Yiddish Theatre in London
April 5, 2013 8:11 AM   Subscribe

In this virtual exhibition you can find out more about the people, buildings and plays that made Yiddish theatre in London so special, as well as explore the unique collection of Yiddish theatre photographs, documents and objects held at the Jewish Museum London.
posted by Deathalicious (6 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I speak a little Yiddish -- I arranged for a course in it to be taught at my Hillel House at the University of Minnesota, where we used a marvelously peculiar book called Der Yiddish Lerer, which is full of evocative, puzzling phrases. Here's a list of my favorites:

The sister always cries at night.
Why is the woman always laughing?
Who is sick in his house today?
He says that he does not know where my father's hammer is.
Your country is very small.
Mother, where are my spoons?
Our mother does not love you, because you are bad.
Why did he run like that when we saw him in the village?
The old man says that in his town there is a man with two heads.
Their little sister always spends her money on cherries.
Our little sister is very lazy; we wake her and wake her, but she does not get up.
Her father is not well; he always lives in the forest.
If your little brother will come to our house, we will give him a small knife.
Her little brother is not very smart; he never cries and he never laughs.
A very big black bird flew over the court-yard, and all ducks and geese screamed and squeaked.
The man, old, without strength, lay about in the street all night, and no one knew it.
The wicked wind is whistling through the trees in the forest; we will not bathe today.
Girls, you must not burst out laughing when you see a poor man at the door.

Better still, I don't think anybody thought this was odd when the book was published. Some of these phrases, I think, were thought quite useful.

I love the language, and the world is worse for it going away, as it slowly has. Every few years I try to get back to it, a little, so that there is some of it in me. You never know when you might have to tell someone precisely why you're not bathing.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:45 AM on April 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Orson Welles, speaking to Peter Bogdanovich (excerpt from This Is Orson Welles):
"The Yiddish theatres were everywhere—London, Paris, Rome, Buenos Aires. It was the only international theatre in history. Movies are the second. The first was Yiddish, because there were these great Yiddish-speaking communities all over the world. Maurice Schwartz and Jacob Adler and Max Gabel—people like that—played the world. And, every town they'd come to, there'd be another illegitimate son saying, 'How do you do, Father. I haven't been seeing you in two or three years.' Be a great movie about the old Yiddish theatre."
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:04 AM on April 5, 2013

Wandering Stars is a good book centering around Yiddish theatre if you want to learn more after seeing the exhibition.
posted by mikepop at 9:05 AM on April 5, 2013

Better still, I don't think anybody thought this was odd when the book was published. Some of these phrases, I think, were thought quite useful.

My best friend's involved in the Yiddish academic world and, from what I've gathered, Yiddish textbooks tend to be kind of odd. One of the current popular ones is really into potatoes. I'm not sure if she's ever had potatoes come up in another context. Then again, she doesn't exactly go grocery shopping or cook in Yiddish.

The number of Yiddish speakers may actually be close to stable, though it's definitely declining outside of Hasidic communities and a lot of the current Yiddish cultural output is coming from people who don't speak Yiddish in their everyday lives.
posted by hoyland at 9:28 AM on April 5, 2013

Thanks, interesting overview of something I was vaguely aware of. I see it mentions Joseph Bovshover as one of the playwrights; recognised the name from his fantastic anarchist poem Revolution (here as a song by Dick Gaughan - it's his site the lyrics are on), and IIRC he was part of a very lively radical scene in the East End, including a burgeoning Yiddish press.
posted by Abiezer at 9:50 AM on April 5, 2013

If you like this you might like the Yiddish Radio Project. We got the CD for my Dad's birthday and it was a fun listen.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:33 PM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

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