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Many Israeli dancers knew Moshe Eskayo as the extremely talented, always joking, and often quirky director of Hora Shalom, Hora Keff, Winter Keff, Sababa, and several international dance camps. He was also regarded as the "Debka King" as the choreographer of some of the most creative and challenging Israeli dances.
Moshe was father to two daughters and grandfather to three, as well as a mentor, teacher, and friend to countless dancers. Moshe came to the USA in 1961 and departed in 2020. He passed away on April 5, 2022.
Moshe was born in 1931 in Jerusalem, in the neighborhood of Zichron Tuvia, after his family moved from the Old City. He was one of 7 brothers. Moshe’s mother’s family came from the Atlas Mountains in Northern Africa. His father was born in Israel, but his family came from modern day Macedonia. His proximity to Arab neighbors and culture framed his love for Arabic music, leading to his interest in creating Debka dances. Moshe was first introduced to dancing in the scouts in high school. Later, he studied ballet with Rina Nikova, the classical ballet pioneer in Israel.
Moshe moved to New York in 1961, where he met his wife, Ann, and married her in 1963. They had two daughters, Irit and Michal, and raised them in Washington Heights, at the northern end of Manhattan. Irit and Michal spent their childhood at Moshe’s Folk Dance Camps and loved being part of them. When Irit later made aliyah [became an Israeli citizen], she taught Moshe’s dances in Israel and choreographed dances of her own for children.
In 1964, just 3 years after his arrival in the US, Moshe had an opportunity to be the director of the Israeli Dance Pavilion in the 1964 World’s Fair. In 1969, he started a performing group, Sadot, and in 1971, Sadot performed on The Michael Douglas Show. Moshe’s early dances include Ha’ir Ba’afor, Simchat Heamel, Ad Or Haboker, Debka B’not Hakvar, Libavtini, and more. In over 4 decades, Moshe created over 80 dances. But perhaps Moshe is best known as the “Debka King” for his genius and often difficult Debkas, including Debka Chaim, Debka Ramot, Debka Allon, Debka Gid, Debka Keff, and so many more.
Moshe began to run International Dance Camps in the late 1960s and then Israeli dance camps starting in 1979. His first Israeli dance camp, Hora Israeli Folk Dance Camp, was held in 1979 and 1980. In 1981, he merged with Summer Dalia to create Hora Shalom at Camp Cejwin, co-directed by Moshe Eskayo and Danny Uziel. Hora Shalom continued through 1989.
In 1990, Moshe held the first Hora Keff, co-directed by his dance and business partner, Eileen Weinstock. In fact, Eileen’s entire family (husband Benny, 4 sons, and daughter) served as staff and became part of the fabric of Hora Keff. Ideas were conceived, dances created, and videos assembled in the Keff headquarters, also known as Eileen’s basement.
In 2020, Moshe returned to Israel to be closer to his daughter Irit and 3 grandchildren, Liel, Ayla, and Liya. Unfortunately, COVID hit soon after his arrival, limiting Moshe’s time with family and dancers. But that did not stop dancers from coming to the nursing home where he was living to show him appreciation by dancing his dances, despite the fact that Moshe’s failing health mostly prevented him from joining in. He smiled and clapped nonetheless to show his gratitude.
Sadly, on April 5, 2022, Moshe passed away at 90 years old. Along with his family, dancers around the world mourned his passing and celebrated his legacy in memorial sessions, live and on zoom.
A weekend dance camp called Hora Shalosh in Moshe's honor was held in June 2023, giving those who loved Moshe the opportunity to dance, remember, and celebrate the legacy of the Debka King.
Until I teach a dance, it belongs to me. Afterwards it belongs to everyone.
Goldschmidt, Matti: Choreographenserie Nr. 5: Moshe Eskayo, in: Folksblatt (1995), Nr. 1, 28-29 (in German)
A list of teachers at Eskayo's camps, with the years they taught
Biography at Phantom Ranch
Moshe's troupe performing on the Mike Douglas show, May 21 1971
Eulogies delivered at Moshe's funeral by his daughters Irit and Michal, and by Shlomo Maman (translated to English)