Aaron Bendich, 29, runs Borscht Beat, an independent Jewish cultural project focused on Yiddish song and klezmer music, old and new. As part of Borscht Beat, Bendich, runs a record label, releasing new work by top klezmer acts, and he hosts a weekly FM radio show by the same name on WJFF Radio Catskill. Bendich lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and he also organizes numerous klezmer-focused cultural events.
For the full list of this year’s “36 to Watch” — which honors leaders, entrepreneurs and changemakers who are making a difference in New York’s Jewish community — click here.
Who is your New York Jewish hero?
My grandfather Max Bendich who lived 105 years in the Bronx and brought joy to innumerable people. In my teen years, my grandfather gave me his Jewish record, film and book collection, which deepened my love of commercially released Jewish creative media.
What’s a fun/surprising fact about you?
I am an avid pinball player and have a competitive leaderboard with my fiancée with over 65 machines we’ve both played.
How does your Jewish identity or experience influence your work?
My Jewish identity is the kernel of my cultural work. I feel an immense amount of privilege, pride and love for the world of Jews that I was born into. I am always grateful to be born a Jew and to have been given access to such a rich and beautiful culture. If I can have any impact at all on the world of Jewish music, and spread its beauty to anyone who would not have otherwise heard it, my work will have succeeded.
Was there a formative Jewish experience that influenced your life path?
My relationship with Jewish music started the day I was born, when my zayde (grandfather) sang me my first Yiddish song. It took 20 years for that earliest exposure to Jewish music to turn into a burgeoning interest, but from age 20 onward I’ve become increasingly consumed and motivated by this culture.
Do you have a favorite inspiring quote?
“I sing them because they’re mine. And unless I sing them, that part of the culture will vanish. And that wonderful meadow with proliferating flowers — with a profusion of flowers — will have the Jewish flower missing. That’s why I sing Jewish songs.” — Theodore Bikel
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What is your favorite place to eat Jewish food in New York?
B&H Dairy Kosher Restaurant in Manhattan!
What is your favorite book about New York?
Don Delillo’s “Underworld” (which is only partially about New York City) captures some of the complex and wild things that happen here and is an altogether fantastic book.
In one sentence, what was your best experience as a Jewish New Yorker?
There’s nothing better than an all-day klezmer jam in Prospect Park.
What are three spots in NYC that all Jewish New Yorkers should visit?
Williamsburg or Borough Park on Purim to see all of the incredible costumes that Hasidic children wear; the annual Greek Jewish Festival in the Lower East Side; B&H Dairy Restaurant, the last of the classic NYC kosher dairy restaurants — this place has been around for 85 years and has more character than just about anywhere else.
How can people follow you online?
You can follow @borschtbeat on Instagram and check out Borscht Beat on Bandcamp at borschtbeat.bandcamp.com.
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