Category Archives: News

Many new changes and a new interview

Please look around the site and check out the changes we’ve made over the past few days, including:

1) Posting an interview with Susan Watts on the “History” page

2) Posting a group interview with attendees at the Stiffel Senior Center Yiddish group, also on the “History” page

3) Cleaning up the “Audio” and “Video” pages to make them easier to navigate

4) Updating the “Events” page

Check back over the next few weeks for more updates!


Philadelphia Sher Project featured in Kehillah newsletter!

The Philadelphia Sher Project was featured in the Kehillah of Center City (Philadelphia)’s newsletter last week.  Check it out below.  Here’s the Kehillah’s web site for more info.

Kehillah of Center City Funds the Musical Initiatives Project at Congregation Kol Tzedek

Thanks to a grant from Federation’s Kehillah of Center City, the Philadelphia sher, a klezmer song and dance, is making a comeback!

Meredith Aska McBride, University of Pennsylvania senior, is an active participant Kol Tzedek’s Philadelphia Sher Project. McBride has been taking lessons with the eminent klezmer trumpeter Susan Watts, whose family has deep roots in the Philadelphia Jewish music scene. Along with the Kol Tzedek Simcha Band, McBride learned to play the sher, a klezmer song with deep roots in the city, but known by very few people today.

Last month, the group performed with renowned drummer Elaine Hoffman Watts, (Susan’s mom). Congregant Naomi Segal, who danced the sher as a child, taught the dance to concert attendees. “People had a great time dancing and the band certainly had a great time playing,” said McBride.

“Without Federation’s grant the Philadelphia sher would remain a hidden treasure,” noted Kol Tzedek’s rabbi, Lauren Grabelle Herrmann. She added, “Our Musical Initiatives Program aims to educate Jews about this rich spiritual and cultural legacy and to integrate music into the fabric of community life.”

The $2,250 grant funded Kol Tzedek’s Musical Initiatives Program, which includes two projects. The Davening Leaders Program trains 5-10 community members to become proficient prayer leaders, and the Philadelphia Sher Project aims to return this klezmer song and dance to active use. Community members will participate in the project through research, performance and education.

Federation’s Department of Jewish Life and Learning has seven Kehillot–community outreach arms–which foster collaboration among community institutions and provide a venue for interaction and cooperation.

Each Kehillah allocates Community Partnership Grants within its geographic area, like the one given to the Musical Initiatives Program. For more information on these grants and how to apply, contact Rabbi Shira Stutman at or 215.832.0856.

For additional information about the Kehillah of Center City and its grants, contact Susan Stanek at or 215.832.0597.

Announcing the Philadelphia Sher Project!

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably aware that Philly’s got an eclectic and vibrant music scene.  You also probably know that the Philadelphia area is home to a diverse and active Jewish community.  The two intersect in Philly’s long history as home to a unique brand of klezmer, the contemporary term for Eastern European Jewish folk music.

The sher is an Eastern European social dance for four couples–a cousin to the Western European quadrille and the American square dance.  This dance, and an accompanying set of tunes, were brought over by Jewish immigrants from what was then the Russian empire in the early 1900’s.  Philly quickly developed its own unique set of tunes, the Philadelphia sher medley, to go along with the dance, which was extremely popular in the Jewish community for many years.  (Other American cities, such as New York and Chicago, also developed their own sher medleys.)

By the late 1960s, the sher wasn’t as popular as it once was; the Jewish community had more or less moved on to Israeli dancing and American pop music.  Though it hasn’t been as visible in recent decades, the sher has still been played and danced at Jewish summer camps and klezmer-revival events like KlezKamp.

The Simcha Band of West Philly’s Reconstructionist synagogue, Kol Tzedek, is spearheading a project to bring this lively dance and melody back to regular performance in the Philly Jewish community.  Check out the full description of the project’s methods and goals here.

This blog will contain news about events at which the sher will be played; video and audio clips of performances; info on the history of the sher and klezmer in Philadelphia; and educational resources for all who are interested.  You can subscribe via email by clicking the button in the upper right-hand corner.  Check back soon for some audio updates from Chanukah 2009 and the introduction of new bloggers!