EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - East Brunswick Public Library (2 Jean Walling Civic Center) presents the fifth installment in the series “The Jews of Eastern Europe Before The Holocaust” on April 8 at 2:30 pm.

“The intent of the series is to bring to light the legacy of my Jewish ancestors, prior to their annihilation during the Shoah,” said Dr. Michael G. Kesler, producer of the event.  Since his retirement in 2006, Kesler has written extensively of his and his late wife’s experiences during World War II.

This is the final annual program of a series on the history, culture, and music of Eastern European Jewry before the Holocaust.  The series examines Tsarist Russia, where most of the six million victims of the Shoah came from.  It is also where at least three-quarters of American Jews trace their origin.  Tsarist Russia did, in fact, serve as the incubator of traditional Judaism as well as of the blossoming growth of the more liberal movements during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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The series’ mission has been to save whatever could be rescued from the ashes of the Shoah, including Yiddish, an offshoot of Germanic dialect that spread throughout European and American Jewry as a lingua franca. It became the language of writers, poets, and educators, as well as of Jewish communities. 

Previous annual programs have presented the history and culture of the Jews of Ukraine, the Jews of Poland, the Jews of Russia, and the Jews of Belarus and the Baltic States.  They have attracted full-house audiences of over 200 attendees.

This year’s program highlights Bessarabia, the swath of Tsarist Russia sandwiched between the Ukraine and Romania near the Black Sea, in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  During that period the Jews increased five-fold their population and established an important presence in the main cities, where they accounted for approximately 40% of the inhabitants.  They enriched their religious, cultural, and social lives, providing fertile soil for the growth of Hasidic dynasties, Zionism, Jewish culture and music, and the Jewish press.  At the same time, they became important partners in Bessarabia’s mercantile, manufacturing, and professional life.

A distinguished historian, Professor Glenn Dynner, Chair of Humanities at Sarah Lawrence College in Westchester, New York, will present the history of the region.  Dr. Tamara Freeman, an ethnomusicologist, noted Holocaust music educator, and violist, will lead the program’s selections of traditional and classical compositions, with pianist/composer David Schlossberg.  A cadre of accomplished artists will join Tamara and David:  Dr. Michael Kesler, a petroleum engineer and former cantor of JCCP (tenor); Dr. Susan Hornstein, an Information Architect of computer systems and director of the Central New Jersey chapter of HaZamir, the International Jewish High School Choir (alto); Deborah Gerber, an educator and long-time member of  Makhelat HaMercaz (vocalist); Dr. David Simen received his PhD in Mathematics from the University of Michigan  and is a member of Makhelat HaMercaz (baritone); Steven White, a tenor of the Makhelat HaMercaz; Donna Messer, founder and guiding spirit of the Highland Park Recorder Society (recorder player); Korina Kesler, high-school junior and member of the Westchester County Symphony Orchestra (violinist); and May Kesler, founder of Keslerdances, a contemporary dance company, and featured artist in “Dance Across the USA” (dancer).

Jennifer Podolsky (Director of East Brunswick Public Library), Rabbi Esther Reed (Senior Associate Director of Hillel at Rutgers University) and Rabbi Jeff Pivo (East Brunswick Jewish Center) will offer opening remarks.  Dr. Barbara Reed of Rutgers University will recite one of Chaim Nachman Bialik’s famous poems.

The program is sponsored by the East Brunswick Public Library, the Karma Foundation, the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, and the East Brunswick Jewish Center.