Kupishokers in the Cultural, 

Entertainment, and Performing Arts

Historical Perspective

Jews have always had an affinity for music and the cultural and performing arts.  This has been mentioned many times, as far back as the Bible where King David was noted as a well-known harp player and writer of psalms.  His soothing music "therapy" supposedly helped calm depressed and agitated King Saul who is thought to have suffered from epilepsy.

Further, in the Temple in Jerusalem, there were the harps, cymbals and psalteries which were utilized for sacred music.  In war, the Jews used horns and trumpets.  Choirs, songsters and dancers were always part of celebrations and involved in sacred music.

Centuries later, in Kupiskis, there would have been cantors who provided the musical accompaniment to prayer, but we have no knowledge of their names or who they were, although we have listings of rabbis who served the community.  Kupiskis did not have any Reform Synagogues, so the organs and other musical instruments and choirs usually associated with these more westernized places of worship were not a part of life in the shtetl.

The first musician, who we find documented in Kupiskis, is the patriarch of the Muzykant family, Efroim Kalman ben Mortkhel Muzykant (1819-1906).  Called into service with the Tzar, Efroim-Kalman became a musician.  During his service he was known to have created a new musical instrument.  After his twenty-five years of service ended, he returned to his ancestral shtetl for retirement and marriage.  Imagine Kupiskis as a retirement venue . . . Boca Raton it wasn't.

Later, we find Shimen Abel ben Movsha Davidovich (b.1848) who was a musician and his relative David ben Abel Davidovich (b.1890), who was also a musician and a tailor.  How do we know this?  They are listed as saving money from the exercise of their profession in the Postal Savings Bank in Kupiskis.

In 1927, the first movie theater opened in Kupiskis in the shtetl’s central square at #2 Kosmonautu which showed silent and then talking films and was leased for other types of performances and meetings.  Before each movie began, a trio of Jewish musicians, mainly young women, played various tunes on a guitar, mandolin and balalaika to amuse the crowd.  Unfortunately, the names of this trio of women are not known.

In addition to these, there were amateur theater groups who entertained the populace in Kupiskis.  The following are photographs of some of these groups and occasions where they performed.  

A Purimspiel in Kupiskis with Kieval Isaac Tuber on the bottom left of the photograph.

Let us not forget the writers in Kupiskis.  A well-known young poetess in Kupiskis was Matilda Olkenaite whose works were most recently performed, in memorium, in Kupiskis on September 13, 2004.  Matilda and her entire family were killed in Panemunelis in 1941.

Another writer was Shlomo Kodesh, who wrote two books about Kupiskis, one a prose piece with beautiful illustrations and the other an autobiography entitled “In My Father’s House”.

Apart from these, there were other Kupishokers who kept diaries written in Yiddish and later left these for their descendants.  Two of these were Miriam Sachar and Velva Sachar.  

Kupishokers Who Left

There were those who were born in Kupiskis and left to find fame and fortune such as the following individuals:

Moishe Pelovitz – Singer, Jewish People’s Chorus -  Moishe was the son of Avrom-Eliyahu and Sora-Rokhlia (Klasaite) Pelovich, who was a shochet and mohel in Kupiskis.  He was born in Kupiskis and later settled with his family in Paterson, NJ. He was an avid singer and later became a member of the Jewish People’s Chorus.  He continued his affiliation with the chorus when he moved to Santa Monica, CA, where some of his siblings had settled.

The fascinating story of his life and career with the Chorus is found in an interview which is incorporated into the book by David Philip Shuldiner Of Moses and Marx:  Folk Ideology and Folk History in the Jewish Labor Movement, page 101.  The book can be read on-line at Google books.  

Nathan Swerdlin
Editor/Critic Yiddish Jewish Day-Journal Newspaper, Co-Editor, Leksikon of the Yiddish Theater.  The son of Josel ben Elia and Freida (unknown maiden name) Swerdlin who were originally from Glubokoye, Belarus, Nathan Swerdlin was born in 1907 in Kupiskis where his father owned a pharmacy.  Nathan came to America in 1936 and excelled in theatrical criticism.  

Many Kupishokers involved themselves in community organizations which promoted Jewish culture such as the Yiddish Theater.  One of these was Sheine Goldin Meyer who was very much an active participant in the Yiddishe Kulturella in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Performing Descendants

In today's world, there are a number of Kupishoker descendants who have musical or performing arts talents.  Some of these are highlighted below:

Ilan Elkaim, Radio Show Host, Journalist  - Son of Rachel Furmanovsky and grandson of Joe Furmanovsky who was born in Kupiskis, Ilan grew up in Zimbabwe.  Primarily a businessman, he also hosted a program on Radio ZBC ( Zimbabwe ) and covered southern Africa for Newsweek.  He now appears on the “Florida Forum”, Public Radio Station WXEL, Boca Raton, FL.  

