(New York Jewish Week) — More than a dozen songs written by Jews imprisoned in concentration camps and ghettos during the Holocaust will be brought to life at Carnegie Hall next week as part of a commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Featuring Broadway bigwigs and performers such as Harvey Fierstein, Chita Rivera, Mikhl Yashinsky and Joel Grey, the one-night-only “We Are Here: Songs from the Holocaust” performance will take place on Thurs., January 26 at 7:30 p.m.
“I know a lot about music — I’ve spent my whole life doing it — and I never knew there were songs that came out of the camps and the ghettos,” said music producer and composer Ira Antelis, who conceived of the concert several years ago. “I knew there was classical music in Theresienstadt, but I was not familiar with what I call the ‘Bruce Springsteen’ or ‘Pete Seeger’ music of the camps.”
As it turns out, however, hundreds of what might be called folk and popular songs were written — mostly in Yiddish — by Jews in concentration camps and ghettos. In the decades following the war, many were published in newspapers, songbook collections and memoirs in Europe, Israel and the United States.
The “We Are Here” concert draws its name from one such songbook, titled ““We Are Here: Songs of the Holocaust,” which was compiled in 1983 by Eleanor Mlotek and Malke Gottlieb, with a foreword by Elie Wiesel. Antelis discovered the book while doing research on Wiesel after his death in 2016.
Shortly after he read the songbook, Antelis, who lives in Chicago, was visiting family in New York when he ran into an old friend, Rabbi Charlie Savenor. A former educational director at Park Avenue Synagogue, Savenor was teaching a class on Holocaust memoirs there at the time.
“Keeping a memoir, hiding it, and making sure that whether or not you live and die your experience would be remembered was an act of deep resistance,” said Savenor, who is now the executive director of Civic Spirit, an organization that advocates for civic education. “Writing this music and these songs was doing the same exact thing.”
It felt like fate that the two had reconnected after 15 years, and they decided to collaborate on the project.
Initially, the pair planned to mount a concert just using songs from the “We Are Here” anthology. But when the pandemic put everything on hold, Antelis used the time to do additional research — which led him to discover a 2014 doctoral dissertation that had compiled research about 14 additional songbooks published between 1945-1949. Each of these volumes was filled with dozens of songs from a particular camp or ghetto — songs from Bialystok, Vilna, Munich and others.
“This is our concert,” Antelis thought.
Newly reinvigorated, the concert he was conceiving would feature one song from each songbook.
“What better way to say ‘We Are Here’ than to carry on somebody’s voice from 1940, who was murdered?” Savenor said. “We have the opportunity to do that.”
The first-ever concert of these songs was produced last year at Chicago’s Temple Sholom. That program was on Yom HaShoah, so it included a yahrzeit candlelighting and several speeches. This year, by contrast, the concert will focus almost entirely on the music and the performers, many of whom are no strangers to drawing crowds.
Though many of the songs featured in “We Are Here” have been translated into English, several will be sung in their original Yiddish, including “Minuten Fon Bitahon” (“Minutes of Faith”) by Mordechai Gebirtig. Sung by Steven Skybell, who is coming off of a seven-week off-Broadway run as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish,” the song will open the concert.
“One of the most heartbreaking and amazing things about Yiddish songs, in general, is that they don’t shy away from putting into song every aspect of the Jewish life,” said Skybell, who began seriously learning Yiddish during the pandemic. “It’s really unlike any other type of music I’ve ever seen, in that it does not shy away from ugly reality and sometimes hopeless situations.”
At the same time, however, Savenor said he is surprised at how uplifting many of the songs are, considering the horrible circumstances their writers were enduring. “This is not the Mourner’s Kaddish for an hour and forty five minutes,” he said. “It’s just people talking about love and relationships, and dreams and aspirations. It’s a lot more about life than it is about mourning.”
Each song will be introduced by a presenter who will share a brief personal anecdote relating to the Holocaust. Along with hosts Antelis and Savenor, these presenters include Jack Kliger, the president and CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage; Scott Richman, director of the New York and New Jersey branch of the Anti-Defamation League and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York.
The diversity of the presenters and performers is intentional, said Antelis and Savenor, emphasizing that part of the purpose of the concert is to showcase a coming together across races, religions and ethnicities. The aim, they said, is to show unity and entrench the message of “never again.”
That’s also why the concert is being presented at historic Carnegie Hall, rather than a synagogue. “To have the sounds of Yiddish reverberating in Carnegie Hall gives me special delight,” said Skybell. “The fact that Yiddish is alive and well and we hear it at Carnegie Hall — it’s just to say that we are here, we’re not going away and we won’t be silenced.”
Proceeds from the performance will be donated to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. Though it will not be recorded for the public or live streamed, Antelis and Savenor said they hope to bring the production around the country and even to Europe to perform the songs at the sites of the ghettos and camps where they were originally composed.
“With everything that’s going on, we cannot be silent — people need to step up. If we don’t stand against antisemitism and hate in every facet, then who are we?” Antelis said. “I think this is the most important concert in many, many years, especially in our culture.”
“We are Here: Songs From the Holocaust” is a one-night event on the Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall (881 7th Ave.) on Jan. 26 at 7:30 pm. Buy tickets here.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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