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Challenging the Theater of Memory: Yiddish Song beyond Kitsch and Stereotype

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Center for Jewish History (map)
15 W. 16th St.
New York, NY 10011
General: 15

Performing Yiddish music in post-war Germany and Austria comes with a set of expectations and assumptions about Jewish culture. In this lecture-concert, Yiddish musicians and researchers Isabel Frey and Benjy Fox-Rosen confront these expectations, challenging the so-called “Theater of Memory” where Jewish roles are limited and often instrumentalized to fit into the broader dominant cultural narrative.

The evening’s musical journey begins with nostalgic Yiddish songs before moving to unaccompanied folk songs collected through ethnographic fieldwork. It continues with partisan and resistance songs from the Holocaust and concludes with new Yiddish music by the artists themselves. Through musical performance, dialogue, and short essayistic fragments, Frey and Fox-Rosen reflect on the myth of the shtetl, the ruptures and continuities of oral transmission, the weight of Holocaust memory culture and their own attempts to creatively deal with the expectations inherent to performing Jewish music in the German-speaking world.

Join YIVO for this performance followed by a Q&A with performers Isabel Frey and Benjy Fox-Rosen moderated by Samantha Cooper and Gordon Dale.

Please note this concert is in person at the Center for Jewish History and online on Zoom.

Co-sponsored by the Leo Baeck Institute, American Society for Jewish Music, Jewish Music Forum, and Austrian Cultural Forum

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

About the Participants

Isabel Frey is a Yiddish singer and PhD candidate at the structured doctoral program “Music Matters” at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna. Both her research and her artistic practice are concerned with the political dimensions of Yiddish singing for Jewish identity.

Benjy Fox-Rosen is a singer, bassist and composer largely working in Jewish music. He is conductor of the Vienna Stadttempel Choir and researches Yiddish and Jewish liturgical music.

samantha cooper

Dr. Samantha M. Cooper is a historical musicologist who specializes in American Jewish cultural history. She is currently the Ariel and Joshua Weiner Family Visiting Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania's Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. She received her Ph.D. in Historical Musicology at New York University in 2022 for her doctoral dissertation, entitled “Cultivating High Society: American Jews engaging European Opera in New York, 1880-1940.” Samantha’s research has been supported by fellowships from the Center for Jewish History, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, P.E.O. International, the American Academy for Jewish Research, and Temple University’s Feinstein Center for American Jewish History. Her publications have appeared in the Journal of the Society for American Music, Journal of Synagogue Music, Journal of Musicological Research, Society for American Music Bulletin, and Musica Judaica. Samantha currently serves as the Co-Executive Director of the Jewish Music Forum, a Project of the American Society for Jewish Music.

gordon dale

Dr. Gordon Dale serves as the Assistant Professor of Jewish Musicology at Hebrew Union College. Dr. Dale has most recently conducted extensive research in the Hasidic communities of New York and Israel, and has lectured across the United States on topics related to Israeli popular music, and Jewish music and mysticism. His forthcoming book, The Life and Complete Works of Rabbi Ben Zion Shenker (Jewish Music Research Centre, The Hebrew University) received The Jordan Schnitzer First Book prize. Dr. Dale is currently the Executive Director of The Jewish Music Forum, a project of the American Society for Jewish Music, and is a past president of the Society for Ethnomusicology’s Special Interest Group for Jewish Music. He holds a Ph.D. from The Graduate Center, CUNY, an M.A. from Tufts University, and a B.S. from Northeastern University.