Grapevine: It’s Yiddish revival time

Yiddish culture appears to be enjoying a revival in many parts of the world, including Eastern Europe, where it was stifled.

Yiddish 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Yiddish 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Yiddish culture appears to be enjoying a revival in many parts of the world, including Eastern Europe, where it was stifled for so long; Western Europe, where it all but disappeared; and even Israel, where, under David Ben- Gurion, it was publicly banned.
Now it is being taught in Israeli universities and other institutions, and in fact has been for some time.
And the demand for Yiddish is growing, so much so that famed US and Israeli Yiddish-language actors Mike Burstyn and Shmuel Atzmon, together with Bar-Ilan University’s Rena Costa Center for Yiddish Studies, are joining forces in an effort to preserve and promote Yiddish language and culture. The initiative derives from a recent meeting between the two actors and University president Prof. Moshe Kaveh. The US Yiddish Actors Union, headed by Burstyn, will also participate in the project.
Burstyn, a Broadway actor who has been on the Yiddish stage since early childhood, and Atzmon, who founded Israel’s Yiddishpiel Theater, visited the Bar-Ilan campus as guests of the Rena Costa Center. The two also conducted a working session with University deputy president Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, head of the Yiddish Center Prof. Hillel Weiss and the center’s academic director Dr. Ber Kotlerman. All will be part of strategic planning team proposed by Kaveh, with the aim of advancing Yiddish language and culture within and beyond academia.
This year, as the Dina Halpern Fellow for Yiddish Performing Arts, Atzmon is leading a theater seminar at the Yiddish Center. Involving world-famous Yiddish actors in the center’s activities is part of its innovative program, which includes, among other things, cooperation with relevant international institutions and government bodies, such as UNESCO or the Swedish authorities, which proclaimed Yiddish to be one of the country’s official minority languages, Kotlerman explained.
Earlier this year, Kotlerman led a special workshop for Yiddish actors and performers at the Princeton University Center for Jewish Life.
“By organizing the workshop, the Center for Yiddish Studies at Bar- Ilan University contributes its academic strength to preserving our identity and uniting our past, present and future,” commented Prof. Daniel Kurtzer, former US ambassador to Israel and professor of Middle East Policy Studies at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in welcoming the workshop participants.
Daniel Gildin, the nephew of Rena Costa and a driving force behind the continued growth of the Rena Costa Center for Yiddish Studies, said “It is thrilling that Rena’s passion for Yiddish language and culture, the preservation of the Jewish mamma loshen and the need to have its importance to future generations recognized and expanded, is being embraced this way by Bar-Ilan University and these marvelous actors who have dedicated themselves to Jewish theater for so many years.”
Founded nearly 30 years ago through the support of the American Friends of Bar-Ilan University, the Rena Costa Center for Yiddish Studies is distinguished in Israel and throughout the world for its singular devotion to the academic study of Yiddish language and culture and for its outreach to Israeli schools and the Jewish communityat- large. The center, housed in Bar- Ilan University’s Faculty of Jewish Studies, offers courses in Yiddish poetry and literature as well as Yiddish cinema and Yiddish journalism from its roots in Europe to the contemporary New York weekly Yiddish newspaper, The Forverts.
■ ALTHOUGH ISRAELIS did well in the International Mathematical Olympiad, there has in general been a decline in proficiency in mathematics and science among Israeli high school students. Educators and philanthropists who primarily support educational projects, organizations and institutions were brought together by concern that this decline might be caused by the way these subjects are taught. The upshot was the creation last year of the Trump Foundation, the focus of which is the improvement of the quality of teaching mathematics and science in Israeli secondary schools. The Foundation’s advisory committee, which includes Americans as well as Israelis, spent two intensive days of discussion this week which culminated in a cocktail reception at the King David Special Events Gallery in Jerusalem, and even then they couldn’t steer clear of their common denominator.
Eli Hurvitz, the foundation’s executive director and nephew of Minister for Intelligence and Atomic Energy Dan Meridor, has been a prominent figure in philanthropy and social entrepreneurship for more than a decade. Prior to taking up his present position he served for 11 years as deputy director of Yad Hanadiv, the Rothschild Family Foundation. He is on the boards of several education-oriented entities.
He is extremely enthusiastic about the improvements which he believes the Trump Foundation can influence, especially in peripheral areas where there are some very bright young minds that can be made even brighter if guided by the right teachers. He is also convinced that there are a lot of brilliant teachers in these areas whose classroom talents deserve wider recognition and encouragement.
There are fantastic opportunities ahead, he said.
Council chairman Prof. Lee Shulman, president emeritus of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and a leading academic in the study of teaching and teacher education, was equally enthusiastic despite the challenges of Israel’s education system.
“If there’s any system of education that we can call multi-system and complex, here it is – like a persistent mosquito annoying the elephant.”
On second thought, Shulman preferred to change the metaphor from mosquito to spider, or rather the spider’s web, because the webs they spin are the ways in which spiders achieve locomotion. The spider’s thread, he said, is one of the strongest that exists. Continuing with this metaphor, Shulman noted that webs can connect to other webs, enabling communication, collaboration, contradiction and new coalition among Israel’s brilliant educators. He also pointed to the downside of webs, saying that there is conflict between webs that expand our horizons and those in which we are trapped.
