Grapevine, April 10, 2021: Pure Gold(a)

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

DOCTORS, NURSES and support staff at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York who participated in the six million steps campaign. (photo credit: IAC)
DOCTORS, NURSES and support staff at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York who participated in the six million steps campaign.
(photo credit: IAC)
Few world leaders have captured the attention of stage and screen writers, producers, directors and actresses as has Golda Meir. Whether as the main character or as an important figure in someone else’s story, Golda has been an ongoing force on stage and screen for almost half a century, beginning in 1977 with Anne Bancroft starring in William Gibson’s play Golda.
Taking note of some of the criticism that the script had received, Gibson later revamped it, and changed the title to Golda’s Balcony. The new version, starring Tovah Feldshuh, opened Off Broadway in March 2003, and was sold out for the whole of its 16 week run. It reopened at the Helen Hayes Theater on Broadway in October 2003 ,where it ran for 14 previews and 493 performances.
But long before that, in 1982, Ingrid Bergman starred in a television biopic titled A Woman called Golda.
Four years later, Colleen Dewhurst appeared as Golda in a Canadian television film, Sword of Gideon, about a Mossad agent intent on vengeance for the Munich massacre of 1972.
Munich, a film with a similar theme, was made by Steven Spielberg in 2005, with Lynn Cohen appearing as Golda.
In 2006, Golda’s Balcony went from stage to screen with Valerie Harper playing Golda.
Then, a little over a month ago, it was announced Shira Haas would be playing Golda in a new American television series called Lioness.
This was quickly followed up this month with the news that Helen Mirren, who won an Oscar for The Queen, is the latest actress chosen to portray an on-screen Golda.
It would be fairly safe to say that the above-mentioned actresses are not only ones to take on the role of Israel’s first and only woman prime minister, and one of the first female prime ministers in the world. Golda seems to have resonated most with American filmmakers and audiences even though she was not born in the Americas and did not remain in America. But she grew up in America and never lost her American accent even when she spoke in Yiddish, which was a language that she already knew in her native Ukraine.
Despite the American twang, Golda spoke a most beautiful Yiddish.
In the 1970s, when addressing the Yiddish writers’ faction of the World Union of Jewish Journalists in Tel Aviv, she spoke of the great loss suffered by the Jewish people in the Holocaust and said that it was erroneous to speak of the murder six million Jews. It was six million, and their children, and their children’s children, ad infinitum. It sounded much more dramatic in Yiddish, which in Israel, unfortunately, is disappearing from Holocaust remembrance events, even though the most common language among the victims was Yiddish, not Hebrew. Yiddish was the language of communication. Hebrew was the language of prayer and of religious studies, though the explanations were often in Yiddish.
Nearly all the songs played at Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies were initially written in Yiddish and translated into Hebrew.
For true remembrance, especially as there is a renewed interest in Yiddish studies and culture in the world today, at least the songs could be left in the original. There are still singers, such as Chava Alberstein, who sing in Yiddish without any trouble, as do the members of Yiddishpiel, and the entertainers who regularly appear on the stage of Yung Yidish. Perhaps if not next year, at least for the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 2023, the songs sung at the state ceremony will be in Yiddish.
■ AS HAS been previously mentioned in this column, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is commemorated in Poland, not in accordance with the Jewish calendar, but on April 19. Poland is not the only place in which Holocaust Remembrance Day is held on that date. Bund organizations around the globe do not follow Israel’s calendar and opt to have their Holocaust remembrance events on April 19.
In New York, each April 19, the Congress for Jewish Culture, along with Friends of the Bund, Jewish Labor Committee and Workers Circle, organize a gathering of musicians, academics and survivors and their families at the stone monument in the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial Plaza in Riverside Park. The monument was dedicated in October 1947 by city mayor William O’Dwyer.
As many as 15,000 people have attended this annual event marking the anniversary of the single greatest instance of Jewish armed resistance to the Holocaust, while also remembering the victims of history’s greatest crime, but most particularly, the 13,000 Jews killed during the rebellion. Of the remaining 50,000 residents, almost all were deported to concentration and extermination camps or killing fields.
In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no gathering at Riverside Park for the first time in living memory, and like so many other events of different kinds, the event was held online. This will be the case again this year, though regular attendees hope and pray that next year they will all once again be able to convene at Der Shteyn (the stone) in Riverside Park.
