The Schmooze

Masha Leon Remembers Chana Mlotek

When I recently called Chana Mlotek about an obscure song of a girl weaving sandals, within a nanosecond, she gave me the song’s provenance, lyricist and composer. On November 4 she died at 91. Chana was among the few of a generation to call me by the diminutive Mashele — we shared a more than sixty-year friendship.

At the overflow November 5 funeral at Riverside Chapel at which Forward publisher Sam Norich recalled his and Chane’s YIVO past and friendship, Zalmen Mlotek, artistic director of the Yiddish National Theatre-Folksbiene, opened each memory fragment with tayere mame {dearest mother].

I came to work at YIVO Institute for Jewish Research — then at its 123rd Street location — as a teenager after school. During a recent “remember when” moment, Chana recalled: “I was Max Weinreich’s secretary and your worked for YIVO’s Executive Director Mark Yuviler…whose lightning fast Yiddish stenographer was Reyzl Zemser… The moment you came to YIVO, the mood at YIVO changed. A young girl with a blond braid, you sang while you worked. You were told not to sing, but you did not listen…It was Dina Abramovitch [YIVO’s legendary archivist] who insisted that you keep singing because it was uplifting.” The YIVO was then in the midst of preparing an exhibit — a first in America — on the Khurbn (The Destruction–the terms Holocaust and Shoah had not yet been coined] about the Lodz Ghetto. ’We need music on these walls,’ Abramovitch insisted… You and I are the only ones from YIVO at that time who have this memory.”

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Masha Leon Remembers Chana Mlotek

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