A decade ago, Sarah Mina Gordon was studying abroad in Israel. In researching a paper on Yiddish poetry, she realized that most of the English translations she was reading had been done by Jewish New Yorkers, much like herself. “I was like, ‘What was I doing here [in Israel]?’ It was a great place, but it wasn’t for me.” She found her Jewish identity, she says, where she last left it — among the arty Yiddish-loving milieu she grew up with here. “I’m not so religious, but I’m incredibly Jewish. And I’m comfortable with that.”
She’s so comfortable with it that she professes it publicly at music halls across the city — as the lead singer of a rock Yiddish band called “Yiddish Princess.”
Gordon grew up going to Klez Kamp in Canada, the summer music program led by the titans of the klezmer revival. But it was not until that year in Israel that she’s been writing and performing as a Yiddish singer. Nonetheless, she’s had an audacious start, singing with Alicia Svigals, the Grammy-winning founder of the Klezmatics; Frank London, another Klezmatics alum and a renowned composer and trumpeter; and, last and especially, her mother, Adrienne Cooper.
A Yiddish singer herself, Cooper had a day job at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. After school, Sarah would hang out there. Those experiences, she said, had a big influence on her Yiddish music career years later. And while she is now a committed teacher of Yiddish language and music — as a children’s teacher at Workmen’s Circle and director of the children’s program at Klez Kamp — “Yiddish Princess” is her most passionate, novel pursuit. It combines classic Yiddish songs with power-rock chords — imagine Journey singing “Ver Vet Blaybl.”
Though the idea for the music started in jest, while her band mates were messing around after a more serious gig, they realized they might have something.
“We were like, ‘Wow, we can do this’,” she said. The group will release its first album this month. “People have been saying that Yiddish is about to die for a hundred years,” Gordon added. But she is proof it won’t.
Favorite musician: Kate Bush.
Favorite Jew: “Bette Midler or Gluckel of Hameln, I can’t decide.”
Want to weigh in on this year’s "36 Under 36?" Join the "Friends of the Jewish Week’s 36 Under 36" group on Facebook
Signup for our weekly email newsletter here.