Ontario Yiddishkayt: Yiddish for a New Generation
By Alan Scheer
July 8, 2022
For decades now, Yiddish language and culture has seemed imperiled. But surprisingly, browsing the internet reveals that the study of Yiddish has become more popular than it has been since the 1930s.
Alex Weiser, Outreach Director of the YIVO Institute in New York City, recently chaired a panel online about the future of Yiddish, and he opened his talk by saying that participation in YIVO programs has increased ten-fold in the past two years. Participation in classes at our own Committee for Yiddish has also increased greatly. At least this is one positive effect the Covid Pandemic has had on learning – people in huge numbers are now using the internet to connect to Yiddish classes, webinars and Yiddish reading groups all over the world.
In 2010, two undergraduate students at the University of Ottawa decided they wanted to promote Yiddish culture to their own age group, the eighteen to forty year-old demographic. Sara Katz and Benjamin Miller formed the group online, which is now called Ontario Yiddishkayt. After they graduated and moved to Toronto in 2016, they invited their friend, Rebecca Frailich to join the board.
Ontario Yiddishkayt today exists primarily as a group on Facebook. The group aims to serve the Ontario community as a bulletin board for their own upcoming events, and for any other topic that may be of use to their members. The group has 434 online members and intends to be as welcoming as possible: one does not have to be Jewish to participate, one does not have to have any knowledge of Yiddish to participate, and there are no religious expectations of the group. Only the food is kosher!
Rebecca’s role has been the event coordinator, Sarah’s responsibilities is artwork and Benjamin is responsible for planning activities.
One of the group’s most successful events has been an in-person Hanukkah party held at a member’s home. Twenty-five people attended and one of the activities at the party was singing in Yiddish. Understanding that cities across the province already have spaces where people can engage in Jewish and Hebrew activities of whatever nature they like, Ontario Yiddishkayt focuses on presenting events with Yiddish as the central element of their events.
At the Toronto Ashkenaz Festival in 2019 the group hosted "Yiddish Kite(s)", a Yiddish kite flying event by the waterfront. On each kite a word in Yiddish was written.
Another event had fortune cookies with Yiddish words as the fortune in the center of each cookie. This was an idea they had garnered from the online YouTube sensation, “Yidlife Crisis”. An online event held in conjunction with the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst Massachusetts presented the film “Beyle: The Artist and Her Legacy”, a documentary about the life of Beyle Schechter-Gottesman.
The future of Ontario Yiddishkayt is uncertain. Since Covid the group has maintained its on-line presence, informing members about Intensive Summer Yiddish programs that are available and areas where people can apply for financial assistance. Presently there are no live in-person events scheduled. However, if anyone, anywhere is interested in becoming a member of Ontario Yiddishkayt they can request to join their Facebook Group at Ontario Yiddishkayt. We can only hope that as time passes, Ontario Yiddishkayt will start holding in-person events once again.