I joined a club to read an old book and found a new story – Jewish Journal

Posted By on June 1, 2020


The Sarajevo Haggadah

Geraldine Brooks People of the Book was the inspiration for a creative musical work entitled The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book. Created by Bosnian composer and accordion player, Merima Kljuco, the work uses accordion, piano, and video to trace the unique travels of the haggadah from medieval Spain to 20th century Bosnia.

Hidden and rescued during World War II, the haggadah was later restored by the National Museum in Sarajevo. Commissioned by The Foundation for Jewish Culture, the music reflects the turmoil of the times.

For Kljuclo its not about the violence, its about the power of culture in the face of violence. The music reflects the turmoil of those times. But for Kljuclo, the story is not so much about the violence that threatened the haggadah and the Jews through the centuries. Its about people helping one another, and the power of culture in the face of violence. Its interesting that such a story surprises us, she says, when it should be completely normal.

As a writer, much of what I write about comes to me in very strange and unexpected ways. The result is that often I come upon musical stories that few people know of. Such is the case of this musical composition.

Since I am an inveterate reader, an article from the online Forward caught my attention recently. The article invited interested viewers to join the Forward Book Club on Zoom. The book to be discussed was People of the Book. I had already read the book but was willing to participate. It has been an amazing experience with readers participating from all over the United States! One of the most interesting discussions on the Zoom site involved a museum curator who had worked on the haggadah itself which was an early illuminated haggadah from 14th century Spain.

However, in doing some research, as I generally do when working on a new topic, I came upon the musical connection that I write about in this article.

Merima Kljuco was studying music in Sarajevo when the war in Bosnia broke out. She fled Bosnia in 1993. A few years later a friend gave her People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks novel about the Sarajevo Haggadah. After reading the book, she started thinking of how she could make a musical story telling how the haggadah ended up in Sarajevo.

She brought her project to fruition with a multimedia composition for piano and accordion that includes images from the Sarajevo Haggadah. Many of the scenes, illuminated in copper and gold, depict Biblical stories from Creation to the death of Moses.

So just who is Merima Kljuco? Checking her out, I found out that she is a classically trained accordionist specializing in contemporary music that draws from many traditions including Balkan, Sephardic and Klezmer.

She was born in Yugoslavia in 1973 but fled to the Netherlands as a refugee of the Bosnian War where she currently is listed as a Bosnian-Dutch resident.

At present, she also resides in Los Angeles. She speaks of the Sarajevo Haggadah as a symbol that inspires respect and tolerance of different cultures and traditions. She remembers a time growing up in Sarajevo in a culture that felt a bond with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities.

In many ways, the haggadah reminds her of her own life and the Exodus she experienced. All of this led her to this 12 movement composition starting with Gods creation of the world in an accordion sequence that mimics the sound of breath.

At our final book club session, Geraldine Brooks was the guest author. During the question and answer session, I offered the information I had recently discovered. She responded by saying that in its Boston area debut in 2014, she had contributed an introduction and participated in a post-performance discussion. She commented on the beauty of the musical piece which was very gratifying to me. You can find it on YouTube. Enjoy!

Arlene Stolnitz is a retired educator from Rochester, N.Y. who has lived in Venice, Florida for the last 25 years. Founder of the Sarasota Jewish Chorale, her interest in Judaic Music has led to her column which appears monthly in the Jewish News, a Federation newspaper that appears in Southwest Florida cities from Sarasota to Naples.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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I joined a club to read an old book and found a new story - Jewish Journal

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