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Three Peretzshulniks (l-r): Rochelle Zucker, Ron Charach, Sharon Love

Toronto’s Ashkenaz Festival, now in its 12th biennial year, is North America’s largest festival of global Jewish music and culture.

This year’s festival was held between August 28th and Sept. 3rd, 2018, with most of the action having taken place over the long weekend at Harbourfront.
The international and vibrant Jewish music and cultural scene was reflected by artists from many far away countries such as Italy, Poland, the former Soviet Union, Brazil, and Israel, to name a few. There was even a 23-person ensemble of singers and musicians from Melbourne, Australia!
Among the over 250 artists were several names familiar to Winnipeg audiences. Pianist and former Winnipeg resident Marilyn Lerner appeared throughout the festival.
The Klezmer group, “Beyond the Pale”, author Michael Wex, pianist Nina Shipilisky, clarinetist Michael Winograd (who was here in June along with Joanne Borts at the Mameloshen concert) and Winnipeg-born Adeena Karasick were all featured performers.

Actress and singer Theresa Tova hosted the first late-night cabaret. Frank London of Klezmatics fame, this year’s musician-in-residence, headlined the Klezmer weekend held here in Winnipeg in October of 2015. The theme of this year’s festival was that of “Women in Jewish Music and Culture. Tango Yona featured Winnipeg’s own Jane Enkin on vocals. Through songs in tango rhythm, the plight of women throughout the early part of the 20th century was brought to life.
This program, arranged by Enkin and sung in impeccable Yiddish, wove the fabric of their often precarious lives, which were filled with pain, sorrow, hope, love and joy. This concert, characterized by beautiful tunes and melodies, was well received by a standing room only audience. Musical accompaniment by great musicians on violin, bass, cello, and accordion rounded out the performance.

Of special interest to this writer was the increased amount of Yiddish language content as opposed to previous years. I had the pleasure of attending the opening concert with fellow Peretz School alumnus Ron Charach. Billed as “Reflections of a Lost Poet: The Life and Works of Itsik Manger”, Yiddish theatre actor Avi Hoffman traced the life of Manger through monologue and song.
Hoffman is best known for his portrayal of Willy Loman in the Yiddish version of ‘Death of a Salesman’. Another opening night act, from New York, featured Yiddish songstress Eleanor Reissa, along with Frank London’s Klezmer Brass Allstars. I also enjoyed the Bashevis Singers, a trio from Melbourne who sang many of the old Yiddish favourites!

Ashkenaz has always been a great place for “people watching”. Former Winnipeggers spotted over the weekend incuded: Linda Litwack, Rhea (Block) Tregebov, Sharna Searle, Candy Zell, Brent Pearlman, Alta (Rutman) Sigesmund, Rhoda Jesierski, Joanne Abrams, sisters Sophie Tapper and Fay Zeidman (Ingberman), Gerry Posner and Perla (Frohlich) Riesenbach.
As always, with so much going on by way of music, film, theatre and lectures, it was often difficult to choose what to take in. Yashar koach to artistic director Eric Stein (who also performed with “Beyond the Pale”), his committee, and the volunteers who worked tirelessly to make this festival such a success. Were they also responsible for the fantastic weather? Maybe!
One thing that I know is that I am definitely planning to be back for Ashkenaz 2020!

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