Yiddish scholars and entertainers from all over the world will shlep to Pittsburgh at the end of this month for the 15th International Association of Yiddish Clubs Conference & Retreat, April 26-29, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Green Tree.
More than 40 presenters, and a slew of entertainers, are slated to provide a holistic Yiddish experience to both those who are fluent, and those who only know a bissel of the mame loshn.
“This is a very rare opportunity,” said Debbie Herman, project coordinator for the conference. “Even if people don’t speak a word of Yiddish, they will thoroughly enjoy the conference.”
The conference, which is held every 12 to 18 months, has been hosted in major cities across North America, including New York, Montreal, Miami and San Francisco. It was brought to Pittsburgh by Sol Toder, who runs the South Hills Yiddish Conversation Club, which meets at the South Hills Jewish Community Center. A second Pittsburgh Yiddish club meets at the JCC in Squirrel Hill.
The caliber of speakers and entertainers slated for this year’s conference is particularly strong, according to Fishl Kutner, conference program chair.
“People came out of the woodwork once they found out who the other players were,” said Kutner, the octogenarian who was one of four founders of the IYAC group in 1991. “I have had people call me that I never dreamed would come, like Leo Melamed (chairman emeritus of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange); he’s doing a poetry recital in Yiddish.”
In fact, presenters are coming from all over the world. Dr. Yoshiji “Yoshi” Hirose, a professor at Notre Dame Seishin University in Okayama, will present a lecture on “Reading Chaim Grade (Yiddish poet and novelist) in Japan.”
Other sessions will be lead by scholars such as Ruth Wisse, head of Yiddish Department at Harvard University; Yiddish translator Michael Rosenbush; and Refoyl Finkel, of the University of Kentucky, who will lead a session at which participants will create a new folk song in Yiddish.
“Through most of the conference, there will be four simultaneous lectures,” Herman said. “There will be art workshops, film, authentically taught folk dancing. There will be historical characters. It will be like you are transported into Eastern Europe. We wanted to make it as experiential as possible.”
Many local Pittsburghers will be at the conference as presenters or entertainers, including Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians Noah Bendix-Balgley, Aron Zelkowicz and Rodrigo Ojeda; Janet and Jack Mostow of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills; and Cantor Ben Rosner of Congregation Beth Shalom.
Local presenters include Barbara Burstin, discussing Pittsburgh Jewish history; Alex Orbach, speaking on the history of Russian Jewry; and Nicholas Lane, focusing on Jews of the Baltic states.
Local Holocaust survivors Moshe Baran, Leon Brett and Sarah Brett will participate in a panel discussion on the Shoa.
Some of the sessions will be given in Yiddish, and some in English, Herman said.
The Saturday morning Shabbat service, led by Finkel, will be unique in that the Torah will first be chanted in Hebrew, then translated into Yiddish, Finkel said.
Yiddish is more than a language, according to Herman, but encapsulates an entire culture.
“This is a once in a lifetime chance for people to experience Eastern European culture and Yiddish all in one place,” she said. “We will saturate them with that experience.”
Want to go?
What: 15th IAYC International Yiddish
Conference & Retreat
When: April 26 -29, 2013
Where: DoubleTree Hotel, Green Tree
Registration: Attendees can register for all or part of the conference. Go to yiddishconference.com for more information.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)