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KlezKamp 12 -- 1996

It was only two years ago that I discovered that you could attend klezcamp without being a musician. So, last year I made sure to go. The following article is derived primarily from material I posted on the WELL (a subscription-only conferencing system with a wonderful Jewish community) at the time. I meant to polish it up and add to it, but life moved on. (And that's why we take notes as we go. Sigh.)

If this is the month of November, you need to contact Living Traditions immediately to reserve a place at the upcoming KlezKamp.

Living Traditions
45 E. 33rd Street - Level B
New York City, NY 10016

Tel: (212) 532-8202
Fax: (212) 532-8238


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Regardless of what I write, below, I should note that for lots of people, KlezKamp is also a way to spend the XMas season surrounded by hundreds of Klezzified folks who have nothing to celebrate but Hanuka (on coincident years) and music.

... and yet, despite a serious enthusiasm for the music, I arrived at camp with much trepidation. The idea of being stuck in the middle of nowhere with hundreds of musicians who had nothing better to do with their time but spend a week playing, living, breathing, speaking klez was somewhat daunting.

I arrived at dinnertime, and after being served the first edible Catskills resort food that I can remember, I wandered out into the hall to what was to become a hallmark of camp: at the jam sessionthe jam session. This one was the biggest at camp: everyone was just arriving, and you could actually see people walk up to register, put their bags aside, grab an instrument, and start to play before even bothering with the hotel registration. It was a most friendly welcome to camp.

The staff was a "who's who" of anyone living who enjoys the music, and especially, loves to teach or wants to be taught. Long-time klezmorim such as Sid BeckermanSid Beckerman and Jonno Lightstone, jamming and Pete Sokolow were there. Much of the Klezmatics, Jim Guttmann bassist from the Klezmer Conservatory Band, Ken Maltz and Adrienne Cooper, both best know to me originally from Kapelye, Zalman Mlotek who has taken Yiddish to Broadway--the list went on and on. The, uh, "staff to student" ratio seemed precariously close to 1:1 at times. For those of us less instrumentally talented, there was singing or dancing (and I worried about being away from the gym for a week!), or Yiddish classes, lectures, calligraphy, cooking, papercutting, and just wandering the halls listening to Yiddish spoken, played, hummed, and breathed in the air. It's obviously appropriate that this all happen in the Catskills, although it must also be relevant that rates should be very inexpensive at this time of year in this region.

Every evening featured some special event. The first night was the staff concerts, wherein everyone on staff who wanted to perform (klez, yiddish poetry, or bluegrass) did so. Compared to the evenings that followed, this ended relatively early--around 11pm--so that the jam sessions and dancingdancing all night long could begin. One notable point came with the performance of of Yiddish satirist Michael Wex (also responsible for the cutting edge "Vos vot zeyn" on the Flying Bulgars' "a href="/bulgar.agada.html">Agada" album), who presented a Yinglish rap song about the disagreement between the Conservative and Orthodox Jewish movements about whether or not a swordfish is kosher--this after flouting a leather coat that he claimed was made from foreskins (but, no, I better not get into the monologue that led to that, except that it included being kicked out of mohel school when he got into julienning carrots, and then a German audience, no, don't get me started). Much to my intense pleasure, the staff concert also set a standard for comfortably mixing traditional klez with whatever people felt was likewise of interest.

The staff concert was a good start, and, as was to become a habit, the evening concert was only a prelude to the dancing, which was a prelude, and occasionally secondary to the jammingjamming into the late night hours taking place in the halls. There are folks here from all over Europe, from Australia, and of course from all over the United States and Canada. There are a huge number of little kids. Parents with whom I have talked explain that this is their chance to expose their kids to a yiddish environment. Outside of the daily life of medievalist Jewish sects, this may be one of the few opportunities to experience such a lifestyle. When I was growing up, of course, only ultra-medievalist, er, orthodox Chassidim, or old lefties spoke YiddishPaula Teitelbaum's wonderful board for showing how to pronounce Yiddish. This new generation is not necessarily religious, probably not overtly political. For many of the people I talked, speaking Yiddish, playing Jewish music, bringing up kids to know from these things, that was the political statement, complete in and of itself. Some would go so far as to endorse a statement made by one participant that, "Hebrew turned out to be the language of future past. Yiddish is the language of the future."

