Sholom Aleichem Is Alive and Well

Yiddish Crowd Still Gathers at Bronx Center Named for Writer

Bringing It Home: A New Yiddish Rep rehearsal of the one-act play “Agentn,” based on the works of Sholem Aleichem, at the Sholem Aleichem Cultural Center in the Bronx.
nathaniel herz
Bringing It Home: A New Yiddish Rep rehearsal of the one-act play “Agentn,” based on the works of Sholem Aleichem, at the Sholem Aleichem Cultural Center in the Bronx.

By Nathaniel Herz

Published January 07, 2012, issue of January 13, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

By the 1980s, though, the number of young Jews in the area had dwindled to the point that the school could no longer sustain itself, and the building was converted into a center for Yiddish language.

Norwood has seen its Jewish population plummet, like other neighborhoods around the Bronx. A 2002 survey estimated there were just 45,100 Jews in the borough, down from 600,000 in 1945.

Some pockets remain, in neighborhoods like Riverdale and Parkchester. But the vast majority of the city’s estimated 88,000 Yiddish speakers now reside in Brooklyn, and many of those are members of Orthodox communities.

There’s little nostalgia or pessimism about the language among the members of the Sholem Aleichem Cultural Center, though — they’re too busy speaking it.

“There are other places that have things about Yiddish. This is in Yiddish,” said Itzik Gottesman, 54, who grew up on Bainbridge Avenue as one of Schaechter-Gottesman’s children and is now associate editor of the Forverts — and the center’s president. “The very fact that it’s in Yiddish implies our approach, that this is a living language and not something of the past.”

Each month, the center holds a cultural program exclusively in Yiddish — usually a 40-minute lecture followed by a musical performance, though the center will also host theater or films, with English supertitles for non-Yiddish speaking visitors on very rare occasions. Lecture topics have included the psychology of Jewish humor; the history of the Morgen Freiheit, a defunct communist Yiddish newspaper and even the broader points of Maori culture.

The not-for-profit cultural center is on sound financial footing: It owns the building it’s housed in and rents space to the continuing medical education department of nearby Montefiore Medical Center. Its lecturers and performers are compensated with a “reasonable fee,” Gottesman said, and the center pays travel expenses for some of its guests.

Events take place in a basement auditorium filled with vestiges of Yiddish art and culture.

At one end of the hall, shelves are stacked with hundreds of Yiddish books with peeling dust jackets; at the other is a narrow, warmly lit stage, with boxes of Montefiore’s files hidden behind a black curtain. The setting, to borrow a Yiddish word, is “haimish,” said Aviva Astrinsky, 73.

“It feels homey,” she said.

Astrinsky, a Manhattan resident, said she has been coming to the center for 12 years; she learned Yiddish “by osmosis” from her grandparents when she was growing up in Israel.

“I love the language, and I think it deserves to be alive,” she said.

Nathaniel Herz is a student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love.
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.