The Philadelphia sher has a long and complex history, intimately related to the story of the city’s Jewish community. Therefore, the Philadelphia Sher Project aims to tell the story of the sher through the stories of members of the Philadelphia Jewish community–primarily through interviews, but also through photographs, video and written stories.
Philadelphia native Hankus Netsky, a professor at the New England Conservatory and a respected scholar and performer of Jewish music, wrote his dissertation on klezmer in Philadelphia, with an especial focus on the sher and its history and development through roughly the 1960s. We hope to get permission to post some of his work here soon. Because of Netsky’s comprehensive work on the early history of the sher, the PSP will only focus on the sher’s development since the 1960s or so in hopes of filling that gap in the story.
Naomi grew up in Center City Philadelphia, lived in Israel for some time, and now lives in West Philadelphia with her partner, Rie Brosco. They were founding members of Kol Tzedek and continue to be very active members of the community. Here, Naomi tells the story of growing up Orthodox, attending the Labor Zionist Camp Galil in Bucks County, PA (where she learned to dance the sher), moving to Israel, returning to Philadelphia, her subsequent involvement in Beth Ahavah and Kol Tzedek, her politics, her development of Jewish knowledge, and her love of music. Naomi has experience in several types of dance, including Israeli dance, and has been our teacher of the sher at Kol Tzedek events.
Barry Wilensky, third-generation owner of the Wilensky hardware store on Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia, discusses his experiences dancing the sher at Camp Galil (where he still serves on the board), his extensive experience in, and passion for, Israeli dance, his attachment to Israel, and how he expresses his Jewish identity through dance, attachment to Israel and political activism.
Susan is a professional trumpet player and a member of the well-known Hoffman family of Philadelphia musicians. She has taught the sher to Kol Tzedek musicians and is an active trumpet teacher in the Philadelphia/Lower Merion area. In this clip, she discusses how she became a musician, her family’s musical history, her experiences as a professional musician, her thoughts on contemporary Jewish identity encompassing everything from the klezmer revival to the Holocaust to what is taught in Hebrew school, and more.
Meredith attended the Yiddish conversation group at the JCC’s Stiffel Senior Center in Southeast Philadelphia. Run by Drexel professor Rakhmiel Peltz, the group “A Glezele Tey” meets on a regular basis to learn Yiddish and Ashkenazi culture. Attendees and Stiffel staff discuss their memories of the sher and of other Jewish music in South Philadelphia and debate why things may have changed.
Meredith interviewed Kol Tzedek’s rabbi, Lauren Grabelle Herrmann, about Kol Tzedek’s founding, history and community. Included are discussions about the origins and history of the Kol Tzedek klezmer band and the possible connections between it and the KT community’s generally-progressive politics.