Yiddish stores Jewishness

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Recently established World Jewish Congress International Yiddish Center in Vilnius was the initiator of the workshop for teachers and coordinators of the Yiddish language study groups in Larissa Rodnianskaya Cultural Center in Kiev, which was completed.

This center is a new institution with a qualified and ambitious headship, having considerable experience in teaching and promotion of Yiddish language and culture.

The Executive Director of the Center - Yitzchak Averbuch (the head of the American Joint Distribution Committee "Joint" in Ukraine before), Pedagogical Director - Dr Mordechai Yushkovsky, who is already known to a few generations of Yiddish experts, the organizer of seminars "Yiddisch un Yiddischkeit" which were held in Kiev, Odessa, Vinnytsia, Warsaw and other cities.

The primary task of the Centre and its congenials is to rescue the layer of the culture of our grandparents from oblivion.

One of the work areas are seminars for not only Yiddish teachers, but also historians, people in culture, musicians, so that they, armed with the new knowledge about the Yiddish civilization, could hand it to their students.

Approximately 30 representatives of academic institutions and the Jewish communities of Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Poland participated in the seminar.

The program was full of vivid and memorable lectures of teachers from Israel - Dr. Mordechai Yushkovsky, Dr. Leah Garfinkel and Dr. Pnina Meller, exciting master classes of Jewish singing by Marina Yakubovich together with Dr. Mordechai Yushkovsky.

Teachers, each in their own way, shared knowledge with the audience, talking about themselves and their way to Yiddish.

Pnina Meller teaches Yiddish at numerous courses throughout Israel, is the author of a Yiddish textbook for the Hebrew-speakers. Her parents were once well known theatrical figures in Argentina (her father is originally from Lviv). According to her, Yiddish is now very popular among Israelis, and not even among Ashkenazis but among immigrants from Eastern countries - Sephardis from Morocco, Yemen, Iran. What drives them? Firstly, the desire to understand the other Jews, secondly, the attempt to comprehend the Jewish jokes, because the Israelis always complete them with their sacramental phrase "anyway, in Yiddish it sounds better." Why is it better? That's why they are trying hard with the textbooks and classics of Jewish literature.

Dr. Leah Garfinkel, a teacher of Jewish literature at Bar-Ilan University, whose native language is German and whose parents are from Chernivtsi (German was the mother tongue of the majority educated Jews in 1920-1930 there) found Yiddish already being of a conscious age.

Marina Yakubovich, originally from Ostrog, is a singer with a magnificent voice and unique style of performance of Jewish songs. In 1999, Marina took part in the seminar "Yiddish and Yiddishkeit" held in Odessa for the first time. Her wonderful dramatic soprano, outstanding talent (far more than it is necessary for an ordinary music teacher) and emotional style of performance was new for everyone. She repatriated in 2001 and since then she quickly gained recognition in Israel. Marina is now successfully performing all around the world. The repertoire of Marina Yakubovich concludes of over 100 songs, including Hasidic tunes, folk songs and songs based on Yiddish poetry. The hallmarks of the style of the singer are respect for the language, special attention to the words, bright folklore colouring. Hearing her sing I was not the only one who caught oneself thinking, how great it would be to organize a tour for her in Ukraine. Maybe someone could do that? She is, as they say in Yiddish "a golden metze" – a golden finding.

Dr. Mordechai Yushkovsky spent his childhood years in Vinnytsia and partly in Berdichev. He taught himself Yiddish language and culture. Mordechai Yushkovsky was a staff member of the editorial board of the journal "Sovetisch Geimland." in 1987-1989. He lives in Israel since 1989, where he received his PhD at Bar-Ilan University, became an author of over 50 articles in various publications in Yiddish and Hebrew in Israel and abroad.

Professor Gershon Weiner and Dr. Mordechai Yushkovsky led annual seminar "Yiddish and Yiddishkeit in Eastern Europe" for over 17 years, since 1989, which was attended by over 1,300 young people from different countries. During the past 10 years Mordechai Yushkovsky created an extensive network of Yiddish literature courses in different cities of Israel, where more than 2,500 Israelis are attached to the treasury of the language every year. He is also a supervisor of the Yiddish teaching in the Israel Ministry of Education. The presenter of the seminar told about the classics of Jewish literature, revealed the image of women in Yiddish prose, presented the pieces of Jewish immigrants, gave a lecture about the holy and workaday in Jewish folklore.

Dr. Mordechai Yushkovsky drew the audience's attention to a paradox: Yiddish is a secular language, but is based on the Jewish tradition. It is impossible to understand the Jewish literature without knowing the religious context. The language was like a shell for the millennial civilization and confronted the national and cultural assimilation - Yiddish kept Jewishness in many ways. It is noteworthy that Jews assimilated quicker in these countries, where they abandoned this language early. Yiddish also serves as a bridge between the two pillars of Jewish civilization – Yiddischkeit and Menschlechkeit (can be translated as Jewishness and humanity). Jewish culture provides an important moral code and the urge to learn how to be "menschlecher Yid" (literally "humane Jew") and "Yidischer Mensch" (Jewish person).

The atmosphere of the event was setting up a Jewish wave, and there was no wish to think about politics, conflicts or strife - all plunged into Yiddish, which miraculously unites Jews all around the world. As it was stated in the plans of the Center, such scientific and methodological seminars will take place in Vilnius. The participants of the Kiev workshop and their students will be able to come to them.

Well, we will be expecting new meetings, knowledge and experiences.