Chanukah Concerts Kick Off with Klezmer

 Charm City Klezmer performs at Creative Alliance on Dec. 29. (File Photo)
Charm City Klezmer performs at Creative Alliance on Dec. 29. (File Photo)

While Chanukah’s traditions can sometimes get lost in the chaos of the holiday season, local organizations and congregations are making sure to keep tradition front and center, starting with the music.

A number of the various area concerts will feature klezmer bands, known for playing traditional Yiddish and Jewish music derived from Eastern European folk music.

In fact, the word “klezmer” is a Yiddish compound word derived from two Hebrew words that literally mean “musical instrument.”

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky is bringing a klezmer band from New York City to town to play at Cheder Chabad on the evening of Dec. 24.

“The band [members] are Russian themselves,” he said, “and it’s cool because they are still playing traditional instruments [such as] accordion and flute. These are traditional klezmer musical instruments. The community is very excited because we have never had anything like this.”

According to Belinsky, the band will be playing songs that people might know from their grandparents, played with instruments that would have been found in a shtetl or small town.

“It will be lively during a time when everything else is closed up anyway,” he said of Christmas Eve, which shares the date with Eruv Chanukah this year. “It is the most boring night for Jews the entire year, and we want to liven that up.”

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>>While Chabad is bringing a traditional group of klezmer musicians from out of town, the Creative Alliance is partnering with Charm City Klezmer, “the best klezmer dance band in the area,” according to Josh Kohn, Creative Alliance’s performance director.

Led by husband-and-wife team Judith Geller and Michael Raitzyk, Charm City Klezmer boasts a “tradition of not-so-traditional klezmer music with roots in Jewish East European culture,” according to the event teaser.

“This is an annual event we do, partnering with Charm City Klezmer,” said Kohn. “They have been doing the event for as long as we have been in existence at our current location.”

Attendees can expect an upbeat and interactive concert on Dec. 29. Geller will teach traditional Yiddish dances to the audience, and as she teaches the basic moves, the band will play a song that the dance goes with.

“Originally, [klezmer] was dance music, not concert music,” explained Raitzyk. “It was played for simchas and weddings. This concert is a giant dance party; no one sits down. We teach Yiddish dances, Israeli dances.”

Raitzyk, a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, which is not traditional to klezmer, sees the event as a cultural celebration.

“It creates instant community,” he said. “All are welcome when we dance together as brothers and sisters in celebration. It renews our hope and spirit and keeps the culture alive.”

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>>An Die Musik is also hosting an annual Chanukah concert on Dec. 28 featuring the Seth Kibel Quartet, “a genre-bending klezmer band,” according to the venue’s website. Kibel was named Best World Music Instrumentalist by the Washington Area Music Association from 2003 through 2011.

Henry Wong, An Die Musik founder and owner, said that Kibel, a Baltimore native, has been performing at this annual concert for the last six years.

“People should come if they like classical music, anything like ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’” said Wong. “The music brings a lot of memory and tradition. It is wonderful music and is great for Jews and non-Jews alike.”

“I hope people will come to connect,” he continued. “You have to respect the heritage being passed on. We don’t want this culture to cease to exist. People have to understand that it is a different type of holiday situation, and this music perfectly represents it. People will leave feeling happy and looking forward to the New Year. It is good to end on a high note.”

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>>For those who are seeking a less traditional holiday celebration, the Gordon Center is bringing the husband and wife team of Eric Lindberg and Doni Zasloff to perform with their two bands, Jewish bluegrass outfit Nefesh Mountain and the family-friendly Mama Doni Band on Dec. 24 and 25, respectively.

“The first night of Chanukah is a bluegrass concert open to families. It is more of an adult concert, truly a fusion of bluegrass and old-time music with Jewish tradition,” said Zasloff. “Bluegrass has been a love of ours for a long time, and Nefesh Mountain is the realization of our love for both Jewish culture and bluegrass music. There are all kinds of acoustic folk music. We really love that and have adopted our Jewish beliefs to fit the world of bluegrass.”

“If you already love bluegrass, you’ll love the show,” added Lindberg. “If you don’t have any experience with it, after the show you will love bluegrass. It is really exciting to be playing this huge concert with Nefesh Mountain. We are really the authority for and the pioneers for what is really true Jewish bluegrass music.”

The Mama Doni Band’s concert will be kid friendly.

“It will have dancing and exciting songs; it’s very high energy,” said Zasloff. “There are Chanukah classics as well as our own takes on some songs. People will be up and about engaging the little ones. Chanukah is such a beautiful time to be grateful for family and friendships. Music is the best way to celebrate that sometimes.”

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For more information on additional events in the local area, visit

For information on events local synagogues are hosting, visit

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