Yiddish Language and Culture
Yiddish was the language of Ashkenazic Jews, but not Sephardic Jews
Yiddish is based on German, Hebrew and other languages
Yiddish uses an alphabet based on Hebrew
There are standards for transliterating Yiddish
Yiddish was criticized as a barrier to assimilation
Yiddish developed rich literature, theater and music
S'iz shver tsu zayn a Yid
(It's tough to be a Jew)
- Yiddish folk saying
||[Yiddish] ... a language without rules, mutilated and
unintelligible without our circle, must be completely abandoned.
- David Friedlander, a member of the Haskalah Jewish
||Yiddish has not yet said its last word.
- Isaac Bashevis Singer, upon receiving the Nobel Prize
for Literature for his writings in Yiddish
The Yiddish Language
Yiddish was at one time the international language of
Ashkenazic Jews (the Jews of Central and
Eastern Europe and their descendants). A hybrid of
Hebrew and medieval German, Yiddish takes about
three-quarters of its vocabulary from German, but borrows words liberally from
Hebrew and many other languages from the many lands where Ashkenazic Jews have
lived. It has a grammatical structure all its own, and is written in an
alphabet based on Hebrew characters. Scholars
and universities classify Yiddish as a Germanic language, though some have
questioned that classification.
Yiddish was never a part of Sephardic Jewish
culture (the culture of the Jews of Spain, Portugal, the Balkans, North Africa
and the Middle East). They had their own international language known as Ladino
or Judesmo, which is a hybrid of medieval Spanish and Hebrew in much the same
way that Yiddish combines German and Hebrew.
At its height less than a century ago, Yiddish was understood by an estimated
11 million of the world's 18 million Jews, and many of them spoke Yiddish as
their primary language. Yiddish has fallen on hard times, a victim of both
assimilation and murder. Today, less than a quarter of a million people in the
United States speak Yiddish, about half of them in New York. Most Jews know
only a smattering of Yiddish words, and most of those words are unsuitable for
polite company. But in recent years, Yiddish has experienced a resurgence and
is now being taught at many universities. There are even Yiddish Studies
Oxford, among others,
and many Jewish communities provide classes to learn Yiddish. Many Jews today
want to regain touch with their heritage through this nearly-lost language.
Yiddish is referred to as "mame loshn" ("loshn" rhymes with "caution"), which
means "mother tongue," although it is not entirely clear whether this is a term
of affection or derision. Mame loshn was the language of
women and children, to be contrasted with loshn
koydesh, the holy tongue of Hebrew that was studied only by men. (And before
the feminists start grinding their axes, let me point out that most gentile
women and many gentile men in that time and place could not read or write at
all, while most Jewish women could at least read and write Yiddish).
The word "Yiddish" is the Yiddish word for "Jewish," so it is technically
correct to refer to the Yiddish language as "Jewish" (though it is never
correct to refer to Hebrew as "Jewish"). At the turn of the century, American
Jews routinely referred to the Yiddish language as "Jewish," and one of my
elderly aunts continues to do so. However, that usage has become unfashionable
in recent years and people are likely to think you are either ignorant or
bigoted if you refer to any language as "Jewish." Likewise, the Yiddish word
"Yid" simply means "Jew" and is not offensive if used while speaking Yiddish or
in a conversation liberally sprinkled with Yiddish terms, but I wouldn't
recommend using the word in English because it has been used as an offensive
term for far too long.
The History of Yiddish
It is generally believed that Yiddish became a language of its own some time
between 900 and 1100 C.E., but it is difficult to be
certain because in its early days, Yiddish was primarily a spoken language
rather than a written language. It is clear, however, that at this time even
great biblical scholars like Rashi were using
words from local languages written in Hebrew letters to fill in the gaps when
the Hebrew language lacked a suitable term or when the reader might not be
familiar with the Hebrew term. For example, in his commentary on Gen. 19:28,
when Rashi comes across the Hebrew word qiytor (a word that is not used
anywhere else in the Bible), he explains the word by writing, in Hebrew
letters, "torche b'la-az" (that is, "torche in French").
