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Swedish Music Videos Teach Children Yiddish

This article originally appeared in the Yiddish Forverts.

Thanks to Yiddish’s status as an official minority language in Sweden, the Scandinavian nation finances many initiatives to encourage its use. Besides the yearly international Yiddish seminar, a program sponsored by the Yiddish authority in which lecturers and performers from around the world speak to Sweden’s Jewish community in Yiddish, and regular Yiddish-language radio and television broadcasts, the Swedish government supports classes and other programs that teach the language.

Recently, the Sveriges Jiddischförbund, Sweden’s largest Yiddish cultural organization, released a series of 12 music videos in which the singer Heléne Don Lind performs Yiddish children’s songs. In the video series, “Lider mit Glider” (literally: “Songs with Limbs”), Don Lind acts out the songs’ lyrics through motions and exaggerated hand gestures so that children between ages one and eight can learn Yiddish vocabulary by associating words with the movements they see on their computer screens. The project’s website includes not only the videos with transliterated Yiddish subtitles but also recordings of the musical accompaniment so that Yiddish teachers will have the option of performing the songs themselves karaoke style.

In a Skype interview with the Forverts, Paula Grossman of the Sveriges Jiddischförbund explained that her organization decided to create the video series so that Jewish communities in both Sweden and abroad would have more resources for teaching young children Yiddish. In order to choose the best songs, Grossman asked the ethnomusicologist (and Forverts columnist) Dr. Itzik Gottesman and the composer and choir director Benjamin Schaechter for their recommendations. Afterwards, Don Lind narrowed down the recommendations to the twelve songs that she felt would best lend themselves to being performed with explanatory facial expressions and motions. Among the selections are some classic folksongs like “Az Der Rebe Zingt,” “Ot Azoy Neyt a Shnayder,” and “Oy Mayn Kepele,” as well as four more recent songs by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman: “Der Vint,” “Hamerl,” “Bleter,” and “Di Ban.”

The songs are performed with a musical accompaniment that incorporates both traditional melodies and influences from rock and jazz.

The series, along with YiddishPOP, is pretty much the only modern multimedia tools for parents or teachers who want to introduce young children to Yiddish. Hopefully “Lider mit Glider” will be used in Yiddish classes and inspire similar initiatives.

The videos can be viewed here.

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