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Donor Saves L.A. Yiddish Program

A major contribution from an anonymous donor will allow a pilot program that teaches Yiddish to Los Angeles high-school students to survive.

Yiddishkayt Los Angeles, a not-for-profit organization devoted to furthering Yiddish in the area, recently received an unsolicited $250,000 gift earmarked for a program that aims to bring Yiddish-language classes into high schools.

“It’s the kind of thing you just wait for, but you can’t believe when it does happen,” said Aaron Paley, founder and board chair of Yiddishkayt Los Angeles. “It was a strong vote of confidence in the project.”

The program was conceived three years ago as a means of introducing Yiddish instruction before students get to college, where the language is primarily taught. Launched with an initial grant from Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation, the program is now being implemented at a local Jewish day school the San Fernando Valley, the New Community Jewish High School, where students take Yiddish class during the school day.

According to Paley, it marks the first time that Yiddish has been taught in an American high school just as any other foreign language would be — as part of the regular curriculum.

The anonymous donation came just as the dollars from the project’s initial grant were starting to dry up, Paley said. This new influx of funds, to be parceled out over a five-year period, will be primarily used to develop a high-school textbook that Yiddishkayt Los Angeles ultimately hopes to publish and distribute internationally.

Launched in 1995, Yiddishkayt Los Angeles sponsors Yiddish-themed events and festivals around the city, including one held in Little Tokyo in 2004. This year it sponsored a series of Yiddish “salons” that included an evening with the authors of “Yiddish With Dick and Jane.”

“We’re trying to create an alternative pathway to Jewish identity and an intergenerational connection,” Paley said.

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