Chatunah Yuhudit
(Jewish Wedding)

Bick, Moshe, Haifa Music Museum and Library, Haifa, 1964
English translation by Bruria Pollak and Joshua Horowitz, August 20, 1999

This is the first publication of the Haifa Music Museum and Library. Bick collected these pieces from the town of Orhei, Bessarabia. Some of the niggunim were given to Joachim Stutschevsky, who published them in his book, Ha Klezmorim.

Moshe Bick was born in Dubasari, Bessarabia January 26, 1899. Dubasari was a shtetl near the Dniester river, which was largely comprised of farmers. The melodies found there are strongly influenced by Bulgarian, Romanian and Gypsy music. Moshe Bick moved to Orhei and sang in the choir there as a child, where the cantor of the synagogue was Aharon Gomeniuk. After WWI, Bick moved to Kishinev, where he studied Khazanut (synagogue cantorial) with Yona Din Bietzer and later became a cantor and conductor. He founded a Yiddish workers choir in 1920 which performed as far as Constantinople. Their repertoire included workers songs, and they often collaborated with a folk orchestra.

Bick emigrated to Haifa, Israel in 1921, and soon afterward got malaria, which put a stop to his career. He eventually founded a workers choir in Israel which performed workers and songs and Schloss (pioneer) songs, but also performed Schubert, Mendelssohn and Idelsohn as well. His house was considered a meeting point for musicians, and his wife eventually set up a local music school there. Bick taught music there and also led the choir. In 1923, the Israel Opera was founded by Prof. David Shor. Bick left for Paris in 1932 where he learned composition and conducting. Returning to Haifa, He founded a Wind Orchestra and Children's choir there. He directed the concert Society Navit in Tivon-Kirjat Amal and in the amphitheater of Nahariyah. His son, Victor Zemir Bick became a violinist for the Haifa Symphony Orchestra.

The Klezmorim of Orhei and Dubasari, Bessarabia

(title by Horowitz) Bick, Moshe, Haifa Music Museum and Library, Haifa, 1964
English translation by Bruria Pollak and Joshua Horowitz, Vienna and Graz, August 20, 1999

There were 2 klezmer kapelyes that played in the Dubasari-Orhei shtetls of Bessarabia. The first was lead by Rabbi Claim der Fidler, whose son-in-law became known as the Melakh Klezmer (King of Klezmer)* He had a long beard and a large belly and was a virtuoso on the violin. It was said that his playing “broke hearts and moved mountains” His Kapelye was invited all over Bessarabia to play for weddings. There are two legendary accounts of his having been murdered: The first claims that following his having played at her ball, a daughter of a Polish landowner fell madly in love with him. Because he was married and a religious Jew, however, he was not permitted to socialize with her, and so she poisoned him; The second legend says that other musicians, who because they were envious of his success and unable to compete with him for their livelihood, killed him.

The second kapelye of the region was called “Mekhemia Klezmer,” which was led by Mekhemia Kovadla from Tolna, near Cluj, Rumania, ** where there were many Hasidim. His nickname was the Ring maker, so called because he possessed the unique ability of spinning complex improvisations out of khazones (synagogue songs). People said of him that he “turns the nigunim round and round like a wheel.” He never failed to inspire his listeners. Mekhemia learned to read music on his own, and was able to write down melodies very quickly. He played all of the instruments which were found in his kapelye, including the fiddle, contrabass, trumpet, clarinet and flute. His kapelye often split up into smaller groups in order to play simultaneously at different engagements.

Mekhemia had one very pronounced peculiarity - he couldn't stand onions. Apparently he couldn't even look at them. His friends made fun of him because of this and played many jokes on him. One morning before a wedding, when the sun had come up and the guests were resting, the klezmorim took a rest themselves and lay down. Mekhemia put his flute down lay down to take a nap. While he slept, one of his musicians took an onion and smeared it all over his flute. When they were finished resting, they woke him up and called him over to begin playing again, and when he picked up his flute to play, he immediately threw it away in disgust, and never touched the flute again from that time onward.

