Joel Grey and MikhlYashinsky
Joel Grey and Mikhl Yashinsky

Yashinsky is attracted to Yiddish as the language of his ancestry. In the past century, there was a break in passing down this chain of culture, and Yashinsky has done work to reconnect to that heritage.

Mikhl Yashinsky, who grew up in Farmington Hills, is making return appearances in the second run of the Yiddish version of Fiddler on Roof, which is being shown through Jan. 1 at New World Stages in New York as directed by Tony and Oscar-winner Joel Grey.

Mikhl Yashinsky as Mordkhe the innkeeper, in the center wearing a gray apron, performs the number Lekhaim taking place in his character's tavern, along with fellow actors from Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish
Mikhl Yashinsky as Mordkhe the innkeeper, in the center wearing a gray apron, performs the number Lekhaim taking place in his character’s tavern, along with fellow actors from Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish Jeremy Daniels

English and Russian supertitles make the dialogue significant for those who don’t speak Yiddish.

“I’m playing the same roles I had when the Yiddish Fiddler originated in 2018 — the beggar and the innkeeper,” said Yashinsky, who became interested in Yiddish theater through his grandparents, Elizabeth Elkin Weiss and Rube Weiss, fluent in Yiddish and professionals in Jewish theater. “The production presents the culture of people without much money and getting by on their wits.

“Both of my roles have a lot of character to them. The beggar is introduced in the first scene as one of the three representatives of the shtetl. He doesn’t have a lot to do the rest of the show. He has that funny little dialogue that people remember.

“The innkeeper I play for most of the show. His tavern is where the men go when Tevye agrees with Lazar Wolf to marry off his daughter to him. The innkeeper is a merry fellow always ready with a joke.”

He also enjoys lending a helping hand to his castmates with their Yiddish, and even taught Steven Skybell (Tevye) the language for a number of semesters in 2020–2022, in an online class (which counted Yashinsky’s mother Debra among Steven’s classmates) offered through the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

“I’ve been able to tap into the traditional art of being a wedding jester,” explained Yashinsky, 33, single and a New York resident who has built a career writing in Yiddish, translating from Yiddish to English, making stage appearances in Yiddish and teaching Yiddish.

“The jester entertains the guests with bits of rhyme, and I use some authentic melodies in delivering speeches. I’ve listened to archival recordings and managed to bring that authentic spirit to each speech, which has been a lot of fun and rewarding.”

Yashinsky is attracted to Yiddish as the language of his ancestry. In the past century, there was a break in passing down this chain of culture, and Yashinsky has done work to reconnect to that heritage.

“To me, it’s a living heritage,” Yashinsky said. “I’m interested in Yiddish books and Yiddish plays, but I’m also interested in creating anew in this language. It is a living language, and it excites me to contribute to its vibrancy.”

Michael Yashinsky with director Joel Grey, and his parents, Debra Yashinsky and Gary Yashinsky
Mikhl Yashinsky with director Joel Grey, and his parents, Debra Yashinsky and Gary Yashinsky

Yashinsky has been very proud that Elisa Stein, the widow of Fiddler book writer Joseph Stein, has been at rehearsals and told him that her husband would be very proud to know of the way he has taken on the characters.

“I wrote a longer Yiddish play, The Gospel According to Chaim, based on interesting and controversial history of the last century,” he said. “A reading is planned in the new year.”

When Congregation Shaarey Zedek had a Fiddler on the Roof concert in 2021, Yashinsky participated as the third character working with those portraying Tevye and Golde.

“Each of us just did a few songs and shared some stories about the show,” he recalled. “I sang ‘Miracle of Miracles’ and ‘When Messiah Comes,’ which had been cut from the original show. I also sang a Yiddish folk song about the grand feast that will take place when the Messiah comes.”

“A lot of my friends and family were in the audience because it’s my hometown. It’s the shul that my parents belong to. It almost felt like doing my bar mitzvah again.”

As Yashinsky works with Joel Grey, he finds that Grey is full of energy and vibrancy.

“He’s full of really brilliant directing ideas and connecting to his actors,” Yashinsky said. “He’s quite a force, and he’s also become a friend. “At times he directed us over Zoom, due to COVID precautions, and I was amazed at how he was able to instruct and inspire the actors even just through a computer screen set up in the rehearsal room.”

A special aspect of the two productions has been a real wedding. Two people, Drew Seigla and Staphanie Lynne Mason, playing sweethearts in the first Yiddish production, ended up marrying earlier this year and are back in the play.

“All of us were at the wedding,” Yashinsky said. “Their wedding was a mini-reunion before we started rehearsing for this run.”

The Yiddish version of Fiddler on the Roof runs through Jan. 1 at New World Stages, 340 W. 50th Street, New York. (212) 239-6200. nytf.org/fiddler.

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