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Ashkenaz: A Festival of New Yiddish Culture
Digs Deep into Authentic Yiddish Culture, Global-Style

Toronto, August 12, 2004… With Madonna singing in Yiddish for her friends, jewelry designers modeling products after symbols of Jewish faith and revelers everywhere returning to Yiddish roots, there’s no denying the widespread global resurgence of Yiddish culture. Ashkenaz: A Festival of New Yiddish Culture, draws the world’s best Yiddish talents to celebrate authentic contemporary and traditional Jewish arts and culture.

In just one week the public can experience Ethiopian-Israeli-Canadian theatre, Argentinean klezmer, Polish film, music from Holland and France, and international photography.  Generations can come together over Yiddish humour and bagels, discover history through papercutting, dance along with a French-Canadian Gypsy band or drum with Middle Eastern percussionists. Everyone is invited to attend, let loose and experience a whirlwind week of world culture with a celebratory Yiddish core.  Ashkenaz kicks off on August 31 with preview events building up to a bursting festival weekend Saturday September 4 through Monday September 6, at Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West, Toronto. Ashkenaz: A Festival of New Yiddish Culture is presented by the Ashkenaz Foundation in partnership with Harbourfront Centre.


On a special Ashkenaz commission, Canadian pianist Marilyn Lerner performs the world premiere of her original score for the 1923 silent comedy East and West. Starring Molly Picon, one of the most prominent actresses of Yiddish stage and screen, the film pokes a satirical finger at the stereotypes of the Jewish world shortly after World War I. Film fanatics are offered a rare opportunity for comparison and contrast when the film is re-screened with improvised music by Klezmer en Buenos Aires.

The joy and pathos of Eastern Europe’s most lively party music come to life as Ashkenaz throws a window open on the full spectrum of Klezmer. With Klezmer En Buenos Aires, power duo César Lerner and Marcelo Moguilevsky improvise their own language with elements of Argentinean folk music, jazz, contemporary music and tango, drawing rich inspiration through their roots.

France’s Les Yeux Noirs and Quebec’s Manouche delight with energetic, young rock-tinged gypsy flavour, while Jeszcze Raz connects the dots to Middle Eastern music and Shtreiml throws in a dash of jazz. Alicia Svigals-led, star-packed Mikveh and Canada’s finest all-girl klezmer band, The Pomegranate Squad crank estrogen levels up to eleven.  Beyond The Pale forges its own path to a contemporary sound, dishing a healthy serving of North American bluegrass, reggae and funk with their traditional European folk stylings. Berliners, Khupe continue to defy paradoxes with improvisation and innovation that remains true to Klezmer’s roots. The legendary Klezmatics return to Toronto for the first time in over five years, while Dutch roots revivalists Ot Azoj enjoy their premiere in the city. Hu Tsa Tsa charm with their authentic chamber Klezmer sound and Stempenyu’s Dream honours the original klezmer and Jewish compositions of violinist Steven Greenman. The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band sets the stage spinning with fun-filled, turbo-charged klezmer led by Toronto trumpeter David Buchbinder.

Breaking away from the craze, the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir and Lachan Choir reach into the rich heritage of Yiddish and Yiddish-Canadian folk music. The Decadent Berlin in Concert re-discovers brilliant songs from Weimar Germany in a provocative cabaret setting. Starring Adrienne Cooper, Marilyn Lerner, Kurt & Annette Bjorling and Mitch Smolkin and Beyond the Pale, the All Star Yiddish Concert brings Canada’s finest together with the world’s most exciting Yiddish stars. Meanwhile, Raquy and the Cavemen blend Greek, Iranian, Indian and Turkish drumming styles over hard rocking electronics.

Reel Ashkenaz Film Series

Along with the Lerner and Klezmer en Buenos-Aires accompanied screenings of the 1923 silent film, East and West, Reel Ashkenaz lets film buffs choose from a genre-spanning buffet of some of the last century’s most compelling, diverse and innovative Yiddish films.

The classics of the golden age of Yiddish cinema are highlighted with screenings of French-Czech cult horror classic The Golem (1936) and musical gem The Singing Blacksmith (1939). Set in czarist Russia, The Singing Blacksmith stars celebrated cantor Moishe Oysher in the title role of a hard-drinking, womanizing blacksmith struggling to resist temptation. The Golem, a gripping precursor to Frankenstein, recounts the classic Jewish folk legend of a vicious dictator felled by a giant, destructive clay Golem.

In Catskill Honeymoon (1948), a Jewish resort hotel celebrates a pair of longtime customers' fiftieth wedding anniversary by staging an old-fashioned Borscht Belt show complete with singers, dancers, comedians, and impressionists, concluding with a fervent musical tribute to the year-old State of Israel.

