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The hora, the hora! How Jewish wedding music got that way

(JTA) — When my wife and I were planning our wedding, we thought it might be cool to hire a klezmer band. This was during the first wave of the klezmer revival, when groups like The Klezmatics and The Klezmer Conservatory Band were rediscovering the genre of Jewish wedding music popular for centuries in Yiddish-speaking Eastern Europe.

Of course we also wanted to dance to rock ‘n’ roll and needed musicians who could handle Sinatra for our parents’ benefit, so we went with a more typical wedding band. Modernity won out over tradition. 

Or did it? Musician and musicologist Uri Schreter argues that the music heard at American Jewish weddings since the 1950s has become a tradition all its own, especially in the way Old World traditions coexist with contemporary pop. In a dissertation he is writing about the politics of Jewish music in the early postwar period, Schreter argues that American Jewish musical traditions — especially among secularized Conservative and Reform Jews — reflect events happening outside the wedding hall, including the Holocaust, the creation of Israel and the rapid assimilation of American Jews. 

That will be the subject of a talk he’ll be giving Monday for YIVO, titled “Yiddish to the Core: Wedding Music and Jewish Identity in Postwar New York City.” 

Because it’s June — and because I’m busy planning a wedding for one of my kids one year from now — I wanted to speak to Schreter about Jewish weddings and how they got that way. Our Zoom conversation Wednesday touched on the indestructibility of the hora, the role of musicians as “secular clergy” and why my Ashkenazi parents danced the cha-cha-cha.

Born in Tel Aviv, Schreter is pursuing his PhD in historical musicology at Harvard University. He is a composer, pianist and film editor.

Our conversation was edited for length and clarity.

I was struck by your research because we’re helping to plan a child’s wedding now. It’s the first wedding we’ve planned since our own, and we’re still asking the same questions, like, you’ve got to make sure the band can handle the hora and the Motown set and, I don’t know, “Uptown Funk.” Your research explores when that began — when American Jewish weddings began to combine the traditional and secular cultures. 

In the period that I’m talking about, post-World War II America, this is already a fact of life for musicians. A lot of my work is based on interviews with musicians from that period, folks now in their 80s and 90s. The oldest one I have started playing professionally in 1947 or ’48. Popular American music was played at Jewish weddings as early as the 1930s, but it’s a question of proportion — how much the wedding would feature foxtrots and swing and Lindy Hop and other popular dance tunes of the day, and how much of it is going to be klezmer music.

In the postwar period, most of the [non-Orthodox] American Jewish weddings would have featured American pop. For musicians who wanted to be in what they called the “club date” business, they needed to be able to do all these things. And some “offices” — a term they used for a business that books wedding bands — would have specialists that they could call on to do a Jewish wedding.

You’re writing about a period when the Conservative movement becomes the dominant American Jewish denomination. They have one foot in tradition, and the other in modernity. What does a wedding look like in 1958 when they’re building the big suburban synagogues? 

The difference is not so much denominational but between the wide spectrum of Orthodoxy and the diverse spectrum of what I describe as “secular.”

Meaning non-Orthodox — Reform, Conservative, etc.?

Right. Only in the sense that they are broadly speaking more secular than the Orthodox. And if so they are going to have, for the most part, one, maybe two sets of Jewish dance music — basically a medley of a few Jewish tunes. You might have a wedding where it could be a quarter of the music or even half would be Jewish music, but this would be for families that have a much stronger degree of attachment to traditional Jewish culture, and primarily Yiddish culture. 

There’s a few interrelated elements that shape this. Class is an important thing. For lower class communities in some areas, and I am talking primarily about New York, you’d have communities that are a little bit more secluded, probably speaking more Yiddish at home and hanging out more with other Jewish people from similar backgrounds. So these kinds of communities might have as much as a third or half of the music be Jewish, even though they consider themselves secular. It’s actually very similar to an Orthodox wedding, where you might also have half and half [Jewish and “American” music].

Jews in the higher socioeconomic class might, in general, be more Americanized, and want to project a more mainstream American identity. They might have as little as five minutes of Jewish music, just to mark it that they did this. Still, it’s very important for almost all of them to have those five minutes — because it’s one of the things that makes the wedding Jewish. I interviewed couples that were getting married in the ’50s, and a lot of them told me, “You need to have Jewish dance music for this to be a Jewish wedding.”

