Zalmen Mlotek, 64, has been involved in Yiddish culture practically since before he was born. His mother, Chana Mlotek, who died in 2013, was a folk song researcher, anthologist and long-serving chief archivist at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. His father, Joseph Mlotek, was a writer, educator and cultural activist who served as the educational director of the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring Yiddish school system. And for more than 15 years, after receiving an elite musical education at some of the country’s leading conservatories, Mlotek has headed the National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene as the organization’s artistic director.
During his tenure at the Folksbiene, Mlotek has directed, produced and performed in countless plays and musical productions and won both Drama Desk Awards and Tony nominations. But this year, which marked the Folksbiene’s 100th anniversary, was really his chance to shine. Over nine days in June the Folksbiene produced Kulturfest: The First Chana Mlotek International Festival of Jewish Performing Arts, a smorgasbord of concerts, plays and other cultural events featuring over 200 artists from more than 30 countries at venues throughout New York City.
With Kulturfest, not to mention his decades of work and dozens of productions, Mlotek showed that his parents’ legacy and that of Yiddish culture is alive and well. Oh — and he’s something more than just another song and dance man!