A bisl Yiddish: Jewish Music Now Festival

Exploring the role of Yiddish to bring you a weekly dose of Yiddishkayt.

A bisl Yiddish (photo credit: Courtesy)
A bisl Yiddish
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"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."
Held January 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.
Many of 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.
The 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 subject.
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 with."
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 critiqued.
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.
The Jewish 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.