A new work revisiting female pop stars of 20th Century Yiddish music to premiere at Yale on April 1

March 17, 2023

In the Women’s Synagogue/In der vayber shul, a new work by composer and scholar Jeremiah Lockwood will revisit the traditions of khazentes, the female pop stars of 20th Century Yiddish music. It will premiere at Yale on April 1 and be performed in New York City on April 2.

Perele Feig was one of the most popular cantors – Jewish song leaders – of the 1950s. She had a weekly radio program in New York City and toured the Eastern United States. But despite her fame she never actually performed in a Synagogue. Like other women of the time, Feig was denied access to the pulpit and in turn made a name for herself by performing on stage, radio, and in gramophone recordings. Known as khazentes – literally cantor’s wives – these women brought Jewish sacred music into public consciousness. Although khazentes like Feig paved the way for stars of Vaudeville and Broadway, their legacy today is largely forgotten.

In the Women’s Synagogue, a new musical work for electronics, guitar, and voice, is a celebration of these women and their contributions to Jewish life. Scholars have only recently begun to explore the complex roles of women in Eastern European Jewish culture. Women often led specialized and professional ritual practices, such as prayer, ritual mourning, and healing work. Drawing on ethnographic interviews recently translated from Yiddish by Annie Cohen, alongside research on women khazentes by composer Jeremiah Lockwood, In the Women’s Synagogue gives voice to these largely forgotten spiritual and musical leaders.

Jeremiah Lockwood is a scholar, singer, guitarist and composer and currently a fellow at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. He received a PhD from Stanford University, where his dissertation fieldwork focused on young Chassidic cantors in Brooklyn. His musical career began with years of playing guitar with blues musician Carolina Slim, and in synagogue singing with his grandfather Cantor Jacob Konigsberg. Lockwood is founder and frontman of The Sway Machinery, a group whose music the New Yorker has described as “unclassifiable and uplifting.” His work reviving the lost traditions of early 20th century Yiddish cantors has been recently featured in a folio published by Ayin Press, a feature story on NPR’s Morning Edition, and in Tablet Magazine.

Sponsored by the ISM, In the Women’s Synagogue/In der vayber shul will premier on April 1 in Marquand Chapel at Yale Divinity School (409 Prospect Street) at 7:30 p.m. and will be performed again in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music on April 2, presented by The Neighborhood: An Urban Center for Jewish Life. The work will be performed by the composer with Yuli Ya’el Be’eri, Rachel Weston, and Judith Berkson.

For press inquiries at ISM, contact Amanda Patrick or at The Neighborhood, contact Kate Snider.

Press release credit: The Neighborhood