Ashkenaz was founded in 1973 by David Nadel, a dedicated human rights activist and folkdancer, in response to the San Francisco Bay Area’s strong interest in international folk dance. David himself had a life-changing experience when he became involved with the Westwind International Folk Ensemble. He saw that listening and dancing to the music of other cultures fostered an understanding of different heritages and he was determined to make this experience available to others.
David transformed a warehouse on San Pablo Avenue into a dancehall devoted to presenting international and contemporary roots music and dance. Modeling the interior and exterior of the building after an Eastern European wooden synagogue, in honor of his Ashkenazi Jewish ancestors, he envisioned a place where the world’s music and dance would dissolve the differences that keep people apart.
“I did not know David Nadel personally. But I do know that we shared a common experience and belief. Dance changed our lives. He believed, and I believe, in the transformative power of dance. The place David created is unique – nowhere else can you dance to such a variety of live music. And no place else has the sense of community that Ashkenaz embodies.”
– A local dance and music lover
David pioneered the presentation of world music long before the genre had a name. For 24 years he led Ashkenaz to become a community gathering place presenting music as diverse as Balkan, Cajun, Zydeco, African Highlife, Brazilian Samba, Afrobeat, Calypso, Soca, Blues, Contra Dance, Eastern European folk music, Flamenco, Reggae, Salsa, Ska, Soukous, Bluegrass, East & West Coast Swing, and more. In 1996 David was murdered by a drunk he refused to let back into the building. It was the one violent act in a dancehall dedicated to peace and nonviolence.
A Diverse Community Comes Together at Ashkenaz
After David’s death, a group of diverse community members – dancers, musicians, employees, cultural activists – came together and formed a tax-exempt nonprofit arts organization to continue the important cultural work that David Nadel began. With overwhelming community support, the new nonprofit was able to put a down payment on the building and has been presenting dance concerts, educational workshops, and fundraisers six to seven nights a week year-round. The community’s strong support has also made it possible to purchase a state-of-the art sound system, refurbish the dance floor, and make numerous upgrades to the building.
Throughout its history, Ashkenaz has built an ever-expanding community through multicultural, participatory music and dance. In a world increasingly filled with racial and ethnic strife, Ashkenaz creates community by providing a safe place where diverse audiences gather, dancing together to the rhythms of cultures from around the world. Ashkenaz is an all-ages venue, a place where children are always welcome.
The Archives of Ashkenaz
For more about Ashkenaz’s history, see below:
* 30th Anniversary
* City of Berkeley Proclamation — David Nadel Week
* World Wall for Peace
* Fund the Floor
In March 2003, Ashkenaz celebrated its 30th anniversary with a month-long festival of music and dance. The festival was a celebration and a fundraiser for Ashkenaz and lots of fun!
* Brazilian Carnival Showcase with Ginga Brasil Dance Troupe with Entre Nos
* East Coast Swing Showcase with The Moodswing Orchestra, Johnny Nocturne & Miss Dee, Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums with Ms. Carmen Getit
* African Showcase with Ze Manel, Samba Ngo, West African Highlife Band with DJ Omar
* Dance Floor Amour with Brass Monkey Brass Band
* Caribbean Carnival Showcase with Junglz Apart, Harry Best & Shabang, Caribbean Allstars, Jeff Narrell & Bongo Beach Band with special guest, Crazy
* Reggae Showcase with Pacific Vibrations, Riddimystics, Native Elements with special guest Dan-I Spencer, with Shashamani Soundsystem
* Balkan Showcase with more than 15 groups performing
* Bluegrass/Oldtime Showcase with Stairwell Sisters, Bluegrass Intentions, Laurie Lewis & Kathy Kallick
* Cajun/Zydeco Showcase with Aux Cajunals, Tom Rigney and Flambeau, Zydeco Flames
30th Anniversary CD
To celebrate our 30th anniversary, Ashkenaz produced a compilation CD made up of the beloved bands that have played at Ashkenaz over the years.
