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April 20th, 2014
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Arts & Culture

National Yiddish Theatre - Folksbiene's "Ghetto Tango"

National Yiddish Theatre - Folksbiene's

Music of the Underground Cabarets at Museum of Jewish Heritage

On Sunday, May 4, at 2:30 p.m. The National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene will once again co-present the acclaimed concert Ghetto Tango, featuring music and songs created and sung in the underground cabarets of Nazi-occupied Europe. This stirring concert, which played to a packed house last year, was co-created by Zalmen Mlotek and the late Adrienne Cooper. The program is filled with songs of the theatres and cabarets that continued to thrive in the ghettos of Poland and Lithuania. The exclusive engagement takes place in Edmond J. Safra Hall at Lower Manhattan’s Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.

Joining Mlotek, the concert’s music director and pianist, are two performers who represent the next generation of accomplished Yiddish performers – Daniella Rabbani and Avram Mlotek. A talk back with the performers will take place directly after the concert.

Zalmen Mlotek, Artistic Director of the Folksbiene, said, “Ghetto Tango is an exhilarating journey through the songs and music of spiritual resistance — songs sung in the camps, ghettos, and DP camps that helped to raise spirits, in that special way that music can, and brought sustenance, hope, and some relief in those terrible times. We’re invigorated by the audience’s visceral response to this music and delighted to bring it back to the Museum.”

Tickets are $20, $15 for Museum and Folksbiene members, and $10 for students. Tickets are available online at or by calling the Museum box office at 646.437.4202.

The Museum’s public programs are made possible through a generous gift from Mrs. Lily Safra. This program has been made possible through generous support of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany: Rabbi Israel Miller Fund for Shoah Research, Documentation and Education.

About the Program

This program is based on the 2000 album conceived and performed by Zalmen Mlotek together with vocalist and teacher Adrienne Cooper. Many of the songs were passed down from person to person and committed to memory.

The songs, which are representative of music theater repertoire written and adapted by Jewish composers, lyricists, actors, singers, street performers, and amateurs in the ghettos of Poland and Lithuania will surprise many listeners in their variety and depth. The musical forms reflect the diverse sources of popular music of the time and are rooted in Eastern European Jewish folk and liturgical music, but also influenced by opera and operetta, American ragtime and movie music, and Argentine tango. The themes range from satirical and elegiac, to political and personal, to angry and heartsick. Some were discovered in buried milk cans in the Warsaw and Vilna Ghettos.

While some of the performers were seasoned composers, conductors, and lyricists, far more were young and brash. They created entertainment for those who needed escape but could not be comforted.

Highlights of the program include:


Music and lyrics by Shmerke Kaczerginski

Shmerke Kaczerginski wrote this and other songs of love and resistance for performances in Vilna’s ghetto theater. “Friling,” alive with sensuality, memorializes the composer’s wife, who perished in the ghetto. Kaczerginski survived the war, fighting with a partisan unit outside Vilna. He died in a plane crash in South America in 1953.

“Minutn fun Bitokhn”

Music and lyrics by Mordkhe Gebirtig

Mordkhe Gebirtig, known for his gentle, elegiac lyrics, turned in the later years of the Nazi occupation to calls for defiance and searing contempt for those responsible for the murder of the Jews. The 65-year-old Gebirtig was shot down by a German soldier on June 4, 1943, when he fell behind as the last Jews of Krakow were being marched to waiting cattle cars destined for the Belzec death camp.

About the Performers

Zalmen Mlotek is the Artistic Director of the Folksbiene and has been one of the driving forces behind its revitalization over the past 15 years. He has introduced children’s shows, staged readings and outreach groups that now present Yiddish theater and concerts to communities throughout the country. As a leading figure and an internationally recognized authority on Yiddish folk and theater music, he has brought Yiddish-Klezmer music to the public as musical director and co-creator of Shlemiel The First, The Golden Land, On Second Avenue, and others. His formal musical training was as a conductor at the Juilliard School and Tanglewood with Leonard Bernstein.

Avram Mlotek has performed regularly in staged readings and concerts for the National Yiddish Theatre- Folksbiene. Avram was an original cast member of the Off-Broadway show, Kids and Yiddish, and can be heard on several CD recordings of Yiddish and Klezmer music, including The Klezmatics’ album Shteyf Oyf - Rise Up. He teaches at a number of Hebrew and Yiddish school programs in New York City and leads Shabbat and holiday services as a cantor. Avram’s writings have been featured in The Jewish Week.

Daniella Rabbani was a member of the National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene Troupe and has appeared in their productions of the critically lauded The Golden Land, Gimpel Tam, and The Adventures of Hershele Ostropolyer. Concert appearances include Jazz at Lincoln Center, Town Hall, 92YTribeca, and the YIVO institute. Select credits include Off-Broadway productions of Israel Horovitz’s Mid-East Pieces, 70/70 Horovitz Project, and Liz Swados’ Atonement: An Oratorio. Daniella received her BFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She is now on faculty at the Stella Adler Studio.

About The National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene

The Drama Desk Award-winning National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene (NYT-F), which celebrates its centenary in 2015, is the longest continuously producing Yiddish theatre company in the world, and America’s sole-surviving professional Yiddish theatre. The company presents plays, musicals, operas, concerts, literary events and workshops in English and Yiddish, with English and Russian supertitles accompanying most performances. The company’s mission is to celebrate the Jewish experience through the performing arts and to transmit a rich cultural legacy in exciting new ways while bridging NYC’s integrated social and cultural divide through community building in the arts.

When the NYT-F was founded in 1915 on the Lower East Side, New York City was home to 14 other Yiddish theatre companies. It continues today as the preeminent professional Yiddish theatre in the country and the longest continually producing Yiddish theatre in the world. Established under the aegis of the Workmens Circle, NYT-F became an independent nonprofit organization in 1998, with a goal to expand its audience beyond its core Yiddish-speaking constituency. Today its mainstage performances, children’s productions and outreach performances, all accompanied by supertitles in English and Russian, reach more than 20,000 New Yorkers each year. A 2007 Drama Desk award honored the National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene “for preserving for 92 consecutive seasons the cultural legacy of Yiddish-speaking theatre in America.”

About the Museum of Jewish Heritage

The Museum’s exhibitions educate people of all ages and backgrounds about the rich tapestry of Jewish life over the past century—before, during, and after the Holocaust. Current special exhibitions include Against the Odds: American Jews and the Rescue of Europe’s Refugees, 1933-1941, on view through 2014; and Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage, on view through May 18, 2014. A Town Known as Auschwitz: The Life and Death of a Jewish Community will open May 16, 2014. It is also home to the award-winning Keeping History Center, an interactive visitor experience, and Andy Goldsworthy’s memorial Garden of Stones. The Museum offers visitors a vibrant public program schedule in its Edmond J. Safra Hall and receives general operating support from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.



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