To kick off Limmud Winnipeg 2017, Rock the Shtetl and Friends played to an almost full house in the Berney Theatre on Saturday night, March 4th, 2017.
For the first time, The Toronto and Winnipeg Klezmer worlds came together to perform the music from the shtetls of Eastern Europe.
Rock the Shtetl is comprised of former Winnipegger Allen Rosenbluth on saxophone, his wife Ellen Rosenbluth on piano, and Jonno Lightstone on clarinet. Husband and wife team of Shayla Fink and Kinzey Posen, founding members of the klezmer band Finjan, made up the “Friends” portion of the band.
Klezmer music originated as wedding music for Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. It is a fusion of Greek, Gypsy and Roma styles. The talented musicians performed a number of traditional klezmer songs, Yiddish songs, and Carlebach Niggunim (wordless melodies).
By far, the audience favourites were a tribute to Leonard Cohen including the song Hallelujah and the Leonard Cohen cabaret style Dance Me Until the End of Love with it’s Eastern European influence. Although structured as a love song, Dance Me to the End of Love was in fact inspired by the Holocaust. In an interview, Cohen said of the song, (I learnt that) “beside the crematoria, in certain of the death camps, a string quartet was pressed into performance while this horror was going on, those were the people whose fate was this horror also. And they would be playing classical music while their fellow prisoners were being killed and burnt. So, that music, "Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin," meaning the beauty there of being the consummation of life, the end of this existence and of the passionate element in that consummation. But, it is the same language that we use for surrender to the beloved.”
The group also played Der Yidisher Soldat in di Trenches (Jewish Soldier in the Trench) a very sobering song; Sheyn vi di Levone (Beautiful as the Moon) a Yiddish lullaby; the lively Ale Brider; 7:40 (or “Sem Sorok/Sim Sorok“) a freylakh Jewish dance melody. One theory as to the origins of 7:40 claims that the song originated in the late 19th century and refers to the train that brought shtetl-dwelling Jewish merchants to and from Odessa every day, arriving at 7:40 and leaving at 19:40.
Rock the Shtetl and Friends did indeed rock the Berny Theatre. At one point people were dancing in the aisles.