But I don't know what's more radical, because the idea of expressing your own personal identity — everybody does that. But the idea of taking a tradition that was supposed to die and saying, "Hey guys, look at this!" I think that was actually the much more radical move. For example, there are people who know, like, three klezmer tunes and use them to play free jazz. That's not that interesting to me. But if somebody comes up and says, "My great grandfather composed Hasidic nigunim and I just rescued them, I just found scraps of paper in my grandmother's attic" — that is radical.
The idea of coasting along without the roots, that's what Jews were doing for a long time, reinventing their identity in the manner of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. When Israel came along after the war it was basically: "This is all we've got to continue." The other thing is gone and the only thing we can do to keep Jewish identity going is to identify with a new identity.
But now the amazing thing is that the Israeli students are really coming around. That's what I love. It's become a real attraction for Israeli students. I was just looking at this article by George Robinson from The Jewish Week, and Ayela Gottlieb, who is one of my Israeli students from the Conservatory, who's a big John Zorn downtown-scene person, says, "I come from Israel, where there's no Jewish music." [Flutist] Amir Milstein said the same thing: "I had to come to Boston to learn Jewish music." I think in Israel it's much more loaded.
I REMEMBER YEARS AGO TALKING WITH LESLIE EPSTEIN AT BU ABOUT THE ISRAELI NOVELIST AHARON APPELFELD, AND HOW FOR THE LONGEST TIME IN ISRAEL THEY JUST WANTED TO FORGET ANYTHING ABOUT LIFE IN EUROPE AND THAT CULTURE BECAUSE IT WAS SUCH A NIGHTMARE. Well they did overt things. I remember Amir Milstein told me that when his father came to Israel from Europe, he never spoke another word of Yiddish. The idea was once you set foot on that soil, you only spoke Hebrew. And modern Hebrew was only invented a hundred years ago. For a while you weren't allowed to publish a daily Yiddish newspaper in Israel. So what did they do? They published seven weekly Yiddish newspapers — each day it had a different name.
That attitude they saw as necessary for nation building. It was the only way they could take cultures from all over the world and not let them get dominated by Eastern Europeans who had actually founded the place. The problem is that was translated to American society and the whole educational system, where we had over 95 percent people descended from Eastern Europe. And that heritage was just thrown away. It was as if we suddenly lost all of our roots. And 30 or 35 years ago is when people really started saying no to that. But educationally we're just in our infancy.
, Aharon Appelfeld, Michael Wex, Kathy Chapman, More