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VIDEO: Cantor’s jazzy remake of Yiddish song of hope

Yisroel Leshes, assistant cantor of New York’s Orthodox Lincoln Square Synagogue, has released a cool, jazzy version of Morris Winchevsky’s Yiddish song, “Di Tsukunft” (“The Future”), which dreams of the day when “di velt vet vern frayer, shener, yinger, nayer” (“the world will be freer, lovelier, younger and newer”).

The music video, accompanied by English subtitles, marks Leshe’s first studio release of non-cantorial material.

Filmed in Venice, the video highlights the Grand Canal, the Doge’s Palace, the Ponte di Rialto, the island of Burano – and a marvelous trumpet solo by Riley Mulherkar. Leshe’s daughter, Shira, also makes a cameo appearance.

Leshes was born in Sydney, Australia, and was appointed assistant cantor at the Lincoln Square Synagogue in 2017. But he has also become a real fan of Yiddish music. “Covid has given me a lot of time to research new music, and I’ve spent the bulk of it researching and falling in love with Yiddish theater and Yiddish melodies,” he said. He writes on his Facebook page that he’s “on a mission to re-imagine and recreate” Yiddish songs that were composed between the years 1900 and 1945.

The author of the song, Morris Winchevsky, was born in Jonava (Yoneve, in Yiddish), Lithuania in 1856. Inspired by the socialist movement, he later moved to London, where he founded one of the first Yiddish socialist daily newspapers, “Der Poylisher Yidl” (The Little Polish Jew) as well as the first Yiddish anarchist newspaper, “Arbeter Fraynd” (The Worker’s Friend).

After immigrating to the United States, he and fellow socialist leader Ab Cahan founded the Jewish Daily Forward in 1897. In later years, he joined the Communist party and became a writer for the Communist-affiliated Yiddish newspaper, “Morgen Freiheit”.

Written by Winchevsky in the early 1900s, “Di Tsukunft” is usually sung slowly, in a folksy style. But when Leshes decided to record it, he was looking for a more contemporary sound. Collaborating with New York composer and arranger Adam Podd, he has transformed it into an upbeat jazz number.

Leshes has other plans up his sleeve. In November 2019, he launched The Mansion, a pop-up jazz house in Union Square catered by the kosher restaurant, Boeuf & Bun. After three sold-out performances featuring Yanky Lemmer, klezmer star Frank London and Israeli jazz saxophonist Daniel Zamir, the Mansion closed in March 2020 due to the Covid pandemic. “I’m re-opening as soon as the city allows,” he said.


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