His oldest son Moshe Kovadla played violin in Kishenev, and became a well known violinist in the Belgrodnie Sovrenye Ensemble and in the city Poltava. Moshe eventually emigrated to the United States and worked there as a violinist. Mekhemia's youngest son Benjamin Kovadla was in the same children's temple choir as Moshe Bick and later became a concert pianist, giving concerts in Russia, Rumania, Germany and Turkey. Benjamin wrote music for operas, and eventually married a violinist, with whom he had a talented son. The entire family died in the Shoah. Benjamin's daughter Chayka (Chaya) loved the theater and often played the role of the lover in the stagings. She married Shlomo Shpilman, a clarinetist in the Royal State Opera of Bucharest. Shpilman's son Chaim was a trumpeter and Shlomo's brother Dudel played the guitar excellently.

The old Klezmorim in Bessarabia were Avraham Klezmer and Rabbi Leiser, who played bass. Leiser, also called Boss (bass) never really wanted to play the bass, and didn't like his role as a bassist, because he wanted to be a soloist. So he “smuggled” bass melodies into the tunes he played in his kapelye, so that he could be soloist. He played doinas and djilie (sad melodies) on the bass. The other instruments improvised an accompaniment. One said in Yiddish, “Di kapelye hot in tsugedrimpelt”

Two other groups who led Jewish kapelyes were called “Di Zigayner” because their leaders were Gypsies. One was called Monolaty (but they called him Mamalaty, to sound like the name for the Romanian porridge called Mamaliga). The other was called Petru der Zigayner. He had a complete mastery of the entire Jewish repertoire, including the El Mole Rachamim (The Lord shall have Mercy) which he played with great depth of feeling at the weddings of orphans. He also played beautifully the Kale Badekns and Mitzveh Tentsl and knew many Dobranoces which were also called “Khosn-Kale Gute Nakht.”

Neither of the Gypsies of these two kapelyes could read music. Mekhemia wrote down their songs for them, and Petru and Monolaty fought over whose melodies Mekhemia would write down for them. They were both excellent violinists, whose sons studied violin and taught as well. Their main salaries were gleaned from Jewish weddings where they played Jewish music. They were considered as quite special non-Jews to the Jews there. They spoke Yiddish and Bessarabian and could play Shehakol, (the blessing of the first harvest for fruit for the holidays of Sukkhot and Pessakh), Bore Pri Ha Aretz (Fruit of the earth) and Ha Motzi Lekhem Min Ha Aretz. Petru also sold perfume for the woman in the shtetl. Both Petru and Monolaty never missed a funeral.

The Badkhn was named Itzak Yankel Burla. He called up the drushe geshenk and was the sole policeman in his city. Dubasari and Orhei were separated by 40 Km. There were no asphalted roads connecting them and between them was the Dniester River. There was a coach driver from Dubasari who saw to it that both cities stayed in contact “Wi a shtub mit a nalker” (like a room with an anteroom). Families were married to each other through the shadkhanim who by doing so “married the 2 cities” to each other as well.

Dubasari had a Kapelye which was very well known, led by Reb Itzik der Dubasarer. People said, “Az er flegt zikh tsu fargayn in a waynindikes in a djilie, hat gekent in a pushitn mitvokh vern Tishe Be Aw.” When he loses himself in a sad melody, an ordinary day like Wednesday becomes like Tishe Be Aw (a day of mourning). The son of Itzik, Herschel Sheer (nee Shergorotzky) emmigrated to the US and became an industrialist. Itzik's grandson is a musician and his granddaughter, Florence Wantz is an opera singer in New York. These are my memories in Orhei.

* This is the first documented use of the term in eastern Europe, antedating the term as it was used by Dave Tarras and Giora Feidman.
** The town of Tolna is actually 120Km south of Budapest in Hungary and lies 450 Km east of Cluj. The musicians in the Cluj area did play often for the Szatmar Hasidic Rebbe. It's possible that Bick meant Turda, which is 34 Km south of Cluj, though then the name for Mekhemia would have to be the Turdayer Clarinetist (Horowitz)