And You Shall Know Us…

From May ’09 Spotlight: “History sounds different when you know where to start listening.” That’s the motto of the Idelsohn Society (named in honor of Hava Nagila composer Abraham Zevi Idelsohn), and Idelsohn Society founder Josh Kun will soon be here to personally expand our aural horizons. Kun’s most recent book is And You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Our Vinyl (coauthored with Roger Bennett), and the multimedia presentation he has planned for us sounds fascinating.

Kun is associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Southern California, and I called him in LA for more details.

“Music is such an amazing tool,” Josh told me. “I can take an ‘LP’ [long playing record] from the ‘60s and play it for someone who bought it when it originally came out and someone who’s hearing it for the first time, and they might have completely different ideological takes on what this particular song means, but they have the song in common.”

“I’m from a transitional generation. I grew up with LPs and CDs, but now I’m a full user of MP3s and iPods. Hip hop culture embraces ‘crate digging’—going through record store crates to find pieces of old music, then cutting them up and recombining them to create new songs. In our book, Roger and I take old album covers and mix, match and recombine them to create new kinds of stories. So our project is really born out of a very contemporary sensibility: hunting and pecking through the past in order to construct our own identity.”

“There are so many stories that haven’t been told yet that really change the way we understand Jews in terms of multiple racial and ethnic histories of the United States,” he concluded. “So these LPs speak to a dynamic story of cross-cultural interaction, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to collectively share these songs together and try to understand what they mean.”

For more information about the Idelsohn Society, visit For more information about Kun’s program (scheduled for Wednesday May 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Morse Theatre in Rogers Park), visit

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