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Adam on arts and culture: December

We've barely digested the turkey but the dreidels keep spinning this December.

Adam Davis Maxwell Street image
From left: Eugene Frieson, Glen Velez, Howard Levy, and Cantor Alberto Mizrahi.

We've barely digested the turkey but the dreidels keep spinning this December, doling out plenty of things to do and see culturally before 2014:

Maxwell Street Klezmer Band continues its 30th anniversary celebration with a set of Chanukah concerts against the backdrop of the Wonderland Express exhibition. 11:00 and 1pm, Sunday Dec. 1, Alsdorf Auditorium on the grounds of the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

Kol Zimrah, Chicago's Jewish community choir, will perform its annual Chanukah concert at Union League Club of Chicago. Under the baton of Richard Boldrey, the chorus will undertake a full program for Chanukah that includes Marcello's Maoz Tzur, Parchi's Shemen Zach, Janowski's Yiboneh, and selections Handel's Judas Maccabeus, plus at least a dozen more songs. Dec. 3, Union League Club, 65 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago

Also before Chanukah ends, Spertus hosts Matzah to Menorah: A Holiday Jazz Celebration. Trio Globo and Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi, serving up a fusion of jazz, classical and sacred music. The trio features harmonica innovator, pianist and composer Howard Levy (of Bela Fleck & The Flecktones) and 4 time Grammy-award winning percussionist Glen Velez and Eugene Friesen.  They'll be backed by a larger jazz ensemble to round out the sound. The globe-trotting Mizrahi, now in his 23rd year at Anshe Emet Synagogue, remains in peak form and is a living treasure of Jewish music of numerous traditions, from European Chazzanut to that of his own Greek Sephardic heritage. 7:00 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 5, Spertus Institute, 610 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL. $15-$35. 

City Winery's 'Bubbly Brunch' features local klezmorim Tum Balalaika  this month. Owing to the combination of the discontinuous experience of immigrant and assimilation on the one hand and the Shoah (Holocaust) on the other, it's sometimes hard for many to capture the flavor of authenticity. Tum Balalaika's members, on the other hand, all grew up in Russia and have a connection to that heritage. Its roster features alumni of the Red Army Band, Grand Orchestra of Kiev Circus, Minsk Symphony, and Belarus State Conservatory of Music. Featuring bayana and flute, the ensemble's folk-centric approach is roughhewn and enjoyable, especially after a couple glasses of the bubbly stuff. 10:30 a.m. (band plays 11:30 a.m.). Brunch concludes at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 15, City Winery, 1200 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL. $7.

With the early timing of the lighting of the menorah this year, it was bound to happen that there'd be an event like The Ethnic Sound of Christmas & Chanukah: A World Music Holiday Concert, which takes place on neither holiday. Nevertheless, Jutta & the Hi-Dukes' trio will perform a special ethnic holiday on seven instruments (mandolin, violin, Greek baglama, guitar, Bulgarian flute, ocarina, and percussion) singing it up in 10 languages. The program will include a Bosnian Chanukah song in Sephardic Ladino. Drum along to a medieval French "Noel" and do a Balkan boogie or two. Great for the entire family. 2:00 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16, Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. in Evanston.

Up in Skokie, the "Funny Old Broads" will perform holiday themed installments of their revue, featuring longtime-local favorite stand-up comic Caryn Bark, sit-down comic Robin Riebman, and the musical "Boomer Babes" Pam Peterson and Jan Slavin. They'll add new songs and jokes to their standard shtick sure to keep the spirits up as, to quote Kurt Weill's September Song, "we reach December," with in the year and our lives. 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 19, 8:00 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21, 2:00 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 22 and 8:00 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 24 "Erev Xmas." Skokie Theatre, 7924 Lincoln Ave. Skokie $25.


Woof and Drash: Weaving the Jewish Experience, an exhibit that weaves together halacha (Jewish law), Leonard Cohen songs, ancient prayers, Yiddish curses, and the prophetic wisdom. Ongoing, Spertus Institute, 610 S. Michigan
Avenue, Chicago.

Israeli playwright Motti Lerner's Paulus imagines the struggle of Paul in the days of Roman rule over Jerusalem when political upheaval and theological strife in the Second Temple era. Through Dec. 15, at Pierce Hall in The Historic Chicago Temple Building, 77 West Washington Street, Chicago. $15-35.

Daniel Okrent's Old Jews Telling Jokes  revue honors the timeless Jewish tradition of laughter through tears and the comedic generation bred on Catskills' Borscht Belt humor. Ongoing, Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted Street, Chicago.

The Pin…. (waiting to hear if run is extended) 

Adam Davis is the Cantorial Soloist at Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette as well as 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. Contact Adam via email at

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