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Faith Kaplan

Faith Review's Yiddish Fiddler on the Roof at Mameloshen, Declares: “Siz Geven a Mechayeh!”

by Faith Kaplan, posted June 26, 2012

This year’s Mameloshen Festival of Yiddish Entertainment and Culture featured three programs. I have just returned from the final program Feedler Uhn Dehr Doch, musical excerpts from Fiddler on the Roof.

The Mameloshen Festival is sponsored by the I.L. Peretz Folk School Endowment Trust and The Rady J.C.C. It is put on with a special grant from the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba (, [and also with specific grants from the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba: Gail Asper through the Israel and Babs Asper Charitable Fund, Mark and Dorothy Dansker Perpetual Trust  Fund, In Memory of Sam Grosberg Fund, and the Dorris Margolis Jewish Theatre and Music Fund.]

As regular readers will know, Winnipeg’s master Yiddishist Noah Witman z"l, tried to teach my classmates and me Yiddish for years at Talmud Torah. It wasn’t until I studied Yiddish at Hebrew University that it all came together. I left Winnipeg bilingual and a half (French) and returned trilingual and a half (still French). My Yiddish has waxed and waned over the years, but with the excellent subtitles and familiarity with the lyrics, I felt as though I was at the top of my Yiddish comprehension game.

But here’s a twist. The Yiddish lyrics were written by Shraga Friedman, a native Yiddish speaker who was a multi talented actor, director, radio host and translator, as a translation of the Broadway show’s English lyrics. Yiddish to English to Yiddish to English. But the English versions aren’t the same. Shalom Aleichem’s original Yiddish novel Tevye the Milkman became Fiddler on the Roof became Feedler Uhn Dehr Doch, with English subtitles. And what interesting differences there are!

"If I were a rich man" became "If I were a Rothschild". In Sunrise Sunset, "the seedlings have produced flowers." It’s obvious that Sunrise Sunset derives from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), King Solomon’s lament on how quickly flow the years. Friedman’s Yiddish translation reminded me of how Torah, Prayers and Blessings are integral parts of our language, because they are integral parts of our lives. Even in a secular world, Judaism pervades Hebrew and Yiddish.

Twelve familiar and talented local singers executed their performances beautifully. Perry Rubenfeld as Tevye did the heavy lifting in a very credible Yiddish accent (I learned to speak Yiddish in Israel from an Australian whose parents were Polish survivors, so I know credible). Justin Odwak’s voice becomes more captivating with age and training. Chuck Axelrod and Jerry Cohen were clearly enjoying themselves, and Rafi Hoult displays remarkable comfort on stage for a high school student. The female cast members competed for who was having the most fun. Doreen Brownstone, doyen of the Winnipeg stage, was brilliant. Shayla Fink’s thrilling harmonies bring back memories of the original JWC song festivals. Jill Brandes channeled New York energy as Fruma Sarah, while Debbie Maslowsky’s I.L. Peretz Shul Yiddish was effortless. Bonnie Robinson seemed to be having too much fun, and Mal Magorel’s pipes were very well suited to the music. And Miriam Bronstein’s Goldeh? A matured version of the high school role she defined in the late 1960s.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and am off to dig out the original Broadway score. I am going to try and find the original Shraga Friedman recording online too. Once again, Tamar Barr and her team skillfully demonstrate their polish in producing a very fine series. Kudos to the Rady JCC and the IL Peretz Folk School Endowment Trust for their efforts in keeping Yiddish alive in Winnipeg. Special thanks to Kinzey Posen for making me laugh out loud with his translation of Facebook as Punim Buch, and to the terrific band – Ron Krug, Natalia Zielinski, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Curtis –who captured the tone perfectly. I have never heard Anatevkeh performed with such fullness and feeling. "Hob ich geven a Rothschild, na na na na na na lalalalalalalalala..."

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