NYTF Presents at The Museum of Jewish Heritage

American Premiere New Yiddish Theatrical Concert

pleytem tsuzamen Refugees Together

Music and Lyrics by Josh Waletzky
Book by Jeyn Levison 
Direction by Michael Barakiva 

National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene and the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust bring together – for two performances only – some of the most renowned Yiddish musicians from across the globe for the American premiere of the new Yiddish theatrical concert pleytem tsuzamen (Refugees Together). 

A star-studded cast of master singers from across the world – Ukraine, Latvia, Berlin, England, and the Americas – will perform a contemporary musical commentary on what it means to be a refugee, weaving a defiant garment of hope in a threatening and threatened world.

pleytem tsuzamen (Refugees Together) is a call for solidarity with those who are most threatened. Confronting our current reality, these new Yiddish songs present a dynamic fusion of traditional forms with the social, political, and personal challenges posed by the world today — and they embody the power of music to foster the courage we need to “link arms and take to the streets together against bloodshed and hatred.”

Waletzky wrote these songs for a chosen group of master Yiddish singers and instrumentalists—the foremost contemporary performers on the global Yiddish scene.

Illustration: Sand Art by Zhenya Lopatnik, New York-based Ukrainian Jewish artist.




Michael Barakiva (director)

Michael Barakiva (director) is an Armenian/Israeli-American director, writer, and producer who lives with his husband in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. He is the Founder and Creative Director of Novel Readings (www.novelreadings.com), a company that uses the performance of text to produce social justice events and develop writers’ work, and served as the Artistic Director of the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, NY (2015-2020). Michael’s young adult novels, One Man Guy and its sequel Hold My Hand, have received various awards and accolades as representations of queer romantic comedies. These Precious Stones, a contemporary AY fantasy epic, will be out in May 2024. He is a recipient of the David Merrick Prize in Drama, a Summer Fellowship and New Directors/New Works Grant from the Drama League, Granada Fellowship at UC Davis, and the Phil Killian Fellowship in Directing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He has presented at the National Puppet Theatre in Sofia, Bulgaria, as well as at the International Theater Festival at UNAM in Mexico City. He is a graduate of Vassar College and the Juilliard School, where he studied as an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Directing.

Daniel Kahn (voice, accordion, guitar)

Detroit-born, Hamburg-based troubadour Daniel Kahn (voice, accordion, guitar) mixes Yiddish, English, German, klezmer, punk, and folk. His projects and groups include The Painted Bird, Brothers Nazaroff, Semer Ensemble, The Unternationale, Bulat Blues, the solo album “word beggar,” and his forthcoming duo with Jake Shulman-Ment, “The Building & Other Songs.” He played the original Perchik in Folksbiene’s hit “Fidler afn Dakh,” Yosl in “Amerike,” Biff in NYR’s “Death of a Salesman,” the Badkhn in the Netflix series “Unorthodox,” and was featured in Carnegie Hall’s “From Shtetl to Stage.” He works frequently as composer and actor at Hamburg’s Thalia and Berlin’s Gorki Theater and co-founded the Shtetl Berlin festival. Videos of his Yiddish versions of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Woody Guthrie songs have received millions of views. Ashkenaz Foundation named him the inaugural Theo Bikel Artist-in-Residence. In 2018, he received the Chane and Joseph Mlotek Award for Yiddish Continuity.


Sveta Kundish (voice)

Sveta Kundish (voice) was born in Chernobyl, Ukraine and settled with her family at the age of 13 in Israel. Her extensive musical and vocal studies include a master class with legendary Soviet-era Yiddish singer Nechama Lifshitz. Now based in Germany, Sveta completed her cantorial training in 2017 and serves as a cantor in the Jewish Community of Brauschweig, making her the first female cantor in the history of the Jewish Communities of Lower Saxony.

