Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

The Workers Circle Presents a Yiddish Schmooze With National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene's Zalmen Mlotek

pixeltracker

The event takes place on January 31, 2021.

On January 31, 2021, the Workers Circle will present a Yiddish Schmooze featuring Zalmen Mlotek, the Artistic Director at the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, which presented the award-winning Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish and whose parents were integral members of the Workers Circle and passionate proponents of Yiddish culture.

During the hour-long virtual event, Director of Yiddish Programming Nikolai (Kolya) Borodulin will talk with Mr. Mlotek not only about Yiddish theatre but his parents work and legacy. Zalmen Mlotek had served as the cultural director of the Workers Circle for many years.

The event will be held on Sunday, January 31 starting at 2:00 PM. The event is free, but Workers Circle would welcome donations of $18 to go to strengthening its world-renown Yiddish program. To register, visit https://bit.ly/3nOs7B0.

This is the second in the Yiddish Schmooze series. Late last year, the Yiddish Schmooze featured Daniel Kahn of the renowned Klezmer band, Daniel Kahn & the Painted Bird,

Zalmen Mlotek is an internationally recognized authority on Yiddish folk and theater music as well as a leading figure in the Jewish theatre and concert worlds. For the past 20 years, he has been the Artistic Director and conductor at Folksbiene. He brought Yiddish-Klezmer music to Broadway and Off-Broadway stages with the Tony-nominated Those Were the Days and Drama Desk-nominated Amerike - The Golden Land. He serves as Music Director for most Folksbiene productions, including the recent New York Times Critics Pick The Sorceress and Drama Desk-nominated musical The Golden Bride. His music can be heard in over two-dozen recordings and films and he has taught and performed all over the world and worked with countless singers. His vision brought the critically acclaimed award-winning Fidler Afn Dakh (Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish), directed by Joel Grey, for which he served as music director, to New York City.

His father's story, and legacy, is an inspiring story of perseverance and dedication to preserving Yiddish. Yosl Mlotek, the patriarch of the Mlotek family, and Chana Gordon Mlotek, the matriarch of the Mlotek family, are icons who have helped preserve the Eastern European heritage, particularly Yiddish and its culture as a vibrant culture.

Born in Prozevice, Poland on July 25, 1918, Yosl ("Joseph") Mlotek became a leader of the children at the Medem Sanatorium, chairman of their children's republic and from a young age, organized the daily activities, including radio programs, theater programs and newspapers, and he later published poems and articles in a Warsaw weekly children's newspaper, Di Kleyne Folkstsaytung, and became a leader of SKIF, the Jewish socialist children's network, and was often seen leading rallies and marches against injustices.

After fleeing to Warsaw in 1939 and then Vilna, he received word that a Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, was granting exit visas out of Lithuania, and was able to secure passage to Vladivostok, then Japan, and later to China. While in Shanghai, Yosl worked for the Yiddish community, at the Russian library and on the Yiddish newspaper and magazines. In 1947, he finally received a visa to come to North America, and settled in Calgary Canada for two years before receiving a visa into the United States.

He took a job as a teacher in the Workers Circle (then known as the Workmen's Circle) school system when he arrived in New York City. In his spare time, he wrote curriculum, including the well-received "Yidishe Kinder" textbooks for the shul system, and was quickly promoted to director of the schools in the city. In 1966, he became the Educational Director, a position he held for nearly two and a half decades, and oversaw National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (then known as Folksbiene Productions), which was then a wing of the Workmen's Circle.

Yosl, who then went on to become an editor at the Yiddish Forward, was known as the address for Yiddish because he organized everything that happened in the world in Yiddish, and writers, artists and actors who wanted to present their works knew they needed to see Yosl first. He dispatched actors and actresses on theater tours throughout the world, not only helping with the material as to what they would perform, but arranging the logistics of what cities to perform in on what days.

He was the force behind Yiddish theatre, helping to pick plays, with fundraising and with sales and marketing. He was an impresario who would arrange for concerts or lectures for anyone visiting the US, whether they were writers from Israel or singers from the Soviet Union. And with his wife, Chana, conceived and wrote a newspaper column called Perl fun der Yiddisher Poezye ("Pearls of Yiddish Poetry") for the Yiddish edition of The Forward for more than 43 years.

Yosl also continued his childhood legacy of activism and organized marches for better working conditions in May Day parades and was part of the American Jewish leadership involved in the struggle for Soviet Jewry.

Yosl was particularly close as a mentor to his sons; his son Moish became President of the Workers Circle and President of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. His nephew, Moishe, also became the producer of its theatrical productions.

A profile of Yosl Mlotek, which you can read here, notes, "Yosl was a man of passion, energy, vision and strength. A man who never rested or stopped. A man with a drive. Yosl was one of a generation of Holocaust survivors that had a mission to make sure that their religion and culture survived." He passed away in New York in July 2000.

Chana Mlotek was born on April 9 1922, and grew up immersed in Yiddish culture. In 1944, she began working for the founder of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and during this time she was awarded a scholarship from YIVO to attend the first-ever Yiddish folklore class at UCLA. During that class she was reunited with Yosl, who she had met when hearing him play Yiddish songs in Rockaway Beach. The two wed in 1949, and she gave birth to Zalmen in 1951.

An ethnomusicologist and folklorist, she was considered a cultural Yiddish giant for thousands of lovers of Yiddish song, and Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer once called her and her husband, "the Sherlock Holmeses of Yiddish folk songs." In 1978, she returned to YIVO on a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and in 1984, became music archivist at the Institute. In 2007, she published her latest anthology together with Dr. Mark Slobin, Yiddish Folksongs from the Ruth Rubin Archive, and recently released an English translation of her and Yosl's Pearls of Yiddish Poetry.

Chana has received countless Lifetime Achievement Awards through her illustrious career, including induction into the Hunter College Hall of Fame in 2009. She had been working on her ninth anthology until she passed away in November 2013.


Related Articles View More Off-Broadway Stories

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

More Hot Stories For You