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Yiddish Musical Theater

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Yiddish Sheet Music

Oral tradition dies never: Yiddish musical theater, from Eastern Europe to the Lower East Side

Like any folk or traditional music, Yiddish music came into being as a record and reflection of a common lived experience. The music developed through oral tradition, as Ashkenazi Jews converted poetic texts of into secular music to mark Jewish life cycle events. As an oral practice, the musical tradition thrived through adaptation, with Jews and non-Jews mingling, each borrowing from one another. Yiddish musical theater arose from Jewish minstrelsy and the Purimshpil (Purim-play) – religious-inspired performances included as part of Purim celebrations that included short plays, music, costuming, and pageantry – and reaching the height of its popularity in eastern Europe by the nineteenth century. This minstrelsy usually borrowed from liturgy, folk tradition, secular Jewish songs, or non-Jewish musical sources. The minstrel tradition was often presented through satire, “historic or timely ballads,” commentaries, or adapted folk stories, and often appealed to less educated, less affluent audiences, dealing with political, social, or economic themes, or the “always timely themes of life, faith, and hope” (Heskes, 75). Yiddish theater’s success in eastern Europe ended when Russian authorities banned Jewish theatricals in 1883. At this point Jews, including many Jewish minstrels, began to emigrate, many crossing the Atlantic and entering the U.S. through New York, finally settling on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and spawning a fresh Yiddish musical theater scene within the working class immigrant community. Irene Heskes describes, “This musical theater and its popular songs were a chronicle of the times, infusing essences of the Old World into the new American scene. Theatrical stars served as surrogate family, and their presentations helped explain and interpret, entertain and guide, thereby easing difficulties in the period of change” (76). The “big three” houses appeared in the late nineteenth century –The People’s Theater, the Windsor, and the Thalia. In 1902 journalist Hutchins Hapgood wrote that these theaters represented “…the world of the Ghetto – that New York City of Russian Jews, large, complex, with a full life and civilization…[and] alone present the serious as well as the trivial interests of an entire community” (Heskes, 77).
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The Arts

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Brooklyn is famous for its writers, as well as its visual and performing artists. Much of the latter talent has been forged through the public high school system. “SING,” an annual Brooklyn high school tradition of student-run musical theater production, which was started by a music teacher at Midwood High School in Brooklyn in 1947, continues today across the city. Students develop their skills in choreography, singing, lighting, building sets,… Read More »The Arts

Remembering Maurice Sendak

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Brooklyn-born, Maurice Sendak, widely considered the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century, who wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche, died on Tuesday in Danbury, Conn. He was 83. The cause was complications of a recent stroke, said Michael di Capua, his longtime editor. Mr. Sendak,… Read More »Remembering Maurice Sendak

Moshiach Oi! Merges Orthodox Judaism and Punk Rock

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By  , New York Times Published: March 9, 2013 

Moshiach Oi!

Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times

At age 6, he was a budding yeshiva student, in white shirt and black hat, with little contact outside the Orthodox Jewish world. At 16, he discovered some things he liked better, punk rock and drugs: marijuana, LSD, eventually crack and heroin. At 26, on the Thursday before the holiday of Purim last month, he was back among the faithful, sort of: side curls flailing, knees jackknifing up around his torso, leaping, crouching, shouting a Scriptural message from the Book of Ramones: “Avraham was a punk rocker.”

It was a little after midnight at the Ocean Parkway Jewish Center in Kensington, Brooklyn, and the crowd in a narrow, fluorescent-lighted side room watched Yishai Romanoff, now the singer for the band, Moshiach Oi!, in varying states of catharsis and confusion. As always at this weekly gathering, it was a mixed lot, at odd angles to Orthodox Judaism. Some in the audience were refugees, or “X-O’s”; others were formerly secular Jews wanting in.

