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Summer Programs, for the Yiddishist in You

Participating in a Yiddish summer program can be a powerful experience, so here’s a cheat sheet of some of the best from around the world

Rose Kaplan
January 21, 2016
Yiddish Book Center / Facebook
Students at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass., September 10, 2015. Yiddish Book Center / Facebook
Yiddish Book Center / Facebook
Students at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass., September 10, 2015. Yiddish Book Center / Facebook

Last winter, I was a lonely Jew living in galut (Yiddish for “exile” or “diaspora”) outside Dallas, Texas, where I felt alienated from any and all aspects of Jewish life or culture, disconnected from my community and my heritage. That changed when a friend gave me a copy of Aaron Lansky’s book Outwitting History, which details the author’s efforts, beginning in the 1980s, to collect and preserve Yiddish literature—often languishing in dusty cellars and garages, if not thrown away altogether—and create the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Reading it was a transformative experience. Suddenly, a whole world burst into my consciousness—more than that, a velt mit veltlekh, worlds within worlds. For probably the first time, I understood the immensity of what had truly been lost in the Holocaust, and I found an invaluable new context for understanding my own upbringing—assimilation, a childhood in the suburbs, the culture and politics of the Conservative synagogue my family attended. (My parents are Ashkenazim, born and raised in the United States by parents who knew Yiddish but didn’t teach it to their children—a fairly common set of circumstances.)

Six months later, I was in New York City, as an onheber (beginner) in YIVO’s 48th annual Uriel Weinreich Summer Program, and my life hasn’t been the same since.

Yiddish attracts a wide range of Jews and non-Jews alike, and for a variety of reasons—religion (it’s still the spoken language for most frum Ashkenazim, politics (a language and culture that affirms Ashkenazi Jews’ rootedness in Europe and the diaspora, rather than in Israel), culture and history (despite the past half-century’s renaissance in Yiddish scholarship, there’s still so, so much more left to study and explore), and much more. And although I didn’t know it when I applied to YIVO’s summer program, there’s a similarly wide a range of Yiddish programs in existence today for the nascent Yiddishist.

Last week, Sarah Ellen Zarrow, managing editor of In geveb, an online journal of Yiddish studies launched in 2015, posted a comprehensive list of summer Yiddish programs. What follows are some of the most interesting programs from that list, with additional information to help potential attendees decide which program might suit them well.

Naomi Prawer Kadar International Yiddish Summer Program at Tel Aviv University (Tel Aviv, Israel), June 26th through July 21st

Steiner Summer Yiddish Program, Yiddish Book Center (Amherst, MA), June 5 through July 22

Perfect for: College and/or graduate students

Keep in mind: College credit is available through each of these Yiddish programs. The Steiner program is open only to college students; the student body at YIVO’s Uriel Weinreich program is overwhelmingly comprised of graduate students; and the Tel Aviv program takes place at Israel’s largest university.

Yiddish Summer Weimar (Weimar, Germany), July 10 through 30

Ot Azoy Yiddish Summer School (London, UK), August 7 through August 12

Perfect for: Musician and performers

Keep in mind: Extensive music, dance, singing, theater, and performance workshops are mainstays of these three programs.

Memory-Place-Presence (Lublin, Poland), June 23 through July 3

Program in Yiddish Language and Literature, Vilnius Yiddish Institute (Vilnius, Lithuania), July 17 through August 12

Perfect for: Jewish history and culture buffs

Keep in mind: These programs offer immersive experiences of Jewish and Yiddish history and culture, whether through their programming, their locale, or some combination of the two.

Yiddish Farm (Goshen, NY), June 20 through August 6

Perfect for: The fairly observant; gardeners, tree-huggers, and foodies

Keep in mind: Over the past five years, founders Yisroel Bass and Naftali Schaechter Ejdelman have carved out a unique niche for those interested in Yiddish language and culture, organic farming, and a traditional Jewish lifestyle.

Click here for In geveb’s round-up of Yiddish summer programs.

Rose Kaplan is an intern at Tablet.