Grapevine: Haredi-secular coexistence – in Yiddish!

Kool Klezmer band helps break social barriers.

By
February 28, 2012 22:21
YOSSI ALFI with Sassi Keshet

YOSSI ALFI with Sassi Keshet 390. (photo credit: Courtesy Yiddishpiel)

 
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THOSE WHO doubt that haredim and secular people can co-exist should take a trip any Saturday night to the Jerusalem branch of Yung Yidish, where the Kool Klezmer band is comprised largely of haredim, plus a couple of musicians who are religiously Orthodox, though not necessarily haredim, at least not as far as the dress code goes. The haredi musicians arrive still dressed in their Sabbath finery. The audience is a mix of haredim and atheists and anything between. The weekly get together is more in the nature of a Melave Malka than a concert, with the audience joining the musicians in singing the songs appropriate to the farewell of the Sabbath.

Abraham Leib Burstein, who leads this Klezmer group, whose haredi members come from various hassidic movements, is related to the great Yiddish entertainers Pesach and Mike Burstyn, though unlike them, he is haredi. But he’s very much a live and let live person. When people in the haredi community ask him whether he performs in front of mixed audiences, his reply is “Heaven forbid! Every seat is occupied by either a man or a woman.” Burstein and his band have been working for some years now with Mendy Cahan, the founder of Yung Yidish, which preserves and promotes Yiddish, through the collection of Yiddish books from deceased estates, the teaching of Yiddish and providing of Yiddish entertainment. Cahan is a lapsed hassid who maintains a great love and respect for Jewish tradition, and has apparently not abandoned what he learned in his yeshiva days. This includes making havdala for the audience, and turning the ceremony into something more memorable than what one experiences in private homes. Last Saturday’s Melva Maklke was more memorable than usual because it included guest artist Zalmen Mlotek, the artistic director of the New York based National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene, whose mission is to promote and develop Yiddish theater for current and future generations.

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■ APROPOS YIDDISH, one of the best decisions of Shmuel Atzmon, the founder and honorary president of Yiddishpiel was to appoint actor, singer and dancer Sassi Keshet as the theater company’s CEO and artistic director.

In the few months that Keshet has been at the helm, the Yiddishpiel website has undergone a decided improvement. The company continues to tour the country, but most frequently appears at ZOA in Tel Aviv. Although Yiddishspiel provides simultaneous translation in Hebrew and Russian for those members of the audience who do not understand Yiddish, or whose Yiddish is not sufficiently fluent to follow the dialogue, it cannot be denied that the company’s greatest fans and supporters are senior citizens for whom Yiddish was the language they spoke at home in the old country.

Senior citizens receive a 50 percent discount on the cost of tickets, but because not all senior citizens are physically capable of attending the theater, Yiddishpiel actors make a point of taking productions to homes and hospitals for them. The current repertoire includes: God Man and Devil, which premiered earlier this month, Carlebach is Alive, The Heart Longs for a Song; a Tribute to Mordechai Gebirtig, The Women’s Box of Secrets, Lansky the Jewish Mafiosi, Sholem Aleichem Sholem and a one-time performance of The Megillah in time for Purim. Seen in the audience at the openingnight performance of God Man and Devil were Jacob Perry, Yossi Alfi, Natan Datner, Jana Kalman, Kobi Oshrat and of course the actress Yona Elian, who is Keshet’s wife.

■ THE EARLY morning news and current affairs program on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet often contains an entertainment segment presented by Netiv Robinson. On Monday this week, the segment focused primarily on Hollywood’s Oscar ceremony.

However Robinson also snuck in an additional segment that pleasantly embarrassed the program’s anchor Yaakov Ahimeir who had been notified the previous day that he was this year’s Israel Prize Laureate in the field of communications. A gleeful Robinson introduced a congratulatory message from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu whose father and Ahimeir’s father, both dedicated Revisionists, were political colleagues.

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Netanyahu praised Ahimeir’s journalistic integrity and said that if anyone was deserving of the Israel Prize it was him.

■ EVEN THOUGH film maker Joseph Cedar missed out on the Oscar for his sensitive film Footnotes, it’s possible that his father, Prof. Chaim Cedar, who in 1991 was awarded the Israel Prize in Biology, and in 2008, together with Prof. Aharon Razin, was awarded the Wolf Prize for their discovery of the role of methylation in the control of gene expression in higher organisms, may be the family-prize winner this year.

