So how have you been spending YOUR time?
A number of friends in the New York Yiddish world have complained that being locked up has given us all such a wealth of online activities that we can hardly keep our heads straight. Maybe you know about all of the activities, or maybe you already have what to do. But just in case, I thought I’d pass this along to help you pass your time, a curated list of Yiddish cultural activities.
At 123, the Forverts is still going strong, back to its roots even with new content added daily!
And of course, we at the Congress for Jewish Culture are delighted to be working with Rokhl Kafrissen on some special projects. If you don’t know her column for Tablet, you should really check it out. Frequently funny, inevitably quirky and brilliant. Here’s her most recent with a timely theme.
Speaking of weddings (did you follow the Rokhl link yet?), Eddy Portnoy (author of Bad Rabbi) has this in Tablet as well, an article on the gargantuan Jewish wrestler Blimp Levy’s nuptials.
Boris Sandler is keeping his pen sharp (or is it his pixels?) with the online journal Yiddish Branzhe, including the travel diaries of piano virtuoso Yevgeniy Kissin.
Amanda Seigel blogs for the NYPL with a concentration on Yiddish theater history.
If you’re more old-fashioned and like to hold a book in your hand, there’s no shortage of new items to consider in that field, either:
One of the last big events in New York before the hammer came down on gatherings was a publication party at the Strand for Ben Katchor’s wryly humorous graphic novel The Dairy Restaurant.
If you haven’t checked out Australian scholar David Slucki’s memoir of his father and grandfather, Sing This at My Funeral gives a beautiful picture of a survivor’s family with a Bundist ethos in Melbourne. And you can get it for 40% off using the code “read” at checkout.
On the topic of fathers, Isabelle Rozenbaumas has brought out this English translation of her father’s memoir, The Odyssey of an Apple Thief.
If you’d like something IN Yiddish, then check out Troim Katz Handler’s new volume of erotic poetry Simkhe II.
Been putting off learning Yiddish? If you’re a beginner, try out free lessons at Yiddish Pop!
If you prefer working with a crackerjack expert, the Workers’ Circle has a large slate of classes on all levels.
And, for the time being, the YIVO has made it’s Shine online classes available for free as well, with lectures by experts in Yiddish theater, folklore, and more!
ONLINE MUSIC LESSONS
Now we get to an important part of this email. I can speak for myself as an actor: this social distancing is a major blow for artists, most of whom depend on groups of people coming together to enjoy their performances. So if you have ever harbored dreams of learning an instrument, now’s a great time to start with some online lessons. You probably have the time (like it or not!), and the artists can definitely use the income. A few are offering online learning opportunities. Contact them through their websites or email to find out what instruments and classes they offer. Here’s three good musicians and teachers I know of:
Or if you don’t want to torture the neighbors while you shed arpeggios, maybe you’d like to investigate and BUY some new music by folks who’ve just lost whole seasons of work due to this mageyfe.
NB: TODAY ONLY, Friday 20 March, Bandcamp (the site from which you would order most of these albums) is declining its cut and giving ALL proceeds to the artists. So please do seriously consider helping them out with a purchase TODAY and enriching your and your friends’ cultural lives! If you want to be really helpful, shoot for the downloads rather than physical CDs, which will force them to go out and mail the album to you because, well, we’re all stuck inside, doggoneit.
Let’s start this list with two bands out in Seattle, where things are pretty rough:
A couple of years ago when we introduced “The Krekhts Factor” musical competition at KlezKanada, the very first grand champion was Mai Li Pittard. I only regret that you can’t SEE her performance of Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn. As it is, you’ll have to make do with these recordings by her band, the Debaucherantes.
I’ve also had the pleasure of introducing and hearing one of the newer groups at KlezKanada, Brivele, a klez-punk group with a refreshing, sensitive approach.
Back to our regularly scheduled alphabetical programming:
Zoe Aqua who, as I mentioned above, is offering online lessons, plays with a couple of different bands, both worth your eartime and dollars: a duo (fiddle and accordion) Farnakht and a very exciting Brooklyn-based group called Tsibele.
Further north a bit, the Whiskey Rabbi Geoff Berner has released a new album The Grand Hotel Cosmopolis. Expect heavy doses of irony, biting wit, radical politics, and great music.
I’d be remiss not to include one of my very favorite stage partners’ album, Miryem-Khaye Seigel’s Toyznt Tamen. If you don’t like at least 999 of the flavors on offer, well, then I can’t help you.
If you’ve been to the Folksbiene in recent years, you’ve heard Dmitri Zisl Slepovitch playing in the pit and even sometimes leading the orchestra. He has a number of great projects going on, and we’re particularly partial to his group Litvakus… but check out his site for other music!
KlezKanada’s artistic director Michael Winograd has recently released Kosher Style, a tour de force album of new klezmer compositions that will thrill you to the bones.
You can also join various artists for online concerts, performances and lectures (heck, I might even broadcast an item or two if this thing gets drawn out much longer…)
Zalmen Mlotek, Artistic Director of the Folksbiene, shared a home concert with everyone this week, and further concerts and lectures are on the way.
Across the pond, Polina Shepherd is presenting programming at six pm UK time, evening here stateside. Check it out––she’s whipped more than one choir into shape and she’ll have you singing in Yiddish and in Russian to forget your troubles.
If you tune into Facebook at the right time, you might also find a Michael Winograd concert, encompassing everything from the traditional to the bizarre. Or maybe you’d like to create your own concert using the YIVO Ruth Rubin online archive. You can hear Mina Bern or Wolf Younin, or any one of a hundred other singers. Another great resource for folksongs, with more explication (and lyrics!) is the Yiddish Song of the Week, run by Itzik Gottesman and the Center for Traditional Music and Dance.
Well, that’s just a SAMPLE of all the online Yiddish and Klezmer activity available. And as I say, I might even throw my hat in the ring with a program if things continue as they are. In the meantime, I’m just going to add this little coda of items that are NOT Yiddish, but if you and I were hanging out together and we turned to Youtube and were showing each other favorite videos, I would probably show you these three. Let me know what you think and feel free to share your favorite video with me!
Louis Prima and Keely Smith
(We should all have a Louis Prima to remind us not to touch our faces!)
Popov & Scherbak
It’s a pretty routine in a circus ring, but you should see it up close on a nightclub stage. Hoo hah! These boys are something!
Those four backwards fish-flops at the end of his routine seem to be in slow motion almost. What an acrobat, no? Well, if everyone gets through all of this pandemic business in good health, maybe we can gather together in a cabaret like the Boite a Matelots at Ciro’s and enjoy a lekhayim and a laugh.