Closing the arc from golden past to renaissance, the twenty-first century resurgence of Yiddish culture in Poland is the subject of veteran documentarian and musician Yale Strom's film, Klezmer on Fish Street (2004).


From purely traditional, to bittersweet contemporary, to raucous musical and family fun, Ashkenaz proudly presents Yiddish theatre in its many guises.

The Yiddish Radio Hour celebrates the geniuses and important recordings of Yiddish radio in Ontario in the 30s, 40s, and 50s in an unprecedented piece of musical theatre directed by Theresa Tova. Direct from France, Ecole Jacques Le Coq graduate Rafael Goldwaser presents traditional Yiddish theatre at its purest in his one man show S’brent, It Burns, based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem. Meanwhile, Yossi Vassa, “the Eddie Murphy of Israel,” opens a window on the experiences of immigrants to the Holy Land with his moving and often hilarious personal account of his 700-kilometer journey on foot from Ethiopia, It Sounds Better in Amharic. Dynamic Dutch band Ot Azoj presents ZETS!: a musical theatre piece about a group of musicians. For the youngest theatre fans in the family, Kids and Yiddish: Farmisht and Far-fetched! is a 90% English, 10% Yiddish, 100% fun introduction to Yiddish Culture.


Susan Leviton leads audiences to discover Jewish art and its history through parpercutting with Ashkenazy Papercutting. Once inspired, the curious will have several opportunities throughout the weekend to try papercutting first hand with Leviton’s workshops. The Ashkenaz Salon, Should We Rap in Yiddish? raises a lively discussion about contemporary artists who challenge traditional ideas of Yiddish culture by doing everything from performing Jewish hip hop to dressing in drag. Meanwhile, Re-Awakening Jewish Ritual takes a look at artists who are re-interpreting the significance of Jewish ritual through multimedia, music and theatre.

People of the Book: Ashkenaz Literary Programme

More than an opportunity to meet, mingle, and hear some of North America’s radical emerging Ashkenazi writers, Ashkenaz literary events provoke and disrupt while celebrating innovation. Without Limits calls out visionary authors Sheila Heti, Hal Niedzviecki, Nelly Reifler and Adam Sol to explore the dangers of limitlessness in an age without limits. The Dangers of Diaspora sees David Bezmozgis, Jonathan Goldstein, Margo Rabb and Joseph Skibell revel in the rich cultural past that makes them diasporic Jews while simultaneously probing their ever-shifting worlds for a sense of place and identity.

Visual Art

Ashkenaz visual art exhibits, workshops and lectures call upon the public to remember a past full of potential and draw inspiration from Jewish heritage.

Susan Leviton leads audiences to discover Jewish art and its history through parpercutting with Ashkenazy Papercutting. Once inspired, the curious will have several opportunities throughout the weekend to try papercutting first hand with Leviton’s papercutting workshops.
A memoir of a nation who had a past but was denied a future, international touring exhibit And I Still See Their Faces: Images of Polish Jews calls on the public to look into the eyes of Poland’s Jews before the Holocaust to see the scientists, poets, artists, doctors, lawyers, rogues and adventurers they might have been and to contemplate the human promise that was lost.


Ashkenaz family events use music, fun and storytelling to get the whole family interested in Yiddish culture. Kids and Yiddish: Farmisht and Far-fetched!, the latest offering from New York director, Joanne Borts introduces the world of Yiddish culture to the next budding generation of artists and Yiddishists with a multi-media spectacle featuring a cast of young performers, puppets, and Klezmer music with a twist. In Sruli & Lisa’s Oy Vey! Klezmer for Kids, the orchestra of two mixes a bit of classic Yiddish humour and stories of life in the shtetl with song and dance.  With Rachel and Richard: Stories For Children, award-winning author and painter Richard Ungar launches the third book in his popular Rachel’s Library series.

Participatory Events

Many Ashkenaz events compel audiences to become part of the show, not just watch it. Participation is what makes the experience.  Ashkenaz patrons can march along with hundreds of artists, musicians and stiltwalkers in the Ashkenaz Pageant, created by Shadowland Theatre, or partake in an uplifting and spiritual Havdalah ceremony with the help of Storahtelling. And because it’s impossible to watch so many astounding performances without wanting to try it out first hand, Ashkenaz offers audiences the chance to try Middle Eastern percussion with Raquy and the Cavemen, dance with Helen Winkler and the Ashkenaz Dance Band, and discover the intricate and ancient art of papercutting in a weekend-long workshop with Susan Leviton.

For more information about all performances, the public can call 416-973-4000 or visit and


For dates, times, venue and ticketing information, a complete schedule is available on request through Heather Kelly Communications.

Media Contacts:

For Ashkenaz:
Heather Kelly Communications

For Harbourfront Centre:
Shane Gerard, 416-973-4655,

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