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!
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • 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.