Some, however, had complaints, not about the quality of the singers or musicians but rather about who they were. In the middle of the show a woman stood up and shouted “Where are the women? Women can sing beautifully too you know,” and promptly left the venue.
It is, of course, a serious and fraught issue. Besides the Folksbiene’s Executive Director Bryna Wasserman not a single woman appeared or spoke during the three-hour show. Not one woman played an instrument, let alone sang. In the days following Yiddish Soul some secular Klezmer musicians and Yiddish singers took to Facebook to decry the Folksbiene’s decision to “discriminate” against women in order to assure that a religious audience would attend.
I have a lot of sympathy for such arguments but in this case I don’t agree with them. If all of the Folksbiene’s concerts and plays only featured men it would be an entirely different story. But it’s just the opposite: the company puts on a womanless show just once a year so that religious Jews who would otherwise be unable to attend can enjoy it. It’s worth it to do it once a year, especially if it allows the Folksbiene to present such great cantors and singers as Lipa Schmeltzer, Yaakov Lemmer and Benny Friedman.
On the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt if next year’s Kulturfest featured a second concert on the same scale in which the Yiddish world’s many talented women singers and musicians could perform.