Yesterday, three of us from the Yiddish Danube group took part in the Zingt Music workshop at JW3, a modern Jewish Community Centre on Finchley Road. The workshop brought together people from across London and from various age groups to celebrate Yiddish music and join in song.
We sang along in Yiddish for almost two hours.
We started off with a nign, a warm up melody to get us in the mood. We then moved into more advanced territory with the oddly named ‘Forgotten Yiddish song’– a soulful anthem about destitution, a trajectory in which the Yiddish community often found itself in history.
“A ballad about broken shoes, a ballad that never ends, a ballad about hunger and poverty, a ballad about a piece of bread. Ah, the whole world is no more than a story, a game”
We then sung Ekhod by Sarah Mina Gordon, a tune which combined Hebrew with more contemporary lyrics. This mix demonstrates the vitality of modern Yiddish culture, building on traditional foundations to create something lively and new.
The last melody was an emotional lullaby dedicated to love and family, hopefully not ruined by our inability to sing. With the deeper voices covering the bass and the higher notes hit beautifully by the other members, a thoroughly enjoyable evening came to a stirring end.
Talking to members of this community, some who spoke Yiddish and others who didn’t, also provided us with some fascinating insights into the lives of modern Yiddish people in London. Ian, for instance, described to us how his parents refused to teach him Yiddish after immigrating from the Danube region, but sadly we did not get from which country. His story echoed those of many Yiddish people who came to London to escape persecution, trying to cut ties with the past even if it meant not passing down their heritage to a younger generation.
Suzy’s grandmother, on the other hand, hoped to teach the traditions of her native land through sharing folk songs. Although Suzy didn’t know much Yiddish herself, she too wanted to carry on her family legacy by educating her own grandchildren.
Although these two may have come from families with very different attitudes about how to approach their Danubian past, the fact that they both came to Zingt is indicative of the booming interest many people now have in trying to recapture their cultural heritage.