The Baruch Brothers Choir: Serbian Jewry’s 136-Year-Old Singing Group

April 15 2015

Serbia’s Jewish community today numbers only about 3,300 souls; among its most enduring institutions is a choir, as Amy Guttman writes:

[T]he Serbian-Jewish Singing Society—one of the oldest Jewish choirs in the world, today known as the Baruch Brothers Choir—has prospered, despite having been silenced during World Wars I and II. Today, having survived genocide, Communism, the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, and a dwindling Jewish population, the group is larger than at any time in its history—even though less than 20 percent of its members are Jewish.

But that doesn’t seem to bother anyone—not the Ministry of Culture, which requests the choir’s presence at important commemorations; not the Jewish community; and not the singers. . . .

When the group was founded in 1879, said the group’s thirty-one-year-old conductor, Stefan Zekic, “It was to cherish Orthodox Jewish and Serbian music, and create some kind of bridge between two people—Serbian and Jewish people.” That sense of shared purpose will be marked on May 10, when the choir will perform at an official ceremony marking the liberation of Staro Sajmiste, a concentration camp on the outskirts of Belgrade where half of Serbia’s Jews are believed to have perished. . . .

The choir performed its first postwar concert in 1948, but it wasn’t until it was invited to sing in Jerusalem four years later that the group really found its feet again. Concert pianist Andreja Preger conducted the performance; at 103, he is the group’s oldest member. Preger survived the Holocaust as a partisan and later became one of a substantial number who met their future spouses at rehearsals.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arts & Culture, Balkan Jewry, Holocaust, Jewish music, Yugoslavia


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy