New York, NY – The Workers Circle, a Jewish organization celebrating its 120th anniversary this year, will be hosting a virtual Yiddish sing-along concert this weekend as part of May Day — International Workers’ Day.
The concert, which will be translated in English, will feature singers and musicians from across the country and around the world.
“It’s kind of amazing,” says Ann Toback, Workers Circle CEO. “Our director of Yiddish programming, Nikolai Borodulin, reached our to klezmer musicians and we expected some would say ‘yes’ and some would say ‘no,’ but they all said yes right away.”
Klezmer music is a part of the Eastern European Jewish tradition, which includes Yiddish songs and instrumentation from the early 20th Century that is by and for workers, according to Toback.
“The people who founded the Workers Circle were Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants who were very involved in the labor movement in Eastern Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” Toback says. “The songs being sung this Sunday are directly connected to that labor activism.”
The lineup includes Daniel Kahn (Germany); Theresa Tova (Canada); Svetlana Kundish and Patrick Farrell (Germany); Timur Fishel (Estonia), Psoy Korolenko (New Jersey), Cindy Paley (California), and Sarah Gordon (Brooklyn) — among others.
“Yiddish was a predominate language of the Jewish workers at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century,” says Borodulin.
During the concert, historic artwork from that period will also be on display.
“There will be lots of imagery of strong workers standing together against people who are against their fight for unions,” says Toback. “It will be powerful pieces of worker solidarity from the early 20th Century.”
The funds from the concert will go towards helping tomato farmworkers in Florida, according to Toback.
“The Immokalee farmworkers have been organizing around the Fair Food Program for years,” says Toback. “Right now, they are fighting for their lives because COVID-19 has reached Immokalee and we’ve been working to raise awareness to the governor of Florida to provide protective steps for these exposed farmworkers — these 25,000 farmworkers who typically live in crowded quarters without the option for social distancing or proper sanitation.”
The Fair Food Program is a human rights program that is designed, monitored, and enforced by the very workers it aims to protect from extreme poverty, sexual harassment and even modern-day slavery, according to www.fairfoodprogram.org.
The Workers Circle is also an advocate for the COVID-19 immigration bill, which would extend the worker’s permit of immigrant essential workers.
“Many immigrant workers today are considered essential workers, but are not provided the necessary assistance to their families in their absence,” said Toback. “This week we are partnering with health care workers on May Day to thank the people out front who are risking their health to take care of us.”
May Day is about not taking for granted the work of those who have fought in the labor movement, according to Toback.
“May Day really symbolizes a day we focus our attention on immigrant and worker’s rights and the historic struggles that led to so many victories,” Toback says.