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Yiddish Classes at the Museum

by Peter Walton, Guest Blogger

Greetings!  This
is a new blog about an informal Yiddish class that is now meeting in the
Jewish Museum London every Tuesday at 7-8.30pm.

I call it a class but its not
like a conventional language class that follows a syllabus and where the
students are graded (beginners, lower intermediate etc). It’s more like a Book
Group – it’s informal, ungraded, and follows the interests of the group
members.  

And as I’m writing this blog, I should introduce myself – my
name is Peter Walton, I run a recording studio and TV production company, I’m
ex-BBC, and I spoke Yiddish to my grandparents who had a big part in my early
years, but then forgot about it for most of my adult life. 

The group has been
meeting in my studio for the last six years, and consists of a group of
enthusiasts for Yiddish, ranging in age from late 20s to early 70s, mainly
linked by being friends or contacts of mine or of Barry Davis (our excellent
and charismatic teacher) or friends of our friends. But when a few more
people joined recently we realised that we couldn’t all fit comfortably into
the space I have available. So we started looking for a new home and, wonderfully, the Jewish Museum has offered us one.

Coming to the Jewish Museum means that we can welcome more people into the
group, so do get in touch and come along – just say ‘Yiddish class’ to the man
on the door.  But best phone the museum first because some weeks we
have to cancel – if Barry is not able to come that week – and sometimes we
decide to have a half-term break.

Although we don’t
work to a syllabus, a pattern for our meetings has emerged. We usually start by
people saying something about their news – what we have done in the last week,
where have we been or even what we’ve watched on TV.  This week I was full
of excitment about a book I’ve just read – ‘A Rhapsody in Schmaltz’ by Michael
Wex. I was delighted to learn why all the beef we ate at home was always  ‘gedampt’ and was almost always
brisket – not a cut you find on most non-kosher menus. So I told the
group about that, and Barry helped me with the vocabulary. That sort of
thing often leads to some vocabulary-building work – what’s the word for x or
y? and ‘how would I say?’ 

We sometimes look at word origins – is it
Germanic, Aramaic, Slavic, Hebrew – or even French (famously cholent –
chaud/lent ie hot and slow)? And the discussion can ripple outwards – in
Yiddish, English or even Yinglish if necessary!

We often talk about
Jewish and especially Ashkenazi history, and we sometimes learn a folk
song. But the main part of the evening is taken up with reading a text in
Yiddish – sometimes from the classics such as Sholom Aleichem and Isaac
Bashevis Singer, or from ‘Forverts’, the American Yiddish newspaper, which
gives us a more modern vocabulary and links us  to on-going Yiddish
culture.

This week we read a piece that explained that South African Litvaks
are being offered Lithuanian passports and we wondered about the motives for
that offer! 

The material we read
is Yiddish written in printed Hebrew characters, so familiarity with that
alphabet would be useful. Apart from that, all you need is an interest in
Yiddish language, history, literature and culture. We’d love to meet you – come
and give it a try – be my guest for your first visit.

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