Act One For Bilingual Theater


New York may be the best city in the world to see Jewish theater, but how much of it is geared to children?

So mused two ex-pat Israelis, Denise Kornitz and Karin Hershkovitz-Kochavi, when they arrived in New York three years ago.

The pair decided to found a bilingual company, Yeladudes (the Hebrew equivalent of “kiddos”) to put on original Jewish plays for children.

With a series of gigs at Chabad-Lubavitch and other congregations under their belt, they will perform this Saturday as part of a Shabbat lunch program at The Jewish Center, a Modern Orthodox synagogue on the Upper West Side. Kornitz, who hails from Argentina, has performed in South America, North America and Israel; she is currently working on a Spanish-language children’s musical, “Camino de Estrella” (Star Path). Hershkovitz-Kochavi, who grew up near Tel Aviv, performed in Habima, Israel’s national theater, before appearing in Israeli musicals, including “Mary Lou,” a long-running show based on the tunes of Israeli songwriter Tzvika Pick.

“Three Challahs” follows the adventures of a girl named Sarah who learns the importance of selfless giving while delivering a challah to her mother’s sick friend, Leah. Hershkovitz-Kochavi plays the main character, while Kornitz plays all the other characters — the mother, friends, baker and the guiding star that leads Sarah on the right path. As the Folksbiene’s long-running holiday show “Kids and Yiddish” did for the mameloshen, “Three Challahs” incorporates Hebrew in a fun and interactive way.

“Israeli children receive their Jewish education not just in school, but also in the theater,” Hershkovitz-Kochavi told The Jewish Week. “It doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not; we want the show to speak to everybody.”

With the help of Chabad, she said, they “found a good place in the middle” from which to reach out to both secular and observant Jewish families in New York. They will stage “The Three Challahs” at Chabad camps in New Jersey this summer, while they develop a new play, based on the legend of King Solomon and a shoemaker.

Along with teaching Hebrew and Jewish values, Hershkovitz said, Yeladudes aims to foster children’s self-esteem. “I heard some of the kids telling their mothers that they learned to believe in themselves,” she said, “and that if you’re smiling, then everything will work out.”

Yeladudes performs Saturday at The Jewish Center, 131 W. 86th St. Non-members are welcome, but there is a cost for the lunch and program and reservations are required. Call (212) 724-2700 for more information.