According to Prof. Shy Arkin, the Hebrew University’s vice president for Research and Development, the awards won by Chaim Cedar pave the way for a Nobel Prize.

■ WHEN HE appeared at the Kehillat Avraham Masorti synagogue in Jerusalem’s East Talpiot this week for a talk co-sponsored by The Jerusalem Post, former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy attributed his presence there to one of the congregation’s founders and stalwarts Jac Friedgut, who he said “relentlessly bore me down – till I surrendered.” In the audience was Foreign Ministry official Bruce Kashdan, who is no less a man in the shadows than was Halevy during his 35 years in the Mossad.

Kashdan, who describes himself as the original wandering Jew, has spent the greater part of his life in neighboring countries, making fleeting visits here and there. Other than his immediate superiors, no one knows exactly what he does. And no one is likely to know either.

The powers that be at the Foreign Ministry have told the ever-youthful Kashdan that when he eventually does retire from the Foreign Ministry, he’s not allowed to write his memoirs. Retirement is something that he doesn’t envisions any time soon. “No one else wants my job,” he quipped.

■ FOR THE Begin family, 2012 is a double milestone year. Not only does mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Prime Minister Menachem Begin that was commemorated this week in accordance with the Hebrew calendar date, but is also marking the 30th anniversary year of the death of his wife Aliza, whom he held in such high esteem.

It was after her demise that Begin became despondent and entered into a deep depression that was also fueled by the daily demonstrations outside his residence in which protesters focused on the growing death toll in the First Lebanon War.

If Begin was a man of the people, his wife was even more so.

Without any ceremony, fanfare or accompanying security guard, she used to shop in the local grocery store in Lincoln Street and wait her turn at the hairdressing salon in Ben Maimon Street. Dan Landau, the late husband of the writer of this column was a press photographer who frequently photographed the Begins. On one occasion, when he was in Tel Aviv at a function attended by Aliza Begin, he asked if he could get a ride home with her as he had come without his car. She replied that she hadn’t come in an official car but had been given a lift by her close friends Nathan and Lily Silver, who were ardent Likud supporters. She offered to ask them if they had room for him in the car. They did, and were happy to take him along, especially as he lived only three doors from the Prime Minister’s Residence.

On the way home, Aliza Begin suddenly remembered that she had a function in the residence the following day and had forgotten to order a photographer. She asked Landau if he was available. He was, and turned up the following day carrying a camera bag plus one camera with black and white film and another with colored film.

While he was working, Aliza Begin asked if he had partaken of the refreshments. With all the equipment he was carrying, and while snapping photographs, he explained his hands were not free to take any food. “Open your mouth,” she said, and like any good Jewish mother, proceeded to feed him savories and cakes.

■ SEEN AT the impressive memorial event held for Menachem Begin on Monday night at the Begin Heritage Center was Yair Stern, who only two weeks earlier had commemorated the 70th anniversary of the death of the father he never knew, Lechi leader Avraham Stern, code-named Yair, who was murdered by the British on February 12, 1942. The Begin Center had also been the venue for the Stern memorial at which a very moving documentary film was shown of Yair Stern’s search in Israel, Warsaw and Florence for any documents relating to his father or any place where his father had studied, written poetry or been politically active. The film was subsequently shown on Channel One, where Stern, who is a veteran broadcaster, had worked in many capacities.

■ THE BOARD of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which usually convenes in the Inbal Hotel or in the Jewish Agency complex, this week got together at the Bible Lands Museum; yet another coup for the Museum’s Director Amanda Weiss, who was happy to welcome Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, plus some 250 representatives of Jewish communities around the world. The growing chasm between Israel’s haredi and secular communities is causing concern throughout the Jewish world, and for this reason was one of the subjects on the Board of Governors’ agenda.

■ THERE WAS a full house at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv last Friday at a benefit concert in tribute to the memory of Yaffa Yarkoni.

Cameri Theater Director Noam Semel together with Yaakov Mendel, the director of the Union of Israeli Artists decided that all proceeds from the concert would go towards needy members of the entertainment industry, especially those who in the twilight of their lives are unable to make ends meet.

Moreover, Mendel proposed that legislation be enacted to ensure that every entertainer who was an Israel Prize laureate be given a lifetime pension that would ensure that he or she live out the rest of their lives in dignity. Numerous entertainers participated in the tribute, singing the songs that Yarkoni made famous. Video clips from early in her career until just before the period in which she could no longer perform, were screened as a backdrop to the live performances.

