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German Goldenshteyn, a"h

Pete Rushefsky has posted this to the Jewish-Music mailing list for Michael Alpert

Dear Friends / Tayere khaverim,

With deep, deep grief and a enormous feeling of loss, I am writing to inform all in the Yiddish/klezmer community that German Goldenshteyn, master Bessarabian traditional clarinetist and a dear, dear friend and colleague since shortly after his arrival in Brooklyn from Ukraine in 1994, died yesterday morning (Sat, June 10), apparently of a sudden heart attack, just one week short of his 72nd birthday.

At the time, he was engaged in his second favorite social activity -- fishing. If there is any positive dimension to his untimely death, it is that he died doing one of the things he loved best, in the midst of the nature he so treasured, and at the height of public appreciation by colleagues, students and audiences that had been steadily building since we first met in early 1995 and Jeffrey Wollock and I began our intensive ethnographic work and performing with him.

I had been to visit him twice this past week, and had spent a wonderful, wonderful day with him on Friday working together on our planned appearances this summer at the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, Poland, and at Yiddish Summer Weimar in Germany. After a day and evening of playing, listening, talking and dining on (tsu lange yor) his wife Mina's virtuoso Bessarabian Jewish cooking and sharing a glass or two vodka, the three of us strolled the late night June streets of Brooklyn as we so often had. We parted with hugs, kisses and Yiddish and Russian farewells at the corner of Ave U and East 21st Street. Who knew it would be the last time I ever saw him alive? In my pocket there is a pen he was writing with scarcely more then 24 hours ago...

As many of you know, German embodied a distinct combination of love, warmth, kindness, humor, irony and playfulness, as well as a street-wise and wryly philosophical attitude toward the world and his fellow human beings. But he was not made of sugar. At times the pain of his devastating early years as child survivor of the Nazi and Romanian Holocaust would well up in him. Tears would pour down his face at the gut-level surfacing of memories he could barely recall, or he could wax fierce and bitter, yet in a way that always passed quickly, like a sudden storm that lashes rain momentarily before giving way again to blue sky and shafts of sun.

He was modest to a fault, but knew exactly who he was, and took gentle pride in his extraordinary diligence at all he undertook—whether his early years as a machinist turning steel at a lathe at the Kirk Agricultural Equipment Factory, or painstakingly notating and indexing the Jewish, Moldavian, Ukrainian and Russian melodies of his native Dniester Valley, played by him and his fellow musicians—Jewish, Moldavian, Ukrainian and Rom—at village and town weddings throughout southwestern Podolia and northern Moldavia.

There is so much to say, there is nothing that suffices. H' teyn v H' kakh. As German would often say: "...vifl yurn got vet mir nor geybn."—as many years as G-d gives me. Hot tears flow, a smile comes remembering his witticisms and hearty laughter, a huge, sad, empty hole remains that he occupied in our lives. Godammit, why did he have to leave now? There is so much more to do, but there will never again be German to share it all with, to watch the determined look on his face as he played, completely in the moment, to share a joke with in his hearty Bessarabian Yiddish or eloquent Russian or downhome Romanian or Ukrainian or his ever-suprising English, to wrangle with over a turn or articulation, to watch as he patiently and lovingly encouraged young musicians, to lift a glass with and toast lekhayim, to bring us the living spirit of shtetl and village weddings, the mud and the snow and the vodka and the gasoline and the fires burning in the night air...

But he has bequeathed us a legacy of melodies deep and fiery, merry and heartrending, and it is ours now to carry on and play, celebrate, dance to, study, pass on to yet future generations, and tell them that we once knew a German, and he gave us these tunes to make our own...

German Goldenshteyn a"h is his survived by his wife Mina, their daughter, son-in law and grandson Klava, Borya and Alex Rozentul, numerous relatives, neighbors and landslayt (compatriots) in New York, Philadelphia, Vienna, Israel and Ukraine, and an entire community of musical friends and colleagues throughout the world.

German's funeral service will be held Monday, June 12, at 11 AM at the the Yablokoff Kingsway Memorial Funeral Home, 1978 Coney Island Ave, between Avenue P and Kings Highway. (718) 645-980 Burial will be at Washington Cemetery, 5400 Bay Parkway, Brooklyn.

German, tayerer en balibter khoverl en brider maner, zolsti indz 'ubn aza lekhtikn, klezmerishn Gan-Eydn, azoy lekhtik vi di 'ost indz gemakht di velt.

—Meyshe b"r Elye-Meir Alperovitsh (Michael Alpert)

From KlezKanada 1999, Interview with a Bessarabian Klezmer, German Goldenstyn, interview translated and moderated by Michael Alpert.

Mark Rubin put up a site on MySpace for German: www.myspace.com/germangoldenshteyn. Folks have been leaving messages and anecdotes on the comments page.

Bob Blacksberg has reproduced Michael’s message together with a slide show of pictures and the “sound track” to German’s performance at the KlezKanada 2005 faculty concert at: www.klezkanada.com/site/german.php

A CD of German Goldenshteyn's recordings is available from the Living Traditions music store.

Books of German Goldenshteyn's music can be ordered from Swing Klezmer

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