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Mikhl Yashinsky

Mikhl was born in Detroit and educated at Harvard, and currently resides in Manhattan. His work as a stage director of opera has brought him to work at such institutions as the Detroit Opera House and Vienna’s Theater an der Wien. His own plays have been performed at the Harvard Playwrights Festival, the Lower East Side Play Festival, the Candlelight Theatre in residence at the Indianapolis mansion of President Benjamin Harrison, the New Yiddish Rep, and Detroit Opera. He has acted in the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s productions of “Fidler afn dakh” (Fiddler on the Roof), directed by Joel Grey, and “Di kishef-makherin” (The Sorceress), both of them New York Times “Critic’s Picks.” As Bobe Yakhne, the Sorceress, he was hailed by the Times for bringing a “keen, if malevolent, psychology” to the title role. At the Yiddish Book Center, he co-authored the groundbreaking new language textbook “In eynem” (All Together). His translations of the memoirs of Ester-Rokhl Kaminska, “the mother of Yiddish theatre,” as well as early short stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, and the detective stories of Max Spitzkopf (“the Yiddish Sherlock Holmes”), are all contracted to be published by various presses. His translation of Ephraim Kishon’s Hebrew-language play “Romeo vs. Juliet” is currently being prepared for performance. In 2019, Yashinsky was named to the “Forward 50,” the newspaper’s annual list of “influential, intriguing, and inspiring” American Jews.

LABA project description: 

I will be writing the book and lyrics for a totally original Yiddish-language, klezmer-flavored piece of musical drama, to be composed by my friends of the inventive klezmer band Mamaliga. We aspire to create a deep, sexy, colorful piece rooted in the language, lore, and lively music of Eastern European Jewish society — but also laying bare its seedy underground, its subversive youths, its Torah scholars and jewel thieves, its whores and horas, its saints and sinners.

What Taboo would you like to break?

It is a minor taboo, but one I have always broken, since my earliest boyhood years, and still enjoy — the sneaking in of a comic book, or a slim collection of poetry, or a novella, into shul for the High Holiday services, and hiding it inside the pages of the prayerbook. The services are long, and the machzor is heavy, with broad covers — an excellent hiding spot. Sometimes I find myself in a progressive congregation for the holidays, that would no doubt tolerate my reading secular material in the open during prayer. But there is something delightful in the subterfuge, in the sneaky swallows of distinctly un-yontefdik thoughts and images between mutterings of ancient praise and pleas for forgiveness. 

Perhaps I engage in taboo of a similar kind in creating the work I do in Yiddish. To some, the language itself has become a kind of holy language, a vessel for nostalgia, a beautiful relic. But it is also the natural vernacular of the radical stories I want to tell. I want to perform the unexpected by crafting transgressive and entirely new work in this very old language, fashioning the idiom of our ancestors into a grammar of our own wild and unwieldy souls.