From Opera to Yiddish Songs, Joy for the Ears


By Masha Leon

Published September 24, 2004, issue of September 24, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

“It’s an amazing honor for us to be part of this, the most diverse and largest Jewish festival in the world,” Moishe Rosenfeld told the audience at the 92nd Street Y’s launching of “A Cantorial Celebration of Yiddish Art Song,” which he produced as part of the September 7-14 New York Jewish Music & Heritage Festival, celebrating the 350th anniversary of the first Jews in America.

Among the Jewish art song composers showcased at this unique September 8 event was legendary composer (and director of the Workmen’s Circle choruses) Lazar Weiner (1897-1982), whose work dominated the evening. Ida Rae Cahana, senior cantor of New York City’s Central Synagogue, sang Weiner’s “Dos Gebet”(“A Prayer”) and his “Volt Mayn Tate Raykh Geven” (“If My Father Were Rich”). Cantor Rebecca Garfein of Congregation Rodeph Sholom, also in New York City, performed Weiner’s “A Nign” (“A Tune”) and Abraham Ellstein’s “Vos Iz Gevorn Fun Mayn Shtetele?” (“What Has Become of My Home Town?”). Cantor Martha Novick of Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, N.J., included Weiner’s “Lekoved Shabes” (“For the Sabbath”) in her program.

The 92nd St. Y’s cantor, Dan Rous, chose Sidor Belarsky favorites, including “Dos Lid Fun Besarabye” (“The Song of Bessarabia”). And cantor Robert Abelson of New York City’s Temple Israel interpreted Moses Milner’s “In Kheyder” (“In the Hebrew Schoolroom”) and Weiner’s “Yosl Klezmer” (“Yosl the Musician”). Cantor Lori Corrsin of Temple Emanu-El (NYC) performed sparkling renditions of Maurice Rauch’s “Shifrele’s Portret” (“Little Shifra’s Portrait”) and “Esterke.” (“Little Esther”).

Cantor Jacob Ben-Zion Mendelson, president of the Cantors Assembly of America (and, according to program notes “called mentor by an entire generation of cantors”), recalled: “When I was a young man, Lazar Weiner grabbed me by my red tie and poked me. ‘What are you doing?’ I winced. He poked me again and again. ‘My red tie!’ I exclaimed. ‘Aha!’ Weiner responded. ‘Aha! Colors! You must sing with colors!’ It was a lesson.” Mendelson’s rendition of “Zokhreynu L’Khayim” (“Remember Us for Life”) seemed to transport the audience from the Y’s Kaufmann auditorium to a virtual synagogue. He signed off with Sholom Secunda’s “Dos Yiddishe Lid” (“The Jewish Song”).

Rounding out the program was the Alicia Svigals String Quartet, which presented a klezmer work commissioned by Kronos Quartet. The New Yiddish Chorale, directed by Zalmen Mlotek at the piano (who also masterfully accompanied each cantor), revved up the audience with its upbeat medley of Israeli Pioneer Songs and Michl Gelbart’s searing “Hulyet, Hulyet, Beyze Vintn” (“Rampage Rampage, Raging Winds!”).

Without exception, each cantor’s Yiddish articulation passed my Livishn (Yiddish) muster. The evening was a joy for ear and soul.

* * *

At the champagne-sipping reception crush at the September 8 opening night of Richard Strauss’s opera “Daphne” at Lincoln Center’s New York State Theater, I exchanged small talk with incoming NYC Opera chairman Susan Baker (Goldman, Sachs & Co.), who fondly remembered my late son-in-law, Marc Cohen, when both worked at Kidder, Peabody, & Co; gala chair Nomi Ghez (a board member of the Jewish Museum) and her husband, Dr. Michael Siegal, a cardiologist, who were kvelling about their daughter, an oboist about to audition with the San Francisco Symphony; World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein; mail-order maven (and Israel Philharmonic Orchestra supporter) Lillian Vernon; indefatigable 94-year-old Kitty Carlisle Hart; Louise Hirschfeld, whose late husband was legendary illustrator Al Hirschfeld; and dancer-choreographer Marge Champion, who, with her late husband, Gower Champion, transformed American dance. Champion and I reminisced about the October 1986 Astaire Awards dinner at The Plaza honoring Bob Fosse, at which Ginger Rogers upstaged all the women in their “little black dresses” by arriving in a “Gone With the Wind” peach organza crinoline dress!

Irwin Schneiderman, outgoing NYC Opera chairman for the past 10 years (“on counsel” at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP; noted for his pro bono work and involvement in numerous nonprofit organizations; calls himself “a kid from the Jewish ghetto”), told me about his Brooklyn, N.Y., past. “I spent my young years in Brooklyn… Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights.… My father was born on the Lower East Side in 1888… I went to P.S. 210, Boys High School, went into the navy, then to Harvard (’48) on the G.I. Bill of Rights… and that changed my life.”

* * *

Aryeh Mekel, newly appointed consul general of Israel to New York, was among the 500 guests at the September 5 “Celebration of the Land, on the Land,” launching of the Children’s Center Facilities Dedication campaign at the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, N.Y.

The evening’s “eye candy” was a 400-seat couch along two sides of a huge tent designed by congregant Michael Stern (of Michael Stern Productions), replete with cushions and pillows in shades of orange, green and hot pink. As the Sheva orchestra of Israel played, guests wended their way toward the dedication across a floor painted in colors to match the pillows.

“This is a magical evening,” said Rabbi Marc Schneier, founding rabbi of the Hampton Synagogue and its affiliate, The New York Synagogue. “This center will be the promised land for our children and our children’s children.… We will be dedicating this facility to the one-and-a-half-million children who perished in the Holocaust, and through our families will keep their memory alive.”

Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

You may also be interested in our English-language newsletters:

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.