Klezmer Music: History and Contemporary Practice Around the World

Klezmer – the instrumental music of Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews – has survived assimilation, suppression and eradication and is now a recognisable ‘world music’ commodity, as well as an object of serious musicological study. But what relationship does today’s klezmer bear to its 19th and early 20th century roots, and what happens to traditional music when its community context changes or disappears? In this talk Phil will give an overview of klezmer’s journey, exploring where the music came from, and where it now finds itself. He will also discuss his work with his own klezmer-ish band Moishe’s Bagel.  Includes musical examples.

Phil Alexander is a British Academy research fellow at the University of Edinburgh, where he studies historical Scottish-Jewish musical interactions. His book Sounding Jewish in Berlin: klezmer and the contemporary city will be published with Oxford University Press in early 2021. Phil is also a busy musician, leading the band Moishe’s Bagel and collaborating regularly with folk and jazz musicians around the UK and beyond.

The Wolf of Baghdad: Memoir of a Lost Homeland

In the 1940s a third of Baghdad’s population was Jewish. Within a decade nearly all 150,000 had fled. Of those remaining, most escaped in the 1970s or were killed. Today, fewer than half a dozen remain.


This graphic memoir of a lost homeland is a wordless narrative by an author homesick for a home she has never visited.  It is illuminated by the words and portraits of her family, along with an afterword with a brief history of Baghdadi Jews and background of this work. Says Isaacs: ‘The Finns have a word, kaukokaipuu, which means a feeling of homesickness for a place you’ve never been to. I’ve been living in two places all my life; the England I was born in, and the lost world of my Iraqi-Jewish family’s roots.’

Carol Isaacs is a musician and, as The Surreal McCoy, a well-known cartoonist published in the New Yorker, Private Eye and Sunday TimesThe Wolf of Baghdad is also an animated slideshow with its own musical soundtrack, which is often performed by a live band including Isaacs on accordion and keyboards, playing music of Iraqi and Judeo-Arabic origin. Carol has worked with many artists including Sinead O’Connor and the Indigo Girls. She is co-founder of the London Klezmer Quartet and Hamsa.

Stanley Kubrick: New York Jewish Intellectual?

Stanley Kubrick is generally acknowledged as one of the world’s great directors. Yet few critics or scholars have considered how he emerged from a unique and vibrant cultural milieu: the New York Jewish intelligentsia. In this talk, Nathan Abrams re-examines the director’s work in context of his ethnic and cultural origins. Focusing on several of Kubrick’s key themes – including masculinity, ethical responsibility, and the nature of evil – it demonstrates how his films were in conversation with contemporary New York Jewish intellectuals who grappled with the same concerns. At the same time, it explores Kubrick’s fraught relationship with his Jewish identity and his reluctance to be pegged as an ethnic director, manifest in his removal of Jewish references and characters from stories he adapted.

Nathan Abrams is Professor in Film and Director of Impact and Engagement for the College of Arts, Humanities and Business at Bangor University. He co-convenes the British Jewish Contemporary Cultures network. He lectures, writes and broadcasts on UK and American popular culture, history film and intellectual culture. He co-founded Jewish Film and New Media and recent books are Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film (with Robert Kolker, Oxford University Press, 2019), Stanley Kubrick: New York Jewish Intellectual (Rutgers University Press, 2018), Hidden in Plain Sight: Jews and Jewishness in British Film, Television, and Popular Culture (Northwestern University Press, 2016).


Ferramonti: Salvation behind the barbed wire

In 1982 nearing the end of a remarkable life, consultant David Henryk Ropschitz put pen to paper to share his own story of 1940s wartime survival. His highly personal novel is about life in the Italian internment camp, Ferramonti, where thousands of Jews and other ‘undesirables’ were imprisoned. In his novel Dr Ropschitz looks back with tenderness and humour at these traumatic years and takes the reader on a journey from wartime Calabria to the Abruzzi, from barbed wire to freedom, exploring the themes of faith, humanity and psychoanalysis along the way.

