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Itamar Zorman, Israeli Chamber Project.

The 3 Cohens



by Faith Kaplan, November 25, 2010

The first ever Rady JCC Tarbut Festival of Jewish Culture opened last Saturday night, November 13-21 at the Berney Theatre. An amalgamation of the Israeli Concert Series with The Jewish Bookfair, Tarbut was promoted as a festival that celebrates diversity in a Jewish context, exposing audiences to the many facets of Jewish arts and culture through music, film, and books. The diversity of talent within our community was evident, as local authors and musicians shared the stage with distinguished international colleagues. As we’ve come to expect from the Rady JCC, the quality of the product was very fine indeed. Kudos to staff and volunteers for their efforts, which were clearly appreciated by Tarbut goers.


Hart and I attended opening night, featuring the Israeli Chamber Project, an ensemble founded in 2008 by young Israeli musicians Sivan Magen on harp, Assaff Weisman on piano, and Itamar Zorman on violin. These young men have structured themselves as a chamber music society to perform, educate and engage in outreach to the communities that raised them and to bring Israel to overseas concert-goers. These exceptionally gifted young men took turns playing Liszt, Saint-Saens, Handel, Beethoven and Paul Ben-Haim, in duets or solo. Oddly, they did not perform as a trio. Their artistry was captivating and we were transported. The intimacy of the Berney Theatre was a perfect setting. I did wonder how the Israeli Chamber Project met the stated goals of the festival in promoting Jewish culture. Yes of course they’re Jewish, but with the exception of Ben-Haim, the music they played wasn’t.  Is listening to Jews playing music a celebration of diversity within a Jewish context? Maybe yes. Maybe no. I’m not so sure.


I’d never heard of Gertrude Berg or the Goldbergs so we went to see Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg on Thursday night. This documentary film followed Gertrude Berg’s career for the 30 years during which she wrote and performed on radio, television, in film and on Broadway. This remarkable woman, a third generation American whose father invented instant coffee for American troops during WW1, wrote and directed 12,000 scripts over those years. She was the second most admired woman in America after Eleanor Roosevelt and the highest earning female of the 30s. Her broadcasts brought her fictionalized Jewish family into North American homes, with storylines that covered politics, religion, friendship, and issues of the day from a Jewish point of view. This was a perfect fit for Tarbut. I thought the film portrayed 20th century American Jewish culture and the challenges faced by American Jews at that time very effectively. It was fascinating, and I wonder how it’s possible that I Love Lucy is still in syndication while the program which established the TV sitcom genre has been relegated to the dustbin of history.


Hart and I attended the penultimate concert Saturday night November 2oth featuring The 3 Cohens with our friends the Breslauers. There were lots of couples out together for the evening’s entertainment. Tel Aviv born and bred siblings Anat (tenor sax and clarinet), Yuval (soprano sax) and Avishai (trumpet) are exceptional composers and musicians. Having personally experienced one child in band and clarinet practise, I applaud Mr. and Mrs. Cohen for their auditory fortitude in encouraging all three to play these instruments. After the concert, I asked Anat how they were able to practise while growing up in a Tel Aviv apartment. She replied it was a less uptight time and they didn’t play between 2 pm and 4 pm or after 11 pm.

In 2002 after forming a sextet, the 3 Cohen siblings travelled to Poland for a festival and performed original music, which resulted in a debut album. They have since performed at jazz festivals around Israel and in the U.S. Their playing is so synchronized and fluid that it appears effortless. And imagine the talent required to score pieces for a sextet, where each instrument is playing its own version of the music, never mind the ability to play all instruments seamlessly. Local musicians Steve Kirby on bass, Will Bonness on piano and Quincy Davis on drums rounded out the sextet, and reinforced the universality of music. I am not particularly fond of jazz, but I was as impressed with the evening’s performance as the rest of the sold out audience.


It’s interesting to think about Jewish culture and how to share it. What exacly is “culture”, and whose version of Jewish? Local or from away? Diaspora or Israeli? Modern or traditional? Ashkenazi, Sepharadi, or Mizrachi? English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish, Arabic, French, or Russian? Whose voices: male, female, adult, child? What about food, art, and dance? Which points of reference will be used by future Tarbut committees to define Jewish culture, since it can be expressed through each sense, many languages, and every medium? 

A future festival line-up might celebrate the diversity of Jewish culture from a modern Israeli perspective. Programming could include an Israeli cooking class, a family friendly puppet show or play from Israel, an evening of Israeli dancing, a Naomi Shemer Hebrew sing-along, an art show featuring a particular Israeli artist, an Israeli couture fashion show, Israeli films and performers. 

The inaugural Tarbut Festival of Jewish Culture is off to a strong start, and organizers have much to consider as they assess this year’s success and formulate plans for next year. They might even consider joining forces with other agencies such as the Jewish Heritage Centre or Winnipeg Jewish Theatre.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

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