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January 22, 2021 2:27 pm

‘Fiddler on the Roof’ Cast Performs ‘God Bless America’ in Yiddish on Eve of Inauguration Day


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

The cast of the critically-acclaimed off-Broadway hit, Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, performing “God Bless America” in Yiddish. Photo: Screenshot.

The cast of the off-Broadway show “Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish” released a Yiddish rendition of “God Bless America” on Tuesday night, the eve of the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

The video performance of “God Bless America” in Yiddish, originally translated by Henry Sapoznik and entitled “Got Bentsh Amerike,” featured the show’s Academy and Tony Award-winning director Joel Grey, actor Steven Skybell (who played Tevye in the Yiddish production), and cast members from both the Museum of Jewish Heritage performance as well as the Off-Broadway, Stage 42 show.

“Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish” (“Fidler afn Dakh”) was originally produced by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. The production then transferred to the Stage 42 Theater.

Lisa Fishman, a singer, songwriter, and actress who played Bobe Tsaytl in the Yiddish-language off-Broadway production, came up with the idea for the video performance, and co-produced the video with fellow Fiddler cast member Ben Liebert.

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The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene explained that shortly after the November 2020 presidential election, Fishman was researching songwriter Irving Berlin, a Jewish immigrant to the US whose first languages were Yiddish and Russian. Born Israel Berlin, he penned “God Bless America” in 1918 for a musical revue while serving in the US Army, but ultimately set the song aside. Then, in 1938, with the rise of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and fascism, he revisited and revised the song — and released it as a prayer for the country. “God Bless America” was first heard on an Armistice Day, broadcast in 1938 and sung by Kate Smith.

“There were so many things that struck me as I read about Berlin and the inception of the song that made it obvious that the cast of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in Yiddish should come together at this particular time and share ‘God Bless America’ with the world in the native tongue of its author,” Fishman said.

“Berlin, a Jewish immigrant whose family came to America in 1893, released ‘God Bless America’ as a ‘solemn prayer’ and song of peace during a time of rising fascism in Europe. As we emerge from this dark chapter of division and strife and welcome in a new presidential administration, singing this iconic anthem in Yiddish – the author’s native tongue, is a unique way for the ‘Fiddler’ family to honor our incoming leaders, to celebrate the ideals and values of our country, and to pray for this beautiful and fragile – yet enduring – democracy.”

The video performance includes an original musical arrangement and piano accompaniment by “Fiddler” orchestra first chair clarinetist, D. Zisl Slepovitch, and Lauren Jeanne Thomas on violin, who played the titular role of “The Fiddler.” Motl Didner, associate artistic director of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, served as dialect coach. He told The Algemeiner, “I think it was an absolutely beautiful rendition and was very proud to be a part of this project.”

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