Sveta performs a wide variety of Jewish music throughout Europe and is regularly featured with Patrick Farrell, Alan Bern, Voices of Ashkenaz, the Trickster Orchestra and Regalim Kapelye. She is a frequent Artist-in-Residence and teacher at Yiddish Summer Weimar, and has performed and taught at many European festivals, such as Shtetl Neukölln, Klezmore Vienna, and LvivKlezFest. She performs onscreen in the role of the singer Rushka in the upcoming Hollywood film “Harry Haft” by Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson.


Jeyn Levison (book)

Jeyn Levison (book) is a playwright, screenwriter, creative producer, and social justice strategist in pro-democracy and racial, gender, disability, LGBTQ+, and Jewish justice movements. Theatrical writing credits include SHTIL, MAYN CORAZON – A YIDDISH TANGO CABARET, DON’T KISS ME I’M IN TRAINING, THE SCAMS OF SCAPIN, WISSOTSKY’S TEA, EZEKIEL’S WORLD, HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE, and THE LAST DYBBUK. Screenwriting credits include COPY SHOP and SORRY!, YOU’RE SO VEIN, and with Steve Klausner, STRAIGHT AS AN ARROW, THE GOLEM OF AVENUE B, and QUEEN OF THIEVES. Jeyn is the former Director of Performing Arts at the JCC Manhattan, Creative Producer of the Jewish Plays Project, and 2014 LABA fellow. A recipient of multiple grants, awards, and residencies for playwriting, Jeyn has taught theater at KlezKanada, Yiddish New York, and Bates College and holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU.

Sasha Lurje (voice)

Sasha Lurje (voice) was born in Riga, Latvia, and has been singing since she was three years old. She has performed widely in various styles — folk, jazz, rock, and pop — and also been involved in several improvisational theater groups. Since 2003 she has been researching traditional Yiddish singing style and repertoire, and, with her band Forshpil, integrating the traditional sound into modern context.

Sasha is a co-founder of the Berlin Yiddish music festival Shtetl Neukölln and a member of Alan Bern’s all-star band Semer Ensemble. She performs and leads Yiddish dance with the Berlin klezmer band You Shouldn’t Know From It and has been a longstanding artist and faculty member at Yiddish Summer Weimar. Sasha has collaborated with Daniel Kahn on an “interlingual” love song program STRANGELOVESONGS. Recently, she has collaborated with the Brooklyn-based band Litvakus on Goyfriend, an exploration of the musical interactions between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors.


Merlin Shepherd (clarinet)

Merlin Shepherd (clarinet) is one of the world’s leading players of traditional Eastern European klezmer clarinet. Born in Cardiff, Wales, and based in Brighton, UK, Merlin has toured and recorded throughout Britain and Europe with over a dozen leading ensembles, including Budowitz and the Klezmatics. Merlin worked as musical director and onstage musician at the Royal National Theatre London for over 20 years, for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre London, and recently for Paula Vogel’s Indecent at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory. He has also taught at music seminars in Kazan, Kyiv, Berlin, Paris, New York City and Montreal. Merlin’s most recent recordings include Sklamberg & the Shepherds’ Aheym – Homeward (2015); Hamsa’s Lawless, Winged & Unconfined (2017); and Terry Pack’s Trees – Into the Woods (2019).


Polina Shepherd (voice, piano)

Polina Shepherd (voice, piano) is a prolific composer, performer, educator, and cultural activist, originally from Siberia, now living in Brighton UK. She grew up singing and accompanying her grandfather at gatherings of her Cossack / Jewish family. As a university student in Kazan (capital of Tatarstan) Polina joined Russia′s first klezmer band after Perestroika, Simcha (1990-2000). She soon became the principal Yiddish choir leader of the former Soviet Union, composing original material for large ensembles and touring internationally with her Quartet Ashkenazim (1991-2007).

Polina performs a variety of original songs (some with her own poetry), including her solo album Three Centuries Ago. She has recorded with remix artist Max Pashm in Never Mind the Balkans, with Romanian Gypsy style brass band Fanfara, and for the Gecko Theatre production Kin (2022). Her most ambitious choral project is 150 Voices, recorded in collaboration with  Lorin Sklamberg of the Klezmatics and five choirs in the UK and the USA.


