NYTF Newsletter

August 2020

Folksbiene! LIVE

Folksbiene! LIVE August Programming

It is August and the summer is winding down, but our Folksbiene! LIVE programs are not!

All virtual events begin at 1 PM ET and can be viewed anytime after that at NYTF.org/live.

August 5th test your knowledge once again with Mikhl Yashinsky and The Great Yiddish Theatre Quiz (Vos-Ver-Vu).

August 19th welcomes Tony Perry, star of our amazing Soul to Soul Concert, with his eclectic variety concert, “The Way I Feel”.

Tuesdays with Motl can’t be beat! Learn for the first time OR brush-up on your Yiddish – 15 minutes (more or less) at a time. 

Finally, Thursdays in August will have you singing-along to many of your favorite, treasured Yiddish songs. Join beloved maestro Zalmen Mlotek, for Yiddish Theatre Favorites on the following dates…

August 13: Yiddish Summer Camps Part 2: Kinder Ring, Kindervelt, Kinderland
August 20: Special Requests and Dedications (Part 2)
August 27: Songs My Parents Loved. Favorites of Yosi and Chana Mlotek 

15 Minute Yiddish (more or less): Tuesdays, August 4, 11, 18 & 25 at 1PM

Time flies when you are having fun and Season 1 of 15 Minute Yiddish (more or less) is fast approaching. Look for Episodes 13, 14, and 15 before classes let out for the fall. We will miss Motl and all of his zany characters, but we hope for a triumphant return after the holidays for a Second Season. Don’t miss the final few episodes and if you are behind in your viewing, catch-up on previous classes ‘on-demand’ at nytf.org/live.

The Great Yiddish Theatre Quiz (Vos Ver Vu): Wednesday, August 12 at 1PM

This month, we are so excited to introduce to you a NEW and IMPROVED Quiz Show with Mikhl Yashinsky. Three pre-chosen contestants will vie against each other for the title of “Yiddish Trivia Genius”. We even have buzzers now! Pick a contestant to cheer for and see if you can guess the answers at home. Pop Quizzes have never been so fun.  Tune in on Wednesday, August 12 at 1PM.

Concert: Yiddish Summer Camp Songs - Part 2: Thursday, August 13 at 1PM

Zalmen Mlotek Living Room Concerts

Relive YOUR own special camp memories.  Join us on Thursday August 13th at 1 pm ET for Part 2 of “Yiddish Summer Camp Songs”, performed by Zalmen Mlotek.

A Shpatsir Iber Der Rialto

A Walk Down Yiddish Theater Memory Lane

It’s that time again and oh do we have two very special Yiddish theatre memory videos for you…it’s summertime and summer always reminds us of CAMP! This month, we asked two #NYTFriends to record themselves talking about their favorite camp memories

Avram Patt was at Camp Hemshekh, in Hunter NY, from 1966-1968 and also had been a camper at Camp Boiberik before that. His parents and his grandfather were active in the Bund in Poland and in New York continued to be active and leaders in Jewish labor and Yiddish cultural organizations.

Avram grew up in the Bronx and moved to Vermont in 1970, in part inspired by his having spent so many summers in the country. He spent ten years in an appointed position in state government, overseeing community-based anti-poverty, anti-hunger and energy efficiency programs.

He has served two terms in the Vermont House of Representatives and is currently seeking re-election. Patt is the go-to person for anything Yiddish in Central Vermont. In the Legislature, he can often be found translating family letters, singing songs of hope for the opening “devotional” in the House Chamber and teaching the power and subtlety of Yiddish curses. He also enjoys singing and drumming in the Nisht Geferlakh Klezmer Band. He and his wife, Amy Darley, live in Worcester VT.

Jessica Chanin also attended Camp Hemshekh. For 8 seasons, Jessica and her twin sister Carrie enjoyed the culture this Yiddish Camp brought them.  She currently resides in New Jersey and is an immigration lawyer.

Tony Perry in Concert: Wednesday, August 19th at 1PM

Performer & NYTF Friend:
Tony Perry

Tony Perry in concert

August brings the heat and it also brings the much anticipated NYTF concert with singing sensation Tony Perry on August 19th at 1PM!

Tony is a Yiddish Theatre veteran, actor and singer-songwriter who appeared on the Folksbiene stage in 74 Georgia Avenue, one of three one-act plays by Murray Schisgal that also comprised Spiel! Spiel! Spiel! Since then he has traveled the world with the National Yiddish Theatre’s concert production “Soul to Soul” which features Yiddish and African American songs.

In New York he also has appeared in Bastard Jones, Raisin, Allegro, Shelter in Our Car, Martin: A New Beginning, The Groove Factory and Repo: The Genetic Opera.

Regionally, he has appeared in Memphis, Ain’t Nothing But the Blues, Parade, Cross That River, Ain’t Misbehavin, Five Guys Named Moe, Dreamgirls, Big River, Me and My Girl, Smokey Joe’s Café, The Rocky Horror Show, and A Grand Night For Singing. He has appeared in the films Mickey and Finding Oz: A Journey Home.

He has three folk-rock CDs available on iTunes, and is a member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA.

Recently, we were lucky enough to chat with Tony about his life, career, #blacklivesmatter and his upcoming online concert on August 19th at 1 pm ET.

How did you first get started as a performer?

I’ve been singing pretty much all of my life. When we were little, it wasn’t uncommon for my father to preach and mid-sermon call my sister and my cousin and I up to sing a song in church. I had a career as a journalist, but at some point I bought a guitar and started going to open mic nights and singing in coffee houses. And then for a good while I had a folk-rock band and we played all over the northeast. I studied acting and started doing musical theater, and eventually moved to New York to make that my full-time pursuit.

