Yiddish Activist Sara Mlotek Rosenfeld, 83, Passes

Published February 13, 2004, issue of February 13, 2004.
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Sara Mlotek Rosenfeld, one of Canada’s leading Yiddish cultural activists for two generations and a member of a family of Yiddish culture icons, died in Montreal last month at 83.

Rosenfeld was honored last year with the Order of Canada by the governor general for her contributions to sustaining Yiddish culture in Canada. Honored with her were folk-singer Joni Mitchell and “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels, according to her son Moishe, a New York theatrical impresario.

Sara Mlotek was born in Poland in 1920 to a family of Jewish Labor Bund activists. Raised in Warsaw, she fled to the Soviet Union in October 1939, a month after the Nazi invasion, together with her future husband Hershl Rosenfeld and his siblings. After spending the war years in Soviet Kazakhstan, the couple made their way to Canada in 1946, where they joined Sara’s brother Joseph Mlotek, who had come a year earlier from Shanghai.

Joseph Mlotek later moved to New York and became educational director of the Workmen’s Circle. His son Zalmen is artistic director of the Folksbiene Yiddish Theater Company.

Settling with her husband in Montreal in 1949, Rosenfeld dedicated herself to Yiddish cultural activities, first as a volunteer in the Workmen’s Circle and later as executive director of the Committee for Yiddish of the Canadian Jewish Congress. She was the organizer of the Workmen’s Circle Chorus of Montreal, the director of Montreal’s annual outdoor Yiddish Music Festival and a founder of the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass. She was also co-founder of KlezKanada, the annual Yiddish folk arts retreat in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec.

She is survived by her three children, Moishe and Fay of New York and Zalmen of Israel, and seven grandchildren.

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