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Adam on arts & culture: May

During the brief interwar period, a light performance form known in Yiddish as Kleynkusnt  (small art) emerged.

Adam Davis movie image
Scene from the movie "Fill the Void."

During the brief interwar period, a light performance form known in Yiddish as "Kleynkusnt" (small art) emerged among urbane Eastern European Jews, influenced by Polish and Russian literary cabarets. Its combination of song, sketch, satire and social commentary was performed by touring companies with colorful names like Balaganeden and Azazel. At once audacious and rooted in Jewish culture, its contemporary mainstream analog is the improv theatre stage of Chicago. Its Jewish heirs include the New Budapest Orpheum Society, the Ensemble-in-Residence in the Humanities Division at the University of Chicago, which performs this month's Klezmer Brunch in cabaret style.

Sunday, May 5, 10a.m. at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph, Chicago. $10 for concert only.

Fill the Void, a new film being released by Sony Pictures this month, is a drama about a Tel Aviv Orthodox Hassidic family. Eighteen-year-old Shira, the youngest daughter of the family, is on the precipice of an arranged marriage to an earnest young man of the same age and background, and life seems full of love and promise. The plans stall when her older sister Esther dies suddenly in childbirth, forcing the postponement of the match. Complicating matters further is her brother-in-law, now a single parent, and his plan to quickly remarry widow in Belgium. With her own mother trying to keep her grandchild in the close-by, Shira must choose between love and family, as she must decide whether or not to marry her own brother in law for the good of her nephew or put her own personal feelings above her pity. The film is written, directed, and produced by Rama Burshtein and is her feature debut. A New York native, Burshtein came religious while studying film and television in Jerusalem. Since graduating, she has used her worked to promote film as a tool for self-expression in the sometimes insular and media-phobic orthodox community.

On the subject of women behind the camera, film, Israeli-born Chicago filmmaker Shuli Eshel has woven her own filmography of documentaries into an autobiographical account Passion for Dancing: The Story of Shulamith. Eshel's rediscovery of her childhood interest in dancing, salsa dancing specifically, is the jumping off-point for this "film of films' that takes the audience through the filmmaker's personal journey of love, survival and activism in 36 minutes. Premieres at 3p.m. after an introduction by the filmmaker at Instituto Cervantes, 31 W Ohio St., Chicago, onSunday May 19. Tickets are $5.

Speaking of Latin music, later that evening, head over to the Old Town School of Folk music or a performance by Rafi Malkiel and his quintet. The Israeli-born composer and trombonist has been circulating in New York City's music circles for several years, where he has become well known for his unique arrangements that bring together fusing Jazz standards, Latin-American melodies and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. The Rafi Malkiel Quintet performs a free show at The Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago on Sunday, May 19 at 7:00 PM.

As a current resident of Skokie, I can attest to its present diversity and multicultural makeup, which still includes a significant Jewish population. Thirty five years ago, however, the Jews of Skokie, including significant numbers of Holocaust survivors, were so prominent in the mix that the American Nazi Party targeted it for a march with uniforms, flags and symbols reminiscent of its' WWII era German counterpart. The vociferous civic debate and legal challenges that followed are now etched into our community's collective memory. The Invasion of Skokie, a 2010 play by Steven Peterson, revisits the tension and drama of that moment through the lens of the Kaplan family. Father and protagonist Morry is outraged at the affront the victims of the Holocaust on the one hand, while his daughter's romance with a man outside the faith seems to undermine it from within. Rachel Edwards Harvith directs and performances are held at the Mayer Kaplan Jewish Community Center, 5050 Church, Skokie, Wednesday, May 22 through June 23. Tickets are $10-28.

On a lighter note, literally, Jewish songwriters, song leaders and musicians make their annual pilgrimage to Olin-Sang Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) for the annual Hava Nashira Conference May 29 - June 1. Armed with guitars, iPads and Shireinu books, several hundred attendees from across the world will descend on Oconomowoc, Wisc. to celebrate contemporary Jewish liturgical music. Participants will have an entire weekend of educational and participatory sessions covering songwriting, leadership and presentation styles, as well as workshops and intensives to learn new material and skills. If you teach, lead, or like to sing music in any Jewish setting, this program, created by the late Debbie Friedman and Cantor Jeff Klepper, is a great way to spend a weekend- the music will go late into the night! Check out for more information.

Adam Davis is the founder and executive director of KFAR Jewish Arts Center, a leading presenter and advocate of contemporary Jewish arts, music, and culture programs in and around Chicago.For future arts suggestions and feedback, e-mail Adam at or call (773) 362-4760.

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