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November 2001

Annual Examination

Munich’s 15th Jewish Culture Days

After the large wave of Jewish emigration from Munich in the late 1940s and 1950s, Jewish life in Munich was more or less limited to religious worship and idealistic support of the state of Israel in Europe. For a small group of Jews who remained in Munich, cultural exchange with the non-Jewish world was unheard of during those years. By the late 1970s, however, the city’s growing Jewish community began to seek to reintegrate and share its historical and cultural background with the public. In 1981, the Gesellschaft zur Förderung jüdischer Kultur und Tradition (Society for the Promotion of Jewish Culture and Tradition) was founded. In an effort to enlighten Germans about the Jewish experience, the organization has been sponsoring Munich’s annual Jewish Culture Days since 1987.

This festival is not only a celebration, but a means of informing visitors on all aspects of Jewish culture as well. It has become a city fixture, one that attracts a growing number of international visitors each year. This year’s event (November 17–25) features a plethora of documentary presentations, theater performances, concerts and readings at the Gasteig and at the Instituto Cervantes, the Spanish Institute for Culture. In addition to a number of performers new to the festival, many old favorites from previous events will return.

On November 17, Jewish Culture Days’ opening act, the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band of Chicago, will take its audience on a musical journey to the Jewish-American world of the 1920s. Klezmer music is rich in energy and emotion. The klezmorim (Jewish musicians hired to play for celebrations) of Eastern Europe drew upon both the lyrical, haunting melodies of cantors and the raucous dances of the Slavic cultures, to forge a unique and evocative style of their own. The melodies of the chassidim (Jews whose prayers incorporated melody and ecstatic dance) form the basis of the instrumental klezmer repertoire. Though enthusiasm for klezmer in the United States ebbed in the 1960s, young Jewish Americans were drawn back to the music of their Eastern European heritage in the following decade. This included a revival of Yiddish folk songs as well.

Ira Urbanska and Klezmers (in performance November 19) are inspired by the charm and purity of traditional Jewish music. The band’s repertoire comprises religious and ceremonial songs, folk songs and instrumental klezmer songs—with a few popular songs in Yiddish thrown in for good measure. Urbanska’s performances at the Café Ariel, located in the old Jewish district of Krakow, have made Ira Urbanska famous well beyond the famously flexible borders of Poland.

A rich musical history of the Jewish experience in Latin America will be the focus of a concert called, Flamenco Judaico, presented by Timna Brauer, daughter of the internationally acclaimed painter Arik Brauer. The singer will perform together with the Elias Meiri Ensemble on November 20. For those who enjoy many types of Jewish music, but have not yet discovered Canzones Judeo Espagnol (also known as Sephardic songs), this special evening is a must.

Yet, the Jewish Culture Days are not only song and dance. The history of Jewish life in South America—with a heavy focus on Argentina—will also be examined. Sabine Segoviano, daughter of Holocaust survivors, will give a lecture, which will chronicle the region’s rocky journey, starting with 1492, when the banishment of Jews from Sepharad (the Hebrew word for the Iberian Peninsula) began (November 20). Ane Kleine will speak on the uneasy life of Jews in Argentina and how the Yiddish language is kept alive there (November 21). Eva Diamantstein will stage her powerful theater presentation, Nachtmahl (November 16-24). This is a dark work, a visit in Hell, during which four female characters slowly unspool their travails during the Third Reich. Based on biographies uncovered by Diamantstein, the play focuses on the horrifying role women played in the Holocaust, how they participated and how they now deal with their responsibility for crimes committed by the Nazis.

These are but a few of the events scheduled for Jewish Culture Days. For a complete program and tickets, contact München Ticket, Tel. (089) 54 81 81 81, Kiosk Marienplatz (underground), Tel. (089) 54 50 60 60 or Abendzeitung, Tel. (089) 3 37 72 23.

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