Yolanda Ropschitz-Bentham was born in Derby and grew up in West Yorkshire. After many travels and adventures she moved to Bristol in 1984 and then settled on a smallholding in rural Somerset, raising her family and teaching Psychology for over 25 years.  She also wrote some comic pieces, two of her stories featured on BBC Somerset, and worked as a volunteer presenter on local radio. Following retirement in 2016 Yolanda turned to her late father’s manuscript, “Ferramonti.”  Researching his autobiographical novel led to regular visits to the Ferrramonti di Tarsia camp museum in Calabria and meetings with former internees from the 1940s and their descendants. This connection, culminating in the publication of “Ferramonti: Salvation behind the barbed wire,” has produced one of the most rewarding periods of her life so far, affording Yolanda cherished opportunities to travel to Italy, Israel and South America. Life stories from former internees are now forming the basis of her next book: “The People of Ferramonti: Then and Now.”

Finding 100 Faces: capturing Jewish diversity

In early 2018, composer and film maker Benjamin Till, who had only recently discovered he was Jewish, decided to make the film 100 Faces to find out more about the community he’d been a member of for 43 years without realising.  His mission was to find one UK-based Jewish person born every year from 1918 to 2017 and it became an odyssey of discovery which took him all over the world. His final 100 people include Jewish people from all walks of life. Rabbis and chazans rub shoulders with Dames, Lords, holocaust survivors, kinder-transportees, well-known actors, musicians, writers and presenters and two men who fought at Cable Street. The whole film is set to music. Benjamin wrote an original score which was performed by the Israel Camera Orchestra.  Sit back and enjoy the film (approx 6 mins) and then hear about the bumpy and inspirational ride which led there!

Benjamin Till is a multi-award-winning filmmaker and composer and pioneer in the field of the documentary musical. He grew up in Northamptonshire and describes himself as a fanatical Midlander of Welsh and Jewish extraction! He has many works to his credit including Our Gay Wedding: The Musical (Channel 4, BAFTA-nominated, winner, Rose D’Or, Grierson and Prix Italia.) This film is considered one of Channel 4’s most successful ever broadcasts. His most recent film, 100 Faces, which features the UK Jewish Community, won the gold award at the Robinson’s International Short Film Competition. Benjamin sings with, and is Resident Composer for, the Jewish Male voice choir, Mosaic Voices at New West End Synagogue, London. Their most recent recording of Benjamin’s arrangement of Kol Nidrei was played on Radio 3.


Dir. Max Lewkowicz; 2019; 97 min; English

Director Max Lewkowicz’s richly detailed documentary celebrates the illustrious Broadway show Fiddler on the Roof, the evergreen shtetl-set musical first staged in 1964 with choreography and direction by Jerome Robbins and starring Zero Mostel as Teyve, the milkman. Contributions from a range of interviewees – including people attached to the original production, such as producer Hal Prince and lyricist Sheldon Harnick, and famous fans of the show, including Fran Lebowitz and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda – help to structure the history lesson about how Fiddler became a massive international hit. That account is filled out with footage of recent productions from around the world, including one in Japanese and one by some African American high-school kids in Brooklyn

What really makes this documentary are the digressions into, among many other things, the history of the Pale of Settlement, who exactly was Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem (who wrote the stories the show is based on), Marc Chagall, and the show’s ghostly connection to the Holocaust, even though it’s not mentioned in the show itself.  Despite its age, this musical engages audiences, both Jewish and non-Jewish, all over the world and has a remarkable ability to seem relevant to every era, including the present day with the rise of the ultra right and anti-semitism.

