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Duo Dimitri offers a ‘mitzvah’ at Chatmoss
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Husband-and-wife performers Dmitri Kasyuk (right) and Luba Agranovsky, who together make up Duo Dmitri, play Wednesday at Chatmoss Country Club. They shared their story of emigrating from Russia to Israel in the 1990s. (Bulletin photo)

Friday, May 23, 2014

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Dmitri Kasyuk and his wife, Luba Agranovsky, shared their ideas of peace and prosperity through stories and music Wednesday.

Kasyuk and Agranovsky, who together form the internationally recognized Duo Dmitri, performed for more than 70 people at Chatmoss Country Club at part of a “Spring Social” arranged by Ohev Zion Synagogue and The Jewish Federations of North America.

Kasyuk, a flautist who originally hails from Ukraine, moved to Moscow, Russia, when he was 15 years old, he said. At the Moscow Conservatory, he met Agranovsky, a pianist.

The two have performed together for 29 years, Kasyuk said, and have been married for 28 of those.

On Dec. 31, 1990, the two moved to Israel to become more in touch with their faith. They now live in Cherry Hill, N.J., and travel extensively, playing chamber music and telling the story of their time in Israel.

The performance, Kasyuk said, is a “mitzvah,” which can be translated as a moral duty or expression of human kindness.

“We feel we are obligated by our experience to do this because we were helped a lot on the way,” Agranovsky said. “We’re trying to deliver what is on our hearts about Israel and how we can work together ... (the message is for) everybody who would like to join us, not necessarily Jews. It’s the idea of prosperity, peace and being all together.”

During the performance, Kasyuk told stories of their time in Israel and the kindness they experienced there.

Like many Russians who emigrated to Israel at the time, Kasyuk said, “we came to Israel with $100 in our pocket and 80 pounds of luggage. We didn’t know a word of Hebrew. We didn’t know what to do, where to go.”

Many musicians expatriated from Russia to Israel in the early 1990s, Kasyuk said. A popular joke among the Israeli locals was that “if you see someone Russian step down from the airplane without a violin in his hand, that means he’s a pianist.”

In January 1991, little more than two weeks after Kasyuk and Agranovsky arrived in Israel, the Gulf War began. Although it was a frightening time, he said, it also offered opportunities to glimpse human kindness.

At their apartment building, he said, one of their neighbors was a Romanian Jew.

“He didn’t speak Russian; we didn’t speak Romanian,” Kasyuk said. “There was no way to communicate. But there’s one language, we call it the Jewish language. You don’t use words, you use hands, eyebrows, your eyes ... anything possible to deliver the message.”

One day, he said, the Romanian encountered him in the hallway and pantomimed that Kasyuk needed to shave his beard. In the event of a chemical attack, the Romanian indicated, Kasyuk would need to put on a gas mask, and his beard would prevent it from sealing properly.

Kasyuk said that he thanked the man, but he had no intention of shaving his beard. He ran into the Romanian again and again, and each time the Romanian indicated that he needed to shave his beard.

Finally, Kasyuk said, he pantomimed to the Romanian that he couldn’t shave his beard because he had no razor.

Five minutes later, Kasyuk said, the Romanian arrived at his apartment with a razor.

“It was so touching,” Kasyuk said. “For the first time in our lives, we never felt more at home.”

When they emigrated from Russia, Kasyuk said, he had to smuggle his flute into Israel. Russian law at the time would not allow citizens to leave Russia with musical instruments that were not made in Russia, and Kasyuk’s flute was made in Germany.

Thankfully, he said, he hid his flute deep in his luggage, and customs agents did not find it.

“But we couldn’t do the same trick with Luba’s piano,” he said, to the laughter of the audience. “It was a little too bulky.”

Wanting to practice their music, Kasyuk said that he and Agranovsky visited a local school, because in their experience, “every school has a piano.”

A teacher who came to the door of the school told them that although the school did have a piano, it was in terrible disrepair. However, she said, she owned a nice upright piano, and they were free to practice at her home any time they wanted.

Again, Kasyuk said, they were astonished by the kindness of strangers.

In between stories, Duo Dmitri performed pieces by such composers as Jacques Offenbach, Johann Sebastian Bach, Frédéric Chopin and others. Many of the piano/flute arrangements, Kasyuk said, were arranged by famed Irish flute virtuoso James Galway.

One of the most popular pieces the duo played was the folk tune “Carnival of Venice,” which featured Kasyuk playing the flute so quickly that it sounded as though he were playing multiple notes at once.

The technique, he said, is called “double-tonguing.”

“When people ask me how you do it, I say, it’s very easy. You take the flute, you practice for 20 years, and it’s like that,” he said, snapping his fingers and laughing.

Richard Klein, associate network director and southeast regional director for The Jewish Federations of North America, said funds raised at the Spring Social would go to the Jewish Federations, which then would allocate them to two different support organizations: The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI).

JDC, he said, “helps people where they live in 70 countries around the world. It may mean help with food, or jobs, or whatever their needs may be.”

JAFI “is primarily known for rescue,” Klein said. “To help people who are in very bad places get out of their country, wherever they may be, and come to Israel. But not just to move them there, but also to help them resettle. To go through an absorption process where they learn the language, and where they get help with jobs, and where they get housing, where their children get schooling, where the elderly get assistance.”

Martinsville, he said, is one of 300 small communities that collectively raise several million dollars a year for these causes.


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