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Yiddish fest a resounding success

July 2009

One of the concerts at the recent Montreal International Yiddish Theatre Festival featured the dynamic Toronto singer Theresa Tova. Her song Nacht und Tag, a Yiddish version of Cole Porter’s classic Day and Night, served as a metaphor for the jam-packed program.

Wedding and Divorce - The State Jewish Theatre of Bucharest. Photos: Robi Cohen

The festival, the world’s first, was activated only last January in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Montreal’s Yiddish Theatre, founded by the late Dora Wasserman.

The festival was conceived and run by her daughters, Ella and Bryna Wasserman. Events were held at the Segal Centre, where Bryna is the artistic director. Over 100 volunteers eased the incredible logistics.

The Nacht und Tag program featured lectures, symposia, exhibits, music, cinema and,most notably, theatre.

Theatre groups from six countries – Canada, France, Israel, Poland, Romania and the US – mounted 14 shows for full houses.

For those, like me, who do not speak Yiddish, English and French supertitles were indispensable.

Bonjour Monsieur Chagall - National Jewish Theatre of Warsaw

Israeli troupe Yiddishspiel performed Nobel-winner Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Last Love, a bittersweet comedy about a senior couple grasping at a loving relationship.

Montreal’s Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre ended the week on a high with the boisterous Those Were The Days, a song and dance extravaganza tracing the Yiddishkeit culture from the shtetl to New York.

Twelve cinema documentaries included The Golden Age of 2nd Avenue, about a time when 23 Yiddish theatres graced the New York scene.

Far flung communities from Argentina and Australia were also represented. Mitch Smolkin and Klezmer En Buenos Aires explored 100 years of collaboration between Yiddish and World music.

Alex Dafner and Tomi Kalinski jetted in from Melbourne to do a performance presentation on the history of Yiddish theatre there.

Sabell Bender of California lectured on Jacob Adler, King of the Yiddish theatre, who started as a boxer in Odessa and ended up in New York, where he and playwright Jacob Gordin added serious drama to the tradition of minstrel-like “shun.”

Plentiful klezmer music indoors and in the adjacent park, maintained the Nacht und Tag motif.



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