-street interviews and commercials for Manischewitz matzah and Barbasol shaving cream.

Among the highlights will be the amazing story of "Levine and His Flying Machine," Yiddish melodies in swing, sage advice by "The Jewish Philosopher" C. Israel Lutsky, the gripping dramas of Nahum Stutchkoff and Rabbi Rubin’s "Court of the Air." Showcased will be Seymour Rexite (the Frank Sinatra of Yiddish radio) singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" in the mamaloshen.

For the linguistically challenged, English translations will be rendered by the likes of Carl Reiner and Eli Wallach.

The 10 segments will air on consecutive Tuesday afternoons, March 19-May 21, during NPR’s "All Things Considered" program.

Complementing the radio programs will be a live touring company presenting a multimedia show with archival photos, radio excerpts, projected English translations and music by the Yiddish Radio All-Star Band, whose five instrumentalists range in age from 62 to 84.

Included will be a documentary on the last of the radio segments, dating from 1947, in which a Holocaust survivor — before the term was even in use — is reunited with relatives live on the air.

In Los Angeles, the show’s one-night stand will be on April 15 at the Skirball Cultural Center, sponsored jointly by KCRW and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture.

Responsible for the radio series are historian-musician Henry Sapoznik and producer David Isay, founder of Sound Portraits Productions, who will also host the live show.

Historically, Yiddish was the language of some 2 million Jewish immigrants who came to America from Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century. As the last great wave arrived at Ellis Island in the 1920s, radio was beginning to make its mark on American society.

The Jewish immigrants embraced the new medium and, by the early 1930s, Yiddish radio flourished across the country, with more than a dozen such stations in New York alone.

In 1985, Sapoznik came across a large reference recording of one of the Yiddish radio programs. These recordings were required by the Federal Radio Commission so it could investigate any complaints about the content.

The recordings were mainly on large acetate discs with aluminum base, most of which were melted down during World War II scrap metal drives.

For the next 15 years, Sapoznik searched through attics, storerooms and even trash cans and rescued more than 1,000 of the fragile discs for his archives.

The radio project will also spawn two CDs. The first set will feature music and commercials from the broadcasts. The second set, not available until the fall, will include stories from the series and a historical account of the rise and fall of Yiddish radio.

The series will air on KCRW (89.9 FM) in Santa Monica at 5:30 p.m. and on KPCC (89.3 FM) in Pasadena at 3:30 p.m. Following each of the 10 radio segments, the program will be available online via Real Audio at www.npr.org. To order the broadcasts on CD, visit www.yiddishradioproject.org. For tickets to the live broadcast at the Skirball, call (323) 655-8587.

7 Days In Arts


11/Saturday

Middle-aged, mild-mannered Barney Cashman craves excitement in the form of an extramarital affair. Neil Simon’s “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” follows this bumbling protagonist as he attempts to seduce three women, including his wife’s best friend, in his mother’s apartment. $18 (general admission); $15 (industry guild members); $12 (students and seniors). Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. Through Sept. 2. Knightsbridge Theatre, 35 S. Raymond Blvd., Old Town, Pasadena. For reservations or more information, call (626) 440-0821.

12/Sunday

On Aug. 12, 1952, Stalin ordered the execution of 24 prominent Yiddish writers and intellectuals in Moscow’s Lubyanka Prison. Today, a program titled “Remembering the Enduring Legacy of Soviet Yiddish Writers” commemorates the notable works of 14 writers who perished that day. Poetry in English and Yiddish will be read, accompanied by the Lomir Ale Zinger Chorus and conducted by Ruth Judkowitz. Light refreshments will be served. Free admission. 2 p.m. Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 552-2007.

13/Monday

Tonight, Galerie Yoramgil debuts “From the Treasure Chest III,” a group exhibition featuring new acquisitions from more than 25 of the gallery’s artists. David Aronson, the Lithuanian-born son of a rabbi and founder of Boston University’s School of Art, draws inspiration from his Jewish heritage; Dalit Tayar, a compulsive sculptor who specializes in bronze casting, studied art in Los Angeles and now lives and works in Israel; Israeli multimedia artist Uri Dushi draws from the clutter of urban culture; while Moti Cohen’s sculptures and paintings depict characters from the Talmud and kabbalah. Mon., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; and Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Through Sept. 5. 319 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 275-8130.