When and how did you initially discover the Yiddish Theatre?

A good friend of mine, Adam Shapiro, appeared in a Folksbiene production, and I think that was the first time I’d ever encountered this specific organization. The next year, the company was doing a series of one-act plays by Murray Schisgal, translated into Yiddish for the first time. And one of the plays, 74 Georgia Avenue, had a role for an African American man in it, and the role spoke English and Yiddish. It sounded like so much fun that I auditioned. I had Adam tutor me on the Yiddish pronunciation and went for it and I got the part! Since then, I’ve done a few projects, including Soul to Soul, which is a terrific concert featuring Yiddish songs and Spirituals, and really looking at the immigrant experience through the eyes of two cultures who have so much in common. I’ve made so many dear friends since being involved in the Yiddish theater.

What do you like most about the Yiddish language?

I lived in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn for the first 10 years of my life, before my family moved to Pennsylvania, so I was used to hearing people speak it from time to time. I think some people would be surprised to know how many of our slang words and idioms come from Yiddish. And how many African American entertainers, like Paul Robeson and Cab Calloway, were greatly influenced by the language and the culture.

What projects are you currently working on? And have you learned anything new and exciting during quarantine?

The quarantine has helped a lot of artists refocus their efforts. The opportunities to perform are few, but that means the opportunities to create are great right now. I’ve been writing songs and practicing my guitar and taking classes to sharpen some of my skills.

What can the Yiddish community do to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement?

You know in the 50s and 60s, the Yiddish community was an important ally of the Black community and I think we could be a strong ally against anti-semitism too. I believe the Black Lives Matter movement has prompted many people to stand up and be counted against all forms of racism and bias. That’s beautiful to see. Silence is what kills people. We all need to speak up, not just now, but whenever we see someone being marginalized.

Anything else you would like to add?

I’m really thrilled to be doing this concert. It may be the first time that all of the styles of singing I do have come together in one program. I’m happy to share my singer-songwriter side with my Musical Theater friends. I’m happy to sing a Yiddish theater standard for my pop-rock loving fans. And I’m always happy to sing Sam Cooke! I’ve really enjoyed this concert series and I’m honored to be included!

Special Requests and Dedications - Part 2. Thursday, August 20 at 1PM

You all sent us so many great song requests a few months ago that we had to add a second performance to showcase your requests and dedications.

If you didn’t hear your special song during the July concert, don’t fret and tune in on August 20th for Part Tvsey of Zalmen’s Special Requests and Dedications program. We can’t wait to share this timeless music with you.  And remember, all previous episodes are available to watch ‘On Demand‘ at NYTF.org/live

Songs My Parents Loved - Thursday, August 27 at 1PM

On Thursday August 27th at 1 pm ET, Zalmen will perform “Songs My Parents Loved” at nytf.org/live as a loving tribute to the memory of his revered parents.

Chana & Yosl Mlotek

Through the years, the Mlotek family has become somewhat of a dynasty among the Yiddish community. Yosl Mlotek was the patriarch and Chana Gordon Mlotek was the matriarch of the Mlotek family. Their oldest son Zalmen is a successful composer, conductor and arranger, as well as the artistic director here at The National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene (NYTF) and his younger brother Mark (Moish) is on the NYTF Board. Zalmen’s oldest son, Avram Mlotek, who is one of five grandchildren of Yosl and Chana is a rabbi, cantor, writer and actor and the lineage continues to grow with four great grandchildren. The Mloteks are truly icons who have helped to preserve Eastern European heritage, especially Yiddish and its vibrant culture.

Chana And Yosl Sharing A Moment Of Music Together

Joseph “Yosl” Mlotek was born in Prozevice, Poland on July 25, 1918. Many words have been used to describe Yosl’s life and career. “Der address far Yiddish” — The address for Yiddish, “Vegvayzer” — Spiritual Leader, “Lerer” — Teacher, “poet”, “Khaver” – Friend. All of these descriptions are accurate, but no one word can truly describe the man or the pain and suffering, and trials and tribulations that he endured or his own passion and energy to overcome those obstacles leading to his tremendous achievements.

Chana Mlotek was born on April 9, 1922 and grew up immersed in Yiddish culture. In 1944, she began working for the founder of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Dr. Max Weinreich, first as his secretary, then later as the assistant to the research director.

Not too long after that, she met Joseph. She had heard him playing Yiddish songs on the mandolin for a group of her friends and almost instantly the two lovers of Yiddish music began a romance. They married in 1949.

Young Avram Sitting Near His Bubby And Zeyde And Helping To Blow The Birthday Candles Out

 

Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer dubbed Joseph and Chana, the “Sherlock Holmes of Yiddish Music.” and over the years, Mr. & Mrs. Mlotek culled together information on thousands of songs — so many, in fact, that they were able to publish three well-respected anthologies: Mir Trogn a Gezang (We Are Carrying a Song), Pearls of Yiddish Song and Songs of Generations. Mir Trogn a Gezang alone has sold over 25,000 copies and is one of the best-known Yiddish anthologies of its kind.

In 2015, Avram Mlotek, grandson of Joseph and Chana, co-founded Base Hillel, a new model for Jewish practice that reaches out to unaffiliated young adults. Base Hillel is now operating in nine cities. Rabbi Mlotek currently works as Spiritual Director for the international program. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Daily News, The Forward, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz and elsewhere. The New York Jewish Week has called the young Rabbi a “leading innovator in Jewish life today” and in May 2016, Mlotek was listed as one of America’s “Most Inspiring Rabbis” by The Forward. His new book, Why Jews Do That, published by Skyhorse, is available for purchase by clicking here. You can follow Rabbi Mlotek at Instagram: @avrammlotek. Twitter: @RabbiAvMlotek.

