Basya Schechter at Heschel Symposium, Dec 9, 2007
Earlier in December, Judy and I were in town for the Yiddish Dance Symposium. The same day, a symposium honoring the centenary of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's birth was held a few blocks away at the Center for Jewish History. Judy and I caught the evening session in part to finally get to see Basya Schachter who opened the session with a short set, playing some Yiddish poems written by Heschel that she had set to music. The material ranged from Heschel's love poems to deeply religious poems.
Basya was accompanied by piano, cello, and violin. She introduced the pieces, sang, and played guitar. The music was a smooth blend of Middle Eastern, classical, and American folk/pop phrasings, creating a rhythmic artsong/cabararet feel. We were entranced. I hope that the series will be made available publicly. As did Jewlia Eisenberg on her Walter Benjamin recording (Trilectic, 2001—settings of the writings between Walter Benjamin and Asja Lacis), Basya has captured the feel of the words and set them wonderfully to music. Coming on the heels of her recent Pharaoh's Daughter recording, Haran, and her solo album of middle eastern music, "Queen's Dominion, this is further proof that Schechter is an artist to watch. In our case, and to our pleasure, literally.
The rest of the evening was less musical, but quite meaningful. That night, speakers from the current JTS chancellor, Arnie Eisen (Heschel's reception at the Jewish Theological Seminary in his day was less than glowing) to Ruth Messinger (currently, the transformative head of the American Jewish World Service) spoke to Heschel's life, his writings, and his example. As she closed, Messinger related:
Dr. Heschel was asked once what advice he had for young people. I would leave out "young". He said that we should understand that every word matters, every deed matters, and we must build our lives as if they were works of art.