14/Tuesday

This “Sleeping With the Enemy” doesn’t star “America’s Sweethearts” star Julia Roberts; rather, it documents the struggle to find compromise between Israelis and Palestinians. The PBS-sponsored documentary focuses on 20 leaders from each side who attended a summit in Tokyo, held last year by the Japanese government. Far from the war zone, the group discovers ways to respect and understand each other. The newfound friendship between Benny, an Israeli police officer and Adnan, a Palestinian activist, exhibits the extent of the peace agreement between the representatives from each country. 9:45 p.m.-11 p.m. KCET (Check local listings for channel).

15/Wednesday

Dani fears letting go of her wild-and-crazy secular past when her husband-to-be converts to Judaism in “The Move,” a play written and performed by Dani Klein. As his religious observance becomes increasingly zealous, she finds herself swearing off shrimp, buying challah and lighting candles on Shabbat. The trouble is, she likes it. $15 (general admission). Tuesdays and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Through Sept. 12. Stages Theatre Center, 1540 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. For reservations or more information, call (323) 465-1010.

16/Thursday

The August Sunset Concert Series continues tonight with The California Guitar Trio, accompanied by bassist Tony Levin, performing a combination of jazz, country, blues and surf music, and blending such works as Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” and Dick Dale’s “Miserlou.” The band’s members include rock guitarist Paul Richards, classical guitarist Bert Lam and surf guitarist Hideyo Moriya. $5 (parking). 7:30 p.m. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-4500.

17/Friday

Diane Keaton originally played the odd ESL teacher in the 1976 Israel Horovitz comedy “The Primary English Class.” Now Dana Rosenbaum is trying to teach English to five recent immigrants as she takes on the role with the L.A. Jewish Theatre. $18 (general admission); $16 (students and seniors). Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. Through Sep. 9. The A! Theatre, 1528 Gordon St., Hollywood. For reservations or more information, call (310) 967-1352.

7 Days In Arts


27
Saturday

There’s something funny going on at Hillel at Pierce and Valley Colleges. Comedy Nite 2001 features an array of comedians hitting the stage at Pierce College raising laughter and funds for Hillel programming. With Jay London, Bobby Pollack, Ari Shaffir and others yukking it up, be prepared for chuckles to drown out the silent auction and raffle. The highlight of the evening is a tribute to the Grammy-winning comedian Shelley Berman. Advance tickets: $12 (general admission); $5 (students); $15/$8 (at the door). 8 p.m. Pierce College Main Theater, 6201 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills. For advance tickets or more information, call (818) 887-5901.

28
Sunday

Craig Taubman, one of the Giants of contemporary Jewish music, seems to have a musical treat for every taste. Children love his Craig ‘n Co. recordings and Disney Channel specials. Single professionals flock to his performances at Sinai Temple’s Friday Night Live services like Ravens to a pallid bust of Pallas. And his spiritual, spirited Jewish compositions inspire all ages. Even if the Super Bowl runs late, don’t miss Taubman’s concert tonight at Kol Tikvah. $36 (adults); $13 (children). 7:30 p.m. 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. For more information, call (818) 348-0670.

29
Monday

Nineteen stitched artworks and one sculpture, produced in collaborative effort over 6 years with 17 expert needleworkers – quite an effort to illustrate such traditional proverbs as “live and let live” and “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” Artist Judy Chicago has created large-scale collaborative efforts like this before, notably with “The Dinner Party” (1974-79) and “The Holocaust Project” (1985-93). With her latest project, “Resolutions: A Stitch in Time,” Chicago reinterprets worn adages to emphasize contemporary values. Learn all about it tonight, with a lecture by art critic Edward Lucie-Smith and Q & A with the artist. Lecture and Q & A: $8 (adults); $6 (seniors); $4 (students). 7:30 p.m. Exhibit open Tues.-Sat., noon-5 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Through April 29. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For reservations, call (323) 655-8587. For more information, call (310) 440-4500.

30
Tuesday

Nachum Shifren is the Surfing Rabbi, author of “Surfing Rabbi: A Kabbalistic Quest for Soul,” and subject of surfingrabbi.com. Before he became the surfing rabbi, he was Norm Shifren, assimilated Jew, surfer, L.A. county lifeguard and triathlete. The long spiritual journey, which brought Shifren from the beaches of Malibu to Kfar Chabad, Israel, makes for lively, relevant reading. Follow that wave with the rabbi tonight at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles. 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Jewish Federation-Goldsmith Center, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For reservations or more information, call (323) 761-8648.

