Monday, July 25, 2011

Ukraine -- thoughtful report on the L'viv klez fest; virtually and non-virtually Jewish

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

My friend Sarah Zarrow is just wrapping up a stint of living and researching in L'viv. I have recommended her blog -- her most recent post is a thoughtful take and description -- with pictures -- of the L'viv Klez Fest, which I have never been to.
Perhaps because of demographic changes, sometimes festivals feel like a Jewish version of “add women and stir.” Take some hummus, some d minor, and some hava nagila…poof! Instant Jewish. Part of the festival is a street fair on Staroevreiska (the old Jewish street, in the oldest section of town). “Jewish” is sort of a stand-in, it seems, for old, antique, quaint. Laundry hangs from some cords, signs for LvivKlezFest hang on others.

I get fake Jewish stuff, some times. I don’t always find it pleasing, or even acceptable, but I don’t get offended; I often can see where it comes from, even if I don’t like it. And I admit a certain fondness for it, sometimes. Fiddler-esque kitsch has an appeal. What I don’t get is when Jews really buy into it. It’s like black people in blackface, and it’s not done (at least, it doesn’t look like it here) self-consciously, as burlesque….I got pretty grumpy, until I was knocked out of my snottiness by two people: Harald Binder, the President of the Board of the Center for Urban History, who made the excellent point that a vision of Jews as culture makers, party-throwers, and generally happy and friendly people would be better than the general view of Jews in L’viv now. And Zhenya reminded me that people were happy, and that happiness wasn’t a bad thing. Which I forget, even after being away from New York for two months.
The Festival seems to be quite theatrical, as attested by these clips from last year, showing a performance of a "Jewish Wedding" --

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