Creativity against the odds: Art and Internment during World War Two

To mark the 80th anniversary of the British government’s controversial decision to ‘collar the lot’, this illustrated lecture will examine the art produced in the British internment camps, mostly but not only on the Isle of Man. It will do so in the broader context of art produced in other internment situations, from the Japanese-American camps in the USA to the Nazi POW and concentration camps. Just what is it that makes human beings feel the urge to create in such adverse and inauspicious circumstances? To hear a recording of this talk please click on the following link which will take you to the Insiders/Outsiders youtube channel

Monica Bohm-Duchen is a London-based art historian. Her book Art and the Second World War was published in 2013. She is the initiator and creative director of the nationwide, year-long Insiders/Outsiders Festival (https://insidersoutsidersfestival.org/), which celebrates the huge contribution made to British culture by refugees from Nazi-dominated Europe – many of whom were interned as ‘enemy aliens’ by the British government in 1940.

The Band’s Visit

Dir. Eran Korilin; 90 minutes; English, Hebrew, Arabic

This award winning charming Israeli comedy is the tale of an Egyptian police band stranded overnight in a quiet Israeli settlement after taking the wrong bus. It features lovely performances from Sasson Gabai as the band’s impeccably behaved conductor and actress Ronit Elkabetz as an Israeli bar owner who puts him up for the night. A beautifully controlled piece, it marks the impressive debut of director and screenwriter Eran Kolirin, who handles the delicate shades of politics with subtle tones. The Egyptians encounter a few Israeli townspeople, who respond with curiosity about the band, are variously friendly and wary, and provide them with shelter, food, music and companionship during their visit.

“In the morning, the band reassembles and leaves: An interlude involving two “enemies,” Arabs and Israelis, that shows them both as only ordinary people with ordinary hopes, lives and disappointments. It has also shown us two souls with rare beauty.” (Roger Egbert)



Medicine in Ancient Judaism: Why does G-d attempt to kill Moses in Exodus 4?

Directly after the burning bush scene, G-d inexplicably tries to kill Moses (Exodus 4:24-26). Fortunately, Moses’ life is saved by Zipporah’s enigmatic “Bridegroom of Blood” ritual. Commentators both ancient and modern have proposed many solutions by filling in the gaps, proposing reasons such as Moses’ failing courage or procrastination. But what did this episode mean in its original setting? This talk will look at how G-d’s attempt on Moses’ life is better understood in the broader historical context of ancient medicine. In this talk, Dr Askin will draw upon recent research from her current project, Medicine in Ancient Israel and Early Judaism, to explore how and why the Bible’s portrayals of medicine and healing seems so mysterious and distant to us.

Dr Lindsey A. Askin is Lecturer in Jewish Studies, University of Bristol. She is the author of Scribal Culture in Ben Sira (Brill, 2018), which is based on her doctoral thesis (University of Cambridge, 2012-16). Her research interests include mental illness and medicine in the Bible and ancient Judaism, scribal culture and literacy, Ben Sira, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Book of Jubilees.

JoJo Rabbit

Dir. Taika Waititi,
Starring Taika Waititi, Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson, Rebel Wilson ; 2019, 123 mins, English

Since the days of Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, film-makers have adopted naive or comedic perspectives to pierce and deflate the hideous bubble of Nazi ideology. Now, in this Golden Globe-nominated adaptation of Christine Leunens’s book Caging Skies, New Zealand writer-director-performer Taika Waititi plays a camp, slapstick version of Hitler, who exists in the mind of a German boy, Jojo. Roman Griffin Davis plays the 10-year-old growing up under the Third Reich, whose jolly dreams of becoming an Aryan war hero are thwarted by his innate sensitivity and squeamishness. Beneath the fanaticism, Jojo is a frightened boy whose sister has died and whose father has disappeared in battle. But his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), has a secret: she’s a covert anti-fascist who is hiding a Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), in the attic. When Jojo stumbles upon Elsa, he is initially horrified, believing her to be a monster. But gradually the pair strike up a love-hate relationship that infuriates imaginary Adolf and causes Jojo to start to rethink his allegiances. Through Elsa, Waititi articulates some fundamental and insidious tenets of antisemitism that are being touted even now. She is the real conduit for empathy in the audience, regardless of whether you’re Jewish or not