31
Wednesday

Since the early 1980s, Barbara Milman’s printmaking prowess and social conscience has been recognized by museums and galleries across the country, and recently much of her art has addressed the Holocaust. Milman’s 1997 book of linoleum prints, “Light in the Shadows,” translates her interviews with five survivors into haunting, emotional images. The linecut black-and-white drawings from that book are currently on view at the Westside JCC. 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. Call for open viewing times, (323) 938-2531.

1
Thursday

The intense, character-driven style of acting known simply as The Method has driven scores of actors and directors to artistic heights. Developed first for the Moscow theater by Konstantin Stanislavski and later Americanized at the Actors’ Studio by Elia Kazan and others, The Method first found its way into film in the late 1940s. The American Cinematheque celebrates this revolution in American acting with ten days of great films and double features, from “The Wild One” to “The Miracle Worker.” $7 (general admission); $5 (members). “On The Waterfront,” tonight at 8 p.m. Retrospective through Sun., Feb. 11. All films at Lloyd E. Rigler Theater at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. For a complete listing of films and times, call (323) 466-3456.

2
Friday

Think the old Yiddish theater was staid and schticky? Take another look. “The Bride and the Brothel,” a new musical in English based on Sholem Asch’s 1907 Yiddish work “God of Vengeance,” follows a family helmed by Yankl, the brothel keeper, and Sorre, a former prostitute. Planning a respectable marriage for their daughter proves to be a life-changing task. $25 (general admission); $15 (students and seniors). Fri. and Sat 8 p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m. Through March 4. Gascon Center Theater, 8737 Washington Blvd., Culver City. For reservations or more information, call (310) 289-2999.

Here Comesthe Bride


It was the first time in U.S. history that the cast and producers of a play were hauled down to police headquarters and convicted on obscenity charges.

Sholem Asch’s radical 1907 melodrama, “God of Vengeance,” tells of a brothel owner who commissions a Torah to keep his daughter pure, only to lose her to a lesbian lover and a rival pimp. The Broadway production was forced to close down in 1923, but Asch’s shocker, with strikingly contemporary themes of gay love and religious hypocrisy, has enjoyed revivals of late.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Donald Margulies adapted a version for the Long Wharf Theater of New Haven, set in his grandparents’ Lower East Side neighborhood circa 1923. Manhattan’s Jewish Repertory Theater staged a version, and so did the downtown New York company Todo con Nada — set amid the mirrors and scarlet go-go platform of an Eighth Avenue peepshow.

Now a “Vengeance” musical, “The Bride and the Brothel,” is coming to Los Angeles, adapted by theater director Madelaine Leavitt and her screenwriter husband, Charles (“The Mighty”), with music and lyrics by Israeli composer Hanna Levy.

Santa Monica resident Leavitt was smitten by “Vengeance” when she chanced upon a translation of the Yiddish-language play in Pakn Treger magazine on her mother-in-law’s coffee table four years ago. “I was shocked that the lesbian scenes were so contemporary,” she recalled. “I immediately thought, ‘One day I am going to direct this play.'”In “Vengeance,” she saw a morality tale about how Jews treat their own who live outside the mainstream. She envisioned a musical adaptation to help contemporize Asch’s old-fashioned language. She imagined an upstairs-downstairs-style set with earthy tones in the pimp’s home and fleshy beige-and-crimson hues in the brothel below.As she began her research, she concurred with Long Wharf director Gordon Edelstein, who told Pakn Treger that Asch “was a bad boy … writing a play about lesbian prostitutes at the turn of the century. You know he was trying to piss people off.”

While “God of Vengeance” was produced in myriad countries and on the New York Yiddish stage in the early 20th century, it provoked scandal only after moving to Broadway, mostly because of Jewish viewers who complained it was anti-Semitic. The loudest critic was Rabbi Joseph Silverman of Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El, who insisted Asch had libeled the Jewish religion. While the non-Jewish dramatist Eugene O’Neill defended “Vengeance,” Asch’s old mentor, the Yiddish author I.L. Peretz, declaimed, “Burn it, Asch, burn it.”

Many decades later, composer-lyricist Levy had similar concerns. “It took me a year to make up my mind about whether to do the play,” confided Levy, who directed the music at the Yitzhak Rabin memorial at New York’s Madison Square Garden. “I wasn’t sure it showed the Jewish people in the greatest light. And there was the issue of the two women and the way the Torah is treated as a magical icon.”

