Pity that the N.Y. Post’s “Page Six” and Cindy Adams—and others - missed the essence of the Folksbiene’s 2016 Gala honoring National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene’s Artistic Director Zalmen Mlotek and his wife Debra Mlotek honing in instead on the needling of a latecomer couple by event star Mandy Patinkin (aka CIA bigwig Saul Berenson in “Homeland”).
Addressing the “heymish” audience at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall, Zalmen Mlotek recalled “Growing up in Yiddish summer camps—Kinder Ring, Boiberik and Hemschekh [founded by survivors of the Holocaust] whose songs resonate for us whether we grew up in a Bundist, Zionist, religious or secular home…. Let us learn from those who built before us…in their strength, struggle, spirit, heritage and culture…that we were entrusted with for thousands of years.”
The program was enriched by a welcoming overview of Folksbiene NYF chair Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, tribute to Folksbiene Executive Director Bryna Wasserman—a pitch for the July 4th brought-back-by-popular-demand reopening of the Drama Desk-nominated wonderful musical “The Golden Bride” and as co-presenter of the Kulturfest NYC -The Second International Festival of Jewish Performing Arts running from June through August.
Striding onto the stage, Patinkin led off with “Unter Yidele’s Vigele” a lullaby from Goldfadden’s operetta “Shulamith” followed by a bombastic excerpt from the opera “Carmen” and the wrenching plea of “Motl the Operator” a worker killed during a strike. He followed up with an expansive tribute to Joseph Papp —producer of “A Chorus Line” and founder of “Shakespeare in the Park”— whom he credited with inspiring him to learn the Yiddish song “Yosl, Yosl”—which has become something of a Patinkin calling card at a number of Jewish events including the 2002 Workmen’s Circle Centennial and a past YIVO gala.
But what has been touted elsewhere is the verbal barrage by Patinkin re a “late arrivals” couple. As the couple attempted to be seated, Patinkin moved to the edge of the stage: “You just getting here!?… You better not be moving a big donor getting to your seat…What happened? You were doing e-mail to a client? What business are you in?…Are you wealthy? You’re OK…So…to be kind I’m going to be nice. Do you think you could give $25,000”? (hearty applause). Patinkin turns his head to listen. “Not today! I think you can!” urged Patinkin. “I’m not finished with you yet.” Patinkin sang “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in Yiddish then resumed torturing the trapped couple.
”So…how much can you give? I want a reasonable figure you can afford…Can we talk about it later?” Patinkin invited the poor soul who was cringing in his seat on stage. “Can you give $10 thousand…. I don’t want you to come to anybody else’s show…. Can you give $5 thousand…. can you give $1 thousand! I would like somebody to be an angel who would put up $25 thousand…. This is so upsetting me!” From the audience a shout out: “Let it go!”
“I’m so ashamed,” mock-lamented Patinkin. “I tried to raise $25 thousand…I keep schnorring for money for an organization that means more to me than anything…. and I will go to any lengths whether you hate or yell at me.” Out of the darkness: “Five thousand!” More offers followed…. applause! applause! Have no idea what happened to the couple. The concert continued uninterrupted.
At the finale— a rush on stage of a dozen or so “Red Hot Yiddishe Mamas” (in red aprons) and a mass of smiling multi-ethnic children surrounding Patinkin all singing in Yiddish the Judy Garland signature song from The Wizard of Oz: “Iber dem regnboygen” (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”). T’was a Gala to remember.