Exploring Yiddishland Part III: Yiddish Culture in Tel Aviv

By Julia Rothkoff

When I applied for the Naomi Prawer Kadar Columbia Summer Program, I did not expect the schedule to include so many additional cultural events. I looked forward to the opportunity to celebrate Yiddish culture rather than simply learn the language, but I panicked when I read the times of some of the events. The welcome ceremony was scheduled for 3 am EDT (10 am Israel time), for example, but I soon learned that most events were delivered in three different modalities: in-person, livestreamed via Zoom, and recorded. I felt grateful for the program organizers’ flexibility and willingness to accommodate virtual students living in different time zones, when they could have easily focused their efforts solely on the students learning in-person at Tel Aviv University.

One of my favorite instances of the program’s commitment to making the cultural events accessible for all the students was the in-person Cabaretour, a “Yiddish-themed tour of Tel Aviv, featuring live music,” according to the program’s schedule. I clicked on the recording in the Google Drive, still unsure what a “Cabaretour” was. Events that are presented entirely in Yiddish are difficult for me to understand because I do not have time to process every word and the grammar of each sentence, as I would in a Yiddish language class. However, I was able to gather that the Cabaretour consisted of a tour of locations in Yiddish history in Tel Aviv, complete with props and songs. Although, I struggled to understand everything the two tour guides said, I enjoyed sightseeing in Tel Aviv through the lens of the camera. The tour started in a beys oylem (cemetery) on Trumpeldor St. One tour guide played music, as the other one used different accessories, such as a bridal veil, red feathers, a straw hat, and a pipe, to seemingly reenact the different Yiddish figures that they discussed. They walked to different locations, and while I heard a lot of Yiddish, I also heard the tour guides speaking to each other in Hebrew between stops. I noticed the sounds of side conversations between local Israelis, bike riders on their way to work, ambulance sirens, and dogs barking. In my virtual classroom setting, I struggled to immerse myself in Yiddish culture within Tel Aviv because my instructor attended my Zoom course from Russia. Hearing Hebrew on the streets of Tel Aviv allowed me to finally immerse myself in the culture of Tel Aviv, although I viewed the recording from almost 6,000 miles across the world.

Figure 1. The Cabaretour took participants through Yiddish history in Tel Aviv, complete with costumes and songs.

As the program ended, I reflected on the unique opportunity I had to experience all the joys of learning Yiddish at Tel Aviv University during a pandemic. I am thankful to the Naomi Foundation and Columbia University for continuing to offer this fellowship in a virtual setting, which allowed me to fully immerse myself in Yiddishland, while feeling safe at home. I look forward to seeing my Yiddish mishpokhe in-person at Columbia in the fall.

Image Source

Figure 1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnYO9Gr1IMI. Accessed August 23, 2021.

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