Anatolii Shor was born in Bershad in 1922. His father was the leader of a local Hasidic group in town and worked as a hatmaker. He had two brothers and a sister. He went to a Yiddish school for four years and finished his education in a Ukrainian school. He also attended a heder.

Khad Gadyo (One Little Goat)

Bershad, Ukraine

The markers of Ashkenazic Jewishness in the USSR and Former Soviet Union have differed greatly from those in North America or other parts of the world where religious and institutional life play a leading role. Since the late 1940s, Soviet Ashkenazic life and self-identity were almost entirely unofficial, often illicit, and manifested most vitally in family and small community contexts through grass-roots forms of expressive culture like language and verbal art, music – especially song – and traditional foodways.

Thus, the ability of persons of Naftule Shor’s generation to remember and especially to read portions of Jewish liturgy or paraliturgical text is usually a distinctive mark of religious or traditional upbringing transmitted and not forgotten through the Soviet Period, the Second World War, and the dissolution of community life that has often accompanied the emigratsiia: the large-scale emigration of Jews since the 1970s from the USSR and its successor states. New forms of Jewish life are again taking root in larger cities in the Former Soviet Union, but the continued dwindling and disappearance of smaller communities are not only a factor of the inexorable march of time and old age, but a consequence of an emigratsiia that continues to this day.

Many – though by no means all – Soviet Ashkenazim born before 1930 and still deeply familiar with traditional Jewish liturgy are zapadniki, (Russian: “Westerners,”), who grew up in areas of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and the Baltic countries that were not part of the USSR until the years surrounding World War II. Naftule Shor’s Hagode reading transports us to an earlier era in East European and Soviet Jewish life and reminds us that religious Jewish life and tradition did not simply vanish with the establishment of the USSR or its annexations of neighboring areas.

This is particularly true of Peysekh, with its message of freedom and its function as a participatory celebration for which many older individuals recall ritual or textual specifics. In this clip, Shor chants portions of the four concluding hymns of the Passover seyder (lit. order: religious ritual accompanied by a meal and four glasses of wine). Asked by AHEYM interviewers what he recalls in connection with Peysekh, in particular the final hymn, Khad gadyo (The One Kid), Shor begins to chant the latter from memory. Interrupted and asked if he knows the rest, he picks up a Hagode and begins to read and chant its four concluding hymns in order.

Shor begins with verses 1 and 3 of Ki loy noe, ki loy yoe (It Befits Him, it is Due Him), the final hymn of Halel(Praise), the penultimate Hagode section. He moves directly into the Hagode’s concluding section Nirtso(Acceptance) with the first two verses of the hymn Adir hu (He is Mighty), before chanting all thirteen verses of the counting hymn Ekhod mi yoydeyo (Who Knows What “One” Means?). He often punctuates his chanting of the latter by translating the Hebrew original of each number into Yiddish for the interviewers, who he’s not sure understand (they do!).

Musically, Shor’s renditions are typical of an older, pre-modern and pre-American Ashkenazic style of reading theHagode, in particular its hymns. They are chanted (gezogt, lit. “said”) rather than sung (gezungen). Though they have pulse and melody, or more accurately mode, in the traditional Yiddish worldview they are not “songs”. This approach continues to distinguish the older Orthodox Ashkenazic style of synagogue and home liturgy from more modern, often West European-influenced styles employed by Conservative, Reform and Modern Orthodox traditions throughout the world.

Additionally, Shor’s versions of the concluding hymns (chanted after the Seyder meal) are upbeat and mainly employ “major” modalities. This is also typical of older East European Jewish practice. While we don’t have an example here of Shor chanting the first portion/s of the Hagode, particularly Magid -- the narration of the Passover story itself -- it is characteristic to chant those portions in a more somber manner, utilizing musical modes that convey the suffering, power and drama of slavery, redemption from it, and the Exodus itself.

An intriguing modal and rhythmic moment in this clip is Shor’s brief rendition of Adir hu. We don’t hear much of it, but it appears to be distinctive in its use of a “minor” mode (or one cadencing on the 2nd degree of the mode) and especially in the pulse of the chant, which seems to imply an asymmetrical “7/8” rhythm in the repeated cadences. If the latter is true, we are witness to a moment of great exceptionality. Ashkenazic musical practice in general avoids or “straightens out” the asymmetrical rhythms of Ottoman or Balkan musics. Shor’s rendition raises the question as to whether Jews in southern, former Ottoman and certainly Ottoman-influenced locales like Bershad’ preserved features in liturgy or paraliturgical music that are otherwise absent from secular genres like the instrumental klezmer tradition as we know it.

The texts for Ekhod mi yoydeyo and Khad gadyo are likely of non-Jewish origin, given their parallels in many European cultures. Khad gadyo is unique among the concluding hymns of the Hagode by virtue of being in Aramaic, not Hebrew. Some see this as proof of its antiquity, but given its multitude of variants in non-Jewish European folk traditions, it is more likely a borrowed theme deliberately penned in Aramaic to give it the patina of age and Jewish specificity.

At the end of the clip, Shor refers to the custom of finishing the Seyder on the second night of Peysekh by reciting the blessing that begins the ritual period of Sfires ho-oymer (The Counting of the Omer).

-With thanks to Michael Alpert for providing the descriptive content of the song