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More than just concerts

Yiddish music fests resonate with the audience, bring back memories

The Taub family, along with a performer, is together at one of the concerts. From left, Benay, Steven, Mickey, and Sarah, Judy Gold, klezmer musician Mitch Smolkin of Toronto, Shelley Taub, Ron Gold, and Ira Taub.
The Taub family, along with a performer, is together at one of the concerts. From left, Benay, Steven, Mickey, and Sarah, Judy Gold, klezmer musician Mitch Smolkin of Toronto, Shelley Taub, Ron Gold, and Ira Taub.

It’s little wonder that the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades is located on what is called the “Taub campus.” After all, Henry and Marilyn (Mickey) Taub of Tenafly were among the founders of the JCC, and Henry, who died in 2011, served as its first president after it moved from Englewood to Tenafly.

Mickey Taub is still active — and, according to Judith Davidsohn Nahary, the JCC’s director of senior adult services,  she continues to sponsor programs that enrich the center immeasurably.

“She’s a class act,” Ms. Nahary said. “Mickey has strong convictions and is unbelievably sharp and involved, always eager to help.” Since the mid-1980s, one way she has helped is to sponsor the Esther and Julius Adler Semi-Annual Yiddish Concerts at the JCC, drawing some 450 people to each event.

“We’ve just had our 25th concert,” Ms. Nahary said, noting that the Yiddish musical events are held in May and October. The next one, featuring Tony-nominated director and international concert artist Eleanor Reissa, will be held on October 21.

“More than 20 years ago, Mickey established the concert program to keep her parents’ memory alive,” Ms. Nahary continued, explaining that Ms. Taub’s parents had spoken Yiddish and were deeply immersed in Yiddishkeit. “When she saw how many people came and how they were enjoying themselves, she began to do it twice a year, and it’s been like that every year since.”

“We do the research and bring her choices of performers and bios. She approves the talent,” Ms. Nahary said. In addition to bringing in major klezmer and other Yiddish performers, Ms. Taub funds a lunch for all the attendees, she added. And then, together with her children and grandchildren, she helps serve the food.

“Mickey brings her entire family and they all take back row seats to allow the seniors to sit up front,” Ms. Nahary said. “It’s Mickey’s way. She is Yiddishkeit personified, a person who takes great joy in making other people happy.

“During these concerts, everyone in the room becomes her extended family.”

Michelle Levine, who performed at the concert last year, left, with Mickey Taub.
Michelle Levine, who performed at the concert last year, left, with Mickey Taub.

Ms. Nahary said the audience for the concerts includes not only JCC members but also people “who have never been here before or who come only for the concert. They wait all year for the announcements and they start calling immediately.” In fact, she said, “we have a waiting list.

“In Bergen County we have a large senior population,” Ms. Nahary said; for many of them, “Yiddish is the language they heard at home and it resonates with them. They hear a concert, have lunch, and go back in time, remembering their parents.

“It’s more than just a concert,” she said.

Not everyone who comes to the concert speaks Yiddish, but that isn’t relevant. “There’s an energy and happiness in the room. The overall emotional connection comes alive.”

Indeed, she noted, attendees often sing along, and some get up to dance. “They find room,” she said.

The Taub children — daughter Judy Gold and sons Ira and Steven — have attended the concerts from the beginning and have brought their own children to listen, learn, and help out. Ira Taub is a member of the JCC board, as is Steven’s wife, Benay.

“We always go. It’s meaningful to us,” Ms. Taub’s sons said during a conference call. “We grew up hearing Yiddish from our grandparents.”

In addition, they said, their grandparents were steeped in Yiddishkeit and determined to instill that same love for their heritage in their children. To keep that spirit alive, their mother decided to create Yiddish concerts for senior citizens that would, Ms. Nahary said, “pay tribute to her parents’ love of Yiddishkeit and provide something meaningful for the community at the same time.”

Ms. Taub’s children said the concerts give attendees “a wonderful afternoon. They think about their childhood and it brings back memories of youth.” Attendees, they said, react strongly to the songs, whether “they sing along, get up and dance, clap, or sometimes cry.”

Concert-goer Ilsa Heller dances with a performer, klezmer musician Mitch Smolkin.
Concert-goer Ilsa Heller dances with a performer, klezmer musician Mitch Smolkin.

While there is a space limitation, the brothers said they would like to see more children at these events. “It’s nice for our kids to try to understand how we grew up,” they said. They noted as well that “it’s very special for our mom when she sees the satisfaction” glowing from the audience. When people have tried to thank her, they said, she tells them that seeing their happiness is thanks enough. “We watch her at the concerts,” one of the brothers said. “It brings her back to another time. She had sweet memories of her past and of her family and others. My father felt the same way when he was around.”

Performers at the semi-annual Yiddish concerts have included the Hester Street Troupe, Zalmen Mlotek, Adrienne Cooper, Laura Wexler, the Golden Land Trio, Avram Grobard, Ron Eliron, Hal Jeffrin, and comedian Modi.

According to a statement from the JCC, October’s performer, Eleanor Reissa, appeals to a wide audience, “and her performance is sure to have the JCC crowd singing and dancing in the aisles — even if they don’t speak a word of Yiddish.”

Save the date

What: Yiddish concert featuring Eleanor Reissa

When: Wednesday, October 21, at 11:30 a.m.

Where: Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, 411 East Clinton Avenue, Tenafly

Admission is free; lunch is provided.

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