Pomegranate Squad (noon) with Sruli & Lisa (3 pm) and Shtreiml (4 pm), as part of the Ashkenaz festival, Harbourfront Centre's Toronto Star Stage (235 Queens Quay West), Monday (September 6). Free. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
Every little girl has dreams. I dreamt of becoming a Charlie's Angel (in the 70s) and, later (in the 80s), of marrying Ricky Schroeder. Bee Sack had a dream, too.
"Ever since I was a little girl and used to dance around the house to klezmer music with my grandma, I dreamt of being in an all-girl klezmer band," she says. "Klezmer was part of my family and my upbringing."
While so many of our childish aspirations fall by the wayside (Charlie hasn't called, and Ricky's pledged his love to another), Sack's stayed true to hers. As the flautist for Canada's only all-female klezmer band, the Pomegranate Squad, she's living her childhood dream.
Heartwarming, isn't it?
Performing in Harbourfront's Ashkenaz festival, a celebration of new Yiddish and diasporic Jewish culture, the Pomegranate Squad are a "high-energy, tuchas-shaking" crew of local ladies who break out of the traditional box of Jewish music. They blend performance, dance tunes and campy Yiddish folk songs into the mix, and with klezmer music experiencing something of a revival, they're at great risk of becoming scenester darlings.
While Sack may have grown up a klezmer-loving kid, viola and fiddle player Reena Katz discovered the form slightly later in life. When she came upon klezmer midway through her teens, she saw it as a secular way of connecting with her Jewish heritage.
Klezmer is party music, she explains. "It's designed for celebration. It may come from a liturgical, synagogue-based tradition, but the music itself is not for prayer."
Katz, who has an avid interest in Yiddish history and Jewish labour history, was drawn to the links between klezmer and the more unconventional, radical aspects of diasporic Jewish culture, "as opposed to the more Zionist, Hebrew-based education I'd gotten growing up.
"For both of us, it's an important voice to put forth in the milieu of what's going on in the Jewish community right now," she continues, "which tends to be directed at a more Zionist Israeli kind of culture.
"Yiddish and klezmer culture doesn't come from that tradition at all. It's much more about not having a homeland and the feeling of being in exile."
Pomegranate Squad are also 5/6ths queer and enjoy uncovering the bent nature of Jewish culture.
Katz points out that many of the musicians who've spearheaded the klezmer revival are also queer.
"I think there's a mystical connection. We're drawn to this music because it doesn't have the same kind of rules and regulations as some of the stricter religious laws do. We need each other, we play it together and we discover the queerness together - especially in the Yiddish folk music."
"Jewish culture is gay," insists Sack. "After I came out in my 20s, I looked back and was able to see a lot of times in schul or in my upbringing where there were a lot of queer influences. Like really strongly women-focused spiritual traditions, or the aspects of Jewish prayer where the sexes are encouraged to only hang out with each other - both of which provide fodder for a lot of queer goings-on."