As a proud board member of the Shalom Yiddish Club of Milwaukee, I have facilitated numerous programs for it, pertaining to Yiddish language and culture: academic speakers, film documentaries, concerts, etc. But an ongoing concern of the 16-year-old organization has been how to instill an appreciation of Yiddish to local younger generations, especially with our members now being in their 60s-to-90s and not tech-savvy. I was therefore determined to produce an intergenerational, interactive program to achieve this goal, with the Milwaukee Jewish Day School eighth graders, who would attend an upcoming meeting.
However, unlike the Holocaust or other topics, I could find no intergenerational/interactive methodologies for Yiddish, even from such multifaceted sources as YIVO, or The Yiddish Book Center. I feared a lecture would have the opposite effect of what we sought, and as a theater artist, I wanted the young “audience” to enjoy the session as well as gain educationally. Happily, after my many hours of devising the content and format, all was successful, similarly to the previous two years of the presentation.
The wonderful MJDS teachers again helped time the event to coincide with the students’ study of shtetl life, thus providing context and background. Each student was paired with a club member, working together on various activities, including readings, histories and explorations of Yiddish humor and wisdom. The program was historical due not only to its subject matter, but also because it was perhaps the only intergenerational program solely about Yiddish ever done in Milwaukee and/or Wisconsin. A joyous mutual respect between the two disparate age groups pervaded, with teacher’s comments such as, “My students really enjoyed the experience, and seeing how passionate the seniors were about Yiddish. I know they will remember this for a long time,” and student observation that, “It made us understand more in depth about our Yiddish and Jewish past, which is so moving.”
It was indeed a grois fargeningen (great pleasure) to work with the mentschlikeit (good-hearted, wonderful) students, and to insure that the history and value of Yiddish will be honored, not forgotten.
Nancy Weiss-McQuide is a theater artist and teaches dance at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. She is on the board of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Coalition for Jewish Learning, and her volunteerism has included RUACH, Bader Hillel Academy and pro-Israel programs with the Committee for Truth and Justice.