It is believed that Yiddish began similarly, by writing the local languages in
the Hebrew characters that were more familiar to Yiddish speakers, just as
Americans today often write Hebrew in Roman characters (the letters used in
The Yiddish language thrived for many centuries and grew farther away from
German, developing its own unique rules and pronunciations. Yiddish also
developed a rich vocabulary of terms for the human condition, expressing our
strengths and frailties, our hopes and fears and longings. Many of these terms
have found their way into English, because there is no English word that can
convey the depth and precision of meaning that the Yiddish word can. Yiddish is
a language full of humor and irony, expressing subtle distinctions of human
character that other cultures barely recognize let alone put into words. What
other language distinguishes between a shlemiel (a person who suffers due to
his own poor choices or actions), a shlimazl (a person who suffers through no
fault of his own) and a nebech (a person who suffers because he makes other
people's problems his own). An old joke explains the distinction: a shlemiel
spills his soup, it falls on the shlimazl, and the nebech cleans it up!
As Jews became assimilated into the local culture, particularly in Germany in
the late 1700s and 1800s, the Yiddish language was criticized as a barbarous,
mutilated ghetto jargon that was a barrier to Jewish acceptance in German
society and would have to be abandoned if we hoped for emancipation. Yiddish
was viewed in much the same way that people today view Ebonics (in fact, I have
heard Yiddish jokingly referred to as "Hebonics"), with one significant
difference: Ebonics is criticized mostly by outsiders; Yiddish was criticized
mostly by Jews who had spoken it as their native language. Thus the criticism
of Yiddish was largely a manifestation of Jewish self-hatred rather than
At the same time that German Jews were rejecting the language, Yiddish was
beginning to develop a rich body of literature,
theater and music.
From the earliest days of the language, there were a few
siddurim (prayer books) for
women written in Yiddish, but these were mostly
just translations of existing Hebrew siddurim.
The first major work written originally in Yiddish was Tsena uRena (Come Out
and See), more commonly known by a slurring of the name as Tsenerena. Written
in the early 1600s, Tsenerena is a collection of traditional biblical
commentary and folklore tied to the weekly Torah
readings. It was written for women, who generally did not read Hebrew and
were not as well-versed in biblical commentary, so it is an easier read than
some of the Hebrew commentaries written for men, but it still packs a great
deal of theological rigor. Translations of this work are still in print and
available from Artscroll
In the mid-1800s, Yiddish newspapers began to appear, such as Kol meVaser
(Voice of the People), Der Hoyzfraynd (The Home Companion), Der Yid (The Jew),
Di Velt (The World) and Der Fraynd (The Friend), as well as socialist
publications like Der Yidisher Arbeter (The Jewish Worker) and Arbeter-Shtime
(Workers' Voice). Some Yiddish language newspapers exist to this day, including
Forverts (the Yiddish Forward),
founded in 1897 and still in print, both in English and Yiddish versions.
At about the same time, secular Jewish fiction began to emerge. The religious
authorities of that time did not approve of these irreverent Yiddish writings
dealing with modern secular and frivolous themes. Some strictly observant
people refused to even set type for these writers because they were so offended
by their works, but Jewish people throughout Europe embraced them wholeheartedly.
The first of the great Yiddish writers of this period was Sholem Yankev
Abramovitsch, known by the pen name Mendele Moykher Sforim (little Mendel, the
bookseller). Abramovitsch was a respected writer in Hebrew and used the pen
name when writing in the second-class language of Yiddish. He wrote stories
that were deeply rooted in folk tradition but focused on modern characters.
Perhaps his greatest work is his tales of Benjamin the Third, which is
thematically similar to Don Quixote. Mendele's works gave Yiddish a literary
legitimacy and respectability that it was lacking before that time. I have been
told that there is a street in Jerusalem called Mendele Mocher Sefarim Street.
