Scenes from an art show

As the visual artist part of a collaboration for Hungry for Yiddish; a Mitzvah Project (organized by fabulous singer Heather Klein), I was honored to be included with musical artists Heather,  Anthony Russell, and the Saul Goodman’s Klezmer Orkestar.

It was so wonderful to see 13 of my paintings hung on the gallery walls of the Subterranean Arthouse in Berkeley.

Three paintings

My fiddler said, “I live with these images while you’re painting them, and they’re alive, but I’ve never seen them have so much presence as they had when they were all on the gallery walls.”

Two paintings

Normally I paint, finish, and file my paintings in the flat file. If they get framed, they are briefly displayed on a dining room chair, then they’re off to their new home. It was amazing to see that on the gallery walls the portraits came to life in a way they never do in my dining room.


The painting above at left is, yes, a bowl of potatoes. Since this show was about feeding people (a benefit for the Berkeley Food Pantry) I thought a few paintings of potatoes would be appropriate. After all, potatoes have fed the world for over 500 centuries, haven’t they?


Many thanks to Nicole Rodriguez and Katherine MacElhiney of the Subterranean Arthouse for helping hang the show, and especially to Katherine, who, despite a dreadful cold, stayed around after we hung the show so that a friend of mine could come in the afternoon and view the paintings.


And this is me with the painting Desert Rat. I am not normally a smiley kind of person, but on seeing all my paintings looking back at me, I couldn’t stop beaming.

But it wasn’t all paintings and portraits. We heard Heather and Anthony (both magnificent performers) sing, and then we danced to joyous Klezmer music.


The dancing was led by dance teacher Bruce Bierman.


The band was terrific! In the photo below, blazing through a tune, are Jim Rebhan on keyboard accordion, Illana Sherer on violin, and Dave Rosenfeld on mandolin. Also in the band was Gerry Tenney on guitar and voice, Stu Brotman on poyk (a bass drum), and Aharon Bolsta on snare drum.


And show curator and clarinet player, Mike Perlmutter.


Thanks to Heather (on left, below) for organizing this wonderful evening!


A sheynem dank!

Hungry for Yiddish: An interview with Heather Klein

I met Heather Klein in our Yiddish class, where we learned the bulbes (potato) song, and she told of teaching it to a group of friends. She sang a few bars of a Yiddish song, and I soon became the owner of her latest CD, Shifreles Portret: A Yiddish Art Song Project. It’s been in heavy rotation on the cd player ever since.

Heather, who is classically trained, brings a richness of voice and emotional connection to stories of loved ones lost to war; of a fiddle player greeted in heaven by his friends; dancing women; and praying bubbes (grandmothers). Heather is the third leg of the Inextinguishable Trio (special guest Ilana Sherer on violin and Alla Gladysheva on piano), a group devoted to performing lesser-known to newly composed pieces in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Ladino. In keeping with the Yiddish tradition, they also perform musical theatre as well.

When she asked me to display my paintings at her annual Hungry for Yiddish; a Mitzvah Project, I was honored, and of course said yes! She graciously agreed to talk a bit about the project, her music, and her love of Yiddish.

1. How did Hungry for Yiddish; a Mitzvah Project get started?

Five years ago I lost a special person in my life to suicide. He was a chef in San Francisco, and did not make a lot of money, but he loved to feed people. Wherever we went he would give whatever he had to people on the streets that were hungry or even just asking for money, and I admired him for being selfless. When I lost him to suicide, I realized that I wanted to give something back in whatever way I could. So I decided to give through music. I started a concert benefit during the colder months when it is harder to find food or warmth. It’s called Hungry for Yiddish; A Mitzvah Project. The proceeds from admission are given to the local food bank, and my friend’s spirit of giving is remembered.

2. Tell me little bit about the songs you’ll be singing at the event.

I pick songs based on the visual artwork on display at the concert. The art this year consists of portraits of people. Every portrait has a story to tell, so I’m performing songs that let you get a glimpse at the persons character. Those include songs about a Gypsy, a grandfather, a street kid and a young woman looking for love.

3. The material you choose is haunting and yet so joyous.
Most Yiddish music sounds sad because it’s played in darker keys and the lyrics are not always uplifting. You’ve got to remember that many of these songs were written by people who lived in oppressed, violently anti-Semitic places. But they stayed hopeful that things would get better, and the songs reflect that.

4. What is your favorite Yiddish word or phrase?
“Mit rekhtn fus.” Another way of saying good luck. Literally meaning “with the right foot.” It was the first Yiddish phrase I was taught before I performed with other Yiddish singers.

Hungry for Yiddish; a Mitzvah Project

My work will be gracing the walls of the Subterranean Arthouse in Berkeley on December 13. I hope it will provide inspiration for these wonderful musicians, and joy to all the folks in attendance. For the next couple posts, I’ll be interviewing two of the singers in the show, founder Heather Klein and  Anthony Russell. So come back to learn more about the project!

Click on the poster to order tickets.