The composer, like many Israelis, also had residual feelings about Yiddish as the culture of the Diaspora. But eventually, she was won over by the play’s themes, which, she believes, echo the current secular-religious conflicts in Israel.

By 1999, she was scribbling klezmer-inspired songs on envelopes and telephone bills, researching biblical references to the “God of Vengeance” and singing bits of verse to Leavitt over the telephone from her Manhattan apartment or Israeli country house.

The goal, she said, was to create songs that seamlessly merged with Asch’s edited, original text. “I wanted to show the humanity of people whose actions we do not approve of morally,” she added.

“The Bride and The Brothel” runs Jan. 26-March 4 at the Gascon Center Theater, 8737 Washington Blvd., Culver City. For tickets: (310) 289-2999.

Musical Gift


Anya Karlin has been fascinated with opera since the age of 4, when she was invited to join the cast of “Madame Butterfly.” At 10, while performing in a Chanukah concert, she discovered the joys of singing in Yiddish. Dressed as a maidel from Eastern Europe, she crooned “Maz’l,” a tune popularized on the Yiddish stage by Molly Picon. The thunderous response convinced her to combine her musical gifts with her interest in Yiddish language and culture.

Karlin’s recent Bat Mitzvah became her opportunity to share Yiddish music with others. Her synagogue, Kehillat Israel, expects its B’nai Mitzvah students to spearhead tzedakah projects. Karlin’s classmates have worked at animal shelters and collected books for the needy. But she had an ambitious idea for what she describes as “a Yiddish CD to introduce fun Yiddish songs to children.” Fortunately, her mother, Rebekah Jorgensen, is an entertainment industry veteran. The result was “A Bissele Nacht Musik,” a recording that blends Jorgensen’s expertise with Karlin’s passion for music.

The concept was that of a shtetl family gathering in the evening to sing. Those who performed on the CD came to be a family of sorts. Jorgensen marvels that “people in the temple who didn’t know each other connected.” Singers included Kehillat Israel’s Preschool Chorus, Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben and wife Didi, Cantor Chayim Frankel, and a cluster of teenagers who called themselves the Yiddish Supremes. Marv Zuckerman, dean of instruction at L.A. Valley College and a native Yiddish speaker, helped choose the material, then made tapes to perfect everyone’s pronunciation. The congregation also yielded music professionals like flutist Susan Greenberg and arranger Ralph Schuckett, who participated alongside the KI Klezmer Band. (Eventually, nonmembers such as mandolinist Kurt McGinniss were drawn to the project.)
One very special number was the one that closes the CD, “Macht Tsu Dayn Eigele.” Performed a cappella by Cantor Emeritus Mickey Bienenfeld and young granddaughter Amanda, it is a haunting lullaby that has been handed down in their family for generations.

Karlin was exhilarated at the response from her peers. “The most amazing thing was seeing how interested the kids were in learning Yiddish,” she said. On the Friday night before her Bat Mitzvah, a children’s Shabbat service featured songs from the recording; each guest was given a tambourine and invited to join in the fun. Everyone went home with a copy of the CD, which contains liner notes that both translate and transliterate all lyrics, so that the full delights of the music can spread to every listener. Does Karlin herself have a favorite track? She’s partial to a sprightly wedding tune called “Hot Sich Mir Di Zip Tsezipt,” because “you can’t listen to that song without getting up and dancing.”

Exactly 1,000 copies of “A Bissele Nacht Musik” were made. Some 800 have now been distributed, many to synagogue groups and organizations. Those remaining can be requested by phoning Kehillat Israel at (310) 459-2328, or by contacting Rebekah Jorgensen at savfair@earthlink.net.

Nostalgia Trip


A roundup of recently released CDs featuring Yiddish tunes yields albums that evoke the past, some with original settings and contemporary arrangements of classic subject matter, others with sounds from an earlier day.

In his new CD, “Garden of Yidn” (Naxos World), violinist and music historian Yale Strom, who will be in concert in Los Angeles next week, offers tunes going back as far as the early 19th century, giving the listener not only a superior musical experience but some fascinating historical sketches of Jews in the Yiddish- and Ladino-speaking world. The album really is a garden of varied colors, languages, and styles.
Whether in arrangements of well-known songs or original pieces, the album features virtuoso playing by members of Strom’s two klezmer bands, Klaazj and Hot Pstromi. “Garden of Yidn” includes favorites such as “Papirossen,” “Sha, Shtil,” and “Moscow Nights” along with Strom’s own music.

