A bisl Yiddish: Yiddish in the streets of Tel Aviv

Exploring the role of Yiddish to bring you a weekly dose of Yiddishkayt.

February 28, 2013 17:05
3 minute read.
Tel Aviv

Healthy Eating: This n’ that. (photo credit: reuters/nir elias)


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It is quite a common sight, tour groups promenading down Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. You can hear the guides explaining historical anecdotes in a myriad of languages: Chinese, Russian, French, Spanish, but Yiddish?

This past week I had the pleasure of joining in my first proper tour of Tel Aviv, and it was indeed in Yiddish. A three hour tour de force around the city shed light on its rich historical connection to Yiddish as well as Yiddish life still present in Tel Aviv today. Not necessarily part of the tour but a key marker of how truly unique a Yiddish tour of Tel Aviv is, was to see the reaction of passersby as we were led by Yaad Biran speaking Yiddish into his microphone.

Tel Aviv may be Israel’s first Hebrew city but, nevertheless, the Yiddish narrative is quite strong. Yaad Biran, who is a PhD student in Yiddish, started Yiddish beRechovot (Yiddish in the streets), tours of Israeli cities that focus on Yiddish culture and history, in order to boost the visibility of Yiddish in Israel by exposing the Yiddish travel narratives that exist here. Biran shares, “Yiddish is one story of many here in this country. I tell it because it's my academic field as well as my personal background; it touches the very roots of Jewish modernity and its dilemmas. That being said, I hope other people will come and tell their stories, and will not feel that they have to fit to some kind of template.”

The role of Yiddish in Tel Aviv, both in terms of the development of the city and current activity, is often side swept. The tour sheds light on both of these topics and includes stops at institutions important to the evolution of Yiddish life in Tel Aviv past and present. A portion of the tour is spent at the Bund House; a place whose existence many from Tel Aviv aren’t even aware of. Yitshak Luden, is one of the last surviving members of the Bund, the Jewish socialist party, In Israel. He made a rare public appearance while we were at the Bund House in order to share his experience as a Bundist in Israel.

Also discussed were Poaley Tzion, a Marxist-Zionist movement that rejected traditional Zionism and important Yiddish figures such as Dzigan and Shumacher, knowledge of their presence gives depth to the generalized Hebrew history that most have of Tel Aviv.

The tour carries unique value in that it shares with participants a city whose history and topography they may know well, and forces them to look at it from another perspective. Biran says, “I think the negation of the "negation of exile" will be a key tool in bettering Israeli society. Israeli culture cannot exist based solely on the last hundred years of history and ignore that which preceded it. This false perception of history leads to very strange perception of reality. A multicultural society is necessary for this country to function.”

A special addition to the tour, and something "so Yiddish," were two stops where we listened to Yiddish songs/ monologues. It allowed the Yiddish history of Tel Aviv to resurface and blend with the present, if even just briefly.

Biran shares, “Israel must do more than maintain a superficial, politically correct sense of multiculturalism, but establish a completely different way of defining identity. Instead of applying everything to the overriding narrative of national identity there should be an understanding that people are at the core. People define identity, culture and history; they create and experience these things in different ways and these people and communities together as a whole make up our society.”

For more information about Yiddish beRehovot contact Yaad Biran at theyiddishwalk@gmail.com

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