Yale Strom has devoted his life to preserving and rescuing Jewish culture and in particular, klezmer music, in Central and Eastern Europe. As a result, the musician is also a filmmaker, historian, ethnomusicologist, and photographer.
Until November 28, you can see 36 of his photographs at the Anne Frank Center. Titled “Fragments: Jewish Life in Central and Eastern Europe 1981-2007; the Post-War Photography of Yale Strom,” the selection is small, but there is a clear principle at work: these photographs show the last remnants of Jewish life in small villages – the closest thing Strom found to shtetl life during decades of visits.
In these photographs we see shamashim, caretakers, in decaying synagogues; women at a Jewish old-age home in Zagreb; a horse and cart passing a Romanian synagogue in 1985. (It could be 1885, one imagines, except that the shul would not be crumbling.) Not all the photos, however, show scenes from a culture’s deathbed: we also see Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach improvising a niggun in Krakow, a boy and his father making havdalah in Budapest, and children playing dreydl in East Berlin. The culture that has disappeared since Strom began taking these photographs is not Jewish but Soviet, and any pang that a viewer may feel will be for the bad old days before the Former Soviet Union was Former.
Jewish survival is Strom’s primary interest: the introductory text panel emphasizes not just the disappearance of rural Jewish life in the late Soviet era but its return to the cities. The tiny space available at the Anne Frank Center doesn’t allow for images of the current regeneration of Jewish life in the FSU, or its sometimes creepy imitation by non-Jews. Strom has, though, included evidence of a much more welcome collaboration between Jews and gentiles in photographs of Roma musicians who preserved klezmer tunes learned from Jewish musicians before the Second World War.
Musical evidence of that collaboration will be offered at a concert by Strom and his group, Hot Pstromi, on Thursday, October 16, featuring music of Eastern Europe “combining klezmer with Roma, jazz, classical, Balkan and Sephardic motifs.” Could be an excellent beginning of your Simchat Torah celebration.
Yale Strom & Hot Pstromi present: Fragments – Klezmer from the Hinterlands of Eastern Europe. Anne Frank Center, 44 Park Place, Thursday October 16, from 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm. Adults $8 and seniors/students $5. The space is small, so reservations are a good idea.
212-431-7993 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Liz Denlinger curates a collection of rare books and manuscripts at the New York Public Library and is at work on a novel about a boarding school in 1955.