By: Paulanne Simmons
After a week of music, theater, dance, and lectures celebrating Jewish and particularly Yiddish culture, KulturfestNYC closed on June 21 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, with the New York premiere of the film "In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem."
The film, directed by John Lollos, is both a biography of the great Yiddish dramatist and the story of the artistic journey actor and singer Theodore Bikel took with him. It is narrated by Emmy-winning actor Alan Alda and features interviews with the great star of Yiddish theater, Fyvush Finkel and sex therapist Ruth Westheimer, amongst others.
After the film, Alda presented Bikel with a Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the century-old National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. Bikel, who acknowledged it was not his first award, said he would place it in a room he calls, "Plaquestan."
A brief talkback followed the presentation, followed by a reception, distinguished by excellent Klezmer music and more deserts than most people have ever before seen in one place at one time. It was sort of like a big Jewish wedding with people like Sheldon Harnick and Dr. Ruth Westheimer as guests.
KulturfestNYC, which ran from June 14 through June 21, was a collaborative effort of Folksbiene, the UJA-Federation of New York and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in celebration of Folksbiene’s 100th anniversary. Performers arrived from all over the world to celebrate and perform.
Many people may wonder why it took so long for New York City to have its own Jewish festival, especially considering that cities like Toronto and Krakow already have one. And some may wonder about the advisability of having a Jewish festival that celebrates (of all things) a language that many think is dying.
But although few people speak Latin, we still learn about Roman culture. And Jesus is regarded by many Christians as their personal savior, although almost none could speak to him in his native Aramaic.
So as Tevye might ask, "Would it spoil some vast eternal plan?" if KulturfestNYC became a yearly tradition?