If your knowledge of Yiddish barely extends beyond “oy vey,” the first Twin Cities Yiddish Fest might just be the ticket to boost your command of the language.
Beginning in early October, the festival put on by the Sabes Jewish Community Center includes speakers, music, art exhibits and community programs celebrating all things Yiddish.
The first event, a fascinating talk about how black entertainers have used Yiddish in their work, is set for Oct. 5 at Congregation Darchei Noam in St. Louis Park. The next day, the JCC in St. Louis Park will host one of the highlighted fest speakers — Aaron Lansky, founder of the Yiddish Book Center in Massachusetts. In total, the fest features some 13 events in eight locations throughout the Twin Cities, organizers say.
“We thought it might be interesting … to create a festival where we are showcasing Yiddish in a lot of different ways,” said Robyn Awend, director of visual arts at the JCC’s Tychman Shapiro Gallery. “We’re trying to highlight Yiddish to engage people who are interested, [and] also help introduce it to people who may not be — which is a lot of people, especially the younger generation.”
For centuries, Yiddish was spoken by Jews of Central and Eastern Europe, but it began to die out. According to the JCC, fewer than a quarter of a million people in the United States speak Yiddish, though the language has experienced a resurgence in recent years and several universities teach it now, Awend said.
“We have in our Jewish community people who have really strong ties to Yiddish culture,” she said. “Some speak it fluently … grew up speaking Yiddish in their homes. They’re trying to teach it to their children and grandchildren and keep it alive.”
“Then there are people … they’ve heard about it, but don’t know much beyond that it’s connected to Jewish culture. We wanted to create this fest where people could find an entry point at their comfort level or their interest … We really hope that we can truly celebrate and help elevate Yiddish.”