This is Strom’s first vocal-intensive album, with all the singing done by Strom’s wife, Elizabeth Schwartz, whose androgynous voice adds a dark dimension to most of the numbers but is generally well-suited to the material.

“Garden of Yidn” provides a sharp contrast to Strom’s previous collection, “Tales Our Fathers Sang” (Global Village), a series of instrumentals, each inspired by a story from a Yiddish or American Jewish writer.

Our forebears may not actually have sung these tunes, but the music is lovely, and the CD shows off the talents of other players in Strom’s bands, especially accordionist Peter Stan.

Veteran jazz clarinetist Abe Most brings six decades of life and virtuosity to his new CD, “I Love You Much Too Much” (Camard Records). Chapman University professor Allen Levy, who served as co-producer with Most, calls the CD “a labor of love,” a jazz homage to tunes that were written in Yiddish but became hits in English.

Sixties pop singer Joanie Sommers, best known for the 1962 hit “Johnny Get Angry,” provides vocals on two cuts in a clear, ageless voice that wraps itself around the material like a silk sarong. Equally fresh is Most’s clarinet playing and that of the other soloists, which include Most’s younger brother, Sam, a renowned jazz flutist.

The sound comes close at times to (extremely well-played) cocktail-lounge jazz lite, but whenever it does, one of the soloists checks in with a thread of melody or a percussive riff that puts a new label on what could have been a dusty bottle. It’s easy listening in the most positive sense of the term.

Hatikvah Music recently released two vintage Yiddish albums for the first time on CD. “Rumania, Rumania: Yaffa Yarkoni Sings Yiddish,” first released in 1961, pairs the wildly popular Israeli singer, who is still playing to sold-out houses in her 70’s, with Johnny Mathis’s arranger-conductor, Glenn Osser, for lush arrangements of Yiddish classics. Her smoky contralto carries the delight she brings to the concert stage.

A reissue of 1947’s “Joe & Paul: The Best of the Barton Bros.” is probably for a more specialized audience. The duo had its first success parodying a commercial for a New York clothier, a loud, rapid-fire affair reminiscent of a pidgin Yiddish Crazy Eddie or Mad Man Muntz. The CD — whose comedy is unsubtle and definitely politically incorrect — might work for a parent or grandparent who remembers the original material and can make sense of the rapid-fire Yinglish.

The recordings listed above are in stock at Hatikvah Music, 436 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, www.hatikvahmusic.com, (323) 655-7083, except for “I Love You Much Too Much,” available through Camard Records, 17030 Otsego St., Encino 91316, (818) 784-9642, mostabe@pacbell.net.

Yale Strom, Elizabeth Schwartz and Klazzj will perform two shows at The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, on Sat., Dec. 30, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. $16 (adults), $8 (17 and under). The shows are expected to sell out, so advance purchase is recommended. (310) 552-2007.

Return to Yiddish


Chava Alberstein has been called Israel’s Joan Baez, and for good reason. Her politically charged folk songs have infuriated and inspired listeners — none more so than “Chad Gadya,” a scathing riff on the Passover tune she wrote at the height of the Intifada.

The song, which declares, “I used to be a kid and a peaceful sheep/Today I am a tiger and a ravenous wolf,” admonishes Israel for perpetrating the Middle East cycle of violence. Back in 1989, it was virtually banned from the radio and led to canceled concerts and threatening telephone calls to Alberstein.

When the chanteuse performs “Chad Gadya” at her Royce Hall concert on Dec. 7, she believes audiences will be more receptive. “The current conflict reminds people that the cycle of violence is still turning and that it can turn against ourselves,” explains Alberstein, a Peace Now advocate who has recorded nearly 50 albums. “It shows us that we must stop the cycle; otherwise, it’s the end of the world and the dream of the Jewish state.”

Polish-born Alberstein, the daughter of Holocaust refugees, arrived in Israel at the beginning of the dream, around 1950. She was 4, and her father, a piano teacher, was too poor to purchase a piano. Instead, he bought an accordion, and little Chava was his first pupil.

At 12 years old, not long after Alberstein was riveted by a Pete Seeger concert, her father brought her a used guitar purchased from a sailor in Haifa. In her late teens, inspired by the American folk musicians who drew on their ethnic roots, Alberstein did the unthinkable in the young Jewish state: She put out an album of songs in Yiddish.

Recently, the internationally acclaimed singer returned to the mameloshn after making a documentary on the last Yiddish poets in Israel. “I felt like the movie was a goodbye to Yiddish, but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye,” says Alberstein, who began writing songs based on Yiddish poems and recorded them with The Klezmatics on a 1999 album titled “The Well.”

