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Monday, August 19, 2013

What happens at Yidish-Vokh (Yiddish Week)

Trying to get everybody to stop doing whatever they were doing and come to the theater for a picture was problematic. Quite a few people missed the photo session but you get the idea anyway:
Yiddish Week attendees Maryland 2013

Yidish-vokh is a yearly camp for people who want to spend six days speaking Yiddish all the time while they can also walk, swim, learn stuff, sing and laugh and meet people from all over the world. It's organized by Yugntruf (Youth for Yiddish) but people of all ages attend. The youngest are babies in arms (they don't have to speak Yiddish) and the oldest are in their 90s at least. It takes place at the Pearlstone Center, a lovely retreat in Reisterstown Maryland. It's a little hard to find - your GPS is likely to say you've arrived when you have a corn field on the right where the GPS places an imaginary driveway. Zayt nisht gepleft (don't be flummoxed). Go up the hill and make a hard right just in front of the cemetery. It's a long driveway through trees and fields.

You can park right near your row of cabins. Mine was the last in this row. Our cabin had a refrigerator and a microwave, and big fluffy towels, and the beds have sheets, pillows, and blankets. (The instructions said bring your own towels and soap but that was not necessary.)

I was participating in a reading group and would read ahead while rocking in this rocking chair on our porch. There were three people in our cabin. One was a Hungarian yoga instructor who now lives in Israel.

At the end of our row of cabins was this little building where tomatoes, garlic, and other produce grown at Pearlstone are stored. We had great fresh salads all week. The kids walked down to the farm all the time, it's small but lovely.

You walk up a little hill to the big house where most of the activities take place. You'll soon see that everybody who's willing to speak Yiddish is welcome, from non-Jews to secular Jews to orthodox Jews. People with such an arcane obsession have to stick together.

The dining room and the meals are kosher, but the food is not typical heavy high-calorie old-fashioned Catskills Jewish cooking - it's fresh and healthy - vegetarians and people who are gluten-free are well satisfied.

Meals are a good time to try your Yiddish out on a lot of friendly, patient strangers. Some of the attendees at Yiddish-vokh are fluent in Yiddish. Others are struggling along with the simplest possible sentences after just a semester or so of instruction. As long as you're willing to keep trying, people hang in there with you. And you're allowed to ask "vi redt men af yidish... " (How do you say ... in Yiddish) as often as you like.

These young people came in from Yiddish Farm, a fascinating place where you can learn Yiddish and work on a 200-acre organic farm (in Goshen NY) at the same time. The Gothamist printed a good article about the Yiddish Farm.

I'm too little shy to spend all day every day talking to people so I also took a lot of walks.

There's a wonderful kids' program for half the day and parents can also come into the kids room and do crafts with their little ones. I loved that some people are committed enough to the survival and renewal of the Yiddish language that they are raising their children to speak it.

There were numerous activity periods every day; in spaces ranging from small classrooms to a theater you can learn everything from calligraphy and tango dancing to story-telling, creation of 'folksongs', 'Mexican motifs in Yiddish Poetry,' linoleum printing, the poetry of Avrom Sutskever, and classic language classes. You can go swimming in the pool but you can't go in the lake.

My favorite event takes place the last night: it's the talantarnye, a 'talent show.' Here you see Anye, the organizer of the whole week, and Sender, at the piano, he organizes the talent show.

There were kids doing their own rewritten version of Sleeping Beauty, a new Yiddish song written to a Rudy Vallée classic, seasoned older people doing their own Goldilocks and the Three Bears, poetry, jokes, etc.

I myself presented Nellie Casman's "Mr Malach Hamooves, ikh bin busy" ("Mr. Angel of Death, I'm busy!") and people sang along, which pleased me greatly. (Below, pictures from the talent show.)

It was only on the last day that I found out some of the people I'd been getting to know this week were from all over the world - they'd travelled from Israel, Brasil, Estonia, and many other places to come be together.

At the moment the yugntruf site and the page about yidish vokh are not showing up in Google searches because they've been hacked. The Yugntruf facebook page is functional, however.

To find out more about Yidish Vokh, contact Anye Koyftmentsh - her email address is