Rabbi Mlotek was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about his grandparents’ legacy and to share his personal memories of them with us.

In your own words, tell us about the first time you realized your grandparents, Chana and Yosl Mlotek, were important cultural figures in Yiddish circles?

I wish I could say there was one moment, but none come to mind! I do remember our Bubby and Zeyde’s home being adorned with lifetime achievement awards from various cultural institutions. The closest moment would be being in elementary school and learning about the Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. I remember visiting my grandparents’ home and seeing a picture of my Zeyde with Golda; I realized shortly thereafter that not all of my classmates’ grandparents had similar photos hanging on their walls (not to mention photos with the most famous Yiddish writers of the time). I also remember seeing their books or song sheets from their books printed at Klezmer gatherings like KlezKamp or KlezKanada, but again, as a kid, I didn’t think twice about it.

What is your Bubby and Zeyde’s legacy to the Yiddish world?

I think the fact that anyone who wants to learn a Yiddish song will need to purchase my grandparent’s books at some point tells it all. I think their imprint on the respective organizations they were part of – YIVO, The Forward, The Workmen’s Circle, The Folksbiene – are everlasting. My grandfather was a poet, writer, organizer and connector. My grandmother’s encyclopedic mind made her the foremost authority on Yiddish song. Together they were a powerhouse team, publishing columns and later books that served as the basis for much of the Klezmer revival’s song repertoire. Their work gets captured beautifully in a short film that was premiered at a Folksbiene gala many years ago which honored my grandfather.

What are some of the songs that you remember them loving?

I remember Zeyde singing ‘O Kum Shoyn Shtiler Ovnt’ and Bubby loving ‘Arum Dem Fayer’ ‘In Der Kuzhnye’ and ‘Vos Dergeysdu Mir Di Yorn’ (Mina Bern and Ben Bonus sang this) are others. That being said, whenever my cousin Missy or my siblings, Elisha, Sarah or I sang, they were pretty elated, no matter the song or language.

What is your fondest memory of them?

There are too many to name! Bubby and Zeyde relished in our accomplishments and who we were. Yes, they were these icons in the Yiddish cultural svive (community) but to us, they were simply Bubby and Zeyde, loving and adoring.

My favorite memories include visiting them for dinner on Sunday evenings and playing Boggle or other word games my Bubby invented. That and every gathering my family had always featured music – Yiddish songs, of course, certainly Holocaust songs, but also showtunes, Gilbert and Sullivan, Tom Lehrer and more!

What is the most important thing that you learned from them?

The centrality and preciousness of family. My zeyde’s parents, siblings, niece and nephew, were ruthlessly murdered during the Khurbn (the Holocaust) along with a near civilization of Eastern Europea Jewry. With my Bubby, though, he rebuilt his life. Zeyde used to wait for calls whenever we got home to let him know we got home safe and sound. While their accomplishments in the Yiddish cultural world remain incomparable, it was their love of family that nourishes me to this day.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

As a rabbi, I think there are so many different entry points into Jewish life, not only through a religious lens. My Bubby and Zeyde’s life and work reminds me of that truth every day.his 

NYTF Radio

The life works of Avrom Goldfaden featuring Professor Joel Berkowitz

Foreground: Professor Joel Berkowitz. 
Background: Samuel Goldenberg (Photo source: Museum of the City of New York.)

HOST: Toney Brown 

On today’s episode, we pay tribute to the forgotten stars of the Yiddish Theatre by learning about the actor Samuel Goldenberg. We will learn about his life, his famous roles, his contemporaries, and wonder, “How did he perhaps get lost to time?” We are joined on the program by scholar Zachary Baker. Zachary Baker is the Reinhard Family Curator Emeritus of Judaica and Hebraica Collections in the Stanford University Libraries. He has two pieces about the life of Samuel Goldenberg published at the Digital Yiddish Theatre Project. One article is titled “Enough about Strindberg! Let’s talk about Goldenberg” and the other article is titled “A Piquant Curiosity: The Gender Bending Drama Yo a Man, Nit a man.”

Let's Dish in Yiddish

Each month, Ellen Eisen will take us on a journey back in time to a shtetl far, far away where we will explore the origins and meanings of both well-known and little-known Yiddish sayings.

Me Dreyt Zikh Un Me Freyt Zikh

Keep on trying and you will be happy.

During these uncertain times, we should focus on trying to maintain a Positive Attitude and be thankful for our many blessings.

We should also try to embrace the slower pace and hit the ” Pause Button” on our lives.

Finally, we should enjoy our families, friends and loved ones…take advantage of technology and social media…and reconnect with those we may not have seen or spoken to in a while because of our prior busy and fast paced lives!

We must persevere and know deep in our hearts that this too shall pass. With all of the tragedies this Pandemic has brought, it has brought some good too.

Stay Home, Stay Safe and Stay the Course.

With Determination we WILL BE HAPPIER SOME DAY!

Join the Tradition!

"Our stories are kept alive thanks to the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene – Join me in keeping our stories alive."
–Joel Grey

NYTF Newsletter

July 2020

Folksbiene! LIVE

Folksbiene! LIVE July Programming

July is finally here. The temperature outside is heating up and so are our Folksbiene! LIVE shows. All start at 1 PM ET and can be viewed anytime after that at NYTF.org/live.