Composer and pianist Uri Schreter is pursuing his PhD in historical musicology at Harvard University. (Nicole Loeb)

When I was growing up in the 1970s at a suburban Reform synagogue on Long Island, klezmer was never spoken about. I don’t know any parents who owned klezmer albums. Then when I got married a decade later, it was in the middle of the klezmer revival. Am I right about that? Were the ’50s and ’60s fallow periods for klezmer?

You’re definitely right. Up until the mid-1920s, you still have waves of immigration coming from Eastern Europe. So you still have new people feeding this desire for the traditional culture. But as immigration stops and people basically tried to become American, the tides shift away from traditional klezmer. 

The other important thing that happens in the period that I’m looking at is both a negative rejection of klezmer and a positive attraction to other new things. Klezmer becomes associated with immigrant culture, so people who are trying to be American don’t want to be associated with it. It also becomes associated with the Holocaust, which is very problematic. Anything sounding Yiddish becomes associated for some people with tragedy. 

At the same time, and very much related to this, there’s the rise of Israeli popular culture, and especially Israeli folk songs. A really strong symbol of this is in the summer of 1950, when the Weavers record a song called “Tzena, Tzena,” a Hebrew Israeli song written in the 1940s which becomes a massive hit in America — it’s like number two in the Billboard charts for about 10 weeks. Israeli culture becomes this symbol of hope and the future and a new society that’s inspiring. This is all in very stark contrast to what klezmer represents for people. And a lot of the composers of Israeli folk song of its first decades had this very clearly stated ideology that they’re moving away from Ashkenazi musical traditions and Yiddish.

So the Jewish set at a wedding becomes an Israeli set.

At a typical Conservative wedding in the 1950s and ’60s, you might hear 10 minutes of Jewish music. The first one would be “Hava Nagila,” then they went to “Tzena, Tzena,” then they would do a song called “Artza Alinu,” which is today not very well known, and then “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem.” They are songs that are perceived to be Israeli folk songs, even though if you actually look at their origins, it’s a lot murkier than that. Like two of the songs I just mentioned are actually Hasidic songs that received Hebrew words in pre-state Palestine. Another probably comes from some sort of German, non-Jewish composer in 1900, but is in Hebrew and is perceived to be a representation of Israeli culture.

But even when the repertoire already represents a shift towards what’s easier to digest for American Jewry, the arrangements and the instruments and the musical ornamentation are essentially klezmer. The musicians I spoke to said they did this because they felt that this is the only way that it would actually sound Jewish. 

That is to say, to be “Jewish” the music had to gesture towards Ashkenazi and Yiddish, even if it were Israeli and Hebrew. As if Jews wanted to distance themselves from Eastern Europe — but only so far. 

Someone like Dave Tarras or the Epstein Brothers, musicians who were really at the forefront of klezmer in New York at the time, were really focused on bringing it closer to Ashkenazi traditions. Ashkenazi Jewish weddings in America are not the totality of Jewish weddings in America, and Israeli music itself is made up of all these different traditions — North African, Middle Eastern, Turkish, Greek — but in effect most of the really popular songs of the time were composed by Ashkenazi composers. Even “Hava Nagila” is based on a melody from the Sadigura Hasidic sect in Eastern Europe. 

Of course, if you’re a klezmer musician you’re allergic to “Hava Nagila.” 

Then-Vice President Joe Biden dances the hora with his daughter Ashley at her wedding to Howard Krein in Wilmington, Delaware on June 2, 2012. (White House/David Lienemann)

You spoke earlier about Latin music, which seemed to become a Jewish thing in the 1950s and ’60s — I know a few scholars have focused on Jews and Latinos and how Latin musical genres like the mambo and cha-cha-cha became popular in the Catskill Mountain resorts and at Jewish weddings. 

Latin music is not exclusively a Jewish thing, but it’s part of American popular culture by the late 40s. But Jews are very eagerly adopting it for sure. In the Catskills, you would often have two separate bands that alternated every evening. One is a Latin band, one is a generic American band playing everything else. And part of that is American Jews wanting to become American. And how do you become American? By doing what Americans do: by appropriating “exotic” cultures, in this case Latin. This is a way of being American.

Jews and Chinese food would be another example.

