Bente Kahan was born in Oslo in 1958. Today, she belongs to the most famous and leading Jewish performers in Europe, who â€“ together with her production company Teater Dybbuk â€“ Oslo â€“ promotes the Yiddish culture all over the world: Neither limited by content nor geography. Trained as an actor in Tel Aviv and New York, she and her colleagues use the European Jewish history and culture as themes for concerts, theatre works and CDs. To AVIVA-Berlin Bente Kahan talks about her work, family and her new album "Sing with us in Yiddish".
AVIVA-Berlin: You are a member of a musical family that let you grow up with a strong Ashkenazi musical tradition. To what extent does the musical heritage of your family inspire your work today?
Bente Kahan: the music is part of my identity. It is like the food you grew up with. It is the tunes that your parents were humming to you as a child. it effects my taste and therefore inspire me intentionally or even with me not being aware of it.
AVIVA-Berlin: When you founded the "Theater Dybbuk â€“ Oslo" in 1990, you started to dedicate your career to Jewish cultural heritage. What was the reason to do so at that moment?
Bente Kahan: I thought . "So many actresses can perform so well, they can definately look more like NORA in Ibsenâ€™s Doll House than I could ever..."
But I knew one thing: Not many could fill the gap of showing the world our fantastic Jewish heritage, - especially that one that in away had been stolen from us: our European Jewish heritage, a treasure that our parents generation had left behind, it reminded them too much of all what they had lost. For me, it was all we were before the Shoa, all our identity, and in order to understand where I came from and all that had been taken away from us, I realized that focusing my work on Jewish European Culture was more than just another theatre project, it became a lifestyle, a choice to say something important and to share it with others, Jews or Gentiles alike.
AVIVA-Berlin: Today, you are one of the best Jewish folksingers in the world. What brought you forward in your career?
Bente Kahan: Thank you so much for your compliment!!!
I guess I donâ€™t see myself so much as a folksinger, but have always thought of myself as a theatre person, and I usually say that when I have no more to say on stage, I guess I will find myself another job!!!
AVIVA-Berlin: What is the secret of your success? Is there a special concept behind your music and theatre work?
Bente Kahan: I have never sat down and tried to think: So what should I do now.
I guess that projects have come to me. I have tried to be open-minded, listen and watch what happens around me, and then take my own decisions.
As for my artistic work, I trust very much my intuition. I have very much respect for the written word, and the music for me is just another means of expressing yourself.
AVIVA-Berlin: How did you feel when your daughter Voja expressed her desire to do a CD with you, and what were the most beautiful moments when you start working with the kids on the project "Let us sing in Yiddish"?
Bente Kahan: I was very astonished. In a way, she was jealous that I had invited my father (her Seide, the Yiddish word for grandfather) to sing on the HOME CD, and she said that she wanted to learn all my Yiddish songs so that people would remember them. She was only six!
It was wonderful when I realized I could do this project with Polish kids in todayâ€™s Wroclaw, and see the joy they had singing the Yiddish songs. One of my most beautiful moments might be watching the elderly Jews in Wroclaw during the first concert we had in their synagogue in June 2003. I felt I was doing a mitzveh, and I knew I was killing some ghosts!
AVIVA-Berlin: How does your daughter integrate her Jewish musical heritage in her life, apart from the CD you both made?
Bente Kahan: She is now preparing for her Bat- Mitzvah that she will have in Israel, and she is learning her maftir and Haftara!!
AVIVA-Berlin: In May 2005, you were appointed the director of the White Stork Synagogue, Wroclaw Center for Jewish Culture and Education. How do you combine your work with your family-life?
Bente Kahan: I just returned home from a tour to Prague and Budapest. I guess I am lucky to have a good husband, and I always decide myself how much I am willing to work. That is a privilege. I donâ€™t have to go to work every night, and I decide myself when to have my vacations!
AVIVA-Berlin: What are your plans and wishes for the future?
Bente Kahan: I still hope to turn the synagogue in Wroclaw into an international Centre for Jewish Culture and Learning. Besides, I wish to share my work with others, both with audiences as well as with other artists.
It is wonderful to inspire and be inspired!
Please do read the review of "Sing with us in Yiddish".