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Yiddish song expert Chana Mlotek, 91, dies in NYC

November 5, 2013

NEW YORK (AP) — Chana Mlotek, a noted archivist of Yiddish folk music and an impassioned collector of Yiddish songs from the shtetls of Europe, has died at age 91.

She died of cancer Monday at her Bronx home, her son Zalmen, the artistic director of the National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene, said Tuesday.

Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer once called Mlotek and her husband, Joseph, “the Sherlock Holmeses of Yiddish folk songs.”

In her job as music archivist at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, people would come to Mlotek and say, “I only remember one Yiddish song from my mother, and of that song I only remember one line. And, unfortunately, from that one line I only remember two or three words,” according to Itzik Gottesman of The Forward newspaper, who recalled working with Mlotek at YIVO.

Mlotek almost always found a copy of the song the person was looking for, Gottesman wrote in a blog post on the Forward’s website.

The Mloteks wrote a newspaper column called “Pearls of Yiddish Poetry” for the Yiddish edition of The Forward for more than 43 years, and she worked at YIVO for 65 years, almost to her death.

Mlotek was born Eleanor Chana Gordon in 1922 in Brooklyn.

She studied piano with Jacob Hellman, a student of Liszt, and later studied Yiddish folklore at UCLA.

Joseph Mlotek died in 2000. In addition to her son Zalmen, Chana Mlotek is survived by another son, Mark; five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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