If you are asked this question, people want to know if you speak Yiddish. Yiddish, the language of Eastern European and German Jews, was in danger of dying out, along with the ghettos and shtetls. Integration, assimilation, emigration and (in)tolerance ensured the building of a future without prejudice and without the burden of the past.

Did it work? Obviously not. The second, third and now fourth generations of Shoah survivors have also rediscovered Yiddish in their search for their roots. Mandy Patinkin was no exception.

Patinkin, one of the biggest Broadway stars of the moment, has not taken any chances. With the help and support of specialists, he learned the language and searched for the repertoire. What bothered him most was the question why American Jewish composers such as Hammerstein, Sondheim and Berlin did not compose Jewish music. His conclusion: the music was really Jewish, but the language was English. So the lyrics of the well-known songs were translated into Yiddish.

The result is worthwhile, even if it is a little awkward to hear ‘Ikh khulem fun a vaysn Nitl ‘ instead of ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’. ‘Maria” from Bernstein’s ‘West Side Story‘ has been changed to ‘ Mayn Mirl’ and ‘Got bentsh Amerike’ means nothing but ‘God bless America’.

Naturally, Patinkin also sings the well-known and less well-known Yiddish songs and he does this in his own unique’Patinkin way’. His voice and style of singing are instantly recognisable. He turns every song into a complete show with laughter and tears and does not shy away from exaggeration (a Jewish characteristic par excellence).

In ‘Belz’, which is sung with a healthy dose of schmalz, and the beautiful ‘Song of the Titanic’, he is assisted by Judy Blazer, and in ‘Der Alter Tzigajner/White Christmas’ Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg takes care of the violin solo.

A little advance warning: anyone who thinks that klezmer music should be played on authentic instruments and Yiddish only sung by centenarians who spoke the language every day in a shtetl before the war, should stay away from this CD. For those who enjoy it: ‘hob fargenigen’ (have fun)

Mandy Patinkin
Nonesuch 7559-79459-2

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