July 7th, test your knowledge once again with Mikhl Yashinsky and The Great Yiddish Theatre Quiz (Vos-Ver-Vu) – Part Tsvey. Enjoy this friendly competition for fabulous Folksbiene prizes and meet new friends.  Click here to register and play!   

July 15th is a great day for great conversations. Join Television and Radio Personality Budd Mishkin and meet Louise Kerz Hirschfeld, widow of Al Hirschfeld and former President of The Al Hirschfeld Foundation. Hear all about her life, career and everything Al Hirschfeld.

July 22nd welcomes the return of songstress Maida Feingold and her Sing Out For Peace and Justice living room concert. These great folk songs of significance will be in both Yiddish and in English. You won’t want to miss this!

July 29th The temperature continues to get turned-up with more of NYTF’s summer songs. The Golden Bride herself, Rachel Policar and special guest Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish’s Feyedke, Cameron Johnson, will be singing lullabies and love songs that will have you all swooning!

Tuesdays with Motl can’t be beat! Learn or brush-up on your Yiddish – 15 minutes (more or less) at a time. (Exceptionally presented on Wednesday, July 8 at 1PM)

Finally, Thursdays in July will have you singing-along to many of your favorite, treasured Yiddish songs. Join beloved maestro Zalmen Mlotek for Yiddish Theatre Favorites on July 9th, Songs of Yiddish Summer Camps Sboiberik & Hemshekh on July 16th and on July 23rd and 30th listen to your special requests and dedications.

NYTF Newsletter

July 2020

Folksbiene! LIVE

Folksbiene! LIVE July Programming

July is finally here. The temperature outside is heating up and so are our Folksbiene! LIVE shows. All start at 1 PM ET and can be viewed anytime after that at NYTF.org/live.

July 7th, test your knowledge once again with Mikhl Yashinsky and The Great Yiddish Theatre Quiz (Vos-Ver-Vu) – Part Tsvey. Enjoy this friendly competition for fabulous Folksbiene prizes and meet new friends.  Click here to register and play!   

July 15th is a great day for great conversations. Join Television and Radio Personality Budd Mishkin and meet Louise Kerz Hirschfeld, widow of Al Hirschfeld and former President of The Al Hirschfeld Foundation. Hear all about her life, career and everything Al Hirschfeld.

July 22nd welcomes the return of songstress Maida Feingold and her Sing Out For Peace and Justice living room concert. These great folk songs of significance will be in both Yiddish and in English. You won’t want to miss this!

July 29th The temperature continues to get turned-up with more of NYTF’s summer songs. The Golden Bride herself, Rachel Policar and special guest Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish’s Feyedke, Cameron Johnson, will be singing lullabies and love songs that will have you all swooning!

Tuesdays with Motl can’t be beat! Learn or brush-up on your Yiddish – 15 minutes (more or less) at a time. (Exceptionally presented on Wednesday, July 8 at 1PM)

Finally, Thursdays in July will have you singing-along to many of your favorite, treasured Yiddish songs. Join beloved maestro  Zalmen Mlotek for Yiddish Theatre Favorites on July 9th, Songs of Yiddish Summer Camps Sboiberik & Hemshekh on July 16th and on July 23rd and 30th listen to your special requests and dedications.

Folksbiene! LIVE

Folksbiene! LIVE “On Demand”

Seen everything on Netflix already? Looking for some quality programming? Well look no further, it is time to Yiddishflix and chill!

Over 20 hours of Yiddish and Jewish-themed programming especially for your entertainment. Watch videos on demand anytime, anyplace, anywhere. In the mood for music? We have Zalmen’s Living Room Concerts. Love the stage? Check out our theater offerings. Want to learn the mamaloshen? Check out Motl Didner’s Yiddish lessons with a twist!

And if you thought it couldn’t get any better, you were wrong! We are now introducing a new playlist system so that your favorite programs are organized better and easier to find. Topics include, Yiddish Lessons, Zalmen’s Living Room Concerts, Fiddler on the Roof, Historical and Spiritual Talks, Concerts and Events and so much more…New episodes are added weekly so there is always something new to see.

Don’t spend another boring night at home, start binge watching your favorite Yiddish programs for FREE right now!

Participate in the fun

Sign-up to participate!

Special Event: Tuesday, July 7 @ 1PM ET

At the Passover seder, you ask four questions. At Vos-Ver-Vu: The Great Yiddish Theatre Quiz, Yiddish theatre personality Mikhl Yashinsky will ask you dozens, and offer some laughs and music, too. Play against hundreds of other fans from around the world, as Mikhl poses a range of trivia puzzlers related to drama, film, music, New York City — all under the glittering marquee of Yiddish theatre (no prior knowledge necessary).

Details: The event will take place online via Zoom Webinar. You will receive instructions on how to join the meeting in a confirmation email once you complete the registration form.  

NYTF Radio

Yiddish Stars of Today: Daniel Kahn

Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, and currently residing in Berlin, Daniel Kahn is an actor, musician, playwright, poet, and translator of the Yiddish language. We discuss his career in the performing arts, translating English into Yiddish, and his time performing with the Folksbiene. Did you know Daniel is a viral internet sensation? Tune in and hear all about it. 

Memory Lane

A Shpatsir Iber Der Rialto

A Walk Down Yiddish Theater Memory Lane

Play Video

This month we listen to a tale from the very talented Yiddish performer, Avi Hoffman. Avi is an Actor, Singer, Director and Drama Desk Award Nominee. He hails from the Bronx and has been speaking Yiddish on the stage since he was 10 years old. Find out more about Avi at https://www.avihoffmanactor.com/ and click on the image above to hear about his first show with NYTF.