The next of the great Yiddish writers was Yitzhak Leib Peretz. (I.L. Peretz).
Like Mendele, his stories often had roots in Jewish folk tradition, but favored
a modern viewpoint. He seemed to view tradition with irony bordering on
Perhaps the Yiddish writer best known to Americans is Solomon Rabinovitch, who
wrote under the name Sholem Aleichem (a Yiddish greeting meaning, "peace be
upon you!"). Sholem Aleichem was a contemporary of Mark Twain and is often
referred to as "the Jewish Mark Twain," although legend has it that Mark Twain,
upon meeting Sholem Aleichem, described himself as "the American Sholem
Aleichem"! Americans know Sholem Aleichem for his tales of Tevye the milkman
and his daughters, which were adapted into the musical
on the Roof. How true is the musical to the stories? Based on my readings
of the stories, I would say that Fiddler is a faithful adaptation of the
plotlines of the Tevye stories, but the theme of "tradition" that pervades the
musical is artificially imposed on the material. The stories certainly turn on
the tension between the old world and the modern world, but Tevye's objections
to his daughters' marriages are not merely because of tradition. For example,
in the original stories, Tevye opposes Hodel's marriage to Ferfel not so much
because of tradition, but because Ferfel is being sent to prison for his
socialist political activities! Also, there is no fiddler in Sholem Aleichem's
One last Yiddish writer deserves special note: Isaac Bashevis Singer (middle
name pronounced "buh-SHEH-viss"), who in 1978 won a Nobel Prize for Literature
for his writings in Yiddish. He gave his acceptance speech in both Yiddish and
English, and spoke with great affection of the vitality of the Yiddish
language. Singer was born in Poland, the son of a
Chasidic rabbi. He
wrote under his full name, Isaac Bashevis Singer or I.B. Singer, to avoid
confusion with his older and (at the time) better-known brother, Israel Joshua
Singer, who wrote as I. Singer. Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote mostly short
stories, but also some novels and stories for children. Like the others, his
stories tended to deal with the tension between traditional views and modern
times. Many of these are available in print in English. Perhaps the best known
of his many writings is Yentl the Yeshiva Boy, which was adapted into a stage
play in 1974 and later loosely adapted into a
starring Barbara Streisand. It is worth noting that although the movie was
quite popular, Singer hated the movie and wrote a
editorial in the New York Times about it (January 29, 1984). He thought
that Streisand placed too much emphasis on the Yentl character (which she
played) to the exclusion of other characters, and that her revised ending
(Yentl immigrating to America instead of moving on to another Polish religious
school) was untrue to the character.
Yiddish culture has a rich theatrical tradition. It has been suggested that
Yiddish theater began with the "Purimshpil," outrageous comedic improvisational
plays based on the biblical book of Esther, performed in
synagogues by amateurs as part of the drunken
festivities related to the Purim holiday.
Professional Yiddish theater began with Abraham Haim Lipke Goldfaden, who
wrote, produced and directed dozens of Yiddish plays in the last quarter of the
19th century. Goldfaden and his troupe traveled throughout Europe performing
Yiddish plays for Jewish audiences, and later moved to New York City where they
opened a theater.
Many traveling Yiddish theater groups also performed Yiddish versions of
existing plays, most notably Shakespeare and Goethe. With apologies to Star
Trek fans ... Shakespeare's Hamlet cannot be fully appreciated until it is seen
in the original Yiddish.
