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Soul to Soul National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene

Elmore James, Magda Fishman, Tony Perry, Lisa Fishman


†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† By R. Pikser


Zalmen Mlotek, Musical Director of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene put together some stirring music and some outstanding performers on the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr.ís birthday this year.



To set the mood of the performance, connecting the African American and Jewish worlds, he invited Rabbi Marc Schneier and entrepreneur Russell Simmons, creators of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding to open the program.† Rabbi Schneier was especially eloquent on the participation of Jews in the civil rights movement.† His remarks included a discussion of the ninth plague that smote the people of Egypt when the Jews were attempting to leave that land, the plague of darkness.† But, he told us, the darkness was not blindness of the eyes; rather, it was darkness of the heart:† It caused people not to care about one another.† Rabbi Schneier called upon those in the audience, on us all, to realize that we are all the same.† In essence he called on us to fight such internal darkness as the Egyptians experienced.† His speech set a beautiful tone on which to begin this concert about connecting across cultures.


Each song, ranging across R&B, spirituals, Yiddish songs, Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong, to Beethoven, was introduced by a few lines of speech concerning racism or attempts to cross the boundaries of racism.† These introductions were sometimes personal reminiscences from the performers about their experiences with racism, or how they came to work with the Folksbiene group; sometimes they were a commentary about the projections that filled the screen behind the performers.† One such comment, accompanying a picture of the liberation of Buchenwald, laconically stated that one of the liberators shown in the picture, a Negro, was serving in a segregated unit of the United States Army.† The audience was left to make its connections.


The instrumental and vocal performances were excellent, with notable solos by clarinetist Dmitri Zisl Stepovich.†



Of the four singers, Cantor Magda Fishman, when she allowed the music to carry her away, took us with her.† Tenor Tony Perry charmed us with both his voice and his presence, and Lisa Fishman performed skillfully.



†But baritone Elmore James was transcendent, both as singer and actor.† With his Yiddish songs and his physicalizations he took us back to the small Eastern European Jewish villages called shtetls.† With his spirituals he took us from the pre-Civil War South along the Underground Railroad to freedom in the North.† His interpretation of a song about a pogrom, a destruction of a shtetl, which might have been a complaint, became a call to action, at once totally controlled and totally inspiring.


Tony Perry


Projections behind the performers were of Marc Chagall pictures, news photos of freedom marches, of concentration camps, and more.† Additionally, there were super titles in English, Russian, and, at one point, a transliteration into English of a Yiddish song so that the audience could join in the singing.


The audience left smiling, energized and perhaps thinking about reaching across the divides that we think separate us to find how we are each like the other.†


†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Photos by Victor Nechay


Soul to Soul

National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene

January 16th 2016

Museum of Jewish Museum

36 Bowling Green

Tickets $20