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KlezKamp, c/o Living Traditions
KlezKamp 1996, by Ari Davidow
Over December vacation, seven of the Klezmaniacs, the teenage klezmer band of the North Shore, including Michelle Bernstein, Gabe Cooper, Jason Moses, Shira Shazeer, Susan Yackolow, director Cantor Ken Richmond, and myself had the opportunity to attend "KlezKamp", a weeklong immersion in Klezmer music and Yiddish culture at The Paramount Hotel in the Catskill Mountains of New York. KlezKamp was attended by musicians and Yiddish Culture enthusiasts from The United States, Canada, Switzerland, Israel, Belgium and The Netherlands.
We had the luxury of traveling to the Catskills in a spacious and comfortable van. As we crossed the Hudson River and traveled through small New York towns, listening to a recording of The Klezmatics, I knew we were getting closer to the Mecca of Klezmer music. We arrived at the Paramount Hotel, Wednesday in late afternoon. Suitcases were scattered around the lobby and people were crowding around every piano with their instruments to share Klezmer tunes. I knew it would be a week full of celebration.
Classes included Jewish Songs, ensemble groups, Yiddish, The History of Klezmer and more. The classes brought Yiddishkeit alive and gave us a desire to preserve the culture. The classes were taught by well known Klezmer musicans including English born Merlin Shepard, Jim Guttman of The Klezmer Conservatory Band, Frank London from the Klezmatics, Adrianna Cooper and others. The teachers were enthusiastic and dedicated Yiddish culture experts and musicians.
Every night, live music and dancing took place in the ballroom or tantzhal. We danced to lively, Freylekh music into the early morning hours and it felt like a wedding that lasted for a whole week. The dancing was led by a professional Yiddish dancing instructor who taught us traditional dances such as the kazatskeh, sirba, hora and of course, the bottle dance led by our very own Shira Shazeer.
Perhaps the most beautiful experience at KlezKamp was celebrating Shabbes as a community. On Friday afternoon classes ended early so people could prepare for Shabbes. People put on their Shabbes clothes and many wore kippot. Women crowded downstairs to light candles and say the brachah for Shabbes. Many attended Kabbalat Shabbat service. Myself along with other members of The Klezmanaics attended the egalitarian service led by a conservative Rabbi and Cantor. We had a beautiful davening experience by sharing different tunes and ways to recite the blessings. After services we washed our hands in preparation for dinner. We recited the Kiddush and Hamotzi as we wished each other a Gut Shabbes. We remained at the table after dinner to recite Birkat Hamazon and sing Hebrew songs in a rousing Chasidic style by banging feverously on the table.
After dinner we stood in a circle and sang nigunim. Nigun in Hebrew means melody but in Yiddish it translates as a song without words. Nigunim are sung on Shabbes without the use of instruments in order to have shomeir shabbes. According to halachah, instruments cannot be used on Shabbes because in the days of The Holy Temple, Jews would bring their lutes, horns, simbols and other instruments to The Temple to praise G-d. After The Temple was destroyed, Jews traditionally stopped playing instruments on Shabbes as a sign of mourning. Nigunim are commonly sung on Shabbes by Chasidic Jews. Songs were used to build a bridge between themselves and G-d. The use of nigunim puts one into a ecstatic or trance like states which help communicate bodies and souls with G-d.
Although this was our second year attending KlezKamp, we found the experience to be different than the first. There were new people to meet, different classes to take and a different theme of the program. The theme this year focused on a "Jewtopia", current and historical efforts by Jews to find utopia. For the Klezmaniacs, a week of borscht and gefilte fish, shmoozing, and playing Klezmer music all day and night seemed like our idea of "Jewtopia." We can't wait until KlezKamp 2000.
If you would like to hear the Klezmaniacs, some upcoming concerts include February 5 at the Tremont St. Shul in Cambridge, March 12 at the M.I.T Folk Festival, April 2 at Klezfest 2000 in Swampscott and May 9 at the Project Manna Concert in Newton. Our CD and tape is available at local Jewish book stores and gift shops.
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Contents copyright © 1999 by Miriam Kaul. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Page last revised 11 June, 2007.