Leba Sedaka and son Marc
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld and
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld and
Jay Parker of Ben’s Deli in Rego Park,
Queens; Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, and
Jack Lebewohl of Second Ave. Deli
on Lower East Side
FOLKSBIENE YIDDISH THEATER
Pop Star Neil Sedaka Makes
Yiddish Debut At Carnegie Hall
EW YORK Mayor Michael Bloomberg credits Second Ave. Deli owner Jack Lebewohl with assuring a permanent home for the only professional Yiddish theater still remaining from the 14 that thrived in the heyday of the Lower East Side.
At Carnegie Hall, where Neil Sedaka was making his Yiddish debut in a benefit for the Folksbiene Yiddish Theater, the mayor announced that in three years New York’s only Yiddish theater would move into a permanent home “right in the heart of what used to be the Broadway of the Yiddish theater.”
World Trade Center architect Daniel Libeskind, the mayor affirmed, “will donate his time and talent to design a state-of-the-art theater” for the Folksbiene.
Jack later told me how it all came about. He met with the concert’s music director, Zalmen Mlotek, and Bernstein Co. financial adviser Jeffrey Wiesenfeld at the deli, of course, and offered to make the Community Synagogue Center on 6th Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues, available to the Folksbiene.
It helped in no small measure that Jack is the shul’s board chairman.
“The integrity of the shul will remain on Shabbat and yom tov,” Jack said.
During the concert Sedaka revealed that he’s the product of a mixed marriage: his mother’s parents were Ashkenazim from Russia and his father’s parents were Sephardim from Turkey.
Although he’s assured a place in rock ‘n roll royalty as songwriter and singer – with such hits as Breaking Up Is Hard To Do and Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen – he never forgot his Brighton Beach roots. He sat down at the Steinway and sang Vee ahin zol ich gehn and My Yiddish Mama.
In a duet with Claire Barry he sang Ayshes Chayil, and with Joanne Borts, Bei Mir Bistu Sheyn.
Sedaka started out from Brooklyn’s Lincoln High School where he formed a rock group called The Tokens. When they arrived at Esther Manor Hotel in Monticello, Esther confronted them: “All the waiter and busboy jobs are filled.”
No problem. Not only did the group perform, but Sedaka ended up marrying Leba and “Esther became my mother-in-law.”
They’ve been married 41 years and have a daughter Dara, 40, and son Marc, 37.