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Yidstock 2014: The joy of oy!

Frank London

Frank London

If the National Yiddish Book Center had just saved a million old Yiddish books from being destroyed, that would have been enough. And if the Amherst-based center had merely set up more than 600 Yiddish research libraries in 26 countries plus only made thousands of oral histories and recorded and electronic Yiddish books available online for free — oy, “Dayenu,” as the traditional song of miracles says: That alone would be enough to celebrate.

But there’s more, of course.

In addition to all the workshops, exhibits, films and books, the 34-year-old center will host Yidstock 2014 July 17-20 at its home on the Hampshire College campus. This third Yidstock brings together a slew of cutting-edge musical talent together with concerts, talks, workshops and dancing to celebrate Yiddish culture — the joy of oy.

About 1,800 people attended Yidstock last year, and all-festival passes have already sold out, along with advance tickets for some of concerts, though there will be some same-day tickets available.

The four-day festival opens Thursday night, July 17, with a concert by the Klezmer Conservatory Band, which helped launch a renaissance of Yiddish dance and theater music in 1980, and among whose featured performers is Greenfield clarinetist Ilene Stahl.

Band leader Hankus Netsky, one of the pioneers of the klezmer revival, will also give a lecture Friday, July 18, at 11 a.m., “Reconnecting to Our Cultural Roots in Eastern Europe.”

One of the KCB’s founding members, trumpeter Frank London, went on in 1986 to help form the Klezmatics, which will play a Saturday, July 19, concert at Yidstock. London will also perform a Friday, July 18, concert of “Shabbos Zmiros” together with Klezmatics singer-accordionist Lorin Sklamberg and pianist Rob Schwimmer.

“These are songs to welcome in the Jewish sabbath, songs that are meant to be sung at this time of the week, a time of rest,” says London, who has made three recordings with this trio, featuring mystical songs from different Chasidic traditions.

“Singing is a big part of the Chasidic tradition, where you’re supposed to interact with God in a joyful, loving way,” London says. “The spirituality of it is for shabbos, to focus people. But it’s fun and the melodies are gorgeous.”

The Klezmatics, which is now recording its 11th album, has emphasized since its founding not so much nostalgia for Yiddish culture, but rather the vibrancy of traditional Jewish values in today’s multi-ethnic world.

“Klezmer,” London is quoted as telling music writer Jeff Tamarkin, “is the unique sound of East European Jewishness. It has the power to evoke a feeling of other-worldliness, of being there and then, of nostalgia for a time and place that we never knew.” Yet the Klezmatics, he adds, puts forth “a consistent and coherent political and aesthetic Yiddish/klezmer music that embraces our political values ... (showing) a way for people to embrace Yiddish culture on their own terms as a living, breathing part of our world and its political and aesthetic landscape.”

On Sunday night, London will also lead his Klezmer Brass Allstars in a concert with singer, dancer, director, writer, actress Eleanor Reissa, who he calls, “one of the real stars of the Yiddish theater. This is a really fun program with a really fun band.”

Also on the lineup on Sunday at 1 p.m. is Berlin-based Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird, known for its self-described “Radical Yiddish Punk-Folk Cabaret,” and at 4 p.m. a concert by Basya Schechter.

Schechter, best known as founder-leader of Pharoh’s Daughter, will present “Songs of Wonder,” her own settings of recently published Yiddish love poems by the late civil-rights activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, which were written in the 1920s.

Yidstock 2014 — with Sunday, July 20, workshops in Yiddish songs with the book center’s Asya Vaisman Schulman, a Saturday, July 19, instrumental workshop with Brian Bender, Saturday and Sunday, July 20, sessions in Yiddish dance, led by Steve Weintraub, and a Friday, July 18, lecture by writer Seth Rogovoy on “Rockin’ the Shtetl,” — makes clear that klezmer and other Yiddish music is not only alive, but kicking.

“There’s so much going on now, and overall it’s at a higher quality level,” says London, reflecting back on how much has changed in klezmer’s 35-year resurgence. “There’s no stopping anything. That’s how insanely exciting the scene is.”

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www.yiddishbookcenter.org/events/14/07/yidstock-2014- festival-new-yiddish-music

Senior reporter Richie Davis has worked at The Recorder for more than 35 years. He can be reached at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269.

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