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Yiddish at the JCC: Keeping Memories Alive

Posted by Roberta Levine on December 15, 2015

Mary Marks keeps memories alive. Once a week for the past 20 years, she has volunteered to lead a Yiddish Conversation class. “She gets a mob,” said one of the students at a recent session.

The class was started in 1989 by Ann Cohen, whose hand-written transliterations are still being used today. When Cohen passed away in 1995, Marks became the class leader.

The class starts with Yiddish stories that are typical expressions of Yiddishkeit – Yiddish culture – the ironic humor and expression so unique to Yiddish:

The couple who goes to a doctor’s office for their intimate relations because it’s a cheaper meeting place than a hotel, “and I get reimbursed $18 of the $20 fee by Medicare,” the man explains.

The younger student who, told by his teacher that in matchmaking he should exaggerate the qualities of the matched, turns a description of a “small bump” on a girl’s back into “a mountain.”

The woman who needs to show off for her new coffee klatch by making up stories of her travels, capping off one story by saying that in Rome she met the Pope. And, she adds, “The Pope has a beautiful wife.”

Yiddish songs fill the session with a feel for the old country. The class listens reverently as Bronia Weiner beautifully sings a well-known Yiddish lullaby, Rozhinkes mit Mandlen (Raisins and Almonds), evoking personal memories for each person in the class. Together, the group enthusiastically sings several more songs. Marks ends the class after a brief vocabulary review.

“I love this,” says Marks, for whom Yiddish was her first language. “I hear things I hadn’t heard since I was a little girl.”

Yiddish Class meets every Tuesday from 10 to 11 am at the JCC in Squirrel Hill.

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