Ilya Shneyveys (accordion/piano)

Ilya Shneyveys is an international performer, accordionist, multi-instrumentalist, conductor, teacher, composer, arranger and producer of contemporary Jewish music, from klezmer and Yiddish folk song to fusion and experimental projects.

With close to 20 years of experience in Yiddish music, Ilya is considered a master of the traditional klezmer accordion style, and a renowned interpreter of the music on many instruments (including guitar, bass, percussion, flutes and others). He creates original arrangements of traditional melodies, and composes contemporary pieces in the style, some of which have already become part of the modern-day klezmer repertoire. In his solo project, traditional instruments and sounds are combined with contemporary electronic music in a surprisingly compelling fusion. Among his many creative sides, Ilya is a sought-after improviser, conductor, accompanist and band leader.

A founding member of Berlin’s Neukölln Klezmer Sessions and the Shtetl Berlin festival, as well as a long-time faculty member at Yiddish Summer Weimar, Ilya regularly performs and teaches at major Jewish festivals around the world, including Yiddish Fest Moscow, Yiddish New York, Klezfest St.Petersburg, Klezfest London, KlezKanada, Montreal Jewish Festival, Toronto Ashkenaz Festival, Seattle Yiddish Fest, Krakow Jewish Festival and more.

Ilya is the artistic director and a founding member of the Yiddish psychedelic rock band Forshpil (Latvia), and a founding member of the Yiddish-Bavarian fusion project Alpen Klezmer (Germany), the winner of 2014 RUTH World Music Award at TFF Rudolstadt. In 2017-2021 he was the artistic director of the German-Israeli student exchange project The Caravan Orchestra, for which he was awarded the 2017 Shimon-Peres-Prize. As a touring member of the klezmer-balkan band Dobranotch (Russia) he received the Eiserne Eversteiner Preis in 2017. Among his other notable projects are the KaraYam Ensemble (exploration of the Yiddish-Greek-Turkish music connections) and the Black Rooster Band (resurrecting lost Jewish music from Latvian archives). He has performed and collaborated with The Klezmatics (USA), Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird (Germany) and many others.

Originally from Riga, Latvia, Ilya has traveled the world promoting Yiddish music and culture. He is currently a sought-after concert and simkha musician based in Brooklyn, NY, where he organizes community klezmer jam sessions and picnics,spreading the joy of klezmer.


Jake Shulman-Ment (violin)

Born in New York City, Jake Shulman-Ment (violin)is “considered one of the finest klezmer fiddlers on the planet” (Jon Kalish, NPR). He tours and records internationally as a soloist and with Midwood, Daniel Kahn, Frank London, Di Naye Kapelye, Joey Weisenberg, and Duncan Sheik. He was featured in Csaba Bereczki’s documentary film Soul Exodus and performed on screen in HBO’s Succession and Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman. Jake has taught at KlezKamp, KlezKanada, Klezmer Paris, the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival, Yiddish Summer Weimar, Yiddish New York, and other festivals. He studied and performed traditional music in Romania as a Fulbright scholar, and has traveled in Hungary and Greece, learning traditional violin styles. In 2018 he received a NYSCA/NYFA Fellowship in Folk/Traditional Arts. Jake’s debut solo album, A Redele (A Wheel) (Oriente Musik, 2012) was nominated for the German Record Critics’ Award. His new group, Midwood, released its first album,Out of the Narrows (Chant Records) in 2018.


Beth Silver (cello)

Beth Silver (cello) is an involved freelancer based in Toronto. She is a lover of many genres, equally at home in a traditional classical ensemble and in a band arranging and exploring new voices for cello. Performances with various chamber projects have brought her to festivals around the world, including Salzburg’s Kammermusik Festival, Ottawa Chamber Festival, Toronto Summer Music Festival, Glatt und Verkehrt Festival in Austria, Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival, Festival Napa Valley, Ashkenaz Fest, Tirgan Festival, and KlezKanada. She has been presented across Canada by Jeunesses Musicales, Prairie Debut, and Debut Atlantic as part of the Ladom Ensemble.

