It sounds better in Yiddish

The Yiddish music festival takes place April 23 to 25.

Maor Griner with her grandmother (photo credit: Courtesy)
Maor Griner with her grandmother
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For many years, Yiddish was considered the preserve of the older generation, the generatiaon that came from the heim, from Eastern and Central Europe. For many, speaking the language also conjured up negative feelings associated with the shtetls of Eastern Europe and with the Holocaust.
In the early years of the state, the official line was to nurture Hebrew as the language of the proud young Jewish homeland, and all foreign tongues were frowned upon. Part of the government’s drive to maintain the revival of Hebrew was to impose taxes on all forms of entertainment presented in a foreign language. That led to a decline in the use of Yiddish as an everyday vehicle of speech, and some Yiddish entertainers left the country.
Today, the State of Israel is secure enough in its own melting pot cultural identity to allow artists to perform in any language they wish, and Yiddish is enjoying a new lease on life. This is reflected in the success of the Yiddishpiel Theater in Tel Aviv, which has been going for nigh on three decades, and the fact that the Yiddish Festival will take place, for the second year, at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv (April 23 to 25).
Festival founder and artistic director Eli Grunfeld has lined up a topnotch and varied program of shows over the three days, which includes a slew of stars from overseas. The Yiddish Songs through the Ages gala opener (April 23 at 9 p.m.) features the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra, with award-winning local songstress Vera Luzinski and Swedish vocalist Louisa Lyne. The show takes in a repertoire of timeless Yiddish favorites, with Lyne also performing “Halbtener” (Halftones) written for her by Israeli composer Ella Milch-Sheriff.
The program for the opening evening also includes the Cabareteleh – Cabaret Songs show. The concert is a tribute to Belarus-born singer Aaron Lebedeff, who was a star of the New York entertainment scene in the 1920s and 1930s, featuring French-based Israeli singer and violinist Amit Weisberger. And there is a reprise for singer Miriam Fuchs, who was the ubiquitous central character, the ever-smiling Mrs. Jibotero, of the Israel Electric Corporation’s 1970s and 1980s TV drive to get consumers to cut down on energy usage.
Yiddish speakers and fans of Yiddish culture must be encouraged by the surge of interest in the language among members of the younger generation, some of whom will get the chance to strut their stuff at the Suzanne Dellal Center.
Maor Griner is one of the younger crowd who are doing their best to keep the Yiddish flag flying high and proud. The 28-year-old Griner will present her new cabaret show A Yiddishe Einikel (A Jewish Granddaughter).
The titular descendant is Griner herself. The idea for the show, and the title, came from a touching family event that took place a few months back.
Griner decided to surprise her Belz, Ukraine-born grandmother, on her 91st birthday by singing a bunch of beloved Yiddish songs to her. The joyous gathering was videoed, and Griner subsequently posted the clip on her Facebook page and then on YouTube. She had no idea what sort of response she would get.
“I don’t speak Yiddish, and I learned the songs for the occasion. I posted the video on Facebook for friends who might enjoy it, and thought that maybe someone would see it and ask me to do a show,” she recounts. “I took an afternoon nap, and when I woke up I saw that my Facebook page was swamped with responses to the clip from all over the world, from Costa Rica, Brazil, France – all over.”
The response took on monster proportions after the transfer to YouTube, with more than 400,000 views to date.
“I also received all kinds of personal messages that were very moving,” Griner adds.
While the young vocalist is delighted to have the chance to demonstrate her Yiddish singing expertise to a live audience, she says that she has been most moved by the responses she has received to the granny birthday video.
“People around 50 or 60 years old have contacted me to tell me they have played the video to their elderly parents, some of whom have Alzheimer’s, and that their parents’ eyes lit up and they became much more lucid after seeing the video. That is wonderful. That shows the importance of keeping the language alive. Also, recently, a man contacted me to sing for his 83-year-old mother at her home in Bat Yam. His father died four months ago, and he wanted to do something nice for his mother. I went there and sang a bunch of Yiddish classics, and she began to smile and to sing along with me. The son told me he hadn’t seen her smile for a long time. I also sang for a 97-year-old man. You can see the power of Yiddish to move people,” she asserts.
The Griner family is certainly doing its bit to keep putting Yiddish out there. Maor’s father, Haim, is a Yiddish singer himself, who will also do a turn in A Yiddishe Einikel. And she grew up surrounded by the culture. As a child, she heard such iconic Yiddish numbers as “Bei Mir Bist Du Shein” and “My Yiddishe Momme,” performed by the likes of Sophie Tucker and the Barry Sisters.
“I don’t really know Yiddish,” says Griner. “I basically know Yiddish words connected to food, but I am very moved by these songs. There is something in Yiddish that is so emotive.”
There’s plenty more in the way of Yiddish fun, games and tears in the festival lineup, such as the Yiddishe Banditen (Yiddish Thieves) show of songs inspired by the Jewish underworld in Eastern Europe, performed by Anat Atzmon and Dori Engel; and the Yiddish Songs from the City of Lights slot starring Parisian singer Michelle Tauber, alongside accordionist Misha Nasimov. And Latvian-born Berlin-based singer Sasha Lurje will present a program of Yiddish material from Latvia, Belarus and the Ukraine.
And, if you fancy stretching your legs, you might want to join in a couple of walking tours with Yaad Biran that take in important spots in the life of the Yiddishspeaking community in the early years of Tel Aviv.
For tickets and more information: (03) 510-5656