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Spring Arts Guide 2006

Brownsville Memoir-Growing up in Brooklyn, in the shadow of the Shoah.

When Jake Ehrenreich was growing up in Brownsville in the 1960s, he wanted nothing more than to be an American. But his Yiddish-speaking parents, who failed to understand the game of baseball or make sense of rock music, made it difficult for him to feel part of the mainstream culture. In his new one-man show, "A Jew Grows in Brooklyn," directed by Jon Huberth, Ehrenreich explores how his family history, dominated by the shadow of the Holocaust, shaped the man he turned out to be.

Ehrenreich, 55, has appeared on Broadway in "Dancin", "Barnum" and "They're Playing Our Song." He has also performed Yiddish music in two Off-Broadway productions, "Songs of Paradise" and "The Golden Land.

His father's Hasidic family had been one of the wealthiest in Poland, but during the war both he and his wife ended up in a work camp in Siberia, where one of their daughters was born. After spending time in a displaced persons camp, the family came to America, where they tried to give their children a life free from the taint of victimhood.

But it was not to be. Ehrenreich and his two sisters grew up feeling, as he put it, that existence was "tenuous" and that the "world could end at any moment." Yet he also shares many wonderful memories of his youth, from playing stoop ball to attending Shea Stadium to vacationing in the Catskills, where Ehrenreich began performing in a band at the tender age of 12. Indeed, Ehrenreich tells much of his life story through music; he is backed by four instrumentalists, playing songs ranging from "Brooklyn Roads" to "Doo Wah Diddy." One striking moment in the show occurs when Ehrenreich recalls learning that almost all of his favorite composers were Jewish like him.

"I don't want to bring people too far into the black hole of the Holocaust," Ehrenreich said, noting that his show is mostly upbeat and optimistic. "If people in the audience laugh," he concluded, "it means that they trust me not just to take them to a more serious place, but to bring them out and make them joyous and grateful when they leave."

For Ehrenreich, his show is ultimately a "celebration." He quotes Billy Crystal, who quipped that performing a show about his life was like "a visit with my family every night."

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