Challenging the Theater of Memory: Yiddish Song beyond Kitsch and Stereotype

A lecture-concert by Benjy Fox-Rosen and Isabel Frey


Isabel Frey © Erika Kapin, Benjy Fox-Rosen © Mato Johannik

Isabel Frey © Erika Kapin

Benjy Fox-Rosen © Mato Johannik

Performing Yiddish music in post-war Germany and Austria comes with a set of expectations and assumptions about Jewish culture. In this lecture-concert, Yiddish musicians and researchers Isabel Frey and Benjy Fox-Rosen confront these expectations, challenging the so-called “Theater of Memory” where Jewish roles are limited and often instrumentalized to fit into the broader dominant cultural narrative.

The musical journey begins with nostalgic Yiddish songs before moving to unaccompanied folk songs collected through ethnographic fieldwork. It continues with partisan and resistance songs from the Shoah and concludes with new Yiddish music by the artists themselves. Through musical performance, dialogue and short essayistic fragments, Frey and Fox-Rosen reflect on the myth of the shtetl, the ruptures and continuities of oral transmission, the weight of Holocaust memory culture and their own attempts to creatively deal with the expectations inherent to performing Jewish music in the German-speaking world. 

With opening remarks by Ursula Hemetek (mdw) and József Laszlovszky (CEU) and a Q&A session hosted by Michael L. Miller (CEU). Visuals by Tamara Yael Kanfer.

Isabel Frey is a Yiddish singer and PhD candidate at the structured doctoral program “Music Matters” at the MDW. Both her research and her artistic practice are concerned with the political dimensions of Yiddish singing for Jewish identity.

Benjy Fox-Rosen is a singer, bassist and composer largely working in Jewish music. He is conductor of the Vienna Stadttempel Choir and researches Yiddish and Jewish liturgical music.

This event is held in cooperation with the Jewish Studies Program at CEU, the Cultural Heritage Studies Program at CEU, and CEU Culture Hub.

Time and date:
Tuesday, October 11, 2022, 19:30

mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna

Fanny Hensel Hall
Anton-von-Webern-Platz 1
1030 Vienna, Austria

Registration required:

The event will also be streamed live.