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.