"Love and interest in Yiddish brings together people of all ages and
nationalities from all over the world to Vilna, once known as Jerusalem of
Lithuania, to bring back Yiddish to the places where it belongs, where it was
once widely spoken and thriving," says Indre Joffyte, coordinator of the Vilnius
Growing up in Poland, the topic of whether you are
Jewish or not tends to be avoided, it is easier to look forward than back.
Unlike many who find themselves in that situation, Malgorzata Maciejewska, who
grew up Catholic in Kalisz, has chosen the road of most resistance.
grandfather is likely turning in his grave, by studying and embracing Yiddish,
Maciejewska is paving the way for a new generation of Poles to coexist with
other nationalities. Maciejewska is passionate about Yiddish and recognizes how
precious it is to have the opportunity to interact with those native speakers
that we still have with us.
Violaine Lochu did not have any native Yiddish
speakers in her family nor was she exposed to the language growing up, but an
interest in Eastern European music led her to Klezmer, and naturally Yiddish.
She began to sing in a Klezmer band called Freylakh in her native France and
found frustration in singing songs in a language she couldn’t decipher.
moved to Paris and began to frequent La Maison de la Culture Yiddish, where she
studied Yiddish and immersed herself in Yiddish culture. In Paris she was a
founding member of the group Mashke, in which she continues to play today. Lochu
says that her relationship with Yiddish has led her on a life-changing adventure
filled with unforgettable encounters.
Lea Schaefer is a scholar of German
linguistics whose current focus is on Western Yiddish. She says she finds
Yiddish particularly interesting because, “It is a language that we knew nearly
nothing about, specifically the history of the language and how it has evolved…”
Hisashi Shigematsu, originally from Japan, is now living in Vilnius, Lithuania
where he is studying at the University of Vilnius. As a graduate student, his
focus is Lithuanian Studies with a particular interest in Jewish history in
Lithuania during the interwar period. Learning Yiddish is an invaluable tool for
Hisashi’s research into the Lithuanian disposition towards Jews; in order to
understand the Jewish response to anti-Semitism as well as general culture, he
Olga Vlčková, who is a theatre historian from Prague,
says that, “When I asked people from the Jewish Studies department at Charles
University if they were aware of any possibilities to study Yiddish in the Czech
Republic, the answer was very shocking for me: Yiddish doesn’t exist here
To study Yiddish is not like studying Spanish or French. With
Spanish or French, you can study the language and then move to one of the many
countries where those languages are spoken and put your studies into practice.
While Yiddish is still a spoken language, it does not have a country, and those
that choose to learn it often find themselves isolated in their studies. Whether
for research purposes, to speak the language of one's ancestors, or to gain
insight into the world that once was and perhaps project it into the future,
choosing Yiddish does in fact carry unique values.
“Yiddish is an extremely fascinating and still very rare language. It mixes so
many languages: Polish, German, Hebrew, Russian in such an interesting way. I’m
so proud that I can communicate with other people in Yiddish.” She spent last
summer at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute and says ”it made me aware of the the
fact that Yiddish is a part of all of our shared culture.”
Violaine, Lea, Hisashi, and Olga are all of different nationalities,
backgrounds, and religions, but they have, if nothing else, Yiddish in common,
and the time they spent studying it in Vilna. This is the unique value that
Yiddish carries, its ability to bring such a diverse group together with one
common goal - to recreate something. With Spanish you can go to Spain, with
French to France, and be a part of something that is. With Yiddish you are
recreating something that once was, and in the case of Vilna, in the place that
it used to be.
The 2013 summer program in Yiddish language and literature will run from July 21 through August 16 at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute in Vilnius, Lithuania.
For more information and to apply: http://www.judaicvilnius.com/en/main/summer/appform
Try it at home: A bisl Yiddish music
A sampling of Violaine Lochu's musical talents.