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The Yiddish Philharmonic Chorus celebrates its 100th anniversary with a rare Yiddish rendition of ‘Hatikvah’

(New York Jewish Week) — Last fall, when Binyumen Shaechter started putting together the 2023 repertoire for the Yiddish Philharmonic Chorus, he thought an apt theme and title would be “Chutzpah! Yiddish Songs of Defiance” to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as well as the 75th birthday of the State of Israel. 

He had no idea that, nearly a year later, when the chorus was gearing up for an encore performance of its June concert celebrating their 100th anniversary, Hamas would invade Israel and slaughter 1,400 Israelis — and that Jews might need to turn to these historical songs of defiance once again. 

“If anything, what’s happening in Israel, in that region and to the innocent Gaza civilians is more of an inspiration and an incentive for us to sing with more passion, emotion and determination and defiance,” Schaechter, the director and conductor of the chorus, told the New York Jewish Week. “These songs made the people who sang them feel good about the things that they were feeling bad about.”

The concert, this coming Sunday at the Upper West Side’s Merkin Hall at Kaufman Music Center, includes three songs about the Jewish people’s relationship to the land of Israel at different points in Jewish history: a setting of Psalm 137, the “Partisans’ Anthem” sung by Jewish fighters in the 1940s and, perhaps most notably of all, “Di Hofenung,” a version of “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, that was translated into Yiddish in 1943 by Hillel Meitin. 

The Yiddish Philharmonic Chorus perform in 2019. Binyumen Schaechter conducts, while alumni join the chorus onstage. (Courtesy Binyumen Schaechter)

Schaechter believes the Yiddish version of “Hatikvah” is relatively unknown and, to his knowledge, has not been performed since his chorus picked it up. “I happened to find it in a collection of Yiddish war songs written in 1943,”he said. “I would be shocked if anybody has performed it in Yiddish. We’ve made that poem come to life after 80 years.”

“Because everything that’s going on in Israel, we just feel our hearts so full to be singing these songs like ‘Hatikvah’ and the partisans’ song in Yiddish,” Lynne Cassouto, a soprano who has been in the chorus for nine years, told the New York Jewish Week. “It’s just so poignant and so powerful right now to be singing together right now.”

Founded in 1923 on the Lower East Side as the Freiheit Gezang Farein (“Freedom Chorus”) by conductor and composer Lazar Weiner, the chorus was an extension of the Morgen Freiheit, a daily Yiddish communist newspaper. The singers “were native Yiddish speakers and were staunch lefties,” Schaechter said. For the first 15 or so years, the chorus would begin every concert with a Yiddish translation of the French communist anthem “The Internationale.”

In the decades after its founding, the chorus continued to grow as its leaders wrote new choral and solo works. The group performed all over the city, including at Carnegie Hall. In 1948, during the anti-communist backlash of the McCarthy Era, the chorus changed its name to the Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus. 

Binyumen Schaechter has conducted, directed and done the choral arrangements for the chorus for the last 28 years. (Courtesy Binyumen Schaechter)

By the 1980s, the chorus’ popularity had waned, and it became more of a community choir — anyone who wanted to join could, regardless of whether they could sing, Schaechter said. 

Schaechter, 60, became the chorus’ conductor and the director in 1995. Born in East New York, Brooklyn, he grew up in the Bronx in a prominent Yiddish-speaking family: His father, Mordkhe Schaechter, was a Yiddish linguist and professor at Columbia, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Yeshiva University and YIVO, the Yiddish research institute. His aunt, Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, was a Yiddish poet and songwriter. Binyumen and his three sisters all pursued careers in Yiddish: Rukhl is the editor of Forverts, the Yiddish Forward; Gitl is a Yiddish poet and Eydl teaches Yiddish classes for women in her haredi community in Tzfat, Israel. 

Despite his upbringing, Schaechter said he never planned a career in Yiddish music — he thought he’d become a composer for musical theater. “My dream was to win a Tony Award for Best Score and to give my thank you speech in Yiddish,” he said. He wrote a few shows that weren’t produced, and worked as a substitute conductor at another chorus that shared some members with the Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus, who asked him if he’d like to take over as the conductor full time. 

Now, said Schaechter, who also works as a Yiddish translator and lecturer, “I can’t imagine doing anything else.” 