Permanent Yiddish theaters sprung up in cities around the world, including
Odessa, Vilna and New York City. In New York, Yiddish theater was jump-started
by 12-year-old immigrant Boris Thomashefsky, who fell in love with the European
Yiddish show tunes sung by his coworkers in a tobacco sweatshop. He persuaded a
rich tavern owner to finance the endeavor and introduced Yiddish theater to New
York with an Abraham Goldfaden play in 1881. Over the next few decades, Yiddish
theater grew substantially in New York, but most of these theaters no longer
exist. New York's Folksbiene Yiddish
Theater, founded in 1915, is the oldest continuous venue for Yiddish
theatre in the world and continues to have an active calendar of
Yiddish-language productions, now with "English supertitles" at all
Yiddish plays tended to be melodramas with strong traditional Jewish values,
often with song and dance numbers incorporated into the serious plots. Yiddish
theater also included many comedies, in America often focusing on
intergenerational conflicts between the immigrants and their American-born
Like Yiddish theater, Yiddish music ultimately has its roots in Jewish
religion. The Jewish love of music is seen in the earliest stories in the
Bible: in Exodus 15, both Moses and Miriam lead the Children of Israel in song
after G-d drowns the pursuing Egyptians in the sea; King David is often
portrayed playing musical instruments. Music is an integral part of Jewish
worship: most of the prayers are sung or chanted.
Even the Torah is read to a traditional chant. It
has been customary for hundreds of years for
synagogues to have a professional
chazzan, a person with musical skills to lead
the song-filled prayer services.
Yiddish culture has produced a wealth of music, from lullabies to love songs,
from mournful songs of loss and exile to the wild dance music of klezmer.
Yiddish music traditionally was played on string instruments (fiddle, viola,
etc.), the tsimbl (a Jewish instrument similar to a dulcimer) and flute,
perhaps because these instruments were relatively quiet and would not attract
the attention of hostile gentiles. In later days, however, the clarinet became
a staple of Yiddish music because of it's ability to emulate the wailing or
laughing sound of the human voice.
The style of music most commonly associated with Yiddish culture is klezmer.
The word "klezmer" comes from the Hebrew words "klei zemer" which means
"instruments of song," and probably indicates the important role that
instruments played in this kind of music. You've probably heard klezmer music
in the background of television shows or movies featuring Jews: it is normally
characterized by the wailing, squealing sounds of clarinets. It has also
influenced some modern bands: I was in a bookstore a while ago and heard what I
thought was klezmer music, only to be told it was Squirrel Nut Zipper! The
klezmer style is based on cantoral singing in synagogue: simple melodies in a
minor key with extensive ornamentation, such as fast trills and sliding notes.
It's hard to explain unless you've heard it.
You can hear some traditional Yiddish music in the samples of
Yiddish Songs and Klezmer Music on Amazon.com. The track Doyne/Kiever
Freylekhs is a particularly good example of klezmer dance music.
Alef-Beyz: The Yiddish Alphabet
is written with Hebrew letters, but the letters
are used somewhat differently than in Hebrew. In fact, the first time I saw the
familiar Yiddish phrase "oy vey" written in Yiddish letters, I thought the
spelling must be a mistake!
The Yiddish alphabet is called the alef-beyz for its first two letters.
The biggest difference between the Hebrew
alefbet and the Yiddish alef-beyz is in the use
of vowels: in Hebrew, vowels and other pronunciation aids are ordinarily not
written, and when they are written, they are dots and dashes added to the text
in ways that do not affect the physical length of the text. In Yiddish,
however, many of the Hebrew letters have been adapted to serve as vowels and
the pronunciation aids in Hebrew are reflected in the consonants. Vowels and
other pronunciation aids are always written unless the Yiddish word comes from
Hebrew, in which case the Yiddish word is written as it is in Hebrew, without
the vowel points but with the dagesh (dot in the middle).
a Hebrew word is combined with a Yiddish suffix, the Hebrew part is spelled as
in Hebrew and the Yiddish part as in Yiddish. For example, the Yiddish word
"Shabbesdik" (for the Sabbath; festive) combines
the Hebrew word Shabbat (Sabbath), spelled as in Hebrew, with the Yiddish
adjective suffix "-dik" (set aside for, suitable for, in the mood for, "-ish"),
spelled as in Yiddish.