Robin Esrock
, Television Personality/Travel Writer - Grandson of Abraham Esrock who was the head of the Kupisker Society in Johannesburg, Robin has run the gamut of gonzo or high risk travel on television and most recently did a film about his visit to find his roots in Kupiskis.

Jill Furmanowsky, Photographer, Rock Stars - Daughter of Jack Furmanovsky, an architect, and granddaughter of Joe Furmanovsky, who was born in Kupiskis and settled in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Jill has become one of the notable photographers of many of the great rock stars of the 20th Century.  Her web site gives a window into her world of entertainers and their lifestyle.

Michael Furmanovsky
, Historian and Lecturer in Popular Culture - Michael is the son of Jack Furmanovsky, an architect, and grandson of Joe Furmanovsky, who was born in Kupiskis and settled in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.  Brother of rock music photographer, Jill Furmanovsky.  He is an historian and lecturer at Ryukoku University in Japan and the first person to document the impact of early American country, rockabilly and pop music in Japan in the late 1950s and 1960s. His work has appeared in the Japan Times and in the journal Popular Music and Society.

Megan Choritz Furniss
Improvisation Actress, Producer/Director, TheatreSports - Megan is the great granddaughter of Peretz and Chaia Etla (Blacher) Choritz, who were born in Kupiskis.  She is the granddaughter of Israel Choritz (who was also born in Kupiskis) and Sophia (Lipshitz) Choritz.  Her parents were Lazer (z'l) and Elaine Choritz.  She has specialized in writing, performing and directing her own creations as well as industrial theater productions; appeared in the South Africa soap opera "Isidingo"; and taught and facilitated improvisation workshops.  She has also created her own theater criticism blog.  Taking into account all of these areas of accomplishment, Megan has carved an enduring niche for herself in the genre of improvisational theater in South Africa.

Ted Horwitz
, Professional Musician - The great great grandson of Pincus Meyerovitz and great grandson of Kasriel Meyerovitz and grandson of Tema Dina Meyerovitz, Ted is a versatile professional pop/rock musician who plays the guitar, keyboard, and violin and has vocal abilities as well.

Jonathan Oshry
, Concert Pianist

 Jonathan is a classical pianist, renowned in South African and the United Kingdom.  See his website for 
 more details on where and what he plays.


Jonathan Sachar
, Actor, Producer -  He is the great grandson of Kussel and Hannah Lottie (Kurlansky) Sachar, who came to America from Lithuania.  He is also the grandson of Edward and Libby Sachar, and the son of Leonard and Jean Sachar.  Jonathan has been both an actor and recently a producer of such indie films as The Box, Just Add Water, Tooth & Nail, Cosmic Radio and Foreign Exchange.

Louis Sachar
Author, Screenwriter -  Louis is the son of Robert and Ruth Sachar, a grandson of Louis and Lena (Ungarman) Sachar and great grandson of Maisha and Ann (Bernstein) Sachar.  He is best known for his popular book and subsequent film Holes and his many other excellent children’s books.  He is the winner of both the National Book Award and the Newberry Medal for Holes which is the only book to ever garner both awards for children’s literature.

Mia Serra
, Dancer/Choreographer - Mia Serra comes from a long line of Kupishokers.  Her late mother was Dina Serra, her grandfather was David-Meier Abramowitz and great grandfather was Moshe Yitzchak Abramowitz, the shtetl’s shochet and mohel.  Mia was a participant in the trip to Kupiskis in 2004 with her mother, niece and cousins.  She is a belly dance performer and has a dance company called the BellyBliss Allstars and runs a belly dancing school.

Aviella Trapido
, light opera singer - Aviella, who was born in Johannesburg, SA, is the daughter of Liba and the late Jeffrey Trapido, who was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and the granddaughter of Chaim Trapido, who was born in Kupiskis in 1907, and Sarah Saracik.  Chaim left Kupiskis in 1926 for South Africa and settled in Zimbabwe.  She is also the great granddaughter of Yankel Trapido, born in Kupiskis in 1875, and Tila-Pese Katz. She now lives in Israel.


Entertainment Executive Descendants  

In addition, there are a number of Kupishoker descendants who are prominent executives in the entertainment industry such as:

Harvey Kalman Ganot, former Executive Vice-President of MTV Networks, Inc. Harvey is the grandson of Aba Mendel ben Movsha (Zlata) Klots, from Kupiskis and the son of Paula and Philip Ganot.  Harvey was involved for many years with both MTV and Nickleodeon in the advertising arena.  Now, Harvey is working on an innovative venture, New Markets Now, which provides support for fledgling TV networks.

Harvey Grace
, Chairman of Grace and Wild Studios, Inc. Harvey is the son of Julian Grace whose parents were Meryl Segal from Kupiskis and Abba Grace from Rokiskis.  He is the chairman of Grace and Wild Studios, Inc., Farmington Hills, MI, which is considered the largest film studio for production/post production between Los Angeles and New York .  He is also a broadcast investor and owner of several radio stations.


As research progresses in this area of accomplishment, more links will be provided.

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