St. Louis’ newest Jewish band is “mixing it up” with two gigs this month

Shakshuka+

Shakshuka

Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

Most of us have said it at one time or another in our lives: “We should start a band.”

For Betsy Cytron, the question didn’t pop into her mind until after a long, wonderful career as a public school band director in Missouri and Illinois. She retired in 2018 from teaching in the Ladue School District.

“My husband and I have participated in various, separate music groups, and last summer we were thinking how nice it would be to start our own,” said Cytron, a longtime member of Congregation Shaare Emeth.

The couple thought about instrumentation and friends of theirs who play and might be interested. By the fall of 2021, they had assembled a small group and were ready to give it a shot.  With Cytron on drums or dumbek and her husband, Ron, on keyboards, guitar, and vocals, they were joined by Annie Gottesman, a longtime friend from Shaare Emeth, who plays guitar and sings. Hal Goldsmith, a member of Kol Rinah, was in band with Cytron since middle school and plays the saxophone. And David Propper, also of Shaare Emeth, plays flute and clarinet.

“We gelled quickly in terms of our interests and how our instruments sound together,” said Cytron, “and we decided early on that money we earn through performances would be contributed back to the Jewish community and various other charities.”

But you can’t really perform without a name.

Shakshuka

You probably know of Shakshuka as the popular Israeli dish of baked eggs, tomato sauce, and varying vegetables. Basically, the dish is a mixture of lots of ingredients, which is literally the translation of Shakshuka, “all mixed up” and it seemed to be the perfect name for these five musicians.

“I wanted a Jewish (Hebrew) word, but nothing that was hard to pronounce (no ‘ch’ sounds in the word),” said Cytron. “I also thought a one-word name would be memorable. We love to make the dish shakshuka at home for breakfast, and it’s a fun word to say, so that seemed like a good choice.”

And it fits perfectly because as a group they like to play a mix of styles of music and each member of Shakshuka is from a mixture of times in their lives.

The music you’ll hear at a Shakshuka show is also a mix of cultures and styles.

“Jewish music is as varied as the Diaspora itself.  Our group performs music from Israel, America, Ukraine, Russia,” said Cytron. “Our repertoire includes folk and popular music from Israeli culture, instrumental selections from various countries, and sacred music from liturgy. The lyrics we perform are in English, Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian. Broadly put, Jewish music is music written by or for Jews, and usage can span from prayer to celebration.”

Hear Shakshuka Live

The band is having a busy summer and has two upcoming performances that are free and open to the public. The first show is at the St. Charles Jewish Festival on Aug. 14. The festival is from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and the band will take the stage outside the Foundry Art Centre at 1 p.m.

“My father grew up in St. Charles and spent his entire business career in St. Charles County,” said Cytron. “There were only a handful of Jews in St. Charles during his childhood and his grandfather had a shul in the basement of his house.”

You can also catch the band at the upcoming Festival of Nations, on Aug. 27 around 11:15 a.m. The festival is one of the largest multicultural events in the country and will take place in Tower Grove Park for the first time in two years.

Like the “mixture” the band is named for, the audiences that will see Shakshuka this month are sure to be a mixture of nationalities, backgrounds, and religions, all looking to enjoy the wonderful cultures that make up our city and neighborhoods.

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“When listening to our music, we would like our audience to feel a sense of joy and hope, as well as a connection to the Jewish culture,” Cytron said.

You can follow Shakshuka and learn more about upcoming concert dates from their Facebook page.