In addition, some of the most common Hebrew letters are rarely used in Yiddish,
being used only if the Yiddish word comes from Hebrew. These rarely-used
letters all have the same sound as another Hebrew letter, and reducing their
use simplifies spelling when bringing words in from languages that weren't
originally written using these letters. For example, there are three different
Hebrew letters that make the sound "s": Samekh, Sin and the soft sound of Tav
(according to Ashkenazic
pronunciation). Which one do you use? It depends on the origin of the word.
Words brought in from Hebrew use the original Hebrew spelling, which may be any
of these three letters, but words brought in from other languages will always
use Samekh. The word vaser (water, from the German wasser) is spelled with a
Samekh, but the word simkhah (celebration, from Hebrew) is spelled with a Sin
and the word Shabbes (Sabbath, from Hebrew) ends with a Sof.
The illustration below shows the Yiddish alphabet. You may wish to review the
Hebrew alphabet to see the differences.
To hear how these letters are pronounced, check out the alef-beyz page on
website (requires Real Player), which pronounces the name of the Yiddish
letter, then a Yiddish word that begins with the sound, then the English
translation of that word. Unfortunately, YIVO lacks audio for many of the vowel
sounds, but they provide explanations of pronunciation.
Here some things to notice:
- The letter Alef, which is always silent in Hebrew, has three versions in
Yiddish: one that is silent, one that is pronounced "ah" (like the "a" in
"father"), and one that is pronounced "o" or "aw" (a bit like the "o" in "or"
- In Hebrew, Vav can be pronounced as V, O (as in home) or U (like the oo in
room). In Yiddish, Vov alone is pronounced "u"; a Double-Vov is pronounced "v,"
and the nearest equivalent of the Hebrew "o" sound is the "oy" sound of
- In Yiddish, the letter Yud can be pronounced as a "y" sound (as in
"yellow") or a short "i" sound (as in "it"); in Hebrew, it is always either a
"y" sound or silent (identifying and modifying a preceding vowel).
- There are combinations of letters in Yiddish to account for consonant
sounds that do not exist in Hebrew, such as zh (like the second "g" in "garage"
or the "s" in "measure"), dzh (j as in judge) and tsh (like the "ch" in chair).
- Combinations of Vov and Yud are used to handle additional vowel sounds.
- Melupm Vov and Khirek Yud are used to clarify that the Vov or Yud is not to
be combined with an adjacent letter into a different pronunciation. For example
Double-Yud is a letter combination pronounced as the "ey" in "they," but the
word "Yiddish" begins with two separate Yuds: one for the Y and one for the i.
To clarify that these Yuds are not combined into an "ey" sound, the word
Yiddish begins with a Yud, then a Khirek Yud. See the illustration in the
heading of this page.
- As in Hebrew, some letters are drawn differently when they occur at the end
of the word. Most of these letters are named "langer" (longer) because, well,
they are! The final version of Mem, which is not longer, is named Shlos Mem.
- In Hebrew, the dot in the middle of Kaf, Pei and Tav and on top of Sin is
written only in pointed texts. In Yiddish, it is always written. Note that Shin
in Yiddish, unlike Hebrew, never uses a dot. Remember, though, that Kof, Sin
and Tof are rarely used in Yiddish.
- The Yiddish letter Sof is equivalent to the soft sound of the Hebrew letter
Tav, which is used in Ashkenazic
pronunciation but is not used in Sephardic
pronunciation. Remember, though, that Sof is rarely used in Yiddish.
Transliteration is the process of writing a language in a different alphabet
than its native alphabet. The Yiddish language began by transliterating
Germanic words into the Hebrew alphabet, so I
find it unspeakably amusing that we now take Yiddish and convert it back into
the original alphabet!
In Yiddish, unlike Hebrew, there is a widely-accepted standard for
transliterating Yiddish into the Roman alphabet (the alphabet used in English).