Alberstein, who’ll sing excerpts from the CD in L.A., says performing Yiddish songs in Poland has been intense. “It’s a mixture of sorrow and anger and victory,” she explains. “I think to myself, ‘You tried to erase us and here I am again, singing in Yiddish. It never stops.'”

For tickets to Alberstein’s Dec. 7 Royce Hall concert at UCLA, call (310) 825-2101.

Music From Home


On a warm spring evening this month, the boisterous strains of Eastern European music wafted out the window of a large, Spanish-style home in Santa Monica. Inside the high-ceilinged living room, an unexpected sight greeted a visitor: Jewish and Romani (a k a Gypsy) musicians diligently rehearsing side by side.

A Jewish bass player vigorously bowed beside a Romani accordionist playing so fervently that sweat poured from his brow. A Yiddish consultant belted out the Romani anthem in the mama-loshn while a Rom sang the response in his language. In the middle of it all, klezmer maestro and attorney Barry Fisher supervised like a proud parent, jangling a tambourine in one hand as he ticked off the musical numbers on a clipboard.

The rehearsal was in preparation for an upcoming “YK2” concert, “Hot Wedding Music,” which will feature the pieces that Romani and klezmer musicians played for centuries at nuptials across the old country. Before the Holocaust, both sets of musicians traveled the backroads of Eastern Europe, collaborating and competing and performing at each others’ weddings and special events. Some of the tunes have been lost to Jews but are still a vital part of the Romani tradition.

If anyone could bring together 17 top L.A. Jewish and Romani musicians, it is Barry Fisher. His first exposure to the Rom took place in the 1960’s, when he chanced upon a Rom encampment while hitchhiking through a remote part of Macedonia with his melodica. Fisher, who co-founded L.A.’s Ellis Island Band during the klezmer revival of the 1970s, continued his association with the Rom by playing at Gypsy events throughout the Southland. As an attorney, he has been an advocate for their Holocaust reparations and for their right to practice the ancient craft of fortune-telling, which culminated in a landmark case Fisher argued and won before the California Supreme Court.

The upcoming “Wedding Music” concert, he says, merges his interest in things Jewish andRomani. “It’s an exploration of the culture of two peoples who have traditionally been vilified and romanticized,” he adds.

Another native Angeleno, musician Michael Alpert, will return to Los Angeles for concerts of the “YK2” festival. At 46, the violinist and vocalist for Brave Old World is considered one of the pioneering virtuosi of the klezmer revival.

The son of a Lithuanian immigrant father, Alpert grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home in West L.A. He fell in love with Yiddish music through the songs of the workers and the partisans he learned at the school, run by Yiddishist-communists, that he attended from the age of 6. The only child of older parents, he felt a keen desire to help preserve their precious, waning Yiddish culture before it was gone.

His efforts included the co-founding of a band, the Chutzpah Jewish Orchestra, in the 1970s. Brave Old World came about in 1989 to turn klezmer into a Jewish art music for the concert stage. At “YK2,” the klezmer supergroup will perform pieces from its most recent CD, “Blood Oranges,” which serves as a trip to “Yiddishland,” a place that no longer exists in Eastern Europe but is alive in the souls of contemporary Jewish musicians. The album seeks to answer the question, oft posed by Brave Old World members, ‘Where would klezmer be today if not for the Holocaust?’ ”

In another “YK2” concert, Alpert and Brave Old World will share the stage with the Canadian-Ukrainian group Paris to Kyiv, whose forebears came from the same shtetls as many Ukrainian Jewish immigrants. The concert, titled “Night Songs from a Neighboring Village,” is “very moving to me,” Alpert says. “It’s an encounter between Jews and Ukrainians after 50 years and [the] historical wedge between us.”

“Hot Wedding Music” takes place Tues., May 16, 8 p.m., at the Skirball Cultural Center, (310) 440-4666. Brave Old World performs Thurs., May 18, 8 p.m., at Cal State Northridge, (818) 677-2488, and Sat., May 20, 8 p.m., with Paris to Kyiv at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater, (323) 461-3673. An artists’ talk at 7 p.m. will precede the concert. – Naomi Pfefferman, Entertainment Editor

How to Make a Yiddish Musical


Update: August 9, 2007: Oscar-nominated screenwriter Mel Shavelson died yesterday at 90.