In 2021, the chorus officially changed its name to the Yiddish Philharmonic Chorus. “Our raison d’etre for many years has been singing in Yiddish, keeping Yiddish alive and doing it in a way that enlightens the audience about the treasures that Yiddish poetry, song and even choral arrangements can have,” he said, adding that singers need not be Jewish to join.

In his nearly 30-year tenure, Schaechter has expanded the range and ability of the chorus. The 36 members, ranging from 30-somethings to those in their 90s, had to audition. They hold a weekly practice session on Monday nights and perform anywhere from from three to 12 times a year around the city. 

While knowing Yiddish is not a prerequisite — Schaechter estimates only about a fifth of the cohort could hold a conversation in the language — singers learn how to pronounce and perform the music with gusto while also learning the translation and meanings behind the songs. 

“One of the things I love about the way Binyumen specifically presents a piece of music to us is that he will give us historical context — he will tell us about the composer, the author if it was originally a poem, the dialect, what the part of the world it was from, the context of when it was written,” said Cassouto, who, like Schaechter, hails from a musical, Yiddish-speaking family. 

“I feel very strongly about Jewish continuity through all these art forms,” she added. “So that all, for me, is a piece of keeping that spirit alive and being true to where we come from, and not having it just become history, but really be retained as a part of my identity.”

“This was our culture. This was our language. This is our tradition going back for centuries,” Schaechter said. “There’s such wonderful literature and so many wonderful Yiddish songs that we don’t want to lose them. We want to pass them on to the next generation.”

Tickets for the Yiddish Philharmonic Chorus’ upcoming concert on Sunday, Oct. 29 at 1 p.m. can be found here, starting at $50. A recording of the concert can also be purchased.


The post The Yiddish Philharmonic Chorus celebrates its 100th anniversary with a rare Yiddish rendition of ‘Hatikvah’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Israeli Official: ‘Important Operation’ in Yemen Sends Strong Message to Shiite Axis

Drones are seen at a site at an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on April 20, 2023. Photo: Iranian Army/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS

i24 NewsA senior Israeli security official spoke to i24NEWS on Saturday on condition of the retaliatory strike carried out by the Israel Air Force against the Houthi jihadists in Yemen.

“This is an important operation which signals that there’s room for further escalation, and sends a very strong message to the entire Shiite axis.”

“We understood there is a high probability of counter attacks, but if we do not respond, the meaning is even worse. Israel has updated the US prior to the operation.”

The strike on Hodeida came after long-range Iranian-made drone hit a building in central Tel Aviv, killing one man and wounded several others.

The post Israeli Official: ‘Important Operation’ in Yemen Sends Strong Message to Shiite Axis first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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IDF Confirms Striking ‘Terrorist Houthi Regime’ in Yemen’s Hodeida

Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi addresses followers via a video link at the al-Shaab Mosque, formerly al-Saleh Mosque, in Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 6, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

i24 NewsThe Israeli military on Saturday confirmed striking a port in Yemen controlled by the Houthi jihadists, a day after the Iranian proxy group perpetrated a deadly drone attack on Tel Aviv.

“A short while ago, IDF fighter jets struck military targets of the Houthi terrorist regime in the area of the Al Hudaydah Port in Yemen in response to the hundreds of attacks carried out against the State of Israel in recent months.”

After Houthi drone attack on Tel Aviv, reports and footage out of Yemen of air strikes hitting Hodeida

— Video used in accordance with clause 27A of Israeli copyright law pic.twitter.com/d2uE16ZzQ1

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, issued a statement saying “The fire that is currently burning in Hodeidah, is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear. The Houthis attacked us over 200 times. The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them. And we will do this in any place where it may be required.”

“The blood of Israeli citizens has a price,” Gallant added. “This has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen, and in other places – if they will dare to attack us, the result will be identical.”

Gallant: ‘The fire currently burning in Hodeida is seen across the region and the significance is clear… The blood of Israeli citizens has a price, as has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen and in other places – if they dare attack us, the result will be identical.’ pic.twitter.com/DmHjwfHtPV

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

The post IDF Confirms Striking ‘Terrorist Houthi Regime’ in Yemen’s Hodeida first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.

REMEMBERING THE DEAD

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

The post One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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