Recommended reading

Tikkun Olam –
Jewish Women (and Men) Pave the Way as Activists for Racial Equality

By Giacinta Pace

During its 105 years history, National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene has always been a beacon of light for social justice and change. The past few weeks has caused our organization along with many other organizations to examine our practices to see where we can do better for more just world. We won’t always get it right, but we will keep trying to seek out equality and justice for all and we want to help lead the way.

This month we speak with Dr. Debra L. Schultz, Assistant Professor of History at Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York to explore the connection between Jewish Women (and men) and racial justice and pinpoint some ways the bond can grow stronger.

Dr. Schultz teaches civil rights, women’s history, and 20th century history and is the author of Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement (New York University Press). She is also a founding program director of the Soros Foundation’s Network Women’s Program. Her work on the history, theory, and practice of intersectional anti-racist feminisms encompasses both U.S. women’s civil rights activism and European Romani women’s rights activism. Dr. Shultz’s current research examines public memorialization of the U.S. civil rights movement.

Your book Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement is about Jewish women involved in the civil rights movement. What made you decide to write this book?

I went to graduate school and studied women’s history in the 1990’s when Black feminists were challenging white feminists to demonstrate a real commitment to anti-racism. I wanted to study women who put those values into action. This was the heyday of multiculturalism, challenging me to grapple with what being a Jewish woman meant to me. Combining those two lines of inquiry, I realized that researching Jewish women in the civil rights movement was my path.

I also had the great fortune of studying with the political philosopher Elizabeth Kamarck Minnich, whose mentor had been Hannah Arendt [philosopher and political theorist who is best known for tackling the nature of power and evil]. Therefore, I had support for trying to understand how one very specific group of people—Jewish women civil rights activists—made the decision to stand up against the evil of racism in this country. They are a niche group and it was a niche topic, but they represent a much larger group of righteous people who take risks to fight for justice in causes not immediately their own. We need to better understand what motivates and enables such people.

How does the Black Lives Matter movement today compare to the civil rights movement of the 1960’s? How is it different and how is it the same?

It is incredibly exciting to see multiracial, multi-ethnic, multi-generational crowds outside day after day insisting that anti-Black violence and systemic racism must stop. Similarities include the fact that a singular searing event of unbridled brutality—Emmett Till’s* and George Floyd’s murders—seem to have catalyzed mass action in ways that many previous lynchings and crimes of the exact same nature did not. Why? The role of media is important. I think of Mamie Till’s courageous decision to have an open casket funeral—images of Emmett’s sweet face horribly disfigured sparked outrage all around the world. While we have all seen images of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and so many others, having to watch an 8-minute video of a white cop nonchalantly squeezing the life out of George Floyd moved even the hardest hearts, as well as those in denial.

Other similarities include the fact that the movement is being led by young Black people; that local organizing laid the groundwork for the present moment; that people of other races, ages, and backgrounds want to be allies; that because of COVID 19, people actually are putting their bodies on the line to say enough is enough.

What is different is the integration of gender into the movement. By this I mean both unquestioned recognition of women’s leadership and the noncontroversial inclusion of LGBTQ people as integral to the cause. I find it intriguing that three queer-identified women with years of organizing experience behind them started Black Lives Matter.

Are you optimistic about the future of racial justice?

I am extremely optimistic about the future of racial justice, not because it is going to be easy, but because the country and the world have broken through denial. I am a historian so naturally I see grappling with our nation’s racialized history as central to moving forward. But now people from every part of society, including former President George W. Bush, speak of the need to address “slavery, our nation’s original sin.” Confederate statues toppling represents not only respect for the black community but actual comprehension of what the Civil War was about. I’m also optimistic because organizations like NASCAR, which is requiring removal of Confederate symbols from racing cars, see their economic interests threatened if they do not “get with the program.” This is the 21st century version of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

How does real change happen and what can a 105 year old Yiddish theatre company do to make a difference?

My life’s work as a historian of social movements, a teacher, and a practitioner in the nonprofit and philanthropic worlds has been to demystify how social change happens. First of all, it must be a sustained effort over a long period of time. There’s the conscientization piece—getting a critical mass of people to recognize the wrongness of what is happening—which often requires public protest and sacrifice. But then there is the much harder and less glamorous work of translating ideals into public policy and practice. It’s great that every corporation in America is issuing a statement about their commitment to racial justice but I’ll trust it when their boards are comprised of 50% women and people of color.

A 105 year old Yiddish theatre company can make a tremendous difference. Part of the reason I wrote Going South was to make visible a tradition that secular Jews created. It is a tradition they can be proud of—that can inspire and sustain our activism. Chapter Four of my book is called “Many Ways of Being Jewish.” One hegemonic segment of the Jewish community shouldn’t define and represent to the entire society what being Jewish means. By affirming Yiddish culture, you are sustaining tradition, and representing values that can be accessible to all Jews, as well as many other groups. Recent immigrants go through similar struggles. I teach about the 1902 Jewish immigrant women’s kosher meat boycott** and Anzia Yezerska’s The Lost Beautifulness***, (published exactly 100 years ago in the collection, Hungry Hearts) a story which highlights immigrant struggles in America, to community college students, many of whom are immigrants from the Caribbean, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. They get it because they too fight for what their families need, including a little beauty in their daily lives. Your company can reach out beyond Jews who are nostalgic for Yiddish to many other groups who can see themselves in these stories.

Why do you believe so many Jewish women (and men) are passionate about social justice?

