"The Jewish Music Now Festival was the perfect place to feature a Yiddish
Cabaret," said cellist Racheli Galay. "I have known about this treasure, since
we performed one of the songs – Tsures (Problems…) – many years ago, and I knew
there were more songs of this genre that never saw the light."
15-18, Israel's Jewish Music Now Festival portrayed different aspects of Yiddish
music. Planned under the auspices of the Ministry of Immigration, the festival
included three events: Jewish Art Music, a chamber concert at The National
Library in Jerusalem, Klezmer and Yiddish Song Celebration at Sharet Hall in
Petach Tikva and Yiddish Cabaret in Quartet at Beit Leyvik in Tel Aviv.
the featured musicians were toshavim chozrim, Israelis who returned to Israel
after completing their studies at Julliard, Northwestern, The Paris Conservatory
and the like.
Yiddish cabaret music traditionally stems from old Hasidic tunes
and holds great cultural value. At the festival, traditional tunes were performed
alongside more contemporary compositions. The musical genre began during the
interwar years in Eastern Europe and particularly in Poland. Yiddish cabaret – or
Kleynkunst as they called it – served as an outlet for Jews to expose the good,
the bad and the ugly present in their society. In a traditional cabaret the
audience sits around tables. The Yiddish stage tweaked this, and they instead
performed short plays, one acts, sketches and/or songs on a stage.
Yiddish stage was unpredictable, eclectic and honest. They faced the subject
matter directly, and participated in artistically working through the problems
of their community. The Yiddish cabaret exposed everything: when it came to
criticizing their own communities, no one was exempt, and no skeletons were left
in the closet. The cabaret performances were their communities' form of social
commentary. And the songs featured in the Yiddish Cabaret performed at
Beit Leyvik were no different, taking on difficult themes that might not be
readily apparent to all viewers.
Daniel Galay wrote the cabaret in 1996
without a specific venue in mind, but simply with the idea to write music that
dealt with the treatment of Yiddish in Israel. To his disappointment, he quickly
realized that there was little room for dialogue or humor in regards to the
The alienation of Yiddish and Ashkenazi culture in Israel made it
impossible, he said, to sing about these problems. So instead, Galay responded, perhaps unconventionally, "I ignored
their existence and concentrated on the world that I felt part of, giving
poignant critiques, using irony and sarcasm, of those that I am most familiar
Oftentimes those attending a Yiddish cabaret expect a certain kind of
music to be played, something traditional and folksy. The Yiddish
Cabaret at the Jewish Music Now Festival presented a more contemporary sound. Nevertheless the same satirical commentaries were made, but instead of
speaking of the shtetl themes relevant to the contemporary Yiddish world were
Dori Engel and Veronika Grace lent their talents to the show,
singing all of the pieces either as solos or in tandem. They embodied their characters so convincingly, that the audience often joined in clapping to the beat
or singing along. They were accompanied by Daniel Galay on piano, Racheli Galay
on cello, and Daniel Ring on the cavaquinho – a small guitar.
Musical Now Festival opened the door for a genre of music that has long been
ignored by contemporary Israel, and perhaps for those just being exposed to it,
a chance to reinvestigate the way that we look at our own societies, both in
Israel and abroad.