Minnesota synagogue builds an ice rink — and inaugurates it with a klezmer skate

JTA — A low forecast of -16 degrees Fahrenheit (-9 Celsius) in the Twin Cities on Thursday was all set for two frozen Jewish firsts — a Klezmer on Ice festival and a synagogue-run skating rink.

Such is life in Minnesota, where bone-chilling temperatures are no match for Jewish festivities.

Rabbi Markus Rubenstein of Temple of Aaron in St. Paul said, “It shows us a Minnesota-style of thinking about winter, where just because it’s cold outside, you don’t have to stop doing everything.”

“I used to be a rabbi in New York. They said you couldn’t hold any big events in the winter because if it snowed, no one would come,” Rubenstein said. “But [here] Sometimes there will be 6, 7 inches and -5, -10 degrees of snow, and you tell everyone to come outside. I mean people from the 80s, 90s for little kids. And they just put on their coats and go out and have fun.”

Aaron’s Temple, a Conservative congregation of about 700 families, is inviting families to bundle up and what Rubenstein believes is the first skating rink on a synagogue property. The rink, which can accommodate about 30 people at a time, was built by Joel Pepper and is being maintained by “Ice Captains” – members of the synagogue who clear it of ice and remove any excess ice. Are.

On Thursday, skaters at the rink heard the Klezmer festival’s kickoff performance, which featured Jewelya, a hybrid klezmer and New Orleans jazz band with Rubenstein playing trumpet.

But music will be piped in from inside the synagogue — a concession, Rubenstein and others involved with the festival said, to the cold.

Rabbi Markus Rubenstein of Aaron’s Temple tests out his synagogue’s new ice rink. (courtesy of Markus Rubenstein)

Last week, musicians promoting Klezmer on Ice faced some technical challenges with a pre-festival performance along Lake Harriet, the (usually frozen) body of water in the heart of Minneapolis. Anticipating colder temperatures, the musicians planned to play from a lakeside booth decorated like a boom box as part of a pop-art initiative called Art Shanti. But there was a wrinkle.

Josh Rosard, an organizer of Klezmer on Ice, said, “We should have had a sousaphone player who by the time he got his heavy big brass instrument in the box, the valves were frozen so he couldn’t play”. The performance continued without the sousaphone.

It’s not just brass instruments that are vulnerable to cold snaps. Strings and woodwinds can quickly become out of tune in the cold, as the metal contracts and the wood begins to warp. The clarinet and violin, staples of the Eastern European Jewish musical genre, just can’t take it.

This is why most Klezmer on Ice events will take place indoors – which includes not just the Temple of Aaron. The week-long festival’s line-up includes local and national artists Sarina Partridge, Tziporah Johnson, Izzy Buckner, Klazmommies and the band Midwood. There will also be a cabaret variety show; klezmer-infused Shabbat services; and a bright havdlah Celebration.

Rossard said he saw the event as a breakout moment for the Twin Cities’ klezmer scene and, given the strong track record of long-running klezmer festivals spawning new acts, an opportunity.

“I’m really excited about what the community players in particular will get out of the workshops and excited to see what might come out of this in the future,” said Rozard, who grew up casually playing the accordion. , but gained more serious involvement in the klezmer world during the pandemic. He met his Klezmer on Ice co-organizer, Jewish musician and folklorist Sarah Larsen, with whom he attended KlezCanada and the Portland Klezmer Festival.

The sun sets before klezmer on the opening night of the Ice Festival, which features free skate sessions at the Temple of Aaron’s Ice Rink. (courtesy of Markus Rubenstein)

Still, he admitted, “It’s a little tongue in cheek to do something like this in the middle of February in Minnesota.”

Rubenstein said his congregants are ready for it. The Temple of Aaron’s new ice rink will be open not only during the opening night of the Klezmer festival, but also most Saturdays for skating sessions after Shabbat morning services and Hebrew school classes are over.

If the activity is not exactly standard following the synagogue, it is perfectly permitted under the Orthodox movement’s interpretation of Jewish law. movement, of which Aaron’s Temple is a part, permit Non-competitive ice skating on Shabbat, as long as no Shabbat rules are violated (such as driving to and from the rink or paying to rent skates), and the skating takes place within the confines of an eruv, or Jewish legal enclosure inside which some items can be carried on Shabbat.

Rubenstein said he was thinking of the activity in different terms—as it relates to making Aaron’s Temple the centerpiece of the St. Paul Shabbat.

“The kids are ice skating anyway,” he said. “So why not ice skate in Shool and do it together with your Jewish friends, and build community that way?”

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