Ah, this is my whole book, but I will try to exercise self-control with my answer. Jewish people are passionate about social justice because we have a long history of oppression and therefore identify with oppressed people. The [civil rights] sit-ins started only 15 years after the Holocaust ended. Our current moment started a year and a half after the killings at Pittsburg’s Tree of Life synagogue. Thus, as good progressives, young Jewish activists need not only assert that Black Lives Matter, but to grapple with the fact that our communities need allies too. In addition, religious and secular traditions emphasize helping others most in need. Tzedekah (charity) is an integral part of religious services and life. Tikkun olam (the Jewish imperative to repair the world) appeals to secular Jews who may not otherwise identify with religion or mainstream Jewish politics. In my book, I also make visible and claim a tradition of Jewish radicalism, particularly Jewish women’s activism, which is an integral part of Jewish cultural DNA.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

When Dorothy Zellner, one of the women in Going South, finished read the final draft, she said, “I didn’t realize we were so funny.” There is humor and joy in these activist lives. I hope others will be as inspired as I was in getting to know these women, and in having cross-generational conversations about the practicalities of being a white anti-racist ally. But they taught me so much more–how do you construct a meaningful life as a Jew when history calls you to take action?

Notes:

*To read about the death of Emmett Till, click here 

**To read more about the 1902 Jewish immigrant women’s kosher meat boycott, click here 

***The Lost Beautifulness can be read by clicking here

Links to purchase book:

AMAZON

NYU PRESS

Let's Dish in Yiddish

Each month, Ellen Eisen will take us on a journey back in time to a shtetl far, far away where we will explore the origins and meanings of both well-known and little-known Yiddish sayings.

Ven ale mentshn zoln tsien af eyn zayt, volt zikh di velt ibergekert.

If everyone pulled in one direction, the world would tip over.

First came the Pandemic with sickness, death and loss of employment now we find our World thrown into more turmoil with racial injustice and violence.

We should realize that equality for the diverse and beautiful people of our Planet is necessary in order to repair the world.

We must all work together to achieve peace and not tip the world over.

Perhaps if we try to walk in another’s shoes, we can all Stand Tall.

Join the Tradition!

"Our stories are kept alive thanks to the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene – Join me in keeping our stories alive."
–Joel Grey

NYTF Newsletter

June 2020

Folksbiene! LIVE

Folksbiene! LIVE June programming

June is busting out all over and we are so happy to continue providing quality programming for our amazing community.

We begin the month with a living room concert from songstress Maida Feingold who appeared on the radio station WEVD in New York as part of a popular SingAlong series and has also performed all over the New York metropolitan area. Maida will be sharing with us The Songs of Itzik Manger.

Then, we have a special encore presentation of Budd Mishkin’s interview with producing giant Manny Azenberg.

Next, try your luck with Vos-Ver-Vu: The Great Yiddish Theatre Quiz – the English version – featuring Mikhl Yashinsky, of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. Test your knowledge of Yiddish theatre and related topics (no prior knowledge necessary) and win great prizes!

End the month with Great Yiddish Monologues from Motl Didner, Lea Kalisch, Rebecca Keren and Eli Rosen of the Netflix series ‘Unorthodox’. In Yiddish with English subtitles.

But wait, there is more! Zalmen Mlotek’s living room concerts will continue every Thursday in June with a different theme every week and don’t forget Motl Didner’s weekly Yiddish Lesson on Tuesdays, learn Yiddish with a comic twist!

Folksbiene! LIVE

Call For All Music Requests!

Everyone has a favorite Yiddish song and Zalmen wants to play your song especially for you!

To make a request simply fill in the form below  no later than Friday, June 5th and Zalmen will do his best to include your special tune in his All Requests & Dedications Living Room Concert on July 23rd @ 7:30 pm ET.

Be sure to include your name and where you are from AND if you are dedicating it to a friend or loved one, include that info too. We can’t wait to hear from you!

NYTF Radio

Mark your Calendars for these upcoming NYTF Radio Podcasts

Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Forgotten Yiddish Stars: Samuel Goldenberg (feat. Zachary Baker)

Multi-disciplinary artist, Samuel Goldenberg was one of the most celebrated Yiddish stars of his day. Alongside greats like Jacob Ben-Ami, he traveled the world performing in the famous melodramas and art plays of the era. 

Toney sat down with Zachary Baker, the Reinhard Family Curator Emeritus of Judaica and Hebraica Collections in the Stanford University Libraries to discuss the life and work of Samuel Goldenberg. Tune in to learn more about this artist’s performance in August Strindberg‘s The Father and his portrayal of Maurice Green in the 1927 production of Yo a man, nit a man

 

Wednesday, June 17
Yiddish Stars of Today: Daniel Kahn

Toney talks Yiddish music and culture with Daniel Kahn, leader of the band Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird, and the original Perchik in Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. Listen to them chat about Kahn’s relationship with all things Yiddish, his relationship with the Folksbiene, and of course his memories of Yiddish Fiddler. Find out first hand what it’s like being a Yiddish performer in today’s world. 

Memory Lane

A Shpatsir Iber Der Rialto

A Walk Down Yiddish Theater Memory Lane

Every month going forward, we will share a memory from times long gone. We can reminisce together and enjoy the stories of our past while looking toward our vibrant future.

This month we share with you a tale from our very own Literary Director, Sabina Brukner. Have fun…

Photo By: Jay Rosenberg

My first memory of the Folksbiene is from the fall of 1972, when I was eleven years old.  By that time I had already spent five summers at the summer camp, Camp Hemshekh, run by the Jewish Labor Bund.  I was part of a youth group, SKIF (Socialist Childrens’ League) that met during the year and continued the political and Yiddishist activities we did at Hemshekh.

