Kudos to preservers of Yiddish cultural heritage in word and song

Diminutive in size, she has a truly great voice. President Reuven Rivlin dubbed her “Israel’s first lady of song” and said that he had enjoyed listening to her for years.

November 21, 2018 00:34
2 minute read.
SOLDIERS SING slihot on the lawn outside the synagogue at the President’s Residence.

SOLDIERS SING slihot on the lawn outside the synagogue at the President’s Residence.. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)


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The Culture and Sport Ministry and the National Authority for Yiddish Culture conferred lifetime achievement awards on poet and translator Moshe Sachar and singer, lyricist and composer Chava Alberstein at the President’s Residence on Tuesday.

Both were born in Poland, but Sachar was already old enough to fight in the War of Independence when he came to Israel. Alberstein was only four years old when she arrived with her parents, but Yiddish was always spoken in her home, and she not only sings in Yiddish but speaks it fluently.

Diminutive in size, she has a truly great voice. President Reuven Rivlin dubbed her “Israel’s first lady of song” and said that he had enjoyed listening to her for years.

It was the first time that the annual Yiddish awards ceremony was held at the President’s Residence, and strangely enough, it was held before Rivlin entered the hall, which was packed to capacity with representatives of Yiddish institutions and lovers of Yiddish language and culture.

Ironically, a large video screen depicted a portrait of Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who spoke Yiddish well when he went to America on fund-raising missions but outlawed Yiddish in Israel.

He would have been very surprised and probably angry at the fact that in 1996 the Knesset enacted legislation for the establishment of the National Authority for Yiddish Culture.

Master of ceremonies was veteran radio personality Dan Kaner, who began by speaking in Hebrew and then, to everyone’s surprise and delight, switched to Yiddish, and kept going back and forth between the two languages.

Rivlin understands Yiddish but does not speak it. His parents spoke Yiddish when they didn’t want the children to understand, so the children learned to understand but not to speak.

Nonetheless, to the great amusement of the crowd, Rivlin tried valiantly to inject some Yiddish into his speech, reading the Yiddish words haltingly and mispronouncing some of them, but the audience loved the fact that he made the effort.

Many Yiddish poems have been translated into Hebrew, including those of Kadia Molodowska. Rivlin said that it had never occurred to him when reciting her poems as a boy that they had originally been written in Yiddish. Nor did he realize as a child that Yiddish was one of the universal languages of the Jews.

Quoting poet Chaim Nachman Bialik, Rivlin said “Yiddish radt zach, Hebraish darf man radn” (Yiddish is spoken naturally, and Hebrew is something you have to speak).

The National Authority for Yiddish Culture was represented at the ceremony by its chairwoman, Dr. Sara Ziv.

Entertainment was provided by a young klezmer duo playing violin and accordion; a student from the Thelma Yellin School of the Arts who sang pre-Holocaust Yiddish songs; veteran actor Yaakov Bodo, who at 87 retains both his memory and his stage personality; and of course Alberstein herself, whose performance earned deafening applause.

Earlier in the day, Alberstein was interviewed by Esti Perez on KAN Reshet Bet in relation to the Cultural Loyalty Law, which had been approved by the Knesset Education Committee on both its second and third readings.

Alberstein said it was a terrible law designed to put a gag on artists. What pains her, she added, is that it is not only depriving artists of cultural freedom but providing a platform for the uncultured and the uncouth.

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