Posts Tagged ‘Yiddish’

Will Yiddish Film ‘The Pin’ Prick Audiences’ Interest?

October 22, 2013

This article was first published as ‘First Canadian Narrative Drama in Yiddish Debuts in NY’ in The Times of Israel.

The Pin #1

Milda Gecaite and Grisha Pasternak in ‘The Pin’. (photo credit: Courtesy of Main Street Films)

A new film opening this week in New York and Los Angeles is in a language most people — including the film’s director — don’t speak. Filmmaker Naomi Jaye didn’t know a word of Yiddish before making “The Pin,” but her artistic vision called for dialogue exclusively in mammeloshen.

“The Pin,” a love story set against a Holocaust backdrop, is the first Canadian cinematic narrative drama in Yiddish (with English subtitles). An intimate art house film with languid pacing and a deliberate style, it takes place almost entirely in a barn somewhere in Eastern Europe during the war. The exact time and place are undisclosed, and even the names of the two main characters are unknown.

The barn scenes are a flashback in the mind of an elderly shomer, who is asked to watch over a deceased woman’s body overnight until a woman attendant can prepare it for burial the next morning. The shomerrecognizes the corpse as the young woman he met while hiding in the barn, and with whom he fell in love before the two were permanently separated and left unaware of each other’s fates.

Not only does Jaye, a graduate of the Canadian Film Centre’s Directors’ Lab and a successful director of short films, not know Yiddish, she also has no direct relation to the Holocaust. Her grandparents were in England and South Africa during the war years. However, the film did emerge from the director’s family history. In the film, the shomer takes a pin and pricks the hand of his long-lost love. Jaye’s grandmother Leah, like the girl in the barn, had a fear of being buried alive and had asked her son, the filmmaker’s father, to prick her hand with a pin after she had died.

Jaye, 40, was uncompromising about authenticity and insisted on making the film in Yiddish despite the difficulties she faced in drumming up financial support for the production. Eventually, Daniel Bekerman of Scythia Films came on board as co-producer, and shooting began in April 2012 in and around Hamilton, Ontario.

“I am astounded by their performances,” Jaye says of the young actors who play the main characters. “Neither of them knew Yiddish coming in to the film, and by the end they were texting one another using Yiddish words.”

Click here to read more and view the film’s trailer.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


How Do You Spell ‘Knaidel’?

May 31, 2013

This piece was first published on the Forward Thinking blog at the Forward.

img_0605Had Jack Lebewohl of the legendary 2nd Ave Deli been competing yesterday in the final round of 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee, he would have lost to the winner, 13-year-old Arvind Mahankali. The Jewish food maven would have misspelled the winning word: ‘knaidel’.

“The thing is, we spell it k-n-e-i-d-e-l,” the deli man said in reference to the Jewish dumpling and Yiddish word for matzo ball, that was the winning word. He’s not sure how the judges could have been sure that Mahankali spelled the word correctly, when “there’s no Webster’s Dictionary for the spelling of Yiddish words.” (Though there is the widely accepted YIVO style.)

‘Knaidel’ or ‘kneidel’, Lebewohl says it’s all good. He likened the difference in spellings to the differences in Yiddish pronunciations between Galicianers and Litvaks. “It’s also like how Polish Jews like their gefilte fish sweet, and the Hungarians like it with more pepper,” he said.

For Lebewohl, the elevation of the modest Jewish dumpling to the status of winning national spelling bee word essentially signifies that Yiddish is truly entering the vernacular. “Non-Jews in New York use Yiddish words all the time,” he said as he recalled how Al D’Amato unfortunately called Charles Schumer a “putzhead” during the 1998 New York senatorial race.

Click here to read more and watch a video on how to make a ‘knaidel’.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Jewish Languages from Bukhori to Juhuri

May 29, 2013

This piece was first published on The Arty Semite blog at the Forward.

Ross Perlin

Ross Perlin

When asked to name Jewish languages, most people would say Hebrew and Yiddish. Some might also mention Ladino or Aramaic. It’s unlikely that they would know about Juhuri, Bukhori and Judeo-Median — and that is precisely why the Jewish Languages Project of the Endangered Language Alliance has come into being.

Juhuri, Bukhori and Judeo-Median are among the several dozen distinct languages Jews have spoken across the world throughout the millennia. Most of them are no longer spoken, and those that are still in use are in danger of disappearing.

“Scholarship on Jewish languages has been sporadic, and no one has focused on endangered ones,” said Ross Perlin, assistant director of the Endangered Languages Alliance and director of its Jewish Languages project. (Perlin is also a Forward contributor and was named to the 2012 Forward 50.) He, together with ELA executive director Daniel Kaufman and Persian language expert Habib Borjian, is trying to document, describe and preserve these languages, beginning with Juhuri, Bukhori and Judeo-Median. All three languages have Persian connections, with Juhuri spoken by Jews from southwest Iran and Caucasian Jews of Russia and Azerbaijan, Buhkori from southwest Iran and Central Asia, and Judeo-Median spoken by Jews from northwest-central Iran.

Click here to read more.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.