Jalda Rebling--A Jiddish Songfinder
AUFBAU 61:26 Dec. 22, 1995 p14
[original title: Jalda Rebling - Yiddish Songfinder] [slightly corrected version]
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU
October 24, 1995
Jalda Rebling is a short, slim, dark-haired woman of 44 who combines the soulful openness of a girl half her age with a centuries-old heritage of intense and often lonely struggle for Jewish and human values in a frequently inhuman context. That context has been East Berlin, since her family moved there from her native Amsterdam when she was but a year old. (Her English is laced with a charming Nederlandischer accent, Dutch being her first language, along with Yiddish, followed by German and of course Berlinerisch!)
The occasion for her visit here this fall was a return engagement in Conway, New Hampshire (as well as Hartford, CT and Burlington, VT) where her performance had climaxed the first World Fellowship Center Jewish Music Festival in summer 1994.
I first met her in the spring of 1984, at the first concert in "Berlin - Hauptstadt der DDR" of the Juedischer Musiktheaterverein Berlin which I had founded in West Berlin the previous October. She and her family were already quite famous, at least in Germany: Her mother, Lin Jaldati, was the last person to see Anne Frank alive, in Bergen-Belsen, and had been one of only five in a large family to have survived deportation from Westerbork to Auschwitz. Jalda's father, the pianist and musicologist Eberhard Rebling, a non-Jew, had met her mother while working for Republican Spain, joined the Communist Party with her, worked for the underground Resistance during World War II, and later became Director of the Hanns Eisler Music Conservatory in East Berlin. Now retired at 84, he still occasionally plays, as in the forthcoming memorial concert in honor of Lin, who died in 1988.
Beginning in the 1970s, Lin had a career as a singer of Yiddish songs. Jalda, a trained actress, first sang with her in 1979. Eberhard accompanied them at the piano, along with Jalda's older sister Katinka, a violinist, born in 1941. Their performances were classic, in both senses of the term, characterized by an enormous respect for the poetry, drama, melody, harmony, rhythm, laughter and tears inherent in the genre. They made LPs, and performed - in Israel in 1983, and at the Village Gate and Hebrew Union College in New York (as well as Amherst and Hartford) in 1986. But they always returned to Berlin, Hauptstadt der DDR.
"For me, Yiddish songs and literature are the heimishkeit I will always be searching for in vain, since it was lost with my family in Auschwitz," writes Jalda in her essay, "Yiddish Culture--A Soul Survivor of East Germany," which appears in the wonderful new book Speaking Out : Jewish Voices From United Germany, edited by Susan Stern and published by edition q, inc. 551 North Kimberly Drive, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. Jalda has made it her mission to seek out Yiddish songs in every corner of the earth and bring them back to her audiences in Berlin, where she lives with her three sons, Jakob & Tobias Kranz, ages 21 and 19, and Joseph Rebling, age 5. Joseph, unlike his brothers, is going to be a bar mitzvah. "Are Jews in America finding their way back to the synagogue too?" Jalda asked me.
In addition to her work as a professional actress at the Hackischer Hoftheater, which presents two evenings in Yiddish every week, yearround, she has presided over a Yiddish Festival in Berlin every January for the past nine years. The first one, January 27, 1987, was titled "dos lid is geblibn " and subtitled "Versuch einer Annaeherung" (loosely translated "attempt at rapprochement"). "Unlike our American colleagues," she explains in her essay, "we had nothing to revive." ("Die Wiederbelebung [revival] der juedischen Tradition" had been a motto for my Juedischer Musiktheaterverein in 1983-86.)
The 1987 festival was almost cancelled when an official of the VVN (the Union of Persons Persecuted by the Nazis) declared, "There is no such thing as Yiddish culture" ("Es gibt keine jiddische Kultur")!
But good sense, publicity, and shrewd citations from the works of Soviet Yiddish poets (most of them killed by Stalin) prevailed. And eventually the festival became established, first because Erich Honecker thought it would help him get an invitation to visit the United States, then through co-sponsorship of UNESCO as of 1990, and finally - as of 1992 - with subsidies from the Berlin Senat.
The last three festivals have been thematically oriented toward specific places: Poland in 1993, Romania in 1994, Vilna ("The Lithuanian Jerusalem") in 1995. The Ukraine will be the focus in 1996, in preparation for which Jalda journeyed to Kiev last spring, doing research and performances along with her two classical-guitarist/lutenist colleagues Hans-Werner Apel (b. 1959) and Stefan Maass (b. 1960). Neither one is Jewish, but this just proves, says Jalda, "that Jewish music can be played very well by non-Jewish musicians." Especially, I hasten to add - and she would agree - if the leadership is Jewish and conscientious. The scholarship evident in their two most recent compact disks, Di goldene Pawe: jiddische Lieder and Juden in Deutschland 1250-1750 - both available from Raumklang, Rochlitzstr. 3, 04229 Leipzig (Germany) - is impeccable.
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