Remembering the Great Preserver of Traditional Jewish Music, Velvel Pasternak

June 18, 2019 | Greer Fay Cashman
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Much like the great Russian-Jewish writer, activist, and ethnographer S. An-sky (1863-1920), Velvel Pasternak—who died last week at the age of eighty-five—dedicated much of his life to recording, transcribing, and publishing traditional Jewish music. Greer Fay Cashman writes:

Pasternak was born in Toronto, to Polish immigrant parents, and made a sufficiently important contribution to Jewish music to receive an obituary in the editorial sections of several American newspapers. . . . In the U.S., primarily New York, he would visit ḥasidic residential enclaves with a tape recorder in his hand to capture the melodies of the Modzitz, Lubavitch, Vizhnitz, Breslov, and Ger dynasties for posterity. His mission was to ensure that they would not become extinct.

But he did not limit himself to ḥasidic music. All Jewish music—Yiddish and Ladino, cantorial, choral, and klezmer, and the traditional songs sung by North African and Asian Jews—found its way into the many anthologies and essays he published. He even managed to find, record, and arrange Jewish music that had been composed in the ghettos and the camps during the Holocaust. In fact . . . he published more than 150 volumes of Jewish music.

Through his Tara Publications, which he founded in 1971, he became the largest publisher of Jewish music around the globe. . . . Pasternak also produced and conducted ḥasidic concerts, thus exposing both the exhilarating joy and the poignant pathos of ḥasidic music to audiences far removed from the religious movement.

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