By Michelle Cohen
Twenty older adults, including members of the Yiddish Club as well as residents of Country Meadows of Allentown, gathered together to share stories, sing songs and interact in Yiddish on July 25.
The event, which was sponsored by Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley and the Jewish Community Center of the Lehigh Valley, brought Yiddish Club residents to Country Meadows so that the residents, many of whom have mobility problems, could attend the meeting and speak a language many remembered from childhood.
As people filed into the room, the Yiddish Club members distributed two handouts, one with some vocabulary words about family members and locations, the other containing five traditional Yiddish songs written out with Hebrew letters and transliterations. After brief introductions by JFS Volunteer Coordinator Chelsea Karp, JCC Adult Program Coordinator Amy Sams and Jeff Warschauer, the new cantor from Congregation Keneseth Israel, everyone was ready to begin.
Yiddish Club member Murray Bonfeld came equipped with a humorous story that he told and translated to break the ice, and then Cantor Jeff introduced a simple melody where attendees were invited to call out values that are important to them like sholem (peace) or liebe (love) that were integrated into the song.
During a break from the singing, Bonfeld and fellow club member Chet Ringel introduced some more words and phrases to the group, including unusual words that are sometimes hard to translate, such as ceiling, practice and carrot. Bonfeld then led a read-aloud of the packet with family words, which led to a conversation about where some of the attendees learned Yiddish. The origins of their knowledge were vast; while some people learned Yiddish as a child or adult, others were able to understand certain words because of their knowledge of German or even Pennsylvania Dutch!
Cantor Jeff began another song at that point: Bay mir bistu sheyn, a melody full of compliments for a beautiful woman. The conversation then turned to favorite Yiddish proverbs, sayings, phrases and endearments for grandchildren.
After an hour and 15 minutes of socializing and singing, the attendees enjoyed some homemade rugelach from Karp. “Being at this special program made me think of my great grandmother, Bubby Anna, who spoke Yiddish when I went to visit her. How amazing that this language can connect us to our past, yet give us the gift of an afternoon of learning and togetherness right here in our community,” she said, adding that JFS will be bringing Yiddish Club to older adult residences quarterly from now on.
“I am so pleased how everything fell into place,” added Sams. “Chelsea and I shared the same goal of positively impacting the community by partnering our Jewish agencies together. We had fun every step of the way and are grateful to the JCC Yiddish Club for their willingness and excitement to share their experience and knowledge with the residents of Country Meadows. We are also thankful to the folks at Country Meadows for welcoming us into their home and their openness to meet new people and try something new. It was such a great opportunity to introduce Cantor Jeff to the community, and share his talents. We are very excited to continue our endeavor in bringing people together and meeting the needs of the Jewish community.”
This program was the first example of “Yiddish Club on the Road,” and the next program will take place on October 24 at Atria in Bethlehem.