CHICAGO’S FIRST YIDDISH BREAK
By Sonia Gollance
When I first started studying Yiddish almost two years ago, I very quickly learned that my hometown of New York City was the capital of the American Yiddish-speaking world. Unfortunately, I was already a student at the University of Chicago.
This is not to say that being a student at the University of Chicago is a misfortune, although sometimes when studying for finals in the dead of winter, it might feel that way. This is also not to say that there were no opportunities to speak or learn Yiddish in Chicago; on the contrary, I found a very warm cadre of Yiddish-speaking classmates and community members.
Yet this group is much smaller than New York’s Yiddish-speaking community. My non-Yiddish-speaking friends are happy to watch Yiddish movies with me and learn quirky facts about Yiddish. Yet at the same time, I often found myself wishing I could introduce my Chicago friends to the full variety of the New York Yiddish scene.
What’s more, I found myself wishing that Yiddish Break took place in a location other than on the East Coast and at some time other than University of Chicago’s finals week.
Luckily, I wasn’t the only one. With a diverse Planning Committee of seven campus Yiddishists and the support of Yugntruf’s Board, an honest-to-goodness, East-Coast-style, large-scale Yiddish youth event began to take shape: Yiddish Break Chicago.
Yiddish Break Chicago (4/3 – 4/5/09) was a truly successful event. With over 50 registered participants from places as far-flung as Los Angeles and New York City, we exceeded our target involvement – and still had enough food, home-stays, and activities for everyone.
Over the course of the weekend we met new people, shared our love of Yiddish, and found ourselves speaking more and more in Yiddish. Students from the first-year Yiddish class at Northwestern were able to practice with native speakers; speakers of German and Hebrew learned about Yiddish in light of their linguistic knowledge; non-speakers had the opportunity to learn words from Yiddish songs; and dyed-in-the wool Yugntrufniks were able to learn traditional Yiddish folk dances with Chicago-based Yiddish Dance Master Steve Weintraub. We even had a Yiddish sing-a-long and kosher s’mores roast by the shores of Lake Michigan!
We hope there will be many more Yiddish Breaks at campuses around the country in years to come — and, who knows, perhaps Yiddish Break Chicago 2010!