Rare Recordings of Jewish Folk Music at a Ukrainian Library

In the 1990s, librarians at the Vernadsky Library in Kiev discovered a cache of unmarked containers. Once opened, they disclosed an archive of Jewish folk music from the early-20th century, including not only song lyrics and sheet music but also recordings that would not be studied systematically for another decade. Jake Marmer tells the archive’s story:

[L]ong before any serious recording technology was invented, without much funding or publicity, groups of ambitious scholars set out on ethnographic expeditions into the heartland of the Ukrainian shtetl world, aiming to capture the community’s folklore, and amassed a treasure trove of material. In recent years, these fragile, virtually unknown recordings were digitized and released in CD format. There are currently nine volumes of music out, with the three latest volumes released just within the past year. These most recent discs included the 1930s recordings of “Jewish Agricultural Colonies of the Southern Ukraine” and . . . a 1913 collection of fieldwork conducted in the Jewish communities of Palestine. . . .

The Jewish archive was started back in 1918, and in those early days . . . many of the early “acquisitions” that came in were the konfiskat—i.e., items confiscated from the wealthy, along with other private property that changed hands in the wake of the 1917 revolution. And then there were also the “library babushkas”: older folks who watched out for abandoned private libraries of those escaping the Soviet regime, or for the closing down of synagogues and study houses. They would quickly drag the items over to the library to prevent looting—at times, endangering themselves in the process.

The archive’s holdings expanded dramatically in the 1930s, when it received a large shipment from Saint Petersburg’s Jewish Museum—a shipment that included materials assembled by the legendary writer-anthropologist S. An-Sky [né Shloyme Zaynvl Rappaport], most famous as the author of The Dybbuk, perhaps the most successful Yiddish play ever produced. . . . An-Sky, like other anthropologists of the early-20th century, used wax cylinders for his recordings. The cylinders work in a manner similar to vinyl discs, with a needle moving in a groove to produce sound. . . .

It was then that the KGB destroyed the filing system that contained the descriptions of the archive’s holdings. . . . When Ukraine became an independent nation in the 1990s, the archive was finally reopened. I innocently asked [the librarian] why the KGB [repressed and nearly destroyed the] archive. She retorted with familiar sarcasm: “Because Jews were bad! Whose fault is it—always and for everything?”

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Read more at Tablet

More about: History & Ideas, Jewish archives, Jewish music, S. An-sky, Shtetl, Ukraine, Ukrainian Jews

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf