Avram Mlotek, 24
Avram Mlotek was doing cantorial and concert work in Australia, when an old man came over to chat in Yiddish. The old man moved to Australia after the war, “to get as far away from home as possible.”
Now, hearing Mlotek, 25, he was home, and it was good, and when he learned where Mlotek came from and what he did, the old man was more home than he knew. He said, surprised, that he never thought he’d see Yosl Mlotek’s grandson studying to become a rabbi and leading High Holy Day services.
In a distant time and town there was perhaps a divide between arts and rabbinics, but Mlotek embodies a new great fusion of 21st century Yiddishkeit.
A rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Mlotek imagines himself going into education, but “I’m open to the journey and the process.” He’s taught in Ethiopia and Israel, at the Workmen’s Circle and at BIMA, a Jewish arts program at Brandeis University. This year he’s been teaching chasidism to third through fifth graders at Brooklyn’s Luria Academy. The children know they have a soul, and he explains “that there’s a penimiyus, an inner essence, and a ruchniyus, a spirituality, that these elements are in all aspects of their lives, in their Jewish life and beyond.”
In his spare time, he visits a hospice, performs as a soloist (six CDs) with bands such as The Klezmatics, when not writing essays for The Jewish Week, and when not hosting a monthly, musical Friday night davening in his Upper West Side apartment.
He’s not just Yosl’s grandson, he’s the son of Zalman Mlotek, the renowned artistic director of the National Yiddish Theater – Folksbiene. Avram recently performed the Folksbiene’s “Ghetto Tango” program, drawn from Shoah-era music, and arranged by his father and Adrienne Cooper, the Yiddish singer and family friend. For Avram it was exhilarating but “emotionally raw,” for his connection to Cooper, who had recently passed away, and his connection to the material itself, “coming as I do from a family of survivors.”
There are many gates into Jerusalem, into Yiddishkeit, into the future, and he’s working the different keys.
Old school: Mlotek just got his record player working again (who calls it a “record player” these days?) and he’s listening to Dylan as well as the late Ukrainian tenor/baritone Emil Gorovets and Chava Alberstein.