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by Merlin Shepherd

     Klezfest Kiev is an annual event that brings together Jewish musicians from all over former Soviet Union and also from other parts of the World. This four day seminar with concerts, jam-sessions, detailed lectures, workshops and master classes not only celebrates the rebirth of Yiddishkeit but also serves a vital role in returning the culture to the place from where it came.

Each day has a variety of classes and lectures devoted to the sharing and teaching of many aspects of Yiddish culture. Instrumental classes, song classes, language, history, cultural context all form a part of an intensive and exhilarating workshop. Klezfest faculty from the west have included Adrienne Cooper, Zalmen Mlotek, Frank London, Merlin Shepherd, Marilyn Lerner. Contact with older musicians is also a truly special part of the Klezfest experience. Arkady Gendler from Zaporozhye, (Ukraine) now in his eighties, brings his strong memories of Yiddish song and culture to the younger generation. Taisia Zborovskaya and Ida Gelfer also in their eighties, have brought concerts of Yiddish song to the Klezfest students. The variants of known melodies and the delights of unknown ones were a special gift to all. In 2002, Eda Beregovskaya, daughter of Moishe Beregovski the emiment (indeed possibly the first!) Jewish musicologist was there, sharing her rich experiences and special knowledge with the new generation.

     The faculty at this extraordinary event are teaching for the most part professionaly trained musicians. The participants for the most part come to this music from a serious classical training. Many are orchestral players. Yet their ability to throw off the trappings of the classical player, and reassess their technique is wonderful and so unlike that of western players. Adrienne Cooper, one of the World's leading Yiddish singers, who has been teaching in Ukraine since the very first Klezfest (2000), says that these students are amongst the most receptive students we have every had the pleasure and honour to teach. Also she commented last year on their thirst for knowledge and their extraordinary pleasure in playing music.

     The music is in the blood of these people. It grows up from the earth. Their depth and understanding is phenomenal. The players in Ukraine had lost their connection for several generations, but the seed is there. And how it is growing! Now we have a whole new generation of professional klezmer musicians, singers, composers, Yiddish teachers, who have become teachers for their growing community. To name a few….Natalya Kasyanchik (klezmer domra player, from Vinnitsa, Ukraine), Yefim Chorny (Yiddish singer and songwriter, from Kishinev, Moldova), Timur Fishel (Yiddish teacher, from Tallinn, Estonia), Gennady Fomin (klezmer clarinetist, from Kharkov, Ukraine), Polina Achkinazi-Shepherd (composer, choir leader from Kazan, Russia) and many, many others…

     When I was first in Kiev, back in 1991, Rabbi Bleich (a rabbi from New York) was teaching Jews the Siddur parrot fashion. He said "It's like teaching Alef-Beys at cheder". Now, 10 years on, things are more changing. Ex-Soviet cities now from time to time have a Lubavitch "sukkah mobile" or "mitzvah tank" parked up. And hundreds of Jews use it. There is now a strong and growing sense of Yiddish culture and belonging thanks to the hard work of Yana and Boris Yanover, and the entire staff of the Center of Jewish Education in Kiev.

     In fact the tireless work of Yana Yanover and her staff (and the devoted teachers of her faculty) are doing a remarkable job in returning Klezmer to one of the countries where it was born. A 82-year-old Yiddish singer and teacher from Zaporozhye (Ukraine) Arkady Gendler told us that in 1940 under Soviet rule, Yiddish culture stopped like a clock. I would like to say without a shadow of doubt, that this annual Klezfest is evidence enough that after 60 years the clock is ticking again!



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