When I got the call from Montreal, fortunately I was sitting down. The woman said her name was Bryna Wasserman, and she wanted to produce a musical based on the film I had made about Harry Houdini in 1976. It had taken her years to track me down; I think she used a medium, as Houdini supposedly did when he returned from the dead.

And then I started to laugh. She informed me she wanted to present the show in Yiddish.I laughed even harder at her next line. They didn’t have enough money to pay me. I realized the show was to be very Yiddish.

I could have escaped, a la Houdini, by hanging up, but Bryna explained she was the director of the Saidye Bronfman Theatre des Arts in Montreal, one of the leading Yiddish theaters in the world; its productions have traveled as far as Vienna and South America, and its purpose is to preserve a language and a culture that is fast disappearing. I quickly realized there is nothing approaching its size and importance in the Los Angeles Jewish community outside of Art’s Delicatessen.So I agreed to write the musical on her generous terms and dedicate it to the memory of my parents, who always spoke Yiddish when they didn’t want me to know what they were saying. By paying close attention when they were discussing the relatives, I learned all the colorful words that seemed to cover most of my family.

My further education in the language occurred in Israel, where I had made a film about Gen. Mickey Marcus in Israel’s War of Independence called “Cast a Giant Shadow,” with Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Yul Brynner, Angie Dickinson and the Israeli army. United Artists produced the film after every other executive in Hollywood had turned it down because, “We’ve already given to the UJA, and who wants to see a movie about a Jewish general?”

The real reason, of course, was that several Arab nations had threatened to expropriate the theaters of any American company that made the film. United Artists didn’t own theaters in any country at that time, so they could afford to be daring. They told me, “With that great cast, we could shoot the telephone book and still make money.” Unfortunately we shot my screenplay instead of the telephone book. I wrote a book about that experience, “How to Make a Jewish Movie,” which I also dedicated to my parents, because they were among the few who went to see that movie.In Israel, although Yiddish is a secondary language to Hebrew, it is still used by those who don’t want their children to know what they’re saying. Of course, in Israel I didn’t know what anyone was saying, including the Israelis, the Arabs and my Italian camera crew, so I managed to have a terrible time in three or four different languages.

In Tel Aviv and later at the Saidye Bronfman Theatre des Arts in Montreal, I soon learned there are three sides to everything in Yiddish: Yes, No, and Aha!

I had first become interested in the story of Harry Houdini when I learned the great magician had a Jewish mother who hated the fact that Houdini, the son of a rabbi, had married a non-Jew. Aha! I had married Lucille Myers, a beautiful Pennsylvania girl who was half Presbyterian, in spite of my mother’s warning that it would last all of a month. As of today, it has lasted 61 years. All of you should be so lucky.

I flew to Montreal and met the Yiddish Theater community, led by the talented and overworked Bryna Wasserman, who would direct the production, as she directed everything else that went on at the theater. Bryna told me that this small and largely volunteer organization of amateurs was ready to produce a musical based on my work that would make me proud to have labored on it for free.Yes? No? Aha!

The completed musical opened in March with a completely unpaid Montreal cast, to a tumultuous welcome and a standing ovation. I was one of those who stood and added to the tumult. They brought it off beautifully, in my estimation, both musically and artistically.

The Great Houdini is played by Elan Kunin, who also composed the music, with lyrics by Alexander Ary, which gives Elan the opportunity to sing his own melodies in Yiddish while hanging upside down in midair struggling to get out of a straitjacket. Luciano Pavarotti couldn’t have done better. Of course, being of sound mind, Pavarotti wouldn’t have tried. Especially since Elan is paid exactly nada, to use another language I don’t speak.

Bess, Houdini’s wife, is played by Emily Phaneuf, who has a wonderful singing voice even when she performs in Yiddish, although she is an authentic gentile who doesn’t understand a word she’s singing. Which make us equals.

The company has 42 dedicated actors, dancers, singers, acrobats, and magicians, including a Yiddish-speaking gorilla, a bearded lady, and a half-man/half-woman whose left half is goyish and right half is Orthodox.

The musical is now playing to SRO houses at the aforementioned Montreal Saidye Bronfman Centre des Arts. The dialogue and the songs are translated over the proscenium in both English and French, which is the official language in Quebec. The jokes have to play in three different languages. I’m happy if they make it in one.

