The Schmooze

Being a Jewish Musician in Belarus

Image by Ivan Dribas. Courtesy of Minsker Kapelye.

There is a story in my family about my paternal great-grandfather Yosl (Yeysef), who served as a clarinetist in the Russian Army military band. During World War I, he was captured as a prisoner of war and was held in Germany until a year after the war ended. When he returned to his hometown of Mogilev in late 1919 with his clarinet in hand, all he saw was devastation and famine, and he was forced to trade his instrument for bread to feed his family.

I started to play the clarinet at the age of 13 as a second instrument after first learning the piano. As a child, I dreamed of becoming a symphony orchestra conductor, and it seemed important to master an orchestral instrument. But as soon as I became interested in Jewish music I knew I had discovered a powerful tool to express myself as a Jewish musician. For my zeyde’s clarinet, I like to think that it was a kind of reincarnation.

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Being a Jewish Musician in Belarus

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