Most young adults who know any Yiddish are familiar only with its expletives -- if we didn't know our history, we'd say it was a language created for the express purpose of insulting others. Before World War II, though, 11 million people sat around kitchens worldwide kibitzing in Yiddish. They had to have said something nice at some point. Now there are only an estimated 3 million Yiddish speakers in the world, and people have started eulogizing the language.
The Jewish Community Chorale's Sunday performance should be a prime opportunity to get the Yiddish hookup. For years, Rita Poisner and her husband had been attending conventions in the Catskills, where they heard Jewish chorales from most of the big cities in the country. They finally decided to start something up here. Now in its second year, the Jewish Community Chorale performs in English, Hebrew, Ladino (a combination of Spanish and Hebrew that Jews carried to the New World when they were expelled from Spain in 1492) and Yiddish, with programs that run the gamut from sacred songs to traditional folk songs to newer music.
"We're trying to create a repertoire that reflects the very varied cultures we've been part of," Poisner says. The inclusion of rare Ladino music, which sounds kind of tangolike, is especially impressive.
But there's no denying that Yiddish is what appeals to most older audiences on a gut level. "We sing some of those old Yiddish songs, and it's so much fun to look into the audience and see people singing along," Poisner says. "Some of them come up to the stage afterwards with tears in their eyes because they haven't heard those songs since they were children."
Most of Sunday's selections are pioneer songs from the days of Israel's settlement. Though the current climate might lead to assumptions that these songs would be political, they actually tend to focus on more basic things -- like Polish dudes traveling in the desert without soles on their shoes.