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AMERIKE— The Golden Land

Imagine my joy, my feelings of pride and achievement when I was sworn in as an American citizen. I felt excitement in every part of my body..— Sadie
A scene from Amerike - The Golden Land (Photo by Jeff Newelt).
When Jewish immigrants first came to America from Eastern Europe, they thought the streets would be paved with gold. Soon they found their new neighbors were hostile and often predatory, and they would have to work hard for every penny they earned. Yet they tried desperately to shed their "greenhorn" status and become true Americans.

All this and much more is related in National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene's wonderful revival of Moishe Rosenfeld and Zalmen Mlotek's Amerike - The Golden Land onstage at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The show, directed by Bryna Wasserman and with musical direction by Mlotek, is in Yiddish with English and Russian supertitles. It features a 7- piece klezmer band and a talented cast of twelve singers, dancers and actors who effortlessly take the audience back to a world of hunger and hope.

Starting with the harrowing experience of passing through Ellis Island ("How Hard It Is to Leave the Old Home," "Let Then In"), the show goes on to chronicle some of the major events of the first half of the 20th century, with the stirring "Ballad of the Triangle Fire"; a Yiddish version of George M. Cohan's "Over There"; Yip Harburg and Jay Gorney's iconic ode to the Depression, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" performed by the excellent Glenn Steven Allen; and "The Jewish People Live," originally sung by Holocaust survivors in the D.P. camps.

The revue also recounts the daily lives of people trying to fit into a new world while they mourn the old. There's lots of immigrant humor; a few of the jokes were first told when your grandmother was a little girl.

On a more somber note, the cast celebrates the Sabbath with Israel Goldfarb's beautiful prayer, "Sholem Aleichem." And Daniel Kahn's rendition of "Roumania, Roumania," will make you long for that country, even if you have never stepped on its soil.

Certainly, early Yiddish theater is given its due with the very funny "Steam, Steam, Steam" and a Yiddish version of the three witches scene in Macbeth. But who knew there was also a Yiddish radio station, WEVD, which aired commercials for Manischewitz and Gluckstern's East Side Restaurant and Caterers, and apparently had a very unique (and hilarious) method of delivering the weather report

Much like the immigrants who come to America today, those wandering Jews eventually realized they had come home. In fact, they were intensely patriotic. An entire section of the show celebrates the proud moment when they became official citizens of the United States of America: "Long Live Columbus," "Blessed Be America," "The Flag of Freedom."

The show ends with the full cast on stage for Emma Lazarus's famous 1883 sonnet, "The New Colossus," set to Irving Berlin's 1959 music, "Give Me Your Tired Your Poor." At this time when it seems so many are forgetting the history and promise of our nation, it is worth recalling the entire ending...
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest- tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

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AMERIKE - The Golden Land Moishe Rosenfeld and Zalmen Mlotek
Directed by Bryna Wasserman
Cast: Glenn Seven Allen, Alexandra Frohlinger, Daniel Kahn, Dani Marcus, Stephanie Lynne Mason and David Perlman
National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF)at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place 212/213- 2120, ext. 206, or
Scenic/Production Design: Jason Lee Courson
Costume Design: Izzy Fields
Lighting Design: Yael Lubetzky
Sound Design: Patrick Calhoun
From 7/04/17; opening 7/10/17; closing 8/20/17
Monday and Thursday at 7pm, Sunday at 6pm, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday at 2pm
Tickets $35 – $60
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons July 6, 2017

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