Elisha Mlotek is no stranger to the stage. Growing up in a family of Yiddish culture impresarios, he was surrounded by the sounds of klezmer, Yiddish poetry and theater from a young age. At 5, he was performing Yiddish music on stage with his father at Folksbiene, the national Yiddish theater company (his father, Zalman Mlotek, is artistic director).
Now, at 25, Elisha is one-third of the chasidic soul band, Zusha, which burst on to the New York music scene in 2013 with Billboard charting stats. With its unique style that blends traditional chasidic nigunim (wordless melodies) with soul and folk influences, Zusha is hard to peg to a specific genre. But if the group’s sold-out shows are any indicator, it’s a sound that resonates.
Mlotek, who grew up in Riverdale and Teaneck, N.J., plays percussion, drums and backup vocals for the band, and is proud of the vibrant community that is growing around the trio.
Its music — reminiscent of Shlomo Carlebach’s melodious chanting infused with jazz, rock and folk-inspired riffs — thrives off a diverse fan base that relates to the neo-chasidic group’s fusion of the old and the new.
“We’re bringing together a very diverse group of people, who don’t necessarily share the same interests or religious background, who find community in singing the same melody,” Mlotek said. “Zusha is another voice in a generation of Jews who want meaning and passion in their lives.”
Mlotek’s talents extend past percussion. He is a gifted cartoonist and illustrator, with a children's book set to be published next year. Last year, he also served as the creative director of the MiSaviv circle calendar, a collaborative art project featuring artwork from 13 Jewish artists. “One of my favorite Torah sayings is ‘Use your strength for the Torah,’” Mlotek said. “I hope to cultivate and develop my talents and generate pride and love in the Jewish community.”
If his music and illustrations aren’t enough, Mlotek, who has a bachelor’s in media arts & communications from CUNY, is also a freelance videographer who worked on various web and film projects. He is currently producing a documentary that celebrates the many non-Jewish individuals who help maintain Jewish community institutions.
“I hope to contribute to the garden of Jewish art,” he says.
Going viral: One of Mlotek’s home comedy clips was featured on “Tosh.0,” a show on Comedy Central, and subsequently went viral.