And by the way, in a similar vein, it also becomes very popular to dance to Israeli folk songs. A lot of people are taking lessons. A lot of people are going to their Jewish Y to learn Israeli folk dance.

I’ve been to Jewish weddings where the “Jewish set” feels very perfunctory — you know, dance a hora or two long enough to lift the couple on chairs and then let’s get to the Motown. Or the Black Eyed Peas because they were smart enough to include the words “Mazel Tov!” in the lyrics to “I Gotta Feeling.”

So that’s why we always hear that song! I will say though, even when the Jewish music appears superficial, it does have this deeper layer of meaning. It’s very interesting how, despite all these changes, and despite the secularization process of American Jewish weddings, the music still connects people to their Jewishness. These pieces of music are so meshed with other religious components. Of course, most people see this as secular. But a lot of people connect to their Jewish identity through elements such as Jewish music, Jewish food, certain Jewish customs that are easier to accommodate in your secular lifestyle, and the music specifically has this kind of flexibility, this fluidity between the sacred and the profane.

That’s beautiful. It sort of makes the musicians secular clergy.

It’s interesting that you say that. In his history of klezmer, Walter Zev Feldman refers to the klezmer — the word itself means “musician” — as a kind of a liminal character, an interstitial character between the secular and the mundane. The music is not liturgical, but when the klezmer or the band is playing, it is an interval woven with all these other religious components and things that have ritual meaning.


The post The hora, the hora! How Jewish wedding music got that way appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Canada’s economic growth projected to be about 1% in the first half of 2024

Canada is a country with a thriving Jewish community and has traditionally offered the security of a strong economy for residents. The national economic outlook is naturally something that everyone in Canada’s Jewish community keeps track of – especially those involved in business in the various provinces.

With this in mind, the July 2023 Monetary Policy Report from the Bank of Canada made for interesting reading, projecting a moderate economic growth figure of around 1% for the first half of 2024. This is in line with growth figures that had been forecast for the second half of 2023, and sees the country’s economy remain on a stable footing.

Steady projected growth for first half of 2024

Although projected economic growth of around 1% in early 2024 is not as impressive as figures of around 3.4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2023, it is certainly no cause for alarm. But what might be behind it?

Higher interest rates are one major factor to consider and have had a negative impact on household spending nationally. This has effectively seen people with less spending power and businesses in Canada generating less revenue as a result.

Interest rate rises have also hit business investments nationally, and less money is being channelled into this area to fuel Canada’s economic growth. When you also factor in how the weak foreign demand for Canadian goods and services has hit export growth lately, the projected GDP growth figure for early 2024 is understandable.

Growth in second half of 2024 expected

Although the above may make for interesting reading for early 2024, the Bank of Canada’s report does show that economic growth is expected to pick up in the second half of the year. This is projected to be due to the decreasing effect of high interest rates on the Canadian economy and a stronger foreign demand for the country’s exports.

Moving forward from this period, it is predicted that inflation will remain at around 3% as we head into 2025, and hit the Bank of Canada’s inflation target of 2% come the middle of 2025. All of this should help the country’s financial status remain stable and prove encouraging for business leaders in the Jewish community.

Canada’s economic growth mirrors iGaming’s rise

When you take a look at the previous growth figures Canada has seen and also consider the growth predicted for 2024 (especially in the second half of the year), it is clear that the country has a vibrant, thriving economy.

This economic growth is something that can be compared with iGaming’s recent rise as an industry around the country. In the same way as Canada has steadily built a strong economy over time, iGaming has transformed itself into a powerful, flourishing sector.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that Canadian iGaming has been a major contributor to the sustained growth seen in the country’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry, which rose by around 1.9% in Q2 of 2023. The healthy state of online casino play in Canada is also evidenced by how many customers the most popular casino platforms attract and how the user experience these operators offer has enabled iGaming in the country to take off.

This, of course, is also something that translates to the world stage, where global iGaming revenues in 2023 hit an estimated $95 billion. iGaming’s global market volume is also pegged to rise to around $130 billion by 2027. These kinds of figures represent a sharp jump for iGaming worldwide and show how the sector is on the ascent.

Future economic outlook for Canada in line with global expectations

When considering the Canadian economic outlook for 2024, it is often useful to look at how this compares with global financial predictions. In addition to the rude health of iGaming in Canada being reflected in global online casino gaming, the positive economic outlook for the country is also broadly in line with expectations for many global economies.

