Librarian's Lobby
by Daniel D. Stuhlman
December 1999

Recent gifts

I received a call from a lawyer about a woman who died without children and who had a 1000 recent Judaica books in her apartment. The lawyer wanted to know if the Library was interested. I made an appointment to examine the collection. When I arrived I saw boxes and boxes containing music CDs, cassette tapes and video tapes on the floor. The shelves were full of books. Since the Library had no CDs and few music tapes, I started to look for the Jewish tapes. I was more excited about the recording than the books. I took three boxes of them back to the Library, rather than books. Most of the tapes were still in their original shrink wraps, unopened and never played. Evidently the woman liked to buy them more than play them. I was never told the name of the woman. The executor of the estate wanted no thank you letter.

A Confidential Recording

Think back to the mid-1950's. How would someone distribute information to a large audience without writing it in the newspapers, magazines, TV or radio? Rabbi Herbert A. Friedman, vice-president of the United Jewish Appeal had that problem. In the sleeve of a children's record from one of recent gifts was a ten inch 33 1/3 record labelled: Special report, by Herbert A. Friedman. Important: Highly Confidential. No part of this recording may be broadcast, published or reported in the press.

This recording reported on the difficult situation in Poland in 1955-56. According to the American Jewish Year Book the Jewish population of post-war Poland was impossible to determine with great accuracy. In the late 1940's 30,000 former Zionist party members emigrated to Israel. Over 25,000 refugees who spent the war years in the Soviet Union returned to Poland. Poland was not a safe place for Jews after the war. There were anti-Semitic attacks and pograms.1

Stalin's death in 1953 and new leadership in Poland in 1956 eased some of the tensions between the Jews and the rest of the population. Poland freely gave exit visas to Jews. This recording is a report of private and secret activities of the UJA in 1956. The recording mentions activities by months but not the year. I am assuming the year was 1956, based on the events as reported in the American Jewish Year Book and Encyclopedia Judaica. The UJA was afraid that if the mass emigration was reported in the press, the Polish authorities would stop the visas. The problem that the UJA had was money. Rabbi Friedman said that it costs about $1000 to save each person. He asks for money to save the remaining Jews of Poland. He tells of Jews leaving Poland by train, ship and airplane. They were sometimes leaving at more than 1,000 per week. Rabbi Friedman says over 50,000 Jews left Poland. The American Jewish Year Book 1959 reports that 30,000 Jews left Poland between 1956 and 1957. Whole towns were emptied of Jews.

This story of Polish emigration has not been told in great detail. Rabbi Friedman's recording is an interesting historical document, shedding light on the methodology of fund raising and the Jewish situation in Poland in the mid-1950's.

Klezmer Music

Two exhibit cases of the Jewish music are now displaying materials related to klezmer music. Klezmer music has its roots in Eastern European Jewish folk music. The musical sounds frequently include a glissando 2 , which is a rapid scale that blends all the sounds between the first and second note. Klezmer is happy, peppy and upbeat. It has an improvisational component like jazz. Classic instruments used by Klezmer musicians are the clarinet, violin and hammered dulcimer (This is a type of keyboard instrument that uses a hammer to strike strings. It is called tsimbal in Yiddish or Czech). Contemporary Klezmer bands use almost any instrument found in a symphonic band or orchestra. Klezmer musicians played for weddings, parties and other happy occasions. Some groups even played for non-Jewish functions because they were so good. However, socially they were not respected. Leonard Bernstein's father once told him never become a Klezmer musician. The frelichs and other wedding dances have roots in the Eastern European Klezmer tradition. The Chicago area has two bands that are important in the revival of the Klezmer tradition, the Ruby Harris Orchestra and the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band. Ruby Harris once played with the Diaspora Yeshiva Band, an early Jewish Rock group / Klezmer group. The Maxwell Street Klezmer Band has performed locally, nationally and in Europe. They are famous for the big band sound.

Many famous American Jewish entertainers made significant contributions to klezmer music.

Klezmer music contrasts with the central European music of the Chazzan and choir. The controlled precise sound of the chazzan came from training, experience and connection to the tefilah. Improvisation was limited. While the Chazzan may sing outside of the synagogue, his sound was always more formal than the klezmer.

The Library display has samples from our music collection, sheet music (loaned from the collection of Ruby Harris), and other materials loaned from the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band and the Highland Park Public Library.

1. On Aug. 11, 1945 in Cracow and in Kielce on July 4, 1946 thousands of Polish people ran amuck through the Jewish quarters and injured or killed Jews. In 1945 352 Jews were reported murdered for anti-Semitic reasons. By the end of 1947 only about 100,000 Jews remained in Poland.
2. One famous glissando is the clarinet solo at the beginning of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. We are looking for new clients and opportunities. Visit our web site to learn more about knowledge management and what our firm can do for you. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at:

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 ©2003, 2006 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised May 25, 2006