I sing to make a joyful noise.
In the face of an uncertain New Year, with tensions high across ethnic and religious divides, National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF) has entered into an exciting new partnership with Museum of Jewish Heritage and to encourage the long-standing ties of brotherhood between all men of good will.
Beginning with “Soul to Soul,” a concert celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, presented with the cooperation of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, the program ranged from traditional Yiddish songs (with English and Russian supertitles) to African-American spirituals; from Gershwin’s “Summertime” sung in Yiddish and English, to the call-and-response of the Harlem jazz age, with its surprising Jewish inspirations.
Led by NYTF’s artistic and music director, Zalmen Mlotek, and joined by powerful singers, Lisa Fishman, Magda Fishman, Elmore James, and Tony Perry, as well as Taylor Bergren-Chrisman on the bass, Matt Temkin on the drums, and the talented Dmitri Zisl Slepovitch on the clarinet and saxophone, the ensemble held the audience in the Edmond J. Safra Hall enraptured — by turns clapping and singing, or else wiping tears as James sang of the shetls burning.
Mlotek, a virtuoso on the piano, communicated beautifully with his ensemble: supporting the energy of the music with extra flourishes, encouraging the audience to join in, and pacing the program with the gentle touch of a good teacher. During scripted introductions, the audience was reminded of the similar struggles that African- and Jewish-American immigrants have faced — as well as our proud history of supporting each other in the midst of oppression.
In these times, it can be easy to give lip service to the idea of brotherly unity. All too easily “Black Lives Matter” can become a hashtag without action; all too easily Israel’s daily struggles can become the safe stuff of headlines. With this yearlong partnership between NYTF and Museum of Jewish Heritage, a model of peace, support and solidarity is put into action — and the noise that makes is truly joyful.
Emily C. A. Snyder is an internationally published and produced playwright, classical stage director, and the artistic director of Turn to Flesh Productions. Her original five-act iambic pentameter play, “Cupid and Psyche,” premiered here for Valentine’s Day 2014.