“It’s not every day that we get a call from the Mummers,” says Abbey Frank, assistant director of the Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). Yet one day last year, Abbey’s phone rang with an unusual request. The Quaker City String band wanted to perform a Fiddler on the Roof-inspired number for their appearance at the 2018 New Year’s Day Parade; their musical director had been inspired by the show’s music and choreography. But as a mostly Catholic band with zero Jewish background, Quaker City was concerned about cultural sensitivity, and asked JCRC for help. Thus, two storied Philadelphia institutions — the Jewish Federation and the Mummers — came together.
“They came in with massive color sketches of their costumes, invited us to rehearsals and brought five potential performance names,” remembers Abbey. Together, they selected “Fiddling with Tradition.” Over the course of the year, Quaker City proved to be enthusiastic partners as JCRC worked closely with them to tweak their costumes and performance, including adjusting talitot and streimels; asking about nose size on the masks (which, having originally been used as pirate costumes for a past performance, were deemed acceptable); and, for authenticity, replacing the phrase “be quiet” with “SHA!”
In the process, each organization learned a lot about the other. “You would not believe how much work they put into it,” says Abbey about Quaker City, who spent more than 12,000 team hours and $100,000 to put on their performance. And the 150-member Quaker City String Band got a Jewish education they hadn’t bargained for. “I didn’t know that beginning sundown on Friday some people don’t use computers and cell phones,” says third-generation member Frank Quinn. “To separate people from technology to make time for prayer is an amazing thing.”
The hard work paid off. This past New Year’s Day, Quaker City’s rousing performance of “Fiddling with Tradition” won second place, and Captain Jimmy Good, who played Tevye, won first place for String Band Captain. Now they’re taking their show on the road, with invites to perform in New York, Disney World and Tel Aviv; they just returned from a performance in Hong Kong. Best of all, JCRC gives their performance two thumbs up. “Truly, it was purely celebratory and appreciative,” says Abbey.
You’ll have a chance to see Quaker City String Band’s award-winning performance on May 6th at 5-6-70 Israel! For festival information, click here. For more information about the Jewish Community Relations Council, click here.