As an aging, if Yiddish-ignorant, very much a lefty myself, I'm not sure how I feel about all of this. The options are difficult. I don't think that Reform Judaism represents a transmissible culture. I don't think that pure secularism does so, either. And, although I have no desire to return to Orthodox Judaism, it does not seem conceivable to me that Jewish culture and Jewish roots can be passed on in a neutral way. You must live a culture to pass it on. You must live a culture if it is to be worth passing on. Certainly, for someone of European Jewish extraction, Yiddish Culture ("yiddishkeit" feels too loaded a phrase for me right now--too often it has been used to exclude others, including non-Jews, and Jews who are not recently from Europe), including the food, the music, the language, the poetry and stories, all provide a powerful and visceral entity. But then again, there I went an entire weekend without hearing anyone other than myself mention Emma Goldman.

Topic 411 [jewish]: the Jewish conference status report
#696 of 696: Ari Davidow (ari) Thu Dec 26 '96 (08:55)

Well, klezcamp ends in the morning, and I'm ready to go home. By nature, I need a lot of time by myself. At camp, that is simply not practical--you run all the time to catch as many activities and see/meet as many people as you possibly can, stumbling into bed at 1, 2, 3, 4 in the morning, up by 8 for more classes, and there is never that normal, quiet time to reflect.

On the other hand, it's only a week, and it only comes once a year. And, of course, the classes are just the beginning. After classes, but before dinner there are all sorts of small workshops, lectures, films in progress, affinity groups, slow jams meeting. Last night, there was even a baby-naming celebration (baby girl). Then, after dinner, (to continue a theme) there was an "opsheyrnAron's opsheyrn", a first hair cut for a three-year old, followed by a concert by Yiddish diva Adrienne Cooper (a work-in-progress about the early years of Marc Chagall), followed by Israeli and Russian Dancing, followed by a cabaret for about 20 performers who signed up, which I skipped for a jam session featuring tsimbl and accordion, which, by the time I left at 1am, had turned more brassy as people stopped by and pulled out instruments, and gotten bigger and louder as time went on. Last night, the diversion that kept me up late was Russian and Yiddish folk-singing that followed the Macedonian jamming after the dancing....

This is an awful lot of fun, but I'm ready to go home and hibernate for a few days (and catch up on sleep)! Of course, there's still one more day to go....

People have asked me what I did at KlezKamp as a non-musician. Well, I surely wished that I had were one (but five years of French horn in high school, and bad mouthharp and blues singing in Israel pretty much convinced me that I enjoy making music, but it's not actually very musical when it comes from me. On the other hand, there was Yiddish class. There were lectures on art and history. There was a wonderful class on Russian Dancing. I got to practice my Hebrew, oops, Yiddish calligraphy. And everywhere you went there were people who were as fascinated by klezmer as me, and everywhere you went there was music. I can't even begin to describe the thrill of coming back to my room after my morning Yiddish class to catch Sid Beckerman winding down his clarinet workshop, and catching a whiff of music or a great story. The big thing about klezkamp, other than providing a place to spend a week with people of (quite literally) all ages who love klezmer, love Yiddish culture (with spillovers to Sephardic, Balkan, bluegrass and whatever), is that once again it is proven that it is physically impossible to ever have too much klezmer.

The final day has passed in a haze. All I really remember is that there were amazing concerts by each of the classes. Klezkamp teachersFrank London conducts his class not only taught the past, but got their students excited about klezmer as something evolving, something that is part of the sounds of the world we live in today, with theatre and music of every imaginable stripe--klezmer, but klezmer stretched, and then a final dance concertThe final dance and jam went on and on and on, with the dancers powering the "wall of sound, let anyone who wants to play, come up and play" band, which in turn, kept the dancers glued to the floor until about 2 or 3am, at which point, the action finally moved to the spread out jam sessions. It was the last night. Who really needed to sleep?

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