Meet Fellow Ben Kaplan
Ben’s COVID-19 Haiku:
March—the stores closed down.
I couldn’t find good hummus.
I grind chickpeas now.
Born in Brooklyn, NY, librettist Ben Kaplan studied literature and theater at Williams College. He currently serves as Director of Education at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, where he directs programs that teach Jewish history and culture to a broad and diverse audience. These programs include the Uriel Weinreich Summer Program in Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture and the YIVO-Bard Winter Program on Ashkenazi Civilization. As a librettist, he creates historically informed dramatic works that chronicle turning points in history lost to contemporary cultural discourse.
Kaplan recently completed an opera with composer Alex Weiser called State of the Jews.Hailed as “stunning, heavenly, marvelous” by Israeli National Public Radio, the opera is Based on the life of Theodor Herzl and juxtaposes a historical narrative focusing on the last year of his life, with the more intimate story of Theodor’s conflicted relationship with his wife, Julie Herzl, and the toll his political views and activities took on their family life. The opera received a series of preview performances at the 14th Street Y in December 2019 and awaits a premiere production.
His next libretto, for a forthcoming opera collaboration with Weiser, is about the controversies surrounding a great Yiddish dictionary.
Der groyser verterbukh, or, The Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language, is an opera written in collaboration with composer Alex Weiser. It is based on the true story of Yudel Mark, Yiddish linguist and pedagogue, who in 1950s post-war New York City sets out to write the world’s first fully comprehensive dictionary of the Yiddish language – an effort of linguistic preservation, and a memorial to the dead. Mark’s obsession with capturing every Yiddish word—along with his perfectionism and procrastination—lead him to clash with colleagues who want the dictionary done before a generation perishes. But Mark has a secret: he is haunted by divine messengers who compel him to save Yiddish before it is lost to history.
Caught between academic arguments about Yiddish linguistics and this divine injunction, Mark must balance the scorn of his colleagues with the relentless demands of the mystical plane towards a path of justice here on earth. Emotions both human and divine collide and boil over as Mark confronts the tragic realities of Jewish life in post-war America. The opera invites audiences to consider the extent to which one can save a language and a culture from “the icy sea of forgetting,” the nature of grief, and the power of language itself to transform and shape us into who we are.
WHAT IS A SURPRISING CHOICE YOU MADE THIS YEAR?
Months ago, I bought a blender and decided I would free myself from the chains of corporate almond milk and hummus. Now I feel there’s no going back—blending chickpeas and straining almonds multiple times a week is time consuming, but it creates some delicious results. And I’m struck by how much I enjoy the process—straining almonds, it turns out, is surprisingly meditative.