Several of the singers who took part had sung with Yarkoni in her lifetime.

Another tribute to Yarkoni will take place this Wednesday in Jerusalem at the National Library which is located on the Safra Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University. Among the participants will be playwright, song-writer and historian Dan Almagor whose autobiographical new book Hachupchik al Hakumkum has just been published.

■ IN ANOTHER realm of music singer, composer and musician Zvika Pick, better known as “The Maestro,” has been appointed ambassador for Variety International, the children’s charity that is dedicated to promoting and protecting the health and wellbeing of children around the world through its network of 43 Chapters in 13 countries, including Israel. Israel’s Ory Slonim is a past president of Variety’s International Board of Directors. Variety was founded in Pittsburgh by members of the entertainment industry on Christmas Eve, 1928, when a monthold baby was left at the Sheridan Theater by a poverty- stricken mother who had eight other children at home. The note pinned to the infant’s clothing gave her name and a few words of hope that the good-hearted showbiz people would take care of her. Ever since, although people not in the entertainment industry have become identified with Variety, it has remained primarily a not-for-profit showbiz enterprise, with everincreasing programs and projects dedicated to the well-being of children, in particular those with special needs.

■ THE ISRAEL Council on Foreign Relations will honor the memory of its founding president David Kimche, who died two years ago, with a symposium at the Truman Institute where Kimche was a member of the Board of Governors. The symposium is scheduled for March 6.

■ HAVING SLUMBERED for six years, former prime minister Ariel Sharon missed out on celebrating his 84th birthday on Sunday this week. Slightly younger politicians who celebrated their birthdays this month were Binyamin Ben Eliezer, who turned 76, and Ehud Barak who turned 70, both on February 12. Former and would-be politician Aryeh Deri turned 53 on February 17. Ben Eliezer, in an address last week to the Trade and Industry Club, forecast that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would have no problem winning the next elections. There’s no one who can compete with Netanyahu inside our outside his party, said Ben Eliezer, adding that Netanyahu knows that he has at least another six years in which to head the government.

■ AS COMMENDABLE as it was for British Ambassador Matthew Gould to launch the first of several social clubs for Holocaust survivors, his action in raising funds in Britain to do so pointed once more to the sinful inadequacy of a series of Israel governments where Holocaust survivors are concerned.

Israel arguably has the worst record in the world when it comes to the treatment of Holocaust survivors.

Prior to Gould’s praiseworthy effort, the Jerusalem headquartered International Christian Embassy provided much-needed accommodation and other assistance for needy Holocaust survivors in the Haifa area; and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, also supplies some of the needs of Holocaust survivors, as well as those of other senior citizens living below the poverty line. There are several volunteer agencies in Israel that have taken Holocaust survivors under their respective wings, but there are still too many survivors living in abject poverty, and the government is not doing enough to improve the quality of their lives in their twilight years. It’s always promises, promises and no delivery while salaries of government ministers, members of Knesset and the judiciary are automatically raised. Shame is a word fast disappearing from the national lexicon.

■ YEDIOT AHARONOT journalist and Auschwitz-survivor Noah Klieger, who has been the recipient of many awards and prizes is about to receive another. On March 1, he will be conferred with the medal of the French Legion of Honor at a reception to be held at the residence of French Ambassador Christophe Bigot. The multilingual Klieger has written and lectured extensively about the Holocaust and has accompanied many groups to Auschwitz where he has spoken to them of what it was like to live in hell. Just a week earlier, Bigot conferred similar honors on Nava Ravid, CEO of L’Oreal Israel, and Dan Catarivas director of Foreign Trade at the Israel Manufacturers Association. Ravid was made a knight of the Order of Merit, and Catarivas, who was already a knight, was made an officer.

■ TYCOONS AND artists rubbed shoulders last Friday at the annual Bank Hapoalim art exhibition and sale to benefit the fight against AIDS.

The exhibition was held in memory of Lea Rabin. In the course of the day more than 3,500 visitors traipsed through the corridors of the bank’s headquarters in Tel Aviv to view the 640 works of art. Sales from the event were in excess of NIS 1.5 million.

Prominently absent was the bank’s Chief Shareholder Shari Arison, who opted to travel abroad instead, but the family was represented by her son and daughter-in-law Jason and Elital Arison. Zion Kenan, the bank’s president and CEO together with Chairman Yair Saroussi were on hand to greet some of the many visitors.

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