Anya Karlin has been fascinated with opera since the age of 4, when she was invited to join the cast of "Madame Butterfly." At 10, while performing in a Chanukah concert, she discovered the joys of singing in Yiddish. Dressed as a maidel from Eastern Europe, she crooned "Maz'l," a tune popularized on the Yiddish stage by Molly Picon. The thunderous response convinced her to combine her musical gifts with her interest in Yiddish language and culture.
Karlin's recent Bat Mitzvah became her opportunity to share Yiddish music with others. Her synagogue, Kehillat Israel, expects its B'nai Mitzvah students to spearhead tzedakah projects. Karlin's classmates have worked at animal shelters and collected books for the needy. But she had an ambitious idea for what she describes as "a Yiddish CD to introduce fun Yiddish songs to children." Fortunately, her mother, Rebekah Jorgensen, is an entertainment industry veteran. The result was "A Bissele Nacht Musik," a recording that blends Jorgensen's expertise with Karlin's passion for music.
The concept was that of a shtetl family gathering in the evening to sing. Those who performed on the CD came to be a family of sorts. Jorgensen marvels that "people in the temple who didn't know each other connected." Singers included Kehillat Israel's Preschool Chorus, Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben and wife Didi, Cantor Chayim Frankel, and a cluster of teenagers who called themselves the Yiddish Supremes. Marv Zuckerman, dean of instruction at L.A. Valley College and a native Yiddish speaker, helped choose the material, then made tapes to perfect everyone's pronunciation. The congregation also yielded music professionals like flutist Susan Greenberg and arranger Ralph Schuckett, who participated alongside the KI Klezmer Band. (Eventually, nonmembers such as mandolinist Kurt McGinniss were drawn to the project.) One very special number was the one that closes the CD, "Macht Tsu Dayn Eigele." Performed a cappella by Cantor Emeritus Mickey Bienenfeld and young granddaughter Amanda, it is a haunting lullaby that has been handed down in their family for generations.
Karlin was exhilarated at the response from her peers. "The most amazing thing was seeing how interested the kids were in learning Yiddish," she said. On the Friday night before her Bat Mitzvah, a children's Shabbat service featured songs from the recording; each guest was given a tambourine and invited to join in the fun. Everyone went home with a copy of the CD, which contains liner notes that both translate and transliterate all lyrics, so that the full delights of the music can spread to every listener. Does Karlin herself have a favorite track? She's partial to a sprightly wedding tune called "Hot Sich Mir Di Zip Tsezipt," because "you can't listen to that song without getting up and dancing."
Exactly 1,000 copies of "A Bissele Nacht Musik" were made. Some 800 have now been distributed, many to synagogue groups and organizations. Those remaining can be requested by phoning Kehillat Israel at (310) 459-2328, or by contacting Rebekah Jorgensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.