This standard was developed by the YIVO Institute
for Jewish Research, the recognized world authority on Yiddish language,
history and culture. Although the YIVO standard is widely accepted in general,
it is routinely ignored for Yiddish words that have a widely-used, familiar
spelling. For example, a certain Yiddish word appears in many American
dictionaries spelled "chutzpah," but the correct YIVO transliteration would be
A Few Useful Yiddish Words
Here are a few fun Yiddish or Yiddish-derived words that would not require your
mother to wash your mouth out with soap. Many of them have found their way into
common English conversation. Most of them are spelled as I commonly see them,
rather than in strict accordance with YIVO transliteration rules. I've tried to
focus on words that are less commonly heard in English (gentile English,
- Bupkes (properly spelled bobkes and pronounced "BAUB-kess," but I
usually see it spelled this way and pronounced to rhyme with "pup kiss")
- Literally means "beans" in Russian; usually translated as "nothing," but it
is used to criticize the fact that an amount is absurdly smaller than expected
or deserved. Examples: "I was assigned to work on that project with Mike and he
did bupkes!" or "I had to change jobs; the work wasn't bad, but they paid
- Chutzpah (rhymes with "foot spa", with the throat-clearing "kh"
- Nerve, as when the Three Stooges say, "The noive of that guy!!! Why, I
" It expresses an extreme level of bold-faced arrogance and
presumption. Example: "She asked me to drive her home, and once we were on the
road she told to stop at the supermarket so she could pick something up. What
- Frum (like "from," but with the "u" sound in "put"; sort of sounds
like the imitation of a car noise: brrrum-brrrum, but not vroom like in the car
- Observant of Jewish law. Almost always used to
describe someone else; almost never to describe yourself. "He wasn't raised
very strict, but when he went away to college he became very frum." The Yiddish
name "Fruma," derived from this word, was once quite popular.
- Nu (rhymes with "Jew")
- An all-purpose word that doesn't really mean anything, like "well," "so" or
"wassup?" I usually hear it as a prompt for a response or explanation. A friend
of mine who worked for a Jewish history museum joked that they answered the
phone "Jew mu, nu?" When someone takes too long to respond in an online chat or
trails off in the middle of a thought, I might type "nu?" (are you still there?
are you answering?) If someone says something that doesn't seem to make any
sense, you might say, "nu?" (what's that supposed to mean?)
- Shmutz (rhymes with "puts")
- Dirt. Refers to a trivial amount of nuisance dirt, not real filth. Example:
"You have some shmutz on your shirt; brush it off."
- Shmooze (rhymes with "booze")
- Having a long, friendly chat. Can be used as a noun, but is usually used as
a verb. Examples: "Come to our party! Eat, drink and shmooze!" or "Our salesman
is very good at shmoozing the clients."
- Tchatchke (almost rhymes with "gotcha")
- 1) Little toys; knick-knacks. 2) A pretty young thing, like a trophy wife.
Examples: "The collector had so many tchatchkes that he had to buy a bigger
house!" or "when my mother visits, she always brings tchatchkes for the kids"
or "The boss divorced his wife; now he's dating some little tchatchke." The
Yiddish spelling of the word uses the letter Tsadek, so it should be pronounced
"tsatske," but I've always heard the word pronounced as if it were the "ch" in
There are many Yiddish sites on the web and many of them maintain a better list
of links than I could ever hope to. I will point out only a few that I find
useful, along with their links to other sites.
Forverts is a weekly American
Jewish newspaper written in Yiddish. This is an excellent source if you want to
try reading some useful, day-to-day Yiddish. It is written in the Yiddish
alphabet, not transliteration.
