November 29, 2020 | Joanna Gallai

Around the World in Yiddish – An Inside Look at NYTF’s Chanukah Spectacular

We’re a little over a week away from the global Yiddish extravaganza of the season – the Star-Studded Folksbiene Chanukah Spectacular – and already thousands of people plan to attend!

Here is a sneak peek of the opening number, Around the World in Yiddish. Packed with performers joining us from the far reaches of the globe, it’s a vivid reflection of how musicians have been keeping Yiddish alive by sharing old favorites and creating new compositions, continuing tradition while adapting to different cultures, geographies, and times.

“Yiddish is an international language that ties Jews together. It is a unifying force even for those who don’t speak it themselves,” National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene Artistic Director Zalmen Mlotek says. “We have an emotional attachment to it because we’ve heard it from our parents, our grandparents, and our teachers. As you’ll see in our opening number, Yiddish music is a universal experience packed with energy and emotion.”

Folksbiene’s trip around the world is a veritable ver iz ver (who’s who) of Yiddish and klezmer music. Fans in America may not be familiar with all of these accomplished musicians, and because now is no time to travel the world to discover their new sounds and voices, our Chanukah gift to the Folksbiene mishpacha is to bring the world to you.

The performers in the opening number are paragons of Yiddish music – artists you’ll want to hear again and again (and one day hopefully see in person!). Until then, we’ll tell you a little bit about them before you see them on December 8.

Joining us from the farthest distance is Miwazow Kogure, co-founder of the funky Japanese klezmer band Jinta-la-Mvta. She is a percussionist, singer, and koto (Japanese harp) player who sings in Yiddish and has performed at Klezmer festivals around the world.

Then sail south to meet Melbourne’s Yiddish Klezmer Diva, vocalist Freydi Mrocki, who was signed on to be the Yiddish coach for our Australian tour of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. She has been speaking, singing, and teaching Yiddish for decades. And, her students will be tuning in to our Chanukah Spectacular (it’ll be just before lunchtime for them – a day ahead of us!).

Next, hop a flight to Israel where the lead singer of the eponymous band, Mendy Cahan & Der Yiddish Express, is known to translate popular (English-language) songs into Yiddish. At his Yung YiDiSH center in the basement of the Tel Aviv central bus station, which is an eclectic hub for artists, he keeps thousands of volumes of Yiddish books, hosts cabaret nights, and is at the forefront of the rebirth and embrace of secular Yiddish culture in Israel.

From Israel, we head north to Moldova, where Efim Chorny and Susan Ghergus are the founders of the prize-winning Jewish Song Theatre and the renowned Chorny-Ghergus Duo. They are hailed in Moldova and throughout Europe for their traditional Yiddish and klezmer music as well as their original compositions.

Just west, we meet an actress with the 140-year-old State Jewish Theater in Romania – one of the only government-sponsored Jewish theaters in the world. Geni Brenda is at home speaking Yiddish on stage. For more than twenty years, she has performed Yiddish plays in Romania and on tour with her company around the world.

Now we move on to northern Europe, where Shura Lipovsky has been a major player in the revival of Jewish music in The Netherlands. A singer, writer, and composer of new Yiddish songs, Lipovsky has collaborated with the greatest Yiddish singers and musicians of today.

Our next stop is Great Britain, where two musicians join us: Polina Shepherd, a somewhat recent immigrant originally from Siberia and Tatarstan, and Merlin Shepherd, from Wales. Polina and Merlin Shepherd collaborate with each other as well as celebrated musician colleagues. Each stands on their own with their incredible musical talents, and when they come together, it can be transformational. One journalist, after experiencing a performance, dubbed them “the Led Zeppelin of contemporary Yiddish music.”

Finally, we return to North America with audacious Canadian musician Josh Dogin (Socalled), who mixes klezmer with different musical interests, like hip-hop and techno. One of the most innovative performers in Yiddish today, Socalled produces exciting music through his use of technology and collaborations with musicians from diverse genres.


Around the World in Yiddish reveals that Yiddish truly is everywhere; and with viewers logging in from around the world, we will be connected with each other in a time when we may otherwise feel so far apart,” Mlotek says.


Reserve your virtual seat now, and join us on Tuesday, December 8 at 7:00 p.m. EST as the Star-Studded Folksbiene Chanukah Spectacular lights up the universe with a trip around the world of Yiddish

Tickets are FREE/donations encouraged.

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