Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with music icon Neil Sedaka about his work with The National Yiddish Theatre - Folksbiene.
Photo By Michael Priest
Neil Sedaka performing at the 2004 Folksbiene Gala at Carnegie Hall.
For over 50 years, Neil Sedaka has written, performed, produced, and inspired countless songs. From his humble beginnings in Brooklyn as the son of a cab driver Sedaka used his talent and skills to become a superstar. Famous for such classics as "Laughter in the Rain" and "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" Sedaka also wrote hit songs for Elvis, Tom Jones and The Monkees to name a few! In recent years he has appeared on "American Idol" and is now the author of children's books.
The National Yiddish Theatre - Folksbiene is the longest continuously producing Yiddish theatre company in the world and one of only four international Yiddish theatre companies in operation today. Founded in 1915, the Folksbiene (the “People’s Stage”) continues its mission to preserve, promote and develop Yiddish theatre for current and future generations and to enhance the understanding of Yiddish culture as a vital component of Jewish Life.
On June 12th in a benefit concert at The Town Hall, New York City, Sedaka will celebrate his Brooklyn and Jewish roots as he is honored by "Night" Author and human rights advocate Elie Wiesel in a star studded tribute. To buy tickets for the Gala Concert or to donate please visit http://www.nationalyiddishtheatre.org.
Interview By Giacinta Pace
Q: Tell us about the charities you support specifically the Folksbiene Yiddish theatre.
Neil: Well a few years ago the Folksbiene theatre asked me to do an all Yiddish concert at Carnegie Hall. I think it was the first all Yiddish concert. I have supported the Folksbiene Theater for a long time and now I’m having a second blessing. June the 12th at Town Hall, I am being honored by the Folksbiene Theater and I am going to get the award from Doctor Elie Wiesel. I’ll be singing with a choir of 90 Jewish kids from around the New York area and of course we’ll be doing some Yiddish songs. I can’t believe I’m singing “Breaking up is hard to do” with the choir. This is very exciting and I’m very proud to be continuing the Jewish heritage in New York City. I was born and raised in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn after World War II and I thought the whole world was Jewish.
Q: Why do you think it’s important to keep Yiddish Theater alive?
Neil: I think to keep the language, to keep the heritage, to keep the tradition. The music is wonderful, the history. I think New York City is a melting pot and certainly the Jewish population made a great contribution over the years especially in music, George Gershwin and Richard Rogers. I’m happy to be a part of it and hopefully one day my songs with be as timeless as theirs.
Q: Do you remember the first Yiddish play that you saw?
Neil: Yes I do, it was in Brighten Beach with Gil Nagel and I don’t remember the title. I’ll have to think about that.
Q: What can people do to support the Yiddish Theater?
Neil: They can go to the functions. As a matter of fact, I [just went] to Gracie Mansion, Mayor Bloomberg invited all of the head people in the Jewish community and I sang. I think people tend to support it by going to the programs, going to the shows, [and] going to the fundraisers. We have a whole bunch of people being honored on June the 12th. It’s nice to remember your roots; it’s nice to remember where you came from. My father was a taxi driver in New York for 30 years and he worked very hard to put me through the Julliard School of Music. I was studying to be a concert pianist and I’m happy to be going back to my roots. I just recorded with the London Philharmonic my first piano concerto and my first symphony.
Q: Why is it important for celebrities to support charities?
Neil: People look up to us. I think we have giving so much and it’s nice to give back. We’ve gotten it from the audience. It’s a give and take love affair. I’ve been very fortunate, given a great gift and I have to give back for that gift.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
Neil: Yes. I’m now a children’s author. This is my second children’s book and it’s called Dinosaur Pet and I wrote it with my son and my granddaughters are singing background vocal. There’s a three song cd at the back of the book. It’s to the tune of “Calendar Girls” a song I wrote in 1961 and I’m happy to say it’s number one in Publishers Weekly in Children’s book and number five in the New York Times Best Sellers Children’s book. It’s nice to reach two to seven year olds after I’ve been doing this for 55 years I never thought I would be reaching two to seven year olds and I’m going to continuing writing and singing these children’s books. I think it’s a marvelous way for children’s to learn to love reading.