You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Love Kulturfestnyc, but Having a Soul of any Affiliation Couldn’t Hurt



Ger Mandolin Orchestra



by: Myra Chanin



I grew up, speaking Yiddish, in a brownstone owned by my maternal grandmother, Essie, which she shared with my parents, my bachelor Uncle Morris and me. Essie was a religiously observant widow and a magnificent cook – a good thing inasmuch as I was a fussy eater whose taste buds made Essie reformulate classic recipes for blintzes, brisket and knishes into concoctions I would willingly swallow. My mother and father, escapees from Czarist Russia, were cultured, educated liberals. They sent me, always protesting, to any Jewish school that would accept me, where both my communist and socialist teachers understood that the only way to stop my rowdy classmates from flying paper airplanes non-stop around the stratosphere was to distract us by reading amusing or mystical Yiddish tales written by great Jewish authors, like Sholem Aleichem, Ansky, Asch, Peretz and Singer out loud to us and keeping us warbling the sweet minor key melodies and touching lyrics of Yiddish folk songs which linked me forever to sentimentally recalled shtetl life – certainly more now than ever before..

So imagine my joy when I received the 74-page KulturfestNYC catalog for The First International Festival of Jewish Performing Arts taking place June 14-21, 2015. Eight days and nights, jam-packed with a hundred events dealing with Jewish Life today and yesterday from all over the world! Artists, actors, musicians, scholars coming to New York from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa and Spain and, naturally those from the USA, performing the greatest Yiddish and Jewish plays, screening fascinating classic and contemporary films and playing the music written by Jewish composers from Jazz and Classical to cutting edge funk to klezmer to theatre songs, even contemporary explorations in the avant garde.

KulturfestNYC is an indication that predictions about the death of Jewish Culture are definitely premature!

There’s one caveat. As my mother frequently asked in Yiddish and which I’ve translated into English — how can I dance at 22 venues with only one ass?

Easy! I’ve installed the HopStop App on my iPhone and will be MTAing my way from the Bronx to Battery Park with a venue spreadsheet in hand of when, what, and where I plan to be and see.

The abundance of the schedule is hard to resist with such bargain city prices. From Free to $10 (for films) to $18 for most live performances with larger ensembles like the Ger Mandolin Orchestra charging $36 or 2 times $18.

Why $18. In Gematria, a system of numerology that assigns a numerical value to a word or phrase, the Hebrew word Chai which means life, has a numerical value of 18.

Here are two events that are not to be missed and will fascinate everyone no matter what, no matter who.

Tony Award Winners Ron Rifkin, Joel Grey and Debra Monk, who embody the liveliness and power of cabaret and the rich Yiddish culture, will collaborate for the first time together on an evening of Yiddish song and cabaret on Wednesday, June 17th at Joe’s Pub led by National Yiddish Theatre’s musical director, Zalmen Mlotek.

The film, Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholem Aleichem is probably the most fascinating dual biography I’ve ever watched and I’m planning to see it again. The 91-year old Bikel is a total Renaissance Mench, and he and the film’s writer/director John Lollas will be at the screening to talk to the audience. Bikel is a multi-award winning actor and singer who played Captain Von Trapp in the original Broadway Sound of Music and has performed Tevye over 2000 times.See the film and meet its creators at the International Jewish Festival Finale on Sunday, June 21st at 6 PM at the Museum of Jewish Heritage ($10).

I’m also going to see a bunch of films on Monday, The Jewish theatre of Romania on Tuesday, films about Sholem Aleichem and Tevye on Wednesday, The Ger Mandolin Orchestra on Thursday night and anything else that my metro card will get me to. Whew1

Do yourself a big favor: Go to and check out the catalog. I’m sure you’ll find many events that will say, “Yoo-hoo!” to you. Regardless of whether you speak Yiddish or are Jewish, all you just have to be is an interested human being to be thrilled by any and all of these events.