Out of the variety of businesses that the COVID-19 pandemic affected, concert venues were among the hardest hit — Berkeley music hall Ashkenaz was no exception.
Located on San Pablo Avenue, Ashkenaz has been a center for multicultural music and dancing for decades. Sarah Travis, the executive director, said that Ashkenaz used to play music from a variety of origins, such as Hawaii, Zimbabwe, the Balkans and more. When the pandemic hit, Travis says Ashkenaz closed for more than two years.
Despite going long without open doors, Travis said the community has been a major factor in remaining afloat.
“The community and nonprofit board came together to kept the lights on,” Travis said. “It was pretty much volunteer work alone that allowed Ashkenaz to survive. We’ve been taking many steps over the last six months, and we’re finally on the final ones which is very exciting for everyone who’s been working on this.”
Travis has been working towards reopening Ashkenaz since being hired in January. She says a successful inspection on Friday has set Ashkenaz closer towards meeting its goal of reopening June 5.
According to Travis, Ashkenaz founder David Nadel modeled the dance hall on his Jewish faith: The facade is modeled after 18th century Eastern European temples, and the name “Ashkenaz” refers to Ashkenazi Jews. Travis stressed that while Nadel developed Ashkenaz with a Jewish style, the dance hall has always been a place for every culture.
“Ashkenaz is a multicultural center,” Travis said. “We don’t specifically focus on any particular culture or religion or race. It’s a center for international music of all different cultures.”
Travis said Nadel’s life came to a tragic end when he was murdered by a patron in 1996. According to Travis, Nadel ejected an intoxicated patron who was causing issues within the dance hall. That same patron returned with a gun, and shot Nadel before fleeing. Nadel died two days later in a hospital.
Like the community, which has rallied during the pandemic, Travis says the community rallied to keep Ashkenaz open in the wake of Nadel’s death.
Travis said June 5 will be a free event with multiple groups playing. Vaccinations will be required and masks recommended. By June 22, Ashkenaz will resume its regular programming schedule with a new addition: a country two-step night for Berkeley students.
“People wanted to keep David’s vision alive,” Travis said. “A lot of people really loved him, and they really believed in this mission of bringing people together through multiculturalism, and music and dance.”