An exciting revival is taking place in the world of Jewish culture. Keen to incorporate their heritage into their work in a manner that is relevant to their generation, young musicians, performers, chefs and bloggers are using age-old cultural traditions as a springboard for creativity and innovation.
Over the course of the past year, we presented a three-part series in collaboration with the Ashkenaz Foundation to explore new developments in Jewish music and culinary arts, which are at the forefront of this renewal. The goal of the project was to provide a platform to showcase contemporary artists who are interlacing traditional and contemporary influences to produce unique sounds and flavours.
The first event, hosted at A Yiddishe Mame restaurant in January, featured Russian and Eastern European Jewish culture. Lively conversation filled the room as guests noshed on a multi-course Russian-style meal, including specialties such as beet borscht and potato perogies. Afterwards, they were treated to a spirited performance by Goyfriend, a musical collaboration between the klezmer band Litvakus and the renowned Latvian-born Yiddish singer Sasha Lurje, which explores the image and representation of Jews in the folk culture of their Eastern European neighbours over 600 years of common history.
Following this, we hosted a Shabbat dinner at Temple Har Zion in March to celebrate the unique cultural contributions of Ethiopian Jewry. Guests enjoyed a musical Kabbalat Shabbat services and a traditional Ethiopian meal, after which everyone adjourned to the sanctuary for a special performance by Aveva Dese, an Ethiopian-Israeli singer and songwriter. Aveva expresses her life experiences through her music, which features stimulating African groove and traditional Ethiopian sounds combined with a touch of the fresh urban beat of Tel Aviv. Through a moderated conversation in between sets, Aveva also shared stories of her family’s difficult journey from Ethiopia to Israel.
The third and final event of the series took place on September 17 at the Schwartz/Reisman Centre. Based on the theme of fusion and innovation on tradition in contemporary Jewish culture, the program featured an outstanding performance by Sandcatchers, a quartet that blends the Middle Eastern trope of the oud with the dreamy, Americana infused textures of the steel. The music accompanied a brunch made up of a curated selection of recipes by culinary personalities Leah Koenig and Bonnie Stern, including borscht crostini and smoked salmon hash. After the meal, Leah and Bonnie led an engaging conversation about exciting trends and new directions in the Jewish food movement.
If you missed out on these events (or if you were in attendance but want to relive the sounds and flavours!), we invite you to check out the following resources:
• Listen to a sample of Goyfriend’s music on their website
• Hear about Goyfriend’s origins in this podcast interview with Avi Grenadier
• Enjoy a sample of Aveva Dese’s music on her website
• Experience the music of Sandcatchers’ on their website
• Try a recipe from The Russian-Jewish Cookbook: Recollections and Recipes of Immigrants from the Former Soviet Union (published in Hebrew)
• Learn about Ethiopian Jewish cuisine in this article about the Beta Israel
• Read about Leah Koenig’s unique twist on Jewish cuisine in this article about her book Modern Jewish Cooking/
This series was sponsored in part by JCC Association’s Making Music Happen Centennial Grant Initiative, funded by a grant from Marvin J. Pertzik and the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation.