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Jewish Musicians in Moldavia, by Itsik Shvarts
Bob Cohen's band is Di Naye Kapelye
di Naye Kapelye's website, with more on Jewish Music in Romania
other klezmer articles on the Internet
1906 - 2001
[Note: This article was posted to the Jewish-Music mailing list by Bob Cohen. Additional memories were provided by Itzik Gottesman. The remembrances have been html-ized and made available here by permission. The photo is from the website on Romanian Jewish music maintained by Christina Crowder, www.dinayekapelye.com/JMmain.htm. ari]
Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2001
From: Bob Cohen email@example.com
Subject: Itsik Svarts 1906-2001
It is with deep sadness that I pass on the information that the Romanian
Yiddish writer, folklorist, and former director of the Iasi Yiddish
Theater, Itsik Svarts died on May 27th, 2001, in Iasi, Romania. He was 95
Itsik was born in Podu Iloaiei (Podoloy), near Iasi in 1906. During the
1920s he became involved in Yiddish Theater and Literature in Iasi, and
personally knew some of the actors and musicians who had worked in Abraham
Goldfaden's original theater troupe at the Pomul Verde wine cellar in Iasi.
He continued his studies in Czernowitz (he was a close friend of Itsik
Manger) in linguistics, and began a prolific writing career, publishing a
review of Romanian Yiddish literature in 1938. During WWII he was unable to
return to Iasi after the Soviet annexation of Bukovina, and spent several
years in Kazakhistan (where he adopted his pen name: Andre Kara) before
returning to Europe as an officer in the Red army, eventually fighting at
the Siege of Kaliningrad before returning home to Iasi. He made a
conscious decision to remain in Romania instead of making aliyah to Israel
- "Why would Israel need Yiddish writers? They needed me here." he once
He was appointed to direct the Iasi Yiddish Theater in 1948, and continued
in this position until the closing of the theater in 1966. He continued to
teach Hebrew in Iasi until recently, and his literary output was amazing -
articles, studies, and often a book each year, with his most recent (two
histories of the Jewish communities of Iasi and Bacau) published only last
year. Itsik was a self proclaimed "Jewish folkie". In a 1927 photo with the
Podoloy "Sholem Aleichem" literary circle he is the only one wearing a
peasant shirt. "It was a fashion" he said, "I was a Yiddish Narodnik." He
recorded klezmer music in Iasi from musicians such as the Bughici and Segal
families for possible use in the Yiddish theater. Unfortunately, tastes in
the 1960s Yiddish theater were not so folk-oriented, and the audiences were
decidedly less happy with folk music elements in theater. Nonetheless,
Itsik was one of the few who documented Klezmer music in post-war Europe
and published articles on Klezmer music.
Itsik was a mentor, inspiration, and primary source for Di Naye Kapelye and
myself. I met him in 1990, and continued to visit him for the next decade.
His wife, Cili, who passed away in 1997, was one of the best Yiddish
singers in Europe. Their apartment in Iasi was a wonderful and somewhat
anachronistic island of European Yiddishkeit and hospitality. He
generously provided me with old Yiddish songbooks - Itsik gave me a copy of
Beregovsky's "Jidiser Musik-Folklore" that Beregovsky had personally given
to him. He was delighted to meet younger scholars and musicians (which at
his age meant practically everyone), and even though his physical health
began to deteriorate three years ago his mind remained sharp to the end.
A story: In 1916 Itsik was sent with a group of children to the protection
of a bunker during the bombing of Iasi. By candlelight he read an early
science-fantasy book entitled "The Year 2000". As the bombs were exploding
he prayed "Please, just let me live to see the marvels of the year 2000".
And during all the tribulations of his life, including the Moldavian
pogroms, years in Siberia, the Holocaust, the siege of Kaliningrad, life
under Stalin, the Ceacesecu Years, and the wild 1990s, this was his
personal prayer in times of trouble. "Just let me live to see the year 2000!"
On New Year's eve, 1999, Michael Alpert, Francesco Spangnolo, Igor Francia
and I were with him, and he told us this story in hair-raising detail.
Then, raising a finger, he then bellowed out "Just one more year! Just give
me one more year! I want to see the year 2000!" Boruch Hashem, he was given
more than that.
Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2001
From: itzik gottesman
It is sad news that Itzik Shvarts passed away. His yiddish folklore contributions to the journal "Bukareshter shriftn" in the 70s and 80s are important as are his books of memoirs, particularly, "A Moldovish yingl". He had a very good ethnographic eye. He was one of three brothers who played important roles in the Yiddish cultural life of Chernovitz between the wars, and elsewhere after the war. My mother was his student in the 1930s in the Yiddish school in Chernovitz.
Simkhe Shvarts led a theater troupe, Kameleon-teater, in Chernovitz, an avant-garde amateur group that was know for stringing together folksongs into short scenes (a common theatrical idea in Eastern European Yiddish theater). My mother can recreate a couple of these scenes. Several of Simkhe Shvartses songs became quite well known, including "Nakht shikht" "Di tsaytung farkoyfer" which appear in a collection published by the third brother Yulien Shvarts in the late 40s. However Simkhe is most known for his brilliant yiddish marionette theater in Paris in the late 40s, early 50s "Hakl Bakl" for which Chagall did some sets. there is a short film of their "dovid and golies", based on a folk purim shpil. The jewish Museum in New York had an exhibition of puppets from this troupe and showed the film.
Yulien (Julien) also was a writer and published historical and critical works in Bucharest in the 60s and 70s.