I never learned to speak Yiddish. As a child in the 1950s and ‘60s, it was the language of my grandparents, the language that my parents only spoke when they didn’t want me or my brothers to understand what they were talking about (and I don’t think they spoke it when my childhood friend Michael Wex was in the house). And yet, there is something about Yiddish theater and song (and, of course, Yiddish theater songs) that makes me feel very connected to my Jewish heritage.
Adrienne Cooper is one of the Yiddish singers I’ve come to most appreciate over the past 15 years or so. I’ve heard her collaborate with several klezmer bands, and “Ghetto Tango,” her CD of Holocaust-era Yiddish theater and cabaret songs with pianist Zalmen Mlotek, has been a particular favorite.
While “Ghetto Tango” was a masterful look back at a previous era, Cooper’s new album, “Enchanted: A New Generation of Yiddish Song,” is a project that is very much of these times. Newly written songs along with re-imagined versions of older songs are presented in a postmodern variety of seemingly disparate, yet somehow seamless musical styles, including jazz, rock, pop, cabaret, klezmer and folk. It is an album that, on one track, reaches back to Cooper’s mother and grandparents, and, on several others, reaches forward to her daughter’s generation.
On the Yiddish Song of the Week blog, Pete Rushefsky writes about Josh Waletzky and “Yaninke,” a song Josh learned from his father, Sholom Waletzky:
One of the leading contemporary composers of Yiddish song, Josh Waletzky (b. 1948) grew up in a family that was deeply embedded in the secular Yiddish world of Camp Boiberik and the Sholem Aleichem folkshuln.
As Itzik Gottesman writes, “Camp Boiberik was a secular Yiddish culture camp which existed from 1923 to 1979 near Rhinebeck, New York (the camp site is now owned by the Omega Institute). Camp Boiberik was part of the Sholem Aleichem Folk Institute, a non-political Yiddish cultural organization with its center in New York and Sholem Aleichem Folk shuln (schools) in a number of states in the U.S. The Director and guiding spirit for most of Camp Boiberik’s existence was Leibush Lehrer (1887-1964), a leading Yiddish pedagogue, writer, philosopher and lyricist.” The camp took its name from a mythical vacation resort described by Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem.