The An-sky Institute for Jewish Culture
The An-sky Institute for Jewish Culture represents the continuation of CTMD’s ongoing work since the mid-1970s to research, preserve and present the Jewish performing arts traditions of New York City -- the earliest and longest sustained effort by any folk arts organization in North America.
The Institute takes its name from the renowned Yiddish folklore scholar/author Shlomo Zanzvil Rappoport, better known under his pen name, Semyon An-sky. Between 1911-1914, An-sky led a team of experts on a remarkable trip to systematically collect Jewish folklore through the Ukrainian regions of Volhynia and Podolia. The An-sky Expedition resulted in the greatest treasure trove ever collected of the folk culture of the Jews of Eastern Europe. This invaluable collection has preserved remarkable documents of Ashkenazic civilization that would have otherwise been lost forever — sound recordings of rabbis and rebbes, klezmer music, folk songs, illuminated wedding contracts and prayer books, and other significant examples of Judaica.
Inspired by An-sky’s work, CTMD’s efforts with traditional Jewish arts have had important national and even international ramifications. In the late 1970s and 80s, Andy Statman and Walter Zev Feldman worked with CTMD to document and present the legendary octogenarian clarinetist Dave Tarras, an initiative that helped create what has become an international revival of klezmer music. During the 1980s, presentations featuring the Bukovina-born violinist Leon Schwartz and Ukrainian-born folk singer Bronya Sakina helped spur interest in forms from Eastern Europe.
In the 1990s, CTMD’s Nashi Traditsii program, directed by Michael Alpert, worked with members of immigrant Jewish communities from the former Soviet Union—inclusive of the Bukharan (Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), Mountain Jewish (Azerbaijan and Dagestan) and Ashkenazic (East European) communities. Nashi Traditsii presented a range of concerts and workshops featuring major immigrant artists and ensembles such as Ensemble Shashmaqam (Bukharan), Ensemble Tereza (Mountain Jewish) and klezmer clarinetist German Goldenshteyn, who inspired an entire generation of young klezmorim (klezmer musicians) to perform his Bessarabian Jewish repertoire before his untimely death in 2006.
In 2006, CTMDs work to research and revitalize the Yiddish Dance tradition kicked off the first regular dance workshop series in North America. These Tantshoyz (dance house) programs have been now replicated in several other cities. Over 200 researchers, dance leaders and enthusiasts from all over North America assembled in 2007 to take part in the first-ever Yiddish Dance Research Symposium, presented by CTMD in partnership with New York University Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. The Yiddish Dance Action Network was founded to create a network of researchers around the world who share information.
In concerts and workshops since 1974, CTMD has also had a special focus on presenting important Yiddish folk singers including Michael Alpert, Jacob Gorelick, Itzik Gottesman, Mariam Nirenberg, Bronya Sakina, Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, Perl Teitelbaum, Ethel Raim, Josh Waletzky and Feigl Yudin, as well as badkhones (recitations of a traditional wedding jester) by Toyvye Birnbaum, and khazones (cantorial music) by Avrum Itskhok Moskovitz.
In 2010, CTMD founded the An-sky Jewish Folklore Research Project in partnership with the Bronx-based Sholem Aleichem Cultural Center, directed by folklorist Itzik Gottesman, Ph.D. Centered in New York City and collaborating with scholars and practitioners internationally, the Project works to coordinate research and dissemination of Jewish folklore collecting through a core group of leading researchers.
The An-sky Institute's current programs include The Yiddish Song of the Week blog as a means of disseminating rare field recordings of leading Yiddish folksingers. CTMD also is a regular media sponsor of the NY Klezmer Series which presents weekly Yiddish music and dance programs each Tuesday night in Manhattan. Additionally, the An-sky Institute sponsors Folk Arts Apprenticeships (funded by New York State Council on the Arts) and actively promotes Michael Alpert's collaboration with Ukrainian bandurist/singer Julian Kytasty entitled Night Songs From a Neighboring Village. CTMD is also engaged in a variety of archival preservation and dissemination projects with partners such as the YIVO Institute and the Library of Congress. In May 2015, CTMD launched the Stonehill Jewish Music Collection website in partnership with Yiddish scholar Miriam Isaacs, which will bring online over 1000 songs performed by Holocaust survivors that were recorded in 1948 by Ben Stonehill in the lobby of the Marseilles Hotel in Manhattan.
For more information about the Institute or to volunteer, contact Pete Rushefsky at 212-571-1555, ext. 36 or by email here.
The An-sky Institute for Jewish Culture receives support from the Keller-Shatanoff Foundation, the Atran Foundation, the Marinus and Minna B. Koster Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.