Not your grandma's shtetl

The place was packed, and although parts of the crowd seemed closer to my parents' age, the atmosphere was nevertheless intense enough to get one's energies up and running. When Oy Division, a klezmer ensemble of four funky Israelis who perform wonderful Yiddish soul and rock songs started doing their thing, you could see smiles gradually beginning to cover the faces of everyone in the audience.
Oy Division plays the kind of music that anyone who grew up with Yiddish as his childhood soundtrack (however remote and distant it might have been) would find hard to resist. The soft and comforting sound of this old language, which is currently undergoing a fantastic revival, inevitably struck a chord with my nostalgic heart, but it was the vibrant and genuine way in which it was played and sung by Noam Inbar (vocals) and his band members with their violin, accordion and double bass that took Shtetl music into a whole different level.

Love song for borscht
After about three songs, and with the crowd practically eating out of the palm of their hand, the charming klezmers invited to the stage another irresistible character, Psoy Korolenko, an eccentric-looking Jewish-Russian singer-songwriter who was wearing a Stalin T-Shirt and opened with a 19th-century song (in Russian) calling on Jews not to serve in the Tsar's army. The chemistry between him and his Israeli counterparts on stage was apparent, but the evening really peaked when another guest joined the party.
This was Daniel Kahn, a young Jewish-American living in Berlin who does everything from acting in and directing plays, to composing and performing Jewish folklore songs, political cabarets and radical century-old Yiddish songs. Kahn performed partly with his partners on stage (including a hilarious love song for borscht, and an even wilder hymn for pizza, rapped by the incredible Psoy) and partly alone.
The highlight of the evening was, in my eyes, Kahn's solo performance of an early 20th-century song about the Jewish Bund – sung half in Yiddish half in English, glorifying the Jewish laborer, slamming the rich Zionist activists and calling for workers' solidarity across the globe. The pathos and emotion Kahn has put into this anthem almost convinced me that if the Bund was still a viable political choice, I would have run to sign up.
Another memorable moment was Kahn's performance of the song Six Million Germans, inspired by the story of a group of Jewish partisans, Nakam, founded after World War II to avenge the Holocaust. Written by Kahn, the song relates the avengers' story, while debating the morality of their actions (an attempt, which some historians say succeeded, to poison thousands of SS officers in an Allies POW camp in Germany). The lively, even cheerful music of the song stood in stark contradiction to its lyrics, creating an eerie, but fascinating combination.
A beer in hand, and a craving for gefilte fish in heart, we parted with the wonderful, somewhat crazy Yiddish revivers and promised ourselves to return for the next "Jewish evening" at Levontin 7.