We went as a group to the Folksbiene’s production of Yoshke Muzikant, starring the legendary Joseph Buloff, directed by his wife Lyuba Kadison.  But we went because our friends from camp, Moishe Rosenfeld and Paula Teitelbaum were in the cast and the production’s music was directed by our camp’s musical director, Zalmen Mlotek, who is now NYTF’s Artistic Director.

I remember exiting the subway at the East Broadway stop and chatting with the vendors in the rapidly-changing Jewish neighborhood.  I remember the theater in the basement of the Forward Building at 175 East Broadway.  I remember the production in Yiddish. I remember how surprised the rest of the audience was that a group of young Yiddish-speakers were among them (this was in the days before simultaneous translation and supertitles).

Now, so many years later and a couple of careers in between, I am the Literary Director of the Folksbiene.  I am working on scripts that will be produced fifty years after that performance in 1972, in particular a series of readings/productions of work by women Yiddish playwrights.  We continue to work to present wonderful Yiddish theatre to a growing, appreciative audience.  We appreciate your continued support.

VIDEO

To NYTF, with Love, from Australia

Looking for something to watch while waiting for a new Folksbiene! Live program? Our friend Freydi Mrocki in Australia recently spoke with NYTF Artistic Director Zalmen Mlotek about his family, life, work, and the magical world of Yiddish music. 

In The Spotlight

Madison and Park Hospitality Group’s David Teyf’s labor of love is a real mitzvah.

Serving Up Lox of Love

David Teyf, NYTF Board Member, Executive Chef and Operations Manager at Lox – Cafe Bergson at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust  (where National Yiddish Theatre Folkbsiene is located), has been hard at work preparing pre-packaged kosher meals for Holocaust survivors across New York City. 

“I am personally cooking and delivering these meals,” Teyf says. “I know that my grandparents, who were Holocaust survivors, are smiling down on me. This is something I want to do to honor them and because it’s the right thing to do. It’s in my soul to give back.”

The past few months have been particularly challenging for many Holocaust survivors. COVID-19 is an unfortunate reminder of the trauma they suffered 75 years ago during the Holocaust when food and supplies were scarce and fear and isolation ruled their world. Many Survivors are currently struggling with a lack of resources and lack of community as they remain quarantined in their homes.

According to Selfhelp Community Services, it’s estimated that around 38,000 Holocaust survivors live in the greater New York City metropolitan area, with more than 50% of them living in poverty. 

Teyf has partnered with the Museum and the Met Council, a partner of the UJA Federation, to identify 50 Holocaust survivors in need of assistance. With his small, dedicated team, Chef Teyf is cooking up delicious and nutritious Kosher meals which include healthy salads, entrees, and desserts. Once the meals are prepped, he’s personally driving all across New York City to bring these seniors much-needed nourishment. Teyf’s generosity doesn’t stop there, he is also setting up an arrangement to deliver kosher meals to essential healthcare workers at hospitals throughout Manhattan. 

Teyf was born with a love for tasty, high-quality food and is part of a culinary legacy “My great-grandfather started baking matzah for the Jewish community in Minsk in 1920,” Teyf says. His grandparents were the sole family survivors of the Holocaust. 

“After the Holocaust, my grandfather continued his father’s tradition of baking matzah for the Jewish community, which he had ultimately risked his life during Communist times. In 1979, my grandfather decided to pick up the whole family and leave Minsk for the United States [and] for our Jewish freedom.”

Jack Kliger, President & CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, is in awe of Teyf’s philanthropy during this time of great distress. 

“David is doing a real mitzvah,” Kliger says. “The Met Council and David are being generous with their hearts and minds: stepping up to serve others when there is great need in our city.”

From our Friends at the New York Public Library

NYTF Appreciates Our Nurses

This month, take some time to honor and recognize the nurses in our lives with this amazing reading list from our friends at The New York Public Library. 

Titles such as Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink, The Nurses by Alexandra Robbins and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje will captivate and touch your heart.

We owe so much to these brave men and women working on the front lines and caring for us during this critical time in our history. 

Read one (or more!) of these 12 books and get a closer look at how these wonderful human beings shape our lives and help us weather many storms. 

Take a look at the entire list here.

Let's Dish in Yiddish

Each month, Ellen Eisen will take us on a journey back in time to a shtetl far, far away where we will explore the origins and meanings of both well-known and little-known Yiddish sayings.

אַז מען זיצט אין דער הײם, צערײַסט מען ניט קײן שטיװל!

Az men zitst  in der heym, tserayst men nit keyn shtivl!
If you stay at home you won’t wear out your boots!

In our culture of abundance in this country, I doubt that many of us have only one pair of shoes…

But in today’s world where Social Distancing is so very important, it is a great reminder that we should stay in place at home as much as possible.

For those of us who are lucky enough to be able to stay at home to study, work, enjoy our families, or just be in place, we should remind ourselves of the percentages of safety we can enjoy by doing so.

We know that if we are home…our chances of catching the Virus are far more minimal than if we take the risk and go out.

We also know that we can’t always stay in place if we need necessities…BUT the more time we spend at home, the better chances we have of staying healthy!

So let’s put on our slippers, robes, sweats or whatever makes us comfortable, kick back and read a book, study, Google, Netflix, Zoom, or just share family time and leave YOUR shoes in the closet for now!!!

And to those who must wear shoes to go to work to keep us safe and fed, we will respect and honor you and leave the walking path clear for you!

