(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Knesset auditorium rang with the tunes of the Barry Sisters and rolled with laughter at the antics of renowned actor and comedian Ya'acov "Yankele" Bodo as MKs, Knesset staffers and over 200 guests gathered to celebrate Yiddish language and culture in the parliament.
Veteran committee staffers grew teary-eyed as a group of singers sang "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" in Yiddish translation, with only the chorus's phrase "Jerusalem of gold" left in its original Hebrew. Shortly after, Bodo performed a sketch on what was, in his words, an "epidemic" (mageifa both in Hebrew and Yiddish) of cellphone usage.
Even the few audience members whose Yiddish was not sufficient to follow Bodo's fast-paced banter had a few laughs when the veteran performer repeatedly inserted the familiar Hebrew term for "hold the line" as the phones in his pockets rang time after time.
But mostly, the two-hour-long event, attended by almost 300 people, was an opportunity to glory in the language that native speakers simply refer to as the "mamaloshen" (mother tongue). Yiddish-speakers and appreciators both young and old, religious and secular attended the performance, and sponsor MK Lia Shemtov (Israel Beiteinu) said she had been pleasantly surprised by the level of interest in the event.
The Yiddishpiel Theater, as well as the management of Bet Shalom Aleichem, helped organize the event, which was accompanied by a museum display marking 150 years since the birth of the acclaimed Yiddish-language writer.
"Would Shalom Aleichem himself, even though he was a Zionist, have imagined that within 150 years we would celebrate his birthday here in the Knesset of Israel?" asked Prof. Avraham Nobershtern, the head of Bet Shalom Aleichem.
One enthusiastic audience member called out in response, "Yes! Yes! He would have dreamed it."
"Hebrew, wrote Ussishkin, is like a new suit of clothes that we are trying to put on," said Deputy Pensioner Affairs Minister Leah Ness. "Yiddish is like the old suit that we are trying to get rid of. But today, the nation of Israel is trying to put on that elegant outfit again."