Vus makht du, folks? My name is Melissa Szilagyi. I am the Communications Associate for this year’s Ashkenaz Festival. I come to Ashkenaz from a diverse PR background, ranging from work in politics and public affairs, healthcare and the Jewish not-for-profit sector. As part of our in-house communications strategy, I am launching a blog to help promote this year’s Festival. The #AshkenazFest blog is a forum in which we’ll hone in on the 2016 Festival’s artists and programming, share news and upcoming events and spark relevant discussion surrounding the Festival and global Jewish music, art and culture.
A little bit about how I ended up here
A friend of mine referred me to an opportunity at the Ashkenaz Foundation to help out with some in-house communications leading up to this year’s Ashkenaz Festival. Growing up in Montreal, I hadn’t heard of the organization nor had I heard of the Festival, or so I believed. Then, I thought back to a beautifully moving havdallah service on Toronto’s Harbourfront and a wildly entertaining performance by Socalled that I had attended just a year before I moved to Toronto. As it turned out, I was at the 2012 Ashkenaz Festival.
I came in to meet with Eric and Sam and right off the bat I could feel my heart racing as we enthusiastically brainstormed ways in which to promote this year’s Festival. I remember thinking to myself ‘This sounds really cool – I like music, I’m Jewish and, get this, I’m Ashkenaz!’. In my first week, however, I quickly learned that the Festival has expanded to incorporate all global Jewish arts and culture, not just music, but film, theatre, food etc., and certainly not just Eastern European Jewry.
On my first day, I was introduced to a very diverse group of people. You may think that an event of this magnitude is planned over the two years between festivals by a 20 plus member team. This is incorrect. A small but mighty group led by Eric Stein, Sam Parnes and Ed Segalowitz, is responsible for putting together this extraordinary seven-day celebration of global Jewish arts and culture over just six to eight months. The office is dynamic, collaborative, fast-paced and loud. Its blue walls, plastered with art and framed posters from past festivals creates a unique environment in which you certainly feel the Yiddishkayt influence, opening doors to creativity and productivity.
A week into this new role and I find myself fully immersed in North America’s largest showcase of Jewish global arts and culture, learning more than I ever thought I would about Yiddish culture and klezmer music, in particular. Did you know that there is a Japanese klezmer band, how cool (and unique) is that? They’re called Jinta La-Mvta and they’re performing at this year’s festival. I digress.
The phrase I most often heard from my bubbe growing up was femakh em pisk, roughly translating to shut your mouth. “Femakh em pisk”, she’d exclaim as I took over the Shabbat dinner table conversation with endless chatter. Since the time I could speak, I was always a chatterbox. Naturally, this led me to a career in PR. Now, nearly 24 years later, I find myself as a Communications Associate at the Ashkenaz Festival. I like to think that my bubbe would be proud to know that I’ve chosen my gift of gab to promote a festival historically devoted to reinvigorating her Eastern European Jewry. I’m overjoyed and so grateful to be a part of this team and can’t wait to celebrate global Jewish arts and culture at this year’s #AshkenazFest.
Tomorrow, I share with you my first interview with one of the biggest names in Klezmer music, Frank London of the Klezmatics.
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