Avrom (Arkady) Gendler was born on November 29, 1921 in Soroke, Bessarabia. The tenth child of Rokhl and Elkhonen, Arkady grew up in a poor, but culturally rich environment. Everyone in the family sang, and the siblings formed the core of a Yiddish theatre club that performed often in their hometown.
Because Soroke was, at that time, part of Romania, the Gendler family spoke Romanian outside the home. But at home they spoke Yiddish — and only Yiddish. Arkady remembers a wealth of Yiddish repertoire from these pre-war years: children's rhymes, poetry, folk songs, theatre songs, religious hymns, and the songs of political youth organisations. It was in Yiddish that he discovered many of the world classics.
Arkady attended a community-run Jewish elementary school for four years. Because of limited finances, he had to leave middle school at age eleven to begin working with his father as tailor. When the Second World War reached the Soviet Union, Arkady was drafted into the Soviet Army. He lost nearly all of his immediate family in the war - only one brother and one sister survived.
Demobilised in the Moscow region, Arkady began to attend a free evening school. Within a few years, financing his studies as a woman's tailor, he graduated from a technological institute as a chemist. He was sent to Zaporozhye (Ukraine) and worked as specialist on polymers. He married, and the young family enjoyed a socially rich and active life.
Throughout the Soviet era, Arkady was often asked to sing Yiddish songs for his friends. Known for his natural lyrical tenor and his phenomenal memory, he helped keep Yiddish song alive. The eventual collapse of the Soviet system meant the beginning of a new era, as Yiddish could be spoken freely again. As one of few remaining with memories of Yiddish life and traditions from before the war, Arkady played a pivotal role in the rebirth of Yiddish and Jewish culture in Zaporozhye, and beyond.
Since the early 1990s, Arkady has travelled and performed at Yiddish culture festivals throughout the world - a popular artist, a gentle teacher, and loving mentor. He continues to travel to this day, generously sharing his priceless knowledge and repertoire.
(research by Janina Wurbs; the CD documentation includes a full biographical essay by J.W. in Yiddish, English and Russian)
© Avia Moore 2012