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Honouring local Yiddish music legend David Botwinik

In his 35 years as a music teacher and choir director at Montreal Jewish day schools, Vilna-born David Botwinik taught more than 30,000 students. He has also written scores of Yiddish songs, which have been circulated around the world. Botwinik

Now 90 years of age, the longtime Côte Saint-Luc resident (right) was honoured on, June 17  at the second annual International Yiddish Theatre Festival at the Segal Centre of the Performing Arts.   For the first time  he actually witnessed a concert featuring his very own music performed by internationally acclaimed soprano Lisa Willson, pianist Elena Berman and special guest Philip Goldig.

This concert was in celebration of Botwinik’s new book, From Holocaust to Life (Fun khurbn tsum lebn), now in its second printing. The book, which was available for purchase, contains a collection of 56 original musical compositions. These are new Yiddish songs and solo and choral works, with lyrics by various Yiddish poets, complete with English translations, piano accompaniments, and chords

Lou Burko, the retired music director at Shaare Zion Congregation in Montreal, calls Botwinik’s book a “formidable opus " and “a musical biography of David Botwinik's life,”  
Botwinik retired in 1991 after a career at the Jewish  People’s and Peretz Schools  (JPPS) and United Talmud Torahs. But working closely with one of his three sons Alexander, now a Yiddish teacher  at the University of Pennsylvania in  Philadelphia, he has kept busy writing music and of course his book. He does not use a computer, so he writes everything by hand and sends it by mail to Alexander.

“I transcribed his handwritten scores onto the computer using music engraving software and painstakingly added the lyrics under the notes in both Yiddish and transliteration,” Alexander explains. “I also did the book design and layout and worked on translating the song lyrics together with my wife, Naomi Cohen and my brother Leybl. Since the book came out last summer, I have continued to be involved with publicity, arranging quite a few interviews and concerts devoted to my father's music.” 

David Botwinik came to Canada in 1956  with his wife Silvana, who had been hidden in a church with other Italian Jews during the German occupation of Italy. The couple still live in the same  Côte Saint-Luc home where they raised their family.

Botwinik says he is not finished yet. He plans to start working on a book about the Holocaust, including stories his own family may have not yet heard before.

I was pleased to be at the event and asked to say a few words about David Botwinik, whom I have known since childhood. My friends and I used to play street hockey right in front of his house.  Mr. Botwinik has been known to attend some Côte Saint-Luc city council meetings.  Last week I met him at the grocery store. He was purchasing a loto ticket.

Mazel tov to you David!


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