Klezmer in Paradise

The Blums at their 40th anniversary party. They met in college, honeymooned in the Peace Corps, and are living happily ever after.

When I met Gloria and Barry Blum in the 70’s, they already were performing with a klezmer (Jewish party music) band they had founded called the Golden Gate Gypsy Orchestra of America and California, Otherwise Known as the Traveling Jewish Wedding. When I heard them play at Caffe Trieste in San Francisco, they blew off the roof.

A year before the Blum’s daughter, Katie, left the nest, eventually to get her degree in social work, the Blums moved to Kailua-Kona, on the island of Hawaii, leaving their beloved band behind. Kona Community Hospital was thrilled to have Barry as their only orthopedic surgeon, and the Blums were thrilled to trade their Mill Valley digs for a spacious, airy home on a hillside with a huge view of the ocean. Soon they began looking for band members.

The Kona Traveling Jewish Wedding Band onstage.

This time their band didn’t just play lots of wedding gigs. Gloria and Barry assumed leadership of Congregation Kona Beth Shalom, and they began performing Jewish wedding ceremonies in addition to the music. The band recorded a wonderful CD called Shaloha Oy, the title track being a minor key, up-tempo send-up of Queen Liliuokalani’s timeless Aloha ‘Oe. On the cover is a blurb from me: “Gloria Blum is the Janis Joplin of klezmer.”

Gloria singing with the band.

Kona Beth Shalom became a kick ass congregation, producing Karen Breier’s Shaloha Cookbook, which garnered an article in the New York Times, and adopting a torah (Old Testament scroll in Hebrew) that had belonged to a Czech congregation massacred during the Holocaust. The governor of Hawaii attended Kona Beth Shalom’s celebration of the old torah’s expert restoration.

My illustration for the backs of Gloria’s Feeling Good Cards. This image is copyrighted by Gloria Blum.

Gloria’s gift to humankind, a method of teaching appropriate behavior, self-esteem and social skills to mentally disabled teenagers, inspired her to create a resource curriculum guide, Feeling Good About Yourself, and also a communicaton card game, Feeling Good Cards, enjoyable by any group of people. Last year I drew a card back picture exactly to Gloria’s specifications, and re-designed the graphics for the box. That’s Barry playing his bass balalaika, and Gloria beside him, singing with her arms upraised in joy.