On July 3, 1956, the celebrated American Jewish tenor Jan Peerce—on a good-will tour of the Soviet Union in the midst of Nikita Khrushchev’s thaw—gave a concert at the Moscow Conservatory, broadcast live on the local radio station. At the suggestion of the Israeli ambassador, Peerce made the last-minute decision to sing a few pieces of Jewish music. James Loeffler describes what ensued:
At the concert’s end, Peerce delivered a rousing array of encores. For the sixth, he announced a Hebrew song, “ha-Yarden.” A frisson of tension could be felt throughout the room. Polite applause greeted its conclusion. Then came two Yiddish, religiously themed songs, “A dudele,” and “A khazndl af shabos.” Each received tremendous applause. An exhausted Peerce was ready to call it quits. Instead, he decided for his final encore to sing just one more song: “A din-toyre mit got” (A Reckoning with God). Composed by a Polish ḥasidic leader, . . . the song is unique in the annals of Ashkenazi music for its combination of deeply traditional piety with an overt discussion of the Jewish political fate in the modern world. . . .
When the song was announced, the effect on the crowd was electric. Sung in a mixture of Aramaic and Yiddish, the ḥasidic kaddish-song offers an impassioned plea for Jewish deliverance, blending secular and spiritual. . . .
Beyond that, the song made reference to a topic perhaps even more taboo than Israel or Zionism in the Soviet Union: Jewish suffering. In a state where to speak about Jews as the Nazis’ prime victims in the Holocaust was to invite accusations of Jewish chauvinism and anti-Soviet provocation, singing a Yiddish religious anthem of Jewish pain was a loaded political gesture. . . .
As Peerce began to sing, emotion slowly began to build in the crowd. At the line, [addressed directly to God], “Why have You punished Your people?” a large portion of the audience burst into tears. The applause grew deafening. The rafters shook. When it ended, the clapping and shouting rang out for so long that the house manager finally had to turn on the lights to force people out of the hall.