This year’s April 19th event will be featured on the Congress for Jewish Culture YouTube channel and through www.congressforjewishculture.org/videos. An impressive array of artists has been assembled to present music and readings. Participants include: Rivka Augenfeld (translator and Yiddish coach for “YidLife Crisis,” Montreal), Hinde Ena Burstin (Australian Yiddish-English writer and translator, Melbourne), Maida Feingold (international singer-guitarist), Annette Harchik (Editor of Response: A Contemporary Jewish Review), Feygele Jacobs (Yiddish singer), Daniel Kahn (Perchik in the hit Yiddish language revival of Fiddler on the Roof, currently residing in Hamburg), Samuel Kassow (head of Holocaust Section, Association of Jewish Studies), Marcel Kshensky (educator and son of Holocaust survivors), Lili Kshensky Baxter (director emeritus of the Weinberg Center for Holocaust Education at Atlanta’s Breman Museum), Shura Lipovsky (ACDiY Award-winning singer, Amsterdam), Shifee Losacco (Yiddish singer and fund-rai
ser), Mir Kumen On Yiddish Choir of the Jewish Labour Bund Melbourne, David Rosenberg (editor of Jewish Socialist Magazine, London), Deborah Strauss (longtime member of the Klezmer Conservatory Band) and the Workers Circle Shule students.
Founded in 1948, the Congress for Jewish Culture, whose executive director is Shane Baker, is a secular organization based in New York City dedicated to a longstanding commitment to enrich Yiddish culture worldwide. Joining the congress as organizers for the virtual ceremony are Friends of the Bund, Jewish Labor Committee, Workers Circle, the California Institute for Yiddish Culture & Language, Montreal Worker’s Circle and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. The event is timed for 1 p.m. Eastern, 8 p.m. Israel time.
YIDDISH WAS also the language of the Jewish population of Birobidzhan during the Communist era. When television personality Haim Yavin went to Soviet Russia during the Perestroika period to film a documentary about Jewish life in the Soviet Union, he was very surprised when he arrived in the Siberian town of Birobidzhan to find that so many of its inhabitants were Jewish and that the official language was Yiddish. An autonomous Jewish town established in 1931, and supported by Jewish Communists in Western countries, its secular character was encouraged by the Soviet authorities. Thousands of Jews moved there, and essentially all that they had of Jewish culture was Yiddish. When Jews first moved there, the area was already populated by non-Jewish Russians, Koreans, Cossacks and Ukrainians. Acquiring land and settling was difficult, but for some reason Birobidzhan at that time had more appeal than the Zionist dream of the Land of Israel, and Jews came from North and South America and elsewhere to live in what 
purported to be a free and happy Socialist, Jewish realm.
Fast-forward to Giles Howe, a British musical theater writer, currently living in the US. There were a lot of gaps in Howe’s knowledge about things Jewish in both the religious and the secular sense. His curiosity was piqued after coming on a Birthright trip to Israel, and he began to take a greater interest in subjects related to things Jewish.
One day, he noticed a footnote about Birobidzhan in a newspaper article, pursued it further and was completely bowled over, as Yavin had been so many years earlier. Howe began to research the subject, and was inspired to write the book, music and lyrics for Soviet Zion, a musical drama which debuted in January of this year to thumbs-up reviews in Britain and the US. The concept album, which he launched with Katy Lipson, is supported by the Arts Council England. Anyone interested in learning more should visit www.sovietzion.com
These days, there are some 4,000 Jews in Birobidzhan out of a total population of 75,000 residents, and of course there are Chabad emissaries and a synagogue. By the way, the state contributed the equivalent of $112,000 toward its construction, which was completed in 2004.
■ AS TIME passes, Jewish communities try to find different, innovative ways in which to perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust.
In what is believed to be a first commemoration of its kind, involving people of all ages from toddlers to senior citizens including Holocaust survivors, fitness conscious American Jews from San Francisco to Washington DC, at the initiative of the Israeli-American Council participated in a six million steps campaign, in which they kept track of the number of steps they took while walking or running. The campaign took place from March 21 to April 11. Participants were asked to update their scores on a special #6MillionSteps website and to share photographs and videos on their social media accounts so as to keep up the momentum of a united effort despite being geographically separated. IAC co-founder and CEO Shoham Nicolet said: “By taking six million steps together every week at this perilous time, we are leading the way to fight antisemitism, indifference and ignorance and ensuring we never forget the lessons of the Holocaust.” The actual goal was for three times six million, because of the special connotatio
ns that the number 18 has in Judaism in terms of life and good fortune.
Among the participants was Israeli-American award winning violinist Miri Ben Ari, as well as 60 nurses, 10 doctors and 10 support staff in the cardiac intensive care unit at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. This group even collected the steps they took during the day to support #6MillionSteps.
In addition, special events were held in New Jersey; New York City; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Cleveland; Chicago; Washington University, St Louis; the University of Georgia, Athens; Atlanta; Tulane University, New Orleans; Orlando, Florida; Boulder, Colorado; Las Vegas; the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles.
Doomsayers who predict that American Jewry will soon become so assimilated as to disappear can eat their words. Somewhere in most Jews, no matter how far they stray from religious observance, there remains what is known in Yiddish as Dos pintele Yid (roughly translated as that tiny spark of being Jewish). People express their Judaism in different ways and at different levels, but collectively, they become a mighty force that over the centuries has defied all efforts to eliminate it. Even the worst example of genocide that the world has known failed in its effort to find a final solution to the Jewish problem.
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