Singer and Actress Gives Her Voice to Jewish and Black Cultures
Tatiana Wechsler will likely go down as the only actress to belt out a showstopper in a Yiddish musical, and then — less than a month later — play a member of the Nation of Islam in a theatrical production.
On Christmas Day 2017, Wechsler wowed a sold-out crowd at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, singing “Heyse Babkeleh” (i.e., “Hot Rolls”) as part of a production of “The Sorceress.” She’s currently playing several roles in “X, Or Betty Shabazz V. The Nation” at the Theater at St. Clement’s on West 46th Street. The play is about the events leading up to the assassination of Malcolm X.
Wechsler’s father is Jewish and from Moldova — while her mother, who is from Congo, converted to Judaism. The actress said that being both Jewish and black is a blessing.
While originally from New York, Tatiana grew up in Atlanta. She wound up teaching Hebrew school, and said that when she was younger, there were a few tough moments regarding her skin color and faith.
“Sometimes I felt a little split, and it was a little confusing,” she said. “But I’m at home with such a range of cultures; I feel like I can be a bridge.”
She said that equality is important to her, as are black-Jewish relations.
“There’s a lot of work to be done in our country,” she said. “I’m not exactly sure in terms of policy, how the work can be done to connect communities. If I’m both, and I get along with myself, then maybe there’s hope. I like to sing and perform to give back.”
For “The Sorceress,” which was billed as a staged reading, only one or two actors used a script. The cast had only five days to rehearse, but you couldn’t tell that by their picture-perfect performances.
“It felt like we were shot out of a cannon,” Wechsler said. “But it was really great.”
Short rehearsal times are nothing new for Wechsler. She pulled off quite a triumph in a previous production, called “The Golden Bride.” There, she had to fill in for the lead actress in less than two days — without speaking Yiddish (which the play was performed in). But somehow, she was able to memorize all of the lines.
“I was able to remain calm, and just take it scene by scene, moment by moment,” she said. “The performances were a bit of a blur, but I know I was able to get all the words out and keep the show going, which was my main concern!”
While at NYU, Tatiana was a member of the top a cappella group, the N’Harmonics, and performed in several theatrical productions, before graduating in 2014.
Wechsler says that she is working on a debut solo album, but although she can perform opera, it’s not her natural style.
“My own music lives in a world between jazz, R&B and a singer/song-writer groove,” she said.
Wechsler has traveled to Israel with her family, and also went on Birthright Israel, a free trip to the Holy Land that helps connect Jews to the country. She said that one of her favorite Hebrew songs is “Od Yavo Shalom,” which is a song about peace, something she hopes can happen for everyone — but mainly for the two groups that she is part of.
“Black people and Jewish people love music, food and we have so much else in common,” she said. “If people spent time with each other without assuming anything and set aside prejudices, it would be a great thing.”
Has she ever experienced racism for being black, or antisemitism for being Jewish?
“The short answer is yes,” she said. “The longer answer is that I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of inclusive, diverse, intelligent and open communities — from my schools to my friends — so within my inner circle, it’s not something I’ve had to deal with too much.”
“However, because most people don’t assume I’m Jewish by looking at me, and some people also don’t assume I’m black, I’ve heard upsetting comments made about my cultures in my company,” she said. “There have been countless times I have been made to feel less than because of my backgrounds. To list them all would be a lot, but being made to feel ‘other’ or ‘different’ is part of my earliest memories. But I have learned to rise above [it].”
“I love it,” she said. “It’s super awesome that I get to be a part of all these worlds. Congolese culture is a big part of my life, as is going to synagogue on Shabbat.”