Yiddish-style ‘God Bless America’ celebrates presidential inauguration

Berlin originally wrote “God Bless America” for a musical revue while he was serving in the US Army in 1918.

(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
On the eve of the upcoming presidential inauguration, the cast of the award-winning, Off-Broadway Yiddish version of Fiddler on the Roof will release a video performance of the song “God Bless America” by Irving Berlin, sung in Yiddish.
The clip, titled “Got Bentsh Amerike,” will debut on January 19 at 10 a.m. EST on www.NYTF.org a day ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. The clip was produced by Lisa Fishman and Ben Liebert, who also edited and mixed it. According to a statement from the National Yiddish Theatre, “The performance celebrates and honors the ideals of the United States of America and offers a prayer for peace on the eve of the upcoming presidential inauguration.”
The video will feature Steven Skybell, the award-winning actor who played Tevye in the Yiddish Fiddler in Yiddish, along with Jennifer Babiak (Golde), Rachel Zatcoff (Tsaytl), Ben Liebert (Motl), Stephanie Lynne Mason (Hodl), Drew Seigla (Perchik), Rosie Jo Neddy (Khave.), Raquel Nobile (Shprintze) and Samantha Hahn (Beylke). The clip also includes a message by Joel Grey, the Yiddish Fiddler director and Academy and Tony-Award winning actor.
Berlin originally wrote “God Bless America” for a musical revue while he was serving in the US Army in 1918. The song was not used for the revue and 20 years later, during the Nazi era, Berlin revised the song and released it as a patriotic anthem. “God Bless America” debuted on an Armistice Day broadcast in 1938, sung by Kate Smith.
Lisa Fishman, a singer, songwriter, and actress who played Bobe Tsaytl in Fiddler, came up with the idea while researching songs written by Irving Berlin.
Fishman said, “Berlin, a Jewish immigrant whose family came to America in the early 1900s, released ‘God Bless America’ as a ‘solemn prayer’ and song of peace during a time of rising fascism in Europe.”
Fishman co-produced the video with Liebert (Motl). It features an original musical arrangement and piano accompaniment by Fiddler orchestra first chair clarinetist, D. Zisl Slepovitch, and Lauren Jeanne Thomas performs on violin. Thomas played the titular role the Yiddish Fiddler.
The Yiddish version of the song being presented by the cast, entitled “Got Bentsh Amerike,” was originally translated by producer, musicologist, performer and Yiddish Radio Project co-creator, Henry Sapoznik, who worked on Yiddish translations for Mandy Patinkin’s album, Mamaloshen.
Fishman said she felt the song was even more relevant following the violence at the US Capitol earlier this month.
“As we emerge from this dark chapter of division and strife and welcome in a new presidential administration, singing this iconic anthem in Yiddish – the author’s native tongue, is a unique way for the Fiddler family to honor our incoming leaders, to celebrate the ideals and values of our country, and to pray for this beautiful and fragile – yet enduring – democracy. I can’t think of a more appropriate time in history or group of people to share Berlin’s prayer with the world.”