If you’ve attended any of the last six FJMC Conventions, you might have noted that the Geffen Institute on Saturday afternoon featured a two-session presentation of Yiddish in Song and Story. This well-attended and fun-filled afternoon activity brought seasoned Yiddish speakers and those who, perhaps, knew only ‘kvetch, mazel tov, and oy vey!’ Regardless, 90 minutes of songs, jokes, and stories had everyone leaving with a smile and a few more Yiddish words or phrases in their vocabulary.
Fast forward to Spring 2020, with everyone locked down and going stir-crazy. The FJMC’s Past President Mike Mills gets a brainstorm (or maybe wife, Shirley [a fluent Yiddish speaker], inspired him) and calls me and Joe Rotstein with the idea of starting a Yiddish Group as one of the FJMC’s Affinity Groups and asks what we think. Long story short, we jumped at the idea and set about planning this bi-weekly happening.
We started with a small group of about 20 and now have over 200 members on our roster. Each session features 30-35 participants and we have a ball sharing Yiddish songs, jokes, phrases, new words, and a bit of history of where we’re living, where we hailed from in the ‘old country’ and how we learned our Yiddish. It was not astounding to see how many of our stories jibed. What was astounding was the number of connections people made to each other through shared familial connections in places or origin, of being a Holocaust survivor (even of the same camp), or of having lived in the same community (or attending the same school) as a child. Many of the connections made, continued offline as new friendships and relationships ensued. There have even been a couple of attempts at making a ‘shidduch.’ (A potential marriage match. There! You learned a new Yiddish word. The matchmaker is a shadchan [hard ‘ch’ as in challah]).
We meet every other Monday at 8PM EDT and range in age from 19 to over 100. We have varying levels of Yiddish fluency from “I don’t know nuthin’” all the way to “Ich ken redn zeyr a gita Idish.” (I can speak quite a good [proficient] Yiddish.) One must register to obtain the link to attend from the FJMC website.
Nu…Shem zich nit! Kum redn mit undzerer menschen. Frelach zol zein! (Sooooo. Don’t be ashamed! Come speak with us. You will be happy.