Heim by the Dead Sea

Mammaloschen and its culture are celebrated at the 10th annual Yiddish Festival.

klezmer 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
klezmer 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Shmuel Gur, who founded the annual Yiddish Festival 10 years ago, recalls the period when Yiddish was actively assaulted in the burgeoning Jewish state. "Ben Gurion tried to outlaw Yiddish theater, but it was to no avail. People here simply want to keep the language alive, whatever Ben Gurion or others like him, who thought that Yiddish was the language of the Diaspora, thought." This year's festival takes place at the Crown Plaza Hotel at the Dead Sea this Monday through Thursday. Judging by the revival of interest in Yiddish in recent years, Gur is on a role. And he's certainly giving his all to engender even more enthusiasm for the language and subculture. "The corridors and other parts of the Crown Plaza Hotel will be decked in things that enhance the Yiddish ambiance," he says. "The menus will include different dishes that people used to eat in Poland and other countries that had Yiddish-speaking communities. There will be cholent and lots of other things you'd expect a Yiddish-speaking family to eat." Besides the vittles and decorations there will be lectures - in Yiddish and Hebrew - storytelling and music. The keynote items include award-winning actor Lia Kenig, who will regale her audience with a lively blend of humor and health-related topics, and the connections between the two, while Prof. Ken Frieden from Brandeis University will talk about the myth of Tevye and American Cinema. Lovers of cantoral music will enjoy veteran cantors David Weisbach and Shlomo Glick, while the presence of 32 year old Shai Abramson in the cantoral program provides further evidence that the younger generation is loyal to Jewish music of yesteryear. The festival promises to be a lively affair. "Yiddish is such a warm and emotional language," Gur continues. "There are lots of things you can only say in Yiddish, which don't translate well to any other language, including Hebrew. Where else, for example, do you find a word like 'upkimminisch'? It means something like 'against my will'. Imagine someone sitting through a boring show. 'Upkimminisch' would describe exactly what they are feeling." Naturally, there are words that have found their way from Yiddish into modern day Hebrew too. "If someone wants to say how happy they are with someone else's success they'd use the word 'farginen'. Hebrew speakers say 'lefargen'." According to Gur the festival attracts people of all ages and from all walks of life. "We get lots of intellectuals coming, and less academic people too. We have people who came to the first festivals now coming with their children and grandchildren. It is very much a family thing as well." The festival, it seems, also does its bit to boost tourism. "We get visitors from the States, Belgium, Britain and other countries. Yiddish knows no borders." Besides its capacity to bridge cultural gaps Yiddish is, of course, also a language that patently lends itself to humor and Gur can't resist the opportunity to demonstrate his own Yiddish comic skills with a joke. "A Jew comes to London and doesn't know a word in English, but he has the address of Yiddish speaker written down. He shows the note to a taxi driver but, unfortunately, is dropped off in the wrong place. But he gets his kop (Jewish brain) working and quickly takes out his tzitziyot. A passing Jew sees the tzitziyot and immediately comes up to him and says: 'Are you meshuggeh (crazy)?' So the Jew asks him, in Yiddish, for the address. You see, you manage anywhere with Yiddish." Information: (09) 771-1711