After Shulman concluded his remarks, Nikolai Schwartz, who teaches physics and mathematics at the Ort Arad High School and is this year’s winner of the Trump Master Teacher Award, gave a lesson in physics with a focus on gravity.
In 2010, Schwartz led the first Israeli team of high school students to the Space Olympics in Korolev, Russia. He shared some of his observations as well as some of the things he had been told: Astronauts tend to lose weight in space, and if in space for several months will grow in height – but the best news of all is that people who snore in their sleep don’t snore in space.
■ A DUTCH microtechnology and information and communications technology (ICT) mission visited Israel this week to learn about Israel’s strengths in this sector and to seek international partners, know-how and business opportunities.
Participants included large companies, such as Vodafone and Atos, and innovative small and medium enterprises. The group, along with some of its Israeli counterparts, was feted at a reception hosted in his residence by Netherlands Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp, who said: “Holland and Israel are leading countries in the realm of microtechnology and ICT. The two countries aim to be a step ahead, inventing, building and commercializing new technologies. Our countries are at the forefront because we seek cooperation in innovation. We see it here during the mission in Israel, and I’m confident we will see it in our first bilateral innovation day next year in the Netherlands.”
■ BEN-GURION UNIVERSITY of the Negev dedicated the Fondation Adelis Garden this week in recognition of the Adelis Foundation’s visionary work to promote research in solar and renewable energies.
The event took place in the presence of representatives of the French foundation, Sidney Boukhris, Dr. Michele Elmalek and Huguette Elhadad, of Israel. University president Prof. Rivka Carmi praised foundation founder Andre Deloro for his visionary commitment to advance scientific research in Israel by bringing the brightest minds of Israel’s best universities together to advance research in these essential fields.
“It was an historic event. Mr.
Deloro brought together representatives from the Weizmann Institute, the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and BGU so that we will work together on these critical issues – not only for the benefit of Israel, but to make an impact on the whole world,” she said. “Meeting Mr. Deloro was very emotional, as he is clearly a very modest and special man who has touched the lives of so many people.”
The garden is located on the Marcus Family Campus, adjacent to the Kreitman-Zlotowski Classroom Building. “The garden is our way of acknowledging Mr. Delores’s generosity, not only of the magnanimous gift, but of his spirit to make a difference. We chose this location, in the heart of the classroom complex, so that there will always be students here who will be able to appreciate such a special man,” Carmi concluded.
In thanking the university for bestowing this honor on Deloro, Boukhris described him as “someone who prefers to help someone plant a tree that will bear fruits, rather than give them the fruit.”
■ HAIFA MAYOR Yona Yahav was the recipient of the German Order of Merit conferred on him this week on behalf of the president of Germany by German Ambassador Andreas Michaelis at the German- Israel conference on Partner Cities attended by some 400 participants.
The conference, which was held in Jerusalem was opened by President Shimon Peres. Yahav’s parents were born in Cologne and had to leave in 1933 as Nazism was rearing its ugly head.
Later in the week, Peres was among the speakers at the second International Conference on Homeland Security that opened in Tel Aviv. “As someone who was part of founding Israel’s defense industries, I am delighted to see the innovative technological developments that are leading the world in homeland security. I am proud of my people; we are a nation with creativity and wisdom, courage and chutzpah,” he said.
■ JERUSALEM POST Editor in-Chief Steve Linde and news editor Ilan Evyatar farewelled their secretaries, Moria Dashevsky and Elle Yahalom, who also doubled as a secretary to managing editor David Brinn. At a party attended by a large representation of the staff, both young women were presented with cuddly bears as mementos of the affection in which they are held. The multi-lingual Dashevsky, who is also somewhat of an expert on labor laws, proved an invaluable asset during her relatively short term at the paper. If elections had not been on the horizon, she might have stayed longer, but she will now be working with Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov, with whom she can chat in Russian. Yahalom is moving to Tel Aviv to go into public relations, where her sunny personality with a smile to match is bound to be an important icebreaker.
Both women are accomplished singers, but refused to perform.
The most they would agree to do was to pose for photos.
■ CAESAREA GOLF Club will host the third annual Ezer Mizion Golf Classic tournament on Thursday, November 21. The popular event, which is due to attract serious golfers and philanthropists from the United States, Canada and Israel, will raise funds for Ezer Mizion’s bone marrow donor registry, the global Jewish bone registry. Ezer Mizion is a non-profit organization that provides a wide variety of professional services and programs to the sick, handicapped and elderly in Israel, and is best known for its numerous activities on behalf of cancer patients around the world.
The registry, which is the fourthlargest international registry, has facilitated hundreds of life-saving stem cell transplants.
“For many individuals suffering from cancer or other life-threatening diseases, a stem cell transplant offers the only chance for survival.
For this reason it is essential that we promote international awareness of our registry and raise the funds necessary to keep this lifeline strong,” said Rabbi Chananya Chollak, founder and international chairman of Ezer Mizion. Among the invitees who have announced their participation in this year’s tournament are El Al Airlines CEOEliezer Shkedi and Maccabi Health Services CEO Ran Saar.
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