The press? Unanimous. In English and French. From the leading daily, the Montreal Gazette:”If ever a newborn Montreal musical looked Broadway bound, ‘The Great Houdini’ is it… Thrills, chills, song, dance and plenty of razzle dazzle: ‘The Great Houdini’ has it all. Don’t miss it.”I’m very glad I didn’t miss any of it. To all of the cast and crew I can only say mazel tov and bonne chance. And if you get to Broadway, play it all in English … or whatever they speak in New York.Shouldn’t we have a similar Yiddish theater in Los Angeles? Yes, No, and Aha!

Melville Shavelson is a writer, director and producer living in Los Angeles.

Alive and Well


Aaron Paley, Los Angeles’ impresario of Yiddish, finds his job is easier these days. He no longer has to work quite so hard to prove that Yiddish is not dead.”Two years ago, it was like pulling teeth to convince people why Yiddish language and culture is important,” says the director of L.A.’s second biennial Yiddish festival, “YK2! The New Face of Yiddish Culture – A Festival for the Next 1000 Years,” which has come to town this week. “Now people know. The Zeitgeist has changed.”

Paley ticks off the evidence. As Yiddish turns 1,000 years old at the dawn of the 21st century, the National Yiddish Book Center is digitally scanning every page of every Yiddish book ever published. KlezKemps and Yiddish-language ulpans are thriving everywhere from Oxford University to the Arbeter Ring (Workmen’s Circle) on Robertson Boulevard. L.A. is the site of dozens of Yiddish classes and clubs. And the Knitting Factory, where klezmer musicians and others on the radical Jewish culture scene play to hipsters on the Lower East Side, is about to open a branch on Hollywood Boulevard.

The Yiddish festival, which drew more than 10,000 Angelenos in October 1998, meanwhile, has nearly doubled in size to become the largest gathering of its kind in the United States. With more than 40 events in some 20 venues in 2000, including lectures, concerts and plays, the goal is simple.”We want to prove that Yiddish and Yiddish culture is not kitschy, moribund, tinged with sugary nostalgia or regret about the Holocaust,” says Paley, who is in his early 40’s and grew up attending the collectively run Yiddish Kindershule and Mittelshule in Van Nuys. “We want to prove that it provides a foundation of ideas and creativity that artists can draw on today.”

A case in point is Sara Felder, San Francisco’s favorite Jewish lesbian juggler-performance artist, who will present her comic monologue, “Shtick!” about a cross-dressing immigrant vaudevillian and a modern performance artist who connect from opposite ends of the 20th century (see sidebar). Acclaimed choreographer John Malashock, once a principal dancer with Twyla Tharp, is the co-creator of “Blessings & Curses,” about a contemporary artist who weaves old and new stories into cloth.

On a more traditional note, Yiddishpiel, Israel’s only professional Yiddish repertory theater, will perform a medley of songs and dialogues. And the West Coast Jewish Theatre will present “Der Onshtel Makher” (“The Make-Believe Maker”), which starts as a stranger knocks at the door of an inn on the outskirts of Bilgoray, Poland, on a foggy, frozen night in 1858.

If Yiddish has a theme tailor-made for multicultural Los Angeles, Paley says, it is how to survive as a minority culture in the larger society. Yiddish is, by nature, multicultural, the living product of Jewish expulsion and migration, always borrowing words from host languages.

“YK2,” therefore, highlights Yiddish in relation to its most significant host culture, that of Eastern Europe, Paley says. Brave Old World, hailed by The Village Voice as a “klezmer supergroup,” for example, will perform with the Canadian-Ukrainian band Paris to Kyiv. Boris Sandler, editor of the 103-year-old Yiddish-language newspaper Forverts (The Forward), will describe how Yiddish survived the Stalinist purges of the former Soviet Union. Performances celebrating Eastern European culture will take place in Plummer Park, the heart of Eastern European L.A. And an exhibition organized by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research will tell of the Jewish Labor Bund from its early days in the old country to the late 1990’s. “One Hundred Years of the Bund” begins with the story of how, late one evening in October 1897, 13 people gathered at a safe house in a secret location in Vilna, bent on establishing a group dedicated to the political liberation of Jews throughout the Russian empire. The exhibit tells the rest of the story through documents ranging from clandestine Bund brochures to present-day photographs.

The Bund, like other aspects of Yiddish culture, defied the odds and survived the 20th century. And that, Paley says, is the point of “YK2.” “We’re still here at the beginning of the new millennium,” Paley explains, “and that is worth celebrating.”

“YK2” runs through May 21. For a schedule and other information, call (323) 692-8151.