Svigals is a mainstay of the contemporary klezmer scene. She was one of the founding members of the Klezmatics and "All Woman Yiddish Song" group "Mikveh," as well as an amazing solo career. You can find more info her adventures and recordings at her website, AliciaSvigals.com. I hadn't been to her site in a while and was struck by this quote. Partially, because of it's such a capsule summary of the Klezmer revolution and partially because it reminds me of how little I know about Workman's Circle and the Yiddish Socialist movement. Another area I'll need to explore further.
"When I was little I divided my afterschool time between Bach violin concertos and weekly classes at the local Workmen’s Circle school, where we were taught, somewhat eccentrically, Yiddish and socialism, while the rest of the Jewish world was studying Hebrew and preparing for their bar/bas mitzvahs. I couldn’t have imagined then, a presumed future doctor of some sort, that eventually those elements would coalesce into a career that would take me around the world, and that I’d get to witness and even assist at the miraculous rebirth of Yiddish culture in our day. And that some pretty weird things would happen along the way.
At the Workmen’s Circle we were taught Yiddish folksongs, chestnuts which our teachers hoped would help innoculate us against assimilation. One day as a teenager though, I heard something that compelled and excited the musician in me: clarinetist Andy Statman bringing the old Jewish instrumental music now called klezmer back into the light of day. The complexity, beauty, mystery and power of the music gripped me. When I graduated college in 1985 I answered an ad placed by a musician looking to form a klezmer group; we soon became the Klezmatics. As I struggled to decipher how the musicians on the old 78s made those mysterious sounds – like a cantor singing, like Yiddish without words, sounds that sounded so Jewish – our career started unexpectedly taking off.
Looking back I can see that although Yiddish culture seemed sparse around the world at the time, and some thought my career choice a little flaky, the world was in fact pregnant with Yiddish culture, still hidden but ripe and ready to emerge again everywhere we turned, among Jews and non-Jews too."
Hat tip to YouTube user Fiddleboi for posting the video.