A 'nu' lease on life

Yiddish may be dying, but reports of its demise are premature.

On Friday May 14, the DocAviv Festival will include a screening at noon of the Yiddish mockumentary Schund which translates as “garbage,” “filth” or “trash.” Participants include favorites of the Yiddish stage Lea Koenig, Yaakov Bodo, Yaakov Alperin, Annabella, and others. Bets are on that many people who want to see the film will be turned away for lack of seats. Co-produced, directed and edited by Yael Leibovitz Zand, working closely with Ido Zand, the film sets out on a journey to trace a renowned Yiddish actor who disappeared 25 years earlier under criminal circumstances, leaving behind debts, rumors and broken promises. A mysterious inscription on the door of his home reads “Schund.” The film should give audiences a whole new insight into Yiddish theater.
People have been eulogizing Yiddish ever since the Second World War. But while it may indeed be dying, reports of the language’s actual death are definitely premature.
Last Friday, Israel Radio’s Amikam Rotman, in the course of an interview in Hebrew with Grisha Sharfstein, a veteran of the Lithuanian Division of the Red Army, commented that “old soldiers never die, they merely fade away.” Although Sharfstein’s Hebrew is fluent, he didn’t comprehend what Rotman was saying. So Rotman resorted to Yiddish, and for a few moments the whole conversation continued in Yiddish.
Yiddish literature and language are still being taught in most of Israel’s universities and in a large number of institutions abroad, including Columbia University and McGill. There are also numerous klezmer festivals and Yiddish song festivals throughout Europe and the US as well as in other countries.
In Israel, the Yiddishpiel Theater, even though most of its productions are pretty corny, usually plays to a full house, and the once-aging audiences are being supplemented by a lot of young faces.
Initially most of the young people hailed from the Former Soviet Union, but the theater is being frequented by more and more sabras and Western immigrants who want to touch base with a part of their heritage that they feel has escaped their grasp.
Yung Yidish, which safeguards, promotes and produces Yiddish creativity in Israel, has just begun a course in Yiddish singing headed by internationally celebrated singer Ruth Levin, whose multilingual repertoire is dominated by Yiddish.
WHILE ONE can learn a lot about Yiddish culture in all its ramifications in Israel, anyone who is particularly interested in Yiddish language and Yiddish music would do well to go to London, where the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London houses the Jewish Music Institute (JMI), which in addition to its courses conducts conferences and concerts.
An upcoming weeklong crash course under the heading “Ot Azoy” (“That’s the Way,” or, more literally, “Just So”), will be held August 1-6 for beginners of all ages and backgrounds, and includes Yiddish conversation, song, drama and film.
In addition, the JMI is conducting a two-week summer course beginning August 1 for singers with both classical and folk backgrounds, studying Yiddish language together with expert guidance in repertoire, context, pronunciation and interpretation of Yiddish song. During the first week, this course will be integrated with “Ot Azoy,” and in the second week with the Klezfest Song School. For lovers of Jewish music in general, August is a great month in which to be in London because in conjunction with its courses JMI will be presenting lots of live concerts and performances.
Anyone particularly interested in Yiddish songs should make it theirbusiness to be in London on August 9, when singers from America,Britain and other parts of Europe will sing Yiddish love songs fromaround the world.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The Land and Sky Association inRehovot, together with the Ministry for Immigrant Absorption and theRehovot Municipality, will host a three-day festival of film, song,music and magic in Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian to celebrate twentyyears of aliya from the former Soviet Union and the 120th anniversaryof the City of Rehovot. The culminating event will be held on May 27 atthe Mofet Hall, Rehov Levi Epstein, Rehovot.