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Babs Brings it Back to Brooklyn at Brand New Barclays

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The Brooklyn-born and raised, world-acclaimed superstar will perform a concert on Thursday, October 11th, in Brooklyn at Barclays Center, the new 19,000-seat sports and entertainment venue. Streisand will be making a triumphant return to her native borough. Raised in the Flatbush neighborhood and a graduate of Erasmus Hall High School, Streisand will perform publicly for the first time in Brooklyn. Streisand stated, “Brooklyn to me means the Loew’s Kings, Erasmus,… Read More »Babs Brings it Back to Brooklyn at Brand New Barclays

Eternal Echoes: Songs and Dances for the Soul

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Itzhak Perlman and Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot Play Barclays Legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman will bring his soulful sound to Brooklyn with a major performance at Cushman & Wakefield Theater at Barclays Center on Thursday, February 28 at 7:30 p.m. Perlman will be joined on stage by Brooklyn-based Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot, a world-renowned tenor who has led the revival of Jewish liturgical music. Perlman and Helfgot recently collaborated on the… Read More »Eternal Echoes: Songs and Dances for the Soul

A Brooklyn-Based Prayer Leader Heralds a Revolution in Jewish Music

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Joey Weisenberg’s music workshops—blending a democratic approach with a range of traditions—aim to boost engagement

By Leonard Felson published in Tablet Magazine – june 4,2013
 
Joey Weisenberg, center, leads singing at a wedding on April 28, 2013.

Joey Weisenberg, center, leads singing at a wedding on April 28, 2013. (Marta Fodor)

On a recent Saturday evening, as Shabbat began to fade, two dozen men and women, most in their 20s and early 30s, were slowly belting out a long niggun, a wordless melody, sitting in a close circle in the chapel of a Brooklyn synagogue. When their eyes weren’t closed in this meditative chant, they were watching Joey Weisenberg. He was leading a discussion on effective prayer leadership skills, but for the moment, Weisenberg wanted them simply to feel the mystical power of singing together. One melody, over and over and over. “Instead of changing melodies,” he said, “let it change our selves.”

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Author of “The War of the Roses” reminisces his youth in Brooklyn

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By Warren Adler
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle – may 23, 2013

Warren Adler

Warren Adler

It is remarkable that Brooklyn has become synonymous with cultural ferment, artistic innovation and an unstoppable surge of gentrification that is attracting a growing horde of super achievers. Although these two strains of environment changers are often in conflict with one another, both are prospering, radically changing the reputation of the borough from what was once an object of both pride and ridicule to one of the most culturally dynamic places in America.

The fact that I no longer recognize it as ‘my Brooklyn’ does not in any way impugn its current significance, but looking at it from the vantage point of the Brooklyn of my childhood and youth, roughly within a sixteen year span from 1932 to 1948, I can only conclude that the present, despite its glorious trappings of culture and prosperity does not come close to the wonder, excitement and exultation that captured my adolescent soul and never let go of it.

I have recapitulated those old Brooklyn days in a number of my novels like Funny Boys, Banquet Before Dawn and the New York Echoes short story collections, which offer the most details of that halcyon experience, but allow me to open the spigot of memory with some brief images of that bygone moment of urban joy.

My life in Brooklyn was lived betwixt two neighborhoods, Brownsville and Crown Heights, both Jewish enclaves then.  Irish and Italian neighborhoods were contiguous. Of course, there were other Brooklyn neighborhoods for every ethnic group under the sun, racial, national and religious. There were also wide economic and class distinctions easily identified by house sizes and the usual trappings of wealth.

In my Brooklyn days these other places seemed to reside in another country, perhaps another planet. We were very aware of our boundaries by look, smell, dress, religion and customs and we knew that when we crossed those lines we had invaded a somewhat hostile foreign land.

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Art Exhibit in Brooklyn Examines Hasidic Dress and Culture

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by Elke Reva Sudin – http://www.algemeiner.com – July 12, 2013

Viznitz SatmarThere are two ways people typically explore Hasidic subjects through art. It is either a sensitive portrayal of a tradition they are a part of, or an outsider’s perspective on a strange and unique culture. Brooklyn based artist Michael Levin has done both, and quite successfully at that.
In his new series “Jews of Today” opening July 20th at the 109 Gallery in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Levin explores the nuances and contradictions of Hasidic ritual dress through a series of elegant drawings and explanations, delving into larger issues of Jewishness and cultural identity in the process.
Originally from Los Angeles, Levin received his BA in Classics at the University of Chicago in 2006, and this fall he will begin his MFA in Printmaking at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
Levin became obsessed with Hasidic culture and dress after becoming neighbors with many Hasidim in the ever gentrifying Williamsburg, and looking for a way to relate to them.
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