Wending Through the World of Yidishkayt

By Erica Brody

Published May 09, 2003, issue of May 09, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Eve Sicular began drumming when she was 8. But it wasn’t until her senior year at Harvard — she got her bachelor’s in Russian history and literature — that she first heard klezmer. She followed the suggestion of a musician friend and checked out the Klezmer Conservancy Band. Her reaction? “Wow!”

In 1989, Sicular attended KlezKamp for the first time, and it was then that the “klezmer bug” took hold. When she found out about the gay and lesbian contingent at KlezKamp, she realized what had for her been three disparate identities — as out lesbian, as Jew and as folk musician — could be reconciled. “I was always feeling I had to have a split personality,” she said.

These days, Sicular is still splitting herself, but in a good way: She is head of two of New York City’s most prominent klezmer ensembles — Metropolitan Klezmer and the all-female Isle of Klezbos. In a rare performance next week, all the members of both bands will come together on a double bill to celebrate the synchronized release of Metropolitan Klezmer’s “Surprise Finds” and “Greetings From the Isle of Klezbos.”

Sicular laughed easily on Saturday as she talked to the Forward from her East Village apartment about the twists and turns her life has taken, weaving its way around yidishkayt. A summer studying Yiddish at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and her Russian-language skills made easy the six months she spent working with immigrants at the Jewish Family Services and, later, as a program assistant for the Museum of Modern Art’s Yiddish film retrospective in late 1990. That led to a stint, from 1992 to 1994, as film and photo curator at YIVO, where “The Celluloid Closet” by Vito Russo, who died a few years earlier of AIDS, inspired a critical study of her own, “The Celluloid Closet in Yiddish Film,” upon which she lectures widely and which appears as an essay in the 2002 anthology “Queer Jews” (Routledge).

In 1994 Metropolitan Klezmer was born, branching out in 1998 to Isle of Klezbos. Sicular was quick to emphasize that while she might tend to “bring the music in… we really are a collaborative process.” Whether Sicular or one of her fellow musicians has uncovered a particular song, members of the band in question all come together to arrange and transform it anew. Sicular’s multitalented bandmates come from — and are active in — musical projects and genres across the board, encompassing everything from Afro-Caribbean to zydeco, including, but certainly not limited to, ska, salsa, jazz, opera, calypso, R & B, bluegrass and merengue. Most of these influences crop up on the two new albums.

Metropolitan Klezmer’s “Surprising Finds,” the band’s third album, features Ismail Butera on accordion; Rick Faulkner on trombone; Pam Fleming on trumpet and flugelhorn; Michael Hess on violin, ney flute and kanun (a 78-sting zither); Dave Hofstra on bass and tuba; Deborah Karpel on vocals; Debra Kreisberg on clarinet and alto sax, and Sicular on drums. The Isle of Klezbos’s first full-length album, “Greetings From,” features the women of Metropolitan Klezmer, as well as Rachelle Garniez on accordion and vocals, and Catherine Popper on bass.

“Surprising Finds” traverses a great deal of ground, musically and historically. In addition to Metropolitan Klezmer originals, there are revamped songs from the Yiddish stage and Soviet theater and long-forgotten Yiddish favorites, as well as snippets of song from Karpel’s grandfather, settings of 19th-century Yiddish poetry and even a tune from “Oliver.” Its liner notes alone provide a veritable yidishkayt survey, lovingly and literately recounting the provenance of each of the songs while bringing to life a half-dozen different worlds, often including original Yiddish lyrics printed side-by-side their transliterations and English translations.

“The challenge” in finding old treasures and transforming them into something new and wonderful, said Sicular, is “to go beyond the mainstream.”

“Surprising Finds” and “Greetings From the Isle of Klezbos” can be purchased from the Web site www.cdbaby.com or by calling 800-BUY-MY-CD.

The bands perform in Brooklyn at 8:30 p.m. on May 13 at Galapagos, the Williamsburg art and performance space housed in a former mayonnaise factory at 70 N. 6th St.; 21 and older, free (718-782-5188 or www.galapagosartspace.org).






Find us on Facebook!
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.