KlezKanada, a Montreal centre devoted to promoting Yiddish arts and culture, was hard-hit after having to cancel its popular summer retreat for two years because of the pandemic, but is nevertheless confident about the future, says its new executive director, David Moss.
A native of Montreal, Moss has spent three decades as an arts administrator at the local and national levels. As KlezKanada returns to full operation, Moss rejoices in getting back to his community roots.
He succeeds Sebastian Schulman, who became KlezKanada’s first full-time executive director in 2018. Now in its 28th year, KlezKanada’s flagship is its weeklong program in the Laurentians which drew upwards of 400 participants before COVID, about half from outside Canada.
Schulman, a literary translator who came to KlezKanada from the Yiddish Book Center in Massachusetts, said he stepped down reluctantly for family reasons. The challenges of the past couple of years had the positive effect of forcing the organization to examine “what was important to us and how we do it,” he said.
“I don’t want to downplay the hardship of the pandemic, but in many respects, it accelerated our development. Really bold decisions had to be made… And we succeeded in keeping together and even expanding our community going online.”
The retreat, held at Camp B’nai Brith, will be fully in person this August, said Moss, and once again will feature some of the world’s leading klezmer musicians and other performers and scholars.
This past summer KlezKanada was hybrid: online programming before a run at the camp limited to about 200 people.
Moss said KlezKanada, under Schulman’s leadership, proved it could adapt through skillful use of technology.
KlezKanada is more than a single yearly event, he stressed; it is a global community that became broader and stronger through digital connection.
And despite the loss of registration fees in 2020 and 2021, KlezKanada is on a solid financial footing, Moss said. Revenue mainly comes from private donors, supplemented by project grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and its Quebec and Montreal equivalents.
Not having any bricks-and-mortar to maintain has allowed KlezKanada to avoid the devastation many other live performance institutions have suffered, he added.
Moss wants KlezKanada to have a year-round presence again, such as concerts in Montreal and educational activities, as well as master classes and mentoring young artists, whether virtual or real.
A Bialik High School graduate and trained musician, Moss began his administrative career in 1994 as director of the Saidye Bronfman Centre’s School of Fine Arts, and became executive director of the Saidye (now the Segal Centre for Performing Arts) two years later serving until 2003.
During that time, he championed the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre, for which he shared a special affection with his Yiddish-speaking grandmothers.
Through the Saidye, Moss was familiar with KlezKanada from its inception in 1996, and knew its founder, Hy Goldman, who with his wife Sandy, largely ran the organization themselves, and who remain on the board of directors.
Moss then moved into the broader sphere, serving as general manager of l’Opéra de Montréal for four years before going on to consult with a myriad of arts and nonprofit organizations in Quebec and Canada, and to promote cultural entrepreneurship.
He spent 10 years exporting to the rest of Canada the model of Quebec’s Journées de la culture, an annual event throughout the province when the public can sample an array of cultural activities, for free.
Moss helped bring the concept to over 700 communities across Canada, which meant he spent a lot of time away from Montreal, although it remained his home.
“David brings a deep understanding of the Montreal, Quebec, Canadian and international cultural landscape, an impressive track record and a great balance of vision, leadership and seasoned management abilities,” stated board chair Bob Blacksberg of Philadelphia, a Harvard law graduate, tech executive and clarinetist.
“We are confident that David’s leadership will set the stage for a renewed chapter of growth and sustained impact for KlezKanada and the diverse and growing global community that engages with klezmer music, Yiddishkeit, and Jewish arts and culture.”
Moss will be working with artistic director Avia Moore who is starting her second year with KlezKanada, the first Canadian and woman in the role. The Vancouver native, now living in Montreal, is a teacher of Yiddish dance and is completing a PhD in theatre and performance studies at York University.
In addition to continuing to expand its international reputation as a Jewish cultural hub, Moss sees the potential for greater connection with the Quebec folklore scene. He should be able to make that happen.
“I am married to a Québécoise and we are fully bilingual and bicultural, even trilingual. I know that when my five-year-old son, asks, ‘Papa, où est mon shmatta’.”