The East Valley JCC started 2019 off on a high note, with nearly 1,200 people attending the center’s first-ever Klezmer Fest.

The event, in partnership with the City of Chandler, was a three-day celebration of Klezmer music.

The Klezmer Fest kicked off on Jan. 10 at Chandler Center for the Arts with the screening of the film “The Last Klezmer: Leopold Kozlowski, His Life and Music.” After the film, the film’s director Yale Strom and his wife, Elizabeth Schwartz, performed and answered questions. Before the program began, representatives from the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival, Jewish Free Loan, Jewish News, the Jewish Tuition Organization, the City of Chandler and the EVJCC displayed materials and chatted with the more than 150 attendees.

Klezmer Fest sponsors and partners included Chandler Center for the Arts, the City of Chandler, the Arizona Jewish Historical Society,  the Anti-Defamation League, the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival,  the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix, Jewish Free Loan, Jewish News, Jewish Tuition Organization and Carole and Alan Zeichick.

High school students from Chandler High School, as well as teens from the EVJCC’s Ilene Blau Teen Leadership Institute, volunteered at Chandler Center for the Arts, checking in guests and distributing programs. Coincidentally, it turned out that one of the Chandler High teens was a former pre-K student of EVJCC Early Childhood Learning Center Director Pam Morris!

On Friday, hundreds of students from the Chandler Unified District visited the Chandler Center for the Arts to watch a short documentary about klezmer music then watch and participate in an interactive presentation by Yale Strom.

The Klezmer Fest culminated on Sunday with more than 500 people attending the Klezmer Music Festival, which included performances by four bands; a Yiddish Experience with Yiddish and genealogy workshops; children’s activities, including a petting zoo and face painting; and kosher food provided by Chick-In. Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke stopped by to say hello.

Featured bands were Rural Street Klezmer Band from Temple Emanuel of Tempe, who opened the festival; Jerusafunk (with special guest dancer, Roma); the Chai Tones; and Yale Strom accompanied by his wife Elizabeth Schwartz and Fred Benedetti. The festival concluded under sunny blue skies with a jam session with musicians from all four acts. Stu Siefer served as the music director.

Sandra Bernoff, an EVJCC member who spearheaded the Klezmer Fest together with Hadassah Baldinger, EVJCC assistant executive director, and Rabbi Michael Beyo, EVJCC CEO, coordinated The Yiddish Experience, which featured a variety of workshops, including how to conduct an ancestry search, Yiddish in America, Yiddish curses & insults, Yiddish poetry and what’s happening in the Yiddish world today. Speakers were Janette Silverman, Leon Gildin, Phyllis Avalon and Bernoff. Ruth Gold of the Yiddish Book Center, based in Amherst, Mass., shared information about the center. and the Yiddish Book Center also provided raffle prizes.

Chick-In, a kosher restaurant on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus, provided the food, which included falafel, bourekas, hummus, shakshuka, and Israeli salad. Tikiz provided sweet iced treats and there was also popcorn and cotton candy.

Children’s activities included a petting zoo, a bounce house, face-painting, an art room and a balloon man.

Thank you to all the performers, volunteers, sponsors and attendees who made this such a successful event! We’d love to hear feedback from participants so we can make it even better next year! To fill out a feedback form, click here.

– Leisah Woldoff