CDs are available for purchase for 12 or 2 for $20. Buy CDs at Ashkenaz or order by mail. Include the number of CDs you want, your name and address, a check for the CD’s plus $3.50 for shipping and handling to:
Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center
1317 San Pablo Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94702
City of Berkeley Proclamation – David Nadel Week
Proclamation Honoring David Nadel And Declaring The Week OF January 14, 1997 To January 21, 1997 As David Nadel Week
Whereas, David Nadel was honored by the City of Berkeley in 1993 as a Tzaddic (Righteous One) for his outstanding work and for his lifetime commitment to the causes of peace, justice and respect for human rights; and
Whereas, as a political activist stubbornly principled and deeply committed to his beliefs, Dave Nadel’s gift to his community was sharing what he thought life ought to be while working to make life what it should be; and
Whereas, the support for his community that David Nadel gave in such a gracious, generous manner – the list of over 250 causes that have raised funds at Ashkenaz is a catalogue of Berkeley activism – was reciprocated with a massive show of support in the defense of Ashkenaz when it was endangered by the lawsuit brought against him by the University of California Regents; and
Whereas, David Nadel was a longtime peace advocate who supported a People’s Park independent of the University of California Regents and proceeded to follow governmental procedures to change the composition of the Board of Regents by having them democratically elected; and
Whereas, his death is especially tragic because he was a man of peace yet he fell victim to this act of senseless violence that occurs far too often in communities across the country due to the easy availability of guns; and
Whereas, the Ashkenaz building, historically significant and architecturally masterful with ornamental scrollwork and wooden decor designed to resemble old Ashkenazi Jewish synagogues from Eastern Europe, has been a rich source of international culture and history for the past 23 years.
Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved that as we say goodbye to David Nadel, we are reminded that although a mindless gunman took him away from us, the years of treasured experiences we have shared together at his House of Whole World Dance Music—a place where men, women, children and youth can attend in a respectful and safe environment—will remain forever precious in our hearts. And so we say: Here’s to a job well done, David. May you rest in peace. You earned it.
And Be It Further Resolved in a city which takes pride in its cultural diversity and is well known world-wide for the political activities of its citizens, which were exemplified by the life and deeds of David Nadel, that I, Shirley Dean, Mayor of the City of Berkeley, together with the Berkeley City Council, do hereby declare the week of January 14 to January 21, 1997 as David Nadel Week as a time of special remembrance of David Nadel, and do further urge the citizens of Berkeley to work for peace, social justice and human rights.
Shirley Dean, Mayor
January 14, 1997
Dance-A-Thons are daylong events which feature a variety of music/bands and nonstop dancing. They have been an important feature of Ashkenaz’s fundraising efforts.
The First Annual Dance-A-Thon
The First Annual Dance-A-Thon was held January 17, 1998 during David Nadel Week. Nearly 1,500 people turned out for the event.
The afternoon started off with David’s first love, East European folk dancing to Edessa. The Balkan folk dancers really got the money thermometer rising. Zydeco Flames and the California Cajun Orchestra almost set the place on fire! Dial 911!
The calypso and reggae rhythms of Tropical Vibrations and the Caribbean Allstars were “Hot! Hot! Hot!”
By the time the West African Highlife Band took the stage, the thermometer had Boiled up to the $40,000 mark.
The money raised went toward the down payment for the Ashkenaz building. The community poured forth its support for music and dance, and its love for David, and we were able to buy the building in June of 1998.
And a great time was had by all!!!
Featured performances by: Tom Rigney & Flambeau, Tamazgha, California Cajun Orchestra, Tropical Vibrations, Edessa, West African Highlife Band, Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, Caribbean Allstars
World Wall for Peace
The Ashkenaz Peace Wall grew from a collaboration between World Wall for Peace and members of the West Berkeley neighborhood where Ashkenaz is located. The wall tiles were painted at Ashkenaz, at the First Dance-A-Thon on January 17, 1998, and at People’s Park Fair on May 10, 1998 (Mother’s Day). The World Wall for Peace was dedicated to Ashkenaz founder David Nadel on December 20, 1998, by City Councilmember Linda Maio and by Carolyna Marks, founder of the World Wall for Peace.
There are Walls in 31 countries containing over 36,000 tiles. The Ashkenaz World Wall for Peace contains 108 individual tiles. A “Thank You” tile was painted for the Ashkenaz dedication.
“I did not know David Nadel personally. But I do know that we shared a common experience and belief. Dance changed our lives. He believed, and I believe, in the transformative power of dance.
The place David created is unique; nowhere else can you dance to such a variety of live music. And no place else has the sense of community that Ashkenaz embodies.”
– A local dance and music lover
Fund the Floor
In 2001, Ashkenaz launched a fundraising campaign to “Fund the Floor.” Donors were given the opportunity to commemorate themselves, their organization or a loved one by contributing $200 or more towards a plank for the new floor. The campaign was a success and a new floor was installed in January 2002. “Fund the Floor” donor names are displayed on a plaque on the Ashkenaz Dance Floor History Wall in the hallway at Ashkenaz. The floor is made of 3–4 inch tongue-in-groove maple flooring which originally came from the Hudson Pencil Factory in San Leandro. On February 1, 2002, the floors were unveiled at a Grand Reopening Party with music by Tom Rigney & Flambeau and Tropical Vibrations. More than 450 people attended the party.