Jaffe’s Jewish Jive
On late Sunday afternoon, Aug. 30, a standing-room crowd of some 800 thrilled to Canadian Hershey Felder’s stunning one-man, two-hour show about the amazing life of Irving Berlin.
To kick off the 2016 Community Campaign of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, Judy Zaban Miller and Lester Miller sponsored Felder, whom they persuaded to come to the Buckhead Theatre after seeing him in Los Angeles.
“Judy had to give him a klopp in the head and arm twist to convince him,” Lester joked.
Federation President and CEO Michael Horowitz thanked the sell-out crowd and the hundreds of volunteers who raise money for Federation to help Jews and non-Jews throughout the world.
Felder, a major musical talent and composer who was a scholar in residence at Harvard, has performed on Broadway and portrayed Gershwin, List, Chopin, Bernstein and Beethoven, among others.
Felder sang and talked through Berlin’s remarkable life — a life of loss and triumph told through music. Felder commanded the stage every riveting second, including asking the audience to sing along. Granted, it was an older crowd, but eyes were misty.
Rogers and Hammerstein and Bacharach and David were brilliant combos, but Berlin was both the lyricist and songwriter.
Among the pearls Felder shared about Berlin’s century-long life:
- Berlin, a Russian immigrant, left his home in Brooklyn at age 11 to make his way as a paper boy and singing waiter. “Back then, we didn’t care who called who what. Kike was Yiddish for ‘circle’ ’cause Jews couldn’t write their names. Wop meant ‘without papers.’ ”
- Berlin’s first wife died as a newlywed after contracting typhus in Cuba on their honeymoon.
- His second wife, 15 years his junior, was the heiress to the Comstock Load. Her family disowned her for marrying a “Jewish singing waiter” outside their social circle. Subsequently, his father-in-law lost the largest amount of any individual on Black Tuesday; only then did he buddy up to Berlin.
- Berlin acclimated to having money. As he told his daughter, “Rather than get your mother to economize, it’s easier to just make more money.”
- Berlin lost his only son, Irving Jr., on Christmas Day; he had three daughters. He composed music through sorrow and romance and as gifts to others.
- Berlin went on the road for years, raising $10 million as a loyal American for war relief. He also funded the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
- His proudest moment was receiving the Presidential Medal of Merit from Harry Truman.
- He had 232 Top 10 hits, including music from the Broadway musical “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Alexander’s Rag Time Band,” “Easter Parade,” “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody,” and “G-d Bless America,” for which he rejected the notion of replacing our national anthem.
- Cole Porter’s “You’re the Tops” was written about Berlin.
- Berlin worked with Ethel Merman, Flo Ziegfeld and all the greats, but he made a sour face when Elvis gyrated to his song “White Christmas.”
- After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Berlin lost his lust for life and became a recluse.
Felder’s show ended with Berlin in his wheelchair, describing how carolers under his window annoyed him. He tearfully told the audience that he wrote songs “for love, for country, but most of all for you.”
One fun fact about Felder: He is married to Kim Campbell, the only woman to serve as prime minister of Canada.
Fan Virginia Saul raved: “I thought he was amazing. It says a lot for our community to sponsor an event like this.”