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March comes in with a roar of new Yiddish music

(New York Jewish Week) — As they say in the mameloshn (mother tongue), “Dos Yidish lid iz umetum.” In other words, “Yiddish song is in the air.”

This month a collection of new Yiddish songs will be performed for the first time in America at a Manhattan museum; two Brooklyn blues musicians will release their recordings of old Yiddish folk songs and a new web site preserving the work of a couple who played a pivotal role in promoting Yiddish song is set to debut. 

If all that weren’t enough, the stars of the Yiddish stage will also appear at an event celebrating the woman who was dubbed “the Sherlock Holmes of Yiddish song.”

“Because we all have this weird relationship with Yiddish, every project that people do takes it to a different place,” Alex Weiser, director of public programs at YIVO, told the New York Jewish Week. “Interesting, weird things are currently happening with Yiddish song.”

Read on for ways to get your Yiddish on. 

Sister act

As part of Carnegie Hall’s multi-venue celebration of women in music, on Sunday, March 5,  the Paul Shapiro Quartet takes the stage at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park to perform “Di Shvester: The Sisters.” The sisters (by another mother, anyway) in this concert of Jewish and Yiddish music are Eleanor Reissa, the singer/director/actress who is fluent in Yiddish, and Cilla Owens, the superb jazz vocalist who teaches at Hunter College and can sing in Yiddish as well. 

Reissa and Owens will perform some songs by the Barry Sisters, the Bronx-born trio of the mid-20th century who brought Yiddish songs into the mainstream. One of the songs they will perform is based on a poem by the Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt, aka Woody Guthrie’s mother-in-law. In a cross-genre segue, Reissa and Owens will follow “Zumer Bay Nakht Oyf Dekher” (“Summer At Night On The Roof”) with “Up On the Roof,” the Carole King/Gerry Goffin sung memorably by Laura Nyro.

Shapiro, whose albums for John Zorn’s Radical Jewish Culture series were critically acclaimed, has worked with Owens, who has spent most of her life in Crown Heights, since 1990. Shapiro first started collaborating with Reissa, who grew up in Brownsville, at Yiddish New York in 2017.

“To me they’re both Brooklyn royalty,” said Shapiro, who hangs his fedora in the Lower East Side’s Grand Street Co-ops.

“When I sing with Cilla, I feel like I’m home,” Reissa said

The two vocalists have appeared together several times in Shapiro’s Ribs and Brisket Revue, which began at the now-shuttered Cornelia Street Café. 

Percussionist Ricky Gordon, right, and Jeremiah Lockwood, the front man for The Sway Machinery, form the duet Gordon Lockwood. (Courtesy)

A right to sing the blues

For the entire month of March a free five-song EP titled “Once Upon a Time the Fire Burned Brighter: Ballads from the Yiddish Gothic” is available for download. Created by the Brooklyn-based blues performers Gordon Lockwood, these are re-interpretations of Yiddish folk songs, three of them by Lifshe Schaecter Widman, a Yiddish folksinger who begot the Yiddish poet Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, who begot the Yiddish scholar and former newspaper editor Itzik Gottesman, now a senior lecturer in Yiddish language and culture at the University of Texas at Austin whose Yiddish Song of the Week blog is an important source for lovers of Yiddish song. 

The EP will be accompanied by videos of the five songs, plus additional multimedia that will be viewable online. Gordon Lockwood may sound like a Canadian folk singer, but it is actually a duo comprised of percussionist Ricky Gordon, who performs with Wynton Marsalis and has collaborated with Spike Lee, and Jeremiah Lockwood, the front man for The Sway Machinery, a brass-heavy world music band. Lockwood, a card-carrying ethnomusicologist with a PhD from Stanford, recently produced an album of music that features several Hasidic cantors from Brooklyn. In April, Gordon Lockwood will perform their “Once Upon A Time” repertoire in New Haven and New York.

Yiddish royalty 

On March 23, the life of Chana Mlotek — the late, great musicologist, folklorist and archivist, who curated the Yiddish music collection at the vaunted YIVO archives will be celebrated at YIVO’s West 16th St. headquarters. Nine descendants of the Mlotek clan will participate, along with actors Reissa and Steven Skybell, who played Tevye in the Yiddish production of “Fiddler On The Roof.”

Singers will include Lorin Sklamberg of The Klezmatics and Sarah Gordon of the Brooklyn Yiddish rock band Yiddish Princess. Gordon is the daughter of the late Adrienne Cooper, often referred to as the “mother of the Yiddish revival.” The evening’s musical director will be Zalmen Mlotek, Chana and Yosl’s son and artistic director of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene.

On March 20, the Workers Circle is expected to launch The Yosl and Chana Mlotek Collection of Yiddish Song, a website that turns the Mloteks’ three-volume “Pearls of Yiddish Song” anthology into a searchable multimedia resource. Consisting of more than 400 Yiddish songs, the web site will include content curated from YouTube and TikTok, according to an email from the publicist.

The Mlotek collection adds another important resource to a field that includes YIVO’s collection of 4,000-plus Yiddish songs, a project directed by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and featuring the field recordings of the late musicologist Ruth Rubin, and many in the Yiddish song scene are looking forward to it.

“We’ve been waiting for this for many, many years,” said Linda Gritz, a retired molecular biologist active in the monthly sing at the Workers Circle in Brookline, Massachusetts. The group has been meeting online during the pandemic and unable to use the couple dozen copies of each Mlotek book, so it has had to create PDFs of 30 songs for its monthly virtual gatherings.

“When it’s online, people could request any song from any book and we could put the URL in the chat and go to it,” said Gritz. “That’ll be an amazing resource.”

Songs for and about refugees

On March 26, “Pleytem Tsuzamen” (“Refugees Together”) will be performed at the Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Two performances of Josh Waletzky’s Yiddish song cycle will mark the American debut of the work, which was first performed in 2019 at the Weimar Republic of Yiddishland gathering in Germany. Performers will come from Latvia, Germany, England and Canada, and Brooklyn violinists Jake Shulman-Ment and Deborah Strauss are part of the cast.

“It’s fitting that we’re doing it a couple of weeks before Pesach [Passover] because there’s a Pesach theme that goes through a lot of the songs,” said singer Daniel Kahn, who lives on a houseboat in Hamburg and plays accordion in the production. “It’s incredible how prescient and universal Josh’s song cycle has proven to be…. Those songs and their themes of displacement and upheaval resonate with the liberational traditions within Yiddishkayt [secular Yiddish culture] and Jewish practice.” 

English and Ukrainian supertitles will make the two-hour concert, co-sponsored by National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, accessible to non-Yiddish speakers.


The post March comes in with a roar of new Yiddish music appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Obituaries

Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN

Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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