Ruth Wisse was at the Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, on October 22, 2012, talking about Jewish humour. In this clip she discusses the beloved author, Sholem Aleichem, “The Jewish Mark Twain” (1859 – 1916), and she analyzes his gift of humour and how it helped to define Jewish comedy and succeeded in bringing Jews together to this day.
Ruth Wisse is the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University. She is currently writing a book on Jewish Humour which will be published next year.
This was one of a number of lectures presented by the Shaar Hashomayim as part of their Tuesday night learning seminars. For more visit their events calender.
Anthony Russell is a young operatic singer who has found a way to unite his beliefs and passion. Anthony converted to Judaism as an adult and has always felt a strong connection to Jewish culture, Jewish characters and the Jewish languages (Hebrew & Yiddish).
He recently performed at the Ashkenaz Music Festival and at Klez Kanada. Abigail had a chance to sit down with and ask a few questions to this amazing young artist.
The miracle of Yiddish in our time is embodied by the Yiddish Book Centre in Amherst Massachusetts. The center which was originally founded by Aaron Lansky in 1980, when he saw the need to save Yiddish books that would have otherwise ended up in the trash heap. The organization has saved over 1 million books to date!
The Yiddish Book Center’s mission is to tell the whole Jewish story by rescuing, translating and disseminating Yiddish books and presenting innovative educational programs that broaden understanding of modern Jewish identity. As part of continuing the legacy of Yiddish, they regularly invite speakers to talk about Yiddish and Yiddish initiatives.
Last week it was my pleasure to give a talk about my upcoming documentary Yiddish: A Tale of Survival. I was invited to talk to a group of University students studying Yiddish over the summer. Below is a short excerpt from the talk.
Yesterday while researching Yiddish groups on facebook, I discovered a site that is putting out a Yiddish newspaper over the internet, The Yiddish Moment. A Yiddish Newspaper – Yiddish News – All Yiddish – All the Time – The Only Internet Newspaper in Yiddish.Dr. Namaste who curates the site shared many amazing stories. This is a grassroots endeavor having approximately 120,000 Yiddish speaking, reading, and writing subscribers from all over the world. He also told me that they have over 6000 non-jewish subscribers! Most of them know Yiddish from before the war, and are elderly. Nevertheless. They have treasures to share, many that have never been shared. These members are also continuing to write poems and narratives in Yiddish.
We talked about doing a news show to be broadcast in Yiddish over the web. This would be a first. Stay tuned to find out more about AskAbigail’s future collaborations with The Yiddish Moment.
Yesterday I was privileged to see Theodore Bikel’s performance of his one man show, SHOLOM ALEICHEM: LAUGHTER THROUGH TEARS. In it, he channels the life of Sholem Aleichem by combining his own life and twenty-two of Sholem Aleichem’s characters from his plays and stories. I loved it because it was like seeing the past before your eyes, a past that I had only been able to imagine through plays such as this one.
Photo by Stan Barough – Courtesy of Theatre J
Theodore Bikel is at this point eighty eight years young. He performs a one hour and forty-five minute tour-de-force performance without an intermission. He moves from one part of the stage to another and sings Yiddish standards to enhance the themes. The translation of the songs is seamlessly woven into the fabric of the play so that even those with minimal understanding of Yiddish, still comprehend and appreciate the interludes. Of course if you do understand Yiddish, it will move you to tears.
Thank you, Theodore Bikel for bringing Sholem Aleichem to life for another generation.
As many of you know I am working on a documentary on the transmission of Yiddish since the Holocaust. Many people say to me, Yiddish? Why? Of what use is it? Yiddish was the day-to-day language of 11 million Jews living in Northern Europe, from France to Russia, for over a thousand years. The Holocaust caused the deaths of millions of European-born Jews many of whom spoke Yiddish. Yiddish in our time could easily be lost to us since the primary language of the Jewish people has now become Hebrew, the national language of Israel. Hebrew, the language of our holy texts, the Torah, has been revived as a spoken language during the last century and is the official language of Israel, spoken by Israelis. Most of the Jewish world now lives and breaths in Hebrew.
Yiddish a tale of Survival
So of what use is Yiddish? Israel Bercovicci wrote … it is through Yiddish theatre that “Jewish culture entered in dialogue with the outside world,”both by putting itself on display and by importing theatrical pieces from other cultures. So “Is Yiddish important”? Is culture important? Is being Jewish important? Only you can answer that question.
In my documentary I focus on the lives of three characters who have devoted their lives to ensuring the survival of Yiddish: Shmuel Atzmon, a Holocaust survivor; Bryna Wasserman, a second generation Yiddish artist, and Milena Kartovsky, a third generation Yiddish performer from Paris.
So, is Jewish history and literature important? If your answer is yes! that Yiddish is part of the Jewish legacy! and you feel it is important to appreciate the story of Yiddish in our time with future generations, I invite you to watch this important documentary about Yiddish which talks about the transmission of Yiddish from generation to generation in North America, in Israel, and in Europe.
While on a recent trip to Israel I had the pleasure of video recording a High-School Yiddish class performance of the Yiddish musical, Itzik Manger’s Megillah. The students at Pelech High School put their heart and soul into the production, as you can see in the short video clip below. Afterwards we also conducted interviews with some of the cast as well as teacher and parents of the students.
AskAbigail Productions has assembled the full play, along with selected interviews onto a feature length DVD. For inquiries about purchase please contact firstname.lastname@example.org