Global growth is also predicted to rise steadily in the second half of 2024 before becoming stronger in 2025. This should be driven by the weakening effects of high interest rates on worldwide economic prosperity. With rate cuts in Canada already expected after Feb 2024’s inflation report, this could happen in the near future.

The performance of the US economy is always of interest in Canada, as this is the country’s biggest trading partner. Positive US Q2 performances in 2023, powered by a strong labor market, good consumer spending levels and robust business investments, were therefore a cause for optimism. As a US economy that continues to grow is something that Canadian businesses welcome, this can only be a healthy sign.

Canada set for further growth in 2024

Local news around Canada can cover many topics but the economy is arguably one of the most popular. A projected GDP growth figure of around 1% for Canada’s economy shows that the financial state of the country is heading in the right direction. An improved financial outlook heading into the latter half of 2024/2025 would make for even better reading, and the national economy should become even stronger.

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The Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Canada

Online gambling has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years. While many jurisdictions have legalized land-based gambling, it hasn’t applied to online platforms. Nonetheless, Canada is one nation that has legalized online gambling with their provinces’ licensing and regulating sites.

Nonetheless, Canadians of legal age can enjoy playing their favourite online games where available. So many games like slots, blackjack, and roulette still maintain their popularity even in the digital sense.  Want to learn about what’s legal in Canada for online gambling? Let’s take a look.

What is legal for online gambling in Canada?

What is the best online casino in Canada? The list we provide you here should be a good start. It’s also important to note that most Canadian provinces do not have laws that prohibit offshore online casinos.

Many provinces provide licensing to online casinos. They even regulate them as well. For example, Alberta and British Columbia have sites regulated by their respective governing bodies. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) allows legal online gambling and oversees the services it offers to Maritime provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are some caveats to address. In Newfoundland and Labrador, online gambling that is not offered by the ALC is considered illegal. Therefore, it is the only Canadian province as of 2024 that prohibits offshore options.

In terms of the legal age, there are three provinces where the legal age is 18: Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The remaining provinces establish 19 as the legal age for gambling including online.

Who are the regulatory bodies for gambling in Canada?

At the Federal level, the Canadian Gaming Association is the regulatory body for gambling in Canada. Thus, they cover both land-based and online gambling in the country. There are also provincial and regional regulatory bodies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) – which covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

The Western Canada Lottery Corporation covers Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. A handful of provinces also have their regulatory bodies covering lottery and gaming.

Canada requires online casinos that wish to accept players from the country to adhere to regulations and licensing. These licenses are provided by provincial regulatory bodies. When licensed, online casinos must follow the regulations and security standards.

However, there is the belief that many of the laws about gambling in Canada may be outdated. This could be because these laws were created long before the advent of the Internet. Therefore, such laws may need to be modernized. Nonetheless, online gambling for the most part is legal, just dependent on the province.

Are there any legal grey areas to discuss?

The grey area that is considered a concern pertains to the use of offshore sites. As mentioned earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is believed to be the only province that prohibits it. Even online casinos with no licensing by Canadian or provincial authorities accept residents of the country.

On the players’ end, many Canadians are allowed to play at online casinos. However, they may be restricted from certain platforms. This is to ensure that the players themselves are protected from unknowingly playing on platforms that may be illegal. 

What are the other laws and regulations about online gambling in Canada?

Online casinos have implemented measures for responsible gambling. This includes providing support and resources to problem gamblers on their site. They are also restricted regarding the marketing and advertising aspects of promoting their platform. 

One restriction of note is that marketing that is targeted at minors is prohibited. Another prohibits professional athletes from appearing in online casino ads in Ontario.

Even offshore casinos must adhere to these laws and regulations. Especially if they have obtained a license from the provincial bodies that allow them to operate.

Canada’s online gambling is legal – but will things change

As it stands right now, the legality of online gambling in Canada seems to fall under the purview of provincial laws and regulations. Canadian citizens must perform their due diligence further to see which online casinos are allowed by their respective provinces. Just because it may be legal in one province, it may not be the same in others.

Nonetheless, the question is: will any laws relax certain restrictions? Will Newfoundland and Labrador change their tune regarding offshore casinos? It’s unclear what the future holds – but watch this space for any changes about online gambling in Canada.  

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Obituaries

Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN

Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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