Special Guests Highlight the Week at FJA

Two distinct events this week brought guests to FJA for entertainment and enlightenment.  The first was a special appearance by FJA alum Michael Yashinsky, the current Applebaum Fellow at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, MA.  The other was a new experience, a weekday matinee of the spring play Leaving Iowa, staged especially for members of area senior residences.

Yashinsky (Class of 2007) returned to school on April 12 to deliver an interesting lecture – “Wandering Through Yiddishland,” an interactive talk and visual presentation that updated his audience on the status of a colorful language gaining a renewed prevalence in many aspects of Jewish culture.

“The roots of my interest (in this subject) are in this school and in my parents’ home,” Yashinsky said.

Introduced by Rabbi Reuven Margrett, FJA’s Director of Judaic Studies, Yashinsky discussed the upswing of Yiddish in books, movies, stage, and as a return for conversational usage.

“What united Jews was Torah and Shabbos, and our language, customs and folklore all through years of bondage.  Yiddish is the language of a people that wandered throughout history.  It was developed in Germany, but added elements of Slavic, Hebrew, and Aramaic dialects,” said Yashinsky.

 “It’s a language without borders, kind of like (a mystery you might find in) ‘The Twilight Zone’,” he said.

Yashinsky related how he was part of a contingent that traveled to Mexico City to catalog and reclaim from a Jewish library over 8,000 books written in Yiddish.  Acclaimed artist Diego Rivera illustrated one priceless book.

“Many of those books were published after the (Second World) War and were homeless and abandoned.”  Yashinsky’s analogy explained the Jewish post-war attitude at reviving a flagging language.  They were “frightened,” and exhibited “a fear of Yiddish, even in Israel” as emblematic of a form of communication of a bygone era they didn’t wish to revisit.

However, The Yiddish Book Center is eager to restore Yiddish to a prominent place in Jewish culture.  Yashinsky called attention to the quote that adorns the entranceway of the building.  “Ver vet ibermishin gele bleter…” it questions, translating to “Who will turn over yellowed pages?”  Yashinsky interpreted the quote to mean, “Who will embrace and remember this culture and move it forward?”

Instances of Yiddish in media were reviewed during his talk, including the play he directed and produced in 2015, After Midnight, completely performed in Yiddish.  He proudly recounted it was the first stage play of its kind in decades.

Aside from FJA, Yashinsky spoke at Congregation Shaarey Zedek and Wayne State University.  Next, he is heading to Indianapolis to work on a play.
As the lecture was taking place upstairs in the school, downstairs the FJA Performing Arts was rehearsing in The Berman for the comedy Leaving Iowa for performances April 14, 15, and 17.  The Friday matinee was a special event for seniors, a first in school history.

The idea came from Mitch Master, FJA Director of Performing and Visual Arts.  “We wanted to reach out to the community as well as showcase our outstanding talented actors.  The response has been very good.  We look to continue to grow and enhance this experience and to turn this matinee into a new spring tradition at FJA.”