Klezmer On Fish Street

  • 2003
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Documentary

Yale Strom's ragged, unfocused documentary is driven by the fairly straightforward question, "Can you have Jewish life and Jewish culture in Poland without any Jews?" Strom, a veteran of documentary investigations into various aspects of Jewish history and culture, was struck by the proliferation of evidence of Jewish revival in European communities whose...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Yale Strom's ragged, unfocused documentary is driven by the fairly straightforward question, "Can you have Jewish life and Jewish culture in Poland without any Jews?" Strom, a veteran of documentary investigations into various aspects of Jewish history and culture, was struck by the proliferation of evidence of Jewish revival in European communities whose Jewish residents fled or died during the Holocaust. In particular, he noticed the appeal of klezmer music to Jews and Gentiles alike. Klezmer was a product of Eastern-European Yiddish culture; its distinctive rhythms and deeply emotional melodies transcend language and can move listeners who understand none of the lyrics. Struck by the fact that much contemporary klezmer music was performed by Americans, some Jewish and some not, Strom uses it as a point of entry into larger questions about Jewish identity and cultural authenticity. He focuses on Poland, which offers particularly vivid illustrations of the disparity between Jewish cultural revival in Europe and the presence of viable Jewish communities. Because some of the most notorious Nazi extermination camps, including Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau, were located in Poland, it's an important stop for tourists looking to remember or deepen their understanding of the Holocaust. Krakow and other cities host Jewish cultural festivals, authentic-looking Jewish restaurants welcome patrons and souvenirs of Jewish life are sold on street corners. But, says an observer wryly, "it's not a Jewish mama doing the cooking," because only a handful of Jewish families actually live in Poland. Unfortunately, Strom never gets much beyond this point. He films crowds at Jewish cultural festivals, interviews tourists and devotes a lot of screen time to a group of Jewish-Americans who run afoul of Polish police when local residents complain that they're disturbed by the group's late-night prayer singing. Various people raise the same questions: Are groups like the American Klezmaniacs evidence of a kind of "virtual Judaism," or are they genuinely helping to preserve traditions that might otherwise be lost? Can you embrace Jewish culture without embracing the Jewish religion? Must you speak Yiddish or Hebrew to be a real Jew? All have their own fumbling thoughts on the matter and none claim to have the answer; unfortunately, Strom doesn't synthesize their observations into anything resembling a coherent argument. The awkward title alludes to a street in the small Polish city of Bedzin, where some 21,000 Jews once lived and none remain.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Yale Strom's ragged, unfocused documentary is driven by the fairly straightforward question, "Can you have Jewish life and Jewish culture in Poland without any Jews?" Strom, a veteran of documentary investigations into various aspects of Jewish history and… (more)

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