Join the Tradition!

"Our stories are kept alive thanks to the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene – Join me in keeping our stories alive."
–Joel Grey

NYTF Newsletter

March 2020

The Tenth Man

Ephraim Moses Lilien (1874–1925) – Book of Job, appearing in Die Bucher Der Bibel

Modern Judaism & The Folklore Of Dibbuks

By Giacinta Pace

A Dybbuk possession plays a large part in our upcoming production of The Tenth Man by Paddy Chayefsky. Rabbi Avraham Bronstein, from The Hamptons Synagogue was kind enough to give us an interview regarding his thoughts on dybbuks and some background info on the topic. 

In your own words, what is a dybbuk?
In Jewish literature and folklore, a dybbuk is a malicious spirit, usually that of a deceased person, that possesses a living person. The word itself, first used in 18th century Eastern Europe, derives from the root d.v.q., which means to “attach” or “cleave” (in modern Hebrew, “devek” is “glue”.) In Hasidic thought, achieving a state of deveikut, or attachment to the Divine, is one of the aims of religious life. A dybbuk represents the opposite.

The idea became popularized in the Kabbalistic writings of the 15th and 16th centuries, especially those that dealt with gilgulim (reincarnations). In those writings, a dybbuk is a soul that, for whatever reason, found itself stranded on earth after death, in need of a Tikkun, some rectification of an outstanding loose end that would allow it to move on to its next destination.

What symptoms are unique to a dybbuk possession?
A person possessed by a dybbuk might lose control of their body, falling to the ground in convulsions, weeping, or shouting. Sometimes they would act rebelliously, refusing to participate in normal communal or congregational life. Famously, many possessions featured the demon speaking through the host body – in a strange voice, and even describing faraway events or community secrets that the host themself could not have known.

How does Judaism today see the idea of a dybbuk?  Have you ever seen or heard of a real-life exorcism? If so, tell us about it. If not, why do you think you haven’t?

Famously, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe (d. 1979), was once consulted about a possible dybbuk possession – he recommended a psychiatrist. Even within the Orthodox world, my sense is that, though belief in dybbuks in principle may linger, almost anyone would treat the symptoms a dybbuk would present in terms of mental health. That said, In a 2014 article, Asher Elbein collected several contemporary news reports of exorcisms, all within Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Sefardic community, which in many ways, overtly mimics the mannerisms of the Ashkenazi Haredi community. Thus, the tradition that became the Dybbuk originated in the pre-Modern Sefardic community and took its final shape in the shtetl. So, in a way, it has come home – though with a contemporary, digital spin. As Elbin records, one of those recent exorcisms took place over Skype, with video distributed (and disputed) online!

What does an exorcism ceremony consist of?
The core of the ceremony itself is essentially a negotiation in which the exorcist addresses the spirit directly, demanding that it leave its host and the spirit stating its reasons for remaining. Often, the ceremony would take place at the synagogue in the presence of a minyan of ten men dressed in their white yom kippur robes (that doubled as burial shrouds!), who had prepared with a regimen of purification that included fasting and ritual immersion. Incantations, including kabbalistic combinations of Divine names were invoked, the shofar was sounded, and the Ark was opened, revealing the torah scrolls inside – everything creating both a heightened atmosphere of tension and danger, as well as holiness that the spirit could not tolerate. In the end, the spirit would be forced to leave the host, preferably through a toe, and restricted from further nefarious activity.

If we hear of any possessions, who are we gonna call?
A reputable mental health professional. (Though, if you are convinced that the situation is more supernatural, Rabbi Dovid Batzri, head of the Hashalom Yeshiva in Israel, is the only living person today who claims to have successfully exorcised a Dybbuk. 

Fiddler on the Roof

Photos by: Jim Lee Photo, Merete Muenter & Zalmen Mlotek

Postcards From Oz A Fiddler Down Under, Meshuge, neyn?

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish is on the move again. It started out as the little musical that could and in two years has gone from its humble beginnings at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust to Off-Broadway in midtown Manhattan and now most recently to International waters in Australia. We are very proud of this show and can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Take an exclusive sneak peek at some photos from the auditions in Australia and join us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to continue the journey.

Fiddler on the Roof

Host: Toney Brown

Against the odds

In this episode of our podcast, NYTF Radio, we continue explore the oral history of the Folksbiene with longtime company member Itzy Firestone. We learn about the Folksbiene in the 1980s as the company navigates a difficult question: “How do we preserve Yiddish theatre in a world with fewer and fewer fluent Yiddish speakers?”

Let's Dish in Yiddish

Each month, Ellen Eisen will take us on a journey back in time to a shtetl far, far away where we will explore the origins and meanings of both well-known and little-known Yiddish sayings.

Nit a’le tog iz purem

(Not every day is Purim Let’s Party!)

Purim is celebrated March 9-March 10.

Purim is a jolly and very fun holiday for all of the family…The girls dress up like Queen Esther….and children parade around with noisemakers , costumes and masks! When I was young….my Dad would proudly Parade me around the Synagogue all dressed up like Queen Esther and everyone would say such a “Shayna Punim” and he would KVELL!!

For adults we are encouraged to drink lots of wine on Purim to commemorate the deliverance of the Jewish People from a Villainous Haman.

It’s not often we get a hall pass to have so much fun….to really drink in excess and just really enjoy ourselves unconditionally!
But on Purim it is nearly mandatory!

The ‘real’ world of today can wait til tomorrow!

So enjoy Purim, the dancing, the Hamantaschen and the whole Megillah!