Tonight, renowned Yiddish music anthologist Chana Gordon Mlotek will be honored at The National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene’s annual gala for her life’s work preserving Yiddish folklore.
Mlotek, the author of nine books on Yiddish music, has an encyclopedic knowledge of her subject. Now 90, she grew up in the Bronx immersed in Yiddish culture. In 1944, she began working at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research as assistant to Max Weinreich, one of YIVO’s founders and its director of research. While attending the first-ever Yiddish folklore class at University of California Los Angeles, taught by Weinreich in 1948, she met her future husband, Joseph (Yosl) Mlotek.
The couple married in 1949 and settled in New York, where Yosl Mlotek was the director of education at the Workmen’s Circle. In 1970, Chana and Yosl began writing a bi-weekly column for the Forverts called “Perl fun der Yiddisher Poezie” (Pearls of Yiddish Poetry). Readers would submit snippets of songs they recalled from their youth, and the Mloteks — in detective mode — would identify and write about the songs. Chana returned to YIVO in 1978, becoming its music archivist in 1984, and has been there ever since. She spoke to The Arty Semite about the history and future of Yiddish music.
Renee Ghert-Zand: What inspired you to make Yiddish music your life’s work?