She is the recipient of grants from the Canada Council and Ontario Arts Council and her awards include the 2014 Ben Steinberg Musical Legacy Award recognizing musical achievement in the Canadian Jewish community. Beth enjoys spending non-musical time painting, reading, practicing horticulture, and doing yoga, and lives in Toronto’s west end with her cat Sica.


Deborah Strauss (violin)

Deborah Strauss is one of the leading klezmer violinists of her generation. With her husband, Cantor Jeff Warschauer, she has performed and taught at venues worldwide including the Philadelphia Folk Festival, Great Britain’s Fiddles on Fire, and the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, Poland. She is also a highly regarded Yiddish dancer and dance leader. Deborah was a long-time member of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, one of the premiere groups of the klezmer revival, and has performed with Itzhak Perlman, Theodore Bikel, and the Klezmatics. Deborah is co-director of both the instrumental music program and the dance program at Yiddish New York, and with Alan Bern is the co-author of Klezmer Duets for Violin and Accordion, published in 2017 by Universal Edition, Vienna. Deborah studied violin at Rutgers University, ethnomusicology at the University of Chicago, and is currently studying for an MSW at Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work.


Josh Waletzky (composer, lyricist; voice)

Josh Waletzky (composer, lyricist; voice) has sung, taught and composed Yiddish music all his life. He co-produced the Grammy-nominated CD Partisans of Vilna (1989), and his groundbreaking CD of original Yiddish songs, Crossing the Shadows (2001), was greeted as “a classic of the American-Jewish folk revival.” Upon the release of his newest album of original Yiddish songs, PASAZHIRN/Passengers (2017), Waletzky was hailed by Mark Slobin as “the poet-laureate of new Yiddish songwriting.” Waletzky has taught Yiddish song internationally, including at Klezkanada, Yiddish New York, and Yiddish Summer Weimar.

He is also an award-winning documentary filmmaker. He sound-edited the Academy Award-winning film Harlan County, USA (1976); directed the films Image Before My Eyes (1981) and Partisans of Vilna (1986); directed Academy Award-nominated Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann (1992) and edited the Emmy Award-winning Itzhak Perlman: In the Fiddler’s House (1995). More recently, he directed and composed the music for four documentaries on Yiddish writers: Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman (2007), Itche Goldberg  (2009); Chava Rosenfarb  (2015), and Yonia Fain (2018).


Creative Team

Music and Lyrics 
Josh Waletzky

Jeyn Levison

Michael Barakiva

Sound Designer
Angela Baughman

Lighting Designer
Miriam Crowe

Ukrainian supertitle translations
Asia Fruman

Creative Producer 
Jeyn Levison

Sand Art 

Zhenya Lopatnik

Stage Manager
Mackenzie Towbridge

Originally commissioned by 
Yiddish Summer Weimar

Thank you


pleytem tsuzamen (Refugees Together)

In the News

Jewish Standard | Curt Schleier | March 16, 2023

‘Refugees Together’
Josh Waletzky and the Folksbiene debut a song cycle about immigration

The Forward | Zach Golden | March 10, 2023

NY Jewish Week | Jon Kalish | March 3, 2023


National Yiddish Theatre will require vaccinations for audience members, as well as performers, backstage crew, and theatre staff, for all performances through February 2022. Masks will also be required for audiences inside the theatre, except while eating or drinking in designated locations. Under the policy, guests will need to be fully vaccinated with an FDA or WHO authorized vaccine in order to attend a show and must show proof of vaccination at their time of entry into the theatre with their valid ticket and photo ID. “Fully vaccinated” means the performance date must be at least 14 days after the second dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine, or at least 14 days after a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine.

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