The Yiddish Voice is a weekly
Yiddish-language radio show based in the Boston area, which is available on
streaming audio over the Internet. Their site has a nice list of
YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is an
organization dedicated to studying and preserving the history, society and
culture of Ashkenazic Jewry. YIVO is the
recognized leader in the study of the Yiddish language. They have a page of the
with transliteration and pronunciation guides and an extensive list of
Dr. Rafael Finkel, a computer science professor at the University of Kentucky,
has a marvelous
typewriter online. Type a word in transliteration (Roman letters,
according to YIVO rules of transliteration), and it will show you what it looks
like in Yiddish letters. He also maintains a Yiddish song list and a number of
Yiddish texts, as well as an extensive list of Yiddish links. See his
Suggestions for Further Reading, Viewing or Listening
The New Joys of Yiddish
The original edition by Leo Rosten was the first Jewish book I ever owned. It
examines a wide variety of useful Yiddish words, many of which have found their
way into English, and puts them into their cultural context, illustrating the
use of words through classic humorous stories and jokes. The original edition
is no longer in print -- much of what it said has become remarkably dated in
the 50 or so years since it was written. This new edition has gotten mixed
reviews because, rather than merely updating some of the dated slang and
references, the new edition merely adds a lot of politically-correct footnotes.
For example, after Rosten's original text defines "shlock house" using the
expression "gyp joint," the revisor goes off on a lengthy rant about what a
terrible term "gyp joint" is, because the term "gyp" comes from "Gypsy" and the
Gypsies have been horribly oppressed, all of which is true, but none of which
provides any insight into the meaning of the term "shlock house."
Tales of Mendele the Book Peddler
Two stories by the first great Yiddish writer, Mendele Moykher Sforim,
including his masterpiece, Benjamin the Third, with a lengthy scholarly
introduction discussing the author and the time and place where he lived and
wrote. Translated into English.
In my Father's Court
Autobiographical short stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel Prize
winning Yiddish writer. These stories tell of his childhood in a Polish
community with his father, a Chasidic
rabbi. Translated into English.
Want to try reading some Yiddish? Why not start with that that classic
children's favorite, Winnie the Pooh! Leonard Wolf has provided a very direct,
literal translation of Winnie the Pooh into Yiddish. Printed in transliterated
Yiddish (Yiddish in familiar Roman letters), with the first paragraph of each
story presented in the Yiddish alphabet as well, Vini-Der-Pu is a fun place to
start reading Yiddish. You may also want to buy the
original for comparison. Oy gevalt, hot Pu gezogt! (Oh, bother, said Pooh).
Avi Hoffman's Too Jewish
Hoffman's website): I saw this video on PBS's pledge drive one year, and
absolutely had to own it. This one-man-show (or rather two man, including his
pianist and assistant, Ben "give that man a bagel" Schaechter) is a loving
tribute to Yiddish culture and language, sometimes touching and usually
hilarious, full of Yiddish songs both traditional and not so traditional, jokes
and stories. My favorite part is his translation of Broadway show tunes in
Yiddish (Veyn nisht far mir Argentina...) and Yinglish (Oyyyyyyyyy...glaucoma
ven you can't see foither den yer nose...). Unfortunately, the version I bought
does not have the on-screen translations nor the closed-captioning that were
shown on PBS, but most of the Yiddish is either self-explanatory or explained
by Avi Hoffman.
CD) Well-known actor Mandy
Patinkin shows his Jewish pride with this CD. Half of the songs are
traditional Yiddish songs like Belz and Oyfn Pripichik; half are songs written
in English by American Jews but translated into Yiddish, such as Maria, Take Me
Out to the Ballgame, and Paul Simon's American Tune. Some have quibbled with
his pronunciations and some have criticized him for being - dare I say? - a bit
of a ham, but Patinkin's affection and enthusiasm for the material are
overwhelming and infectious through every song.
CD) A recent CD by the Grammy award-winning
The Klezmatics, a modern band mixing
klezmer and jazz. They won the Grammy for their CD
Wheel, which puts their (mostly klezmer) music to Woody Guthrie lyrics.
They also drew from the Woody Guthrie well on
Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah, which puts klezmer music to
Chanukkah-related songs that Guthrie wrote.
© Copyright 5764-5771 (2004-2011), Tracey R Rich
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