YIVO Australian Visit a success

Youngsters interested in Yiddish

Weiser said during their visit to Australia, he and Halpern found a great interest in Yiddish among young people.

Poster for a 1939 Yiddish play in Melbourne.
Poster for a 1939 Yiddish play in Melbourne.

Yiddish has a real future in Australia, not just a past.

That’s according to the director of archives for the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Stefanie Halpern and the director of public programs Alex Weiser, who were recently in Melbourne and Sydney on a trip organised by the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation at Monash University.

The pair featured at several public events for the ACJC, Kadimah, Monash University and the University of Sydney.

Weiser said during their visit to Australia, he and Halpern found a great interest in Yiddish among young people.

“That’s really consistent with what we find at YIVO as well, that you have students, especially college and graduate students that are looking to study history or literature or music or the arts. They’re curious to learn about this amazing period of Jewish history, for which Yiddish is the key that unlocks the door,” he said.

He said he was struck by the fact that Melbourne’s Sholem Aleichem College is the only secular school in the world that teaches in Yiddish, something that reflects the Melbourne Jewish community’s Polish roots.

“The character of the community [in Melbourne] is very reminiscent of the kind of Polish Jewish community before the war with its preponderance of Jewish schools and youth movements and all the different kind of political stripes that they represent. That’s really wonderful and resonates a lot with the work we do at YIVO,” he said.

The YIVO visitors are optimistic that Yiddish and Hebrew can coexist.

Halpern said, “There were communities in Eastern Europe schools that were teaching Hebrew, and newspapers and journals in Hebrew that lived right alongside those Yiddish materials as well. And that’s true today, and I would encourage people to teach both languages to their children.”

ACJC director David Slucki said the YIVO visit has been a big success, and the ACJC is keen to maintain a strong relationship with the New York-based institution.

“In the past we’ve sent students to study leadership at the YIVO summer program, and we’re hoping to send more students as interns to learn particularly from Stephanie and her team, about collection management. So yes, we do very much intend to continue this partnership,” he said.

Slucki agreed with Halpern and Weiser that Yiddish in Australia is not dying. “I can’t tell you what that future looks like but there’s clearly an appetite for Yiddish learning,” he said.

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