Winnipeg Klezfest co-producers Bev Aronovitch, left, and Miriam Bronstein. (photo from Rady JCC)
After attending the week-long KlezKanada Laurentian retreat near Montreal, Miriam Bronstein and Beverly Aronovitch wondered, why not do the same in Winnipeg? And so, they began planning – the city’s first Klezfest took place at the Rady Jewish Community Centre on Oct. 10 and 11.
Bronstein, a retired music and high school drama teacher who continues to perform at the Fringe Festival, is also very involved with Soup Sisters, an organization that makes soup for women’s shelters. Aronovitch is a jazz musician, producer and retired teacher.
As both Bronstein and Aronovitch are of Eastern European decent, klezmer spoke to them. “I’m a singer, she’s a piano player, so we thought it might be fun to go spend time in that scene,” said Bronstein. “I never realized that I actually speak Yiddish because, as I grew up, my mother spoke Yiddish with me, but I only answered her in English. So, it’s actually quite remarkable that I can speak Yiddish.”
Of the KlezKanada experience, Bronstein said, “It was life changing. It reconnected me with that Eastern European community. It was very, very cool.”
At KlezKanada, Aronovitch and Bronstein enjoyed seeing people of all ages, from toddlers to 90-year-olds, dancing to the music, as well as McGill University students taking a klezmer course.
“There were people from all over the world, musicians from all over the world, and they weren’t all Jewish,” said Bronstein. “It was just such a scene that both of us just said, ‘Oh my gosh! We have to do this in Winnipeg!’ We just took it on when we came home. We didn’t forget about it. We just pursued it.”
Although KlezKanada was a week long, Bronstein and Aronovitch felt that the first such festival in Winnipeg had to be shorter, at least for starters. They began by booking the world-famous Klezmatics from New York and, with the help of Winnipeg’s own Finjan – Kinzey Posen, Shayla Fink, Myron Schultz and Daniel Koulack – they put together a full day of festivities. It kicked off with a Saturday night Klezmatics performance, followed by several Sunday workshops, culminating in a concert led by members of Finjan and the Klezfest faculty.
“We had a wonderful workshop about great Yiddish composers and beginner klezmer playing sessions, and then a more advanced session called Readers’ Romp,” said Bronstein.
“One idea we had that is unique to Winnipeg was that we very much wanted to cross borders and recognize we have many ethnic communities in Winnipeg, so we had a workshop called Common Roots,” she said. “We got Ukrainian musicians and Romanian musicians. We brought people in from the city and the theme was ‘Weddings.’ They played what you’d play at a Ukrainian wedding and then the members of Finjan played what you’d play at a Jewish wedding.”
Bronstein would like to expand on the Common Roots concept next time, as there is a big Eastern European contingency in Winnipeg. She’d also like to see annual Mamaloshen Festival of Yiddish Entertainment and Culture attendees participate in Klezfest.
With their first Klezfest behind them, Bronstein said, “We’re just kind of basking in the glow. It was hugely successful. In the end, everybody was dancing in the foyer. It was so wild, it was so thrilling. People were so elated to be part of it. I taught at the Jewish day school here and there were 25 high school students who were part of the event.
“There were some people, some non-Jews – a considerable amount considering it’s Winnipeg and it’s a small community in general – but it would be nice if it was even more widespread. I think that, the more we do it, we increasingly make the name known, and it will open up even more to the general community.”
Bronstein and Aronovitch would eventually like to see participants get to a point where they are able to lead a performance at the end of the festival. Bronstein envisions this as “a participatory type of performance, where people who did dance classes can present what they learned and people who did the playing workshops can be a part of the band.”
She added, “It was a pleasure to work with our fantastic working committee and the Rady JCC. Without them, it could not have happened.”
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.