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At Greek Yiddish Week, Karaoke, Folk Dance And A Wedding

This article originally appeared in the Yiddish Forverts.

If you enjoy strenuous physical activity in your free time you’ll be happy to know that the Yiddish world recently ran its own marathon. A Yiddish marathon is a bit different than the others, though. Here, it’s not feet but time that flies, even if the exertion is just as strenuous, and just as rewarding, as a runner’s crossing the finish line after 26 grueling miles.

You might be wondering: What on earth is a Yiddish Marathon? For starters, you can participate in Yiddish and African folk dancing, construct mosaics out of beans, or sing in a Yiddish karaoke. You can listen to, or conduct your own lectures on various themes, like the Yiddish songs that were popular among immigrants in Whitechapel, or psychological perspectives on trauma and language in the first Holocaust writings of the Yiddish poet Avrom Sutzkever.

You can construct origami figures, or sing Hasidic niggunim, or play Yiddish Scrabble; perform in devastating parodies of Greek tragedie, or prepare stuffed grape leaves (or vegan chocolate truffles if you prefer); sit in on a literary reading, practice the [Feldenkrais Method( or even get married!

The Yiddish Karaoke was inspired by the director of the Paris-based Medem Library and Yiddish Center, Tal Hever-Chybowski, who had originally tried it out in one of his Yiddish classes. The idea is to spontaneously translate into Yiddish some well-known song, while the original lyrics are projected for everyone to see. The results can be quite funny, as in the performer who substituted “Mame Miriam” for Mother Mary in the Beatles song, “Let It Be”.

Among the other favorites competing for attention at the Karaoke were “Strangers in the Night,” “Imagine,” “A Whole New World” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

This was the insane atmosphere at the first week-long European Yiddish Marathon, which ran from Friday, December 28 through Thursday, January 3 in Sounion, Greece. The idea behind this initiative, organized by Yiddish Summer Weimar and the Medem Library and Yiddish Center, was to enable Yiddishists who had difficulty traveling to America to participate in the ever-popular Yidish Vokh to enjoy their own week of Yiddish-run activities. The choice of dates worked well strategically, because in addition to their shared love of Yiddish culture, participants could celebrate the secular new year together and witness the wedding of Yiddishists Yankl-Peretz Blum and Mira-Rivke Canning. (The wedding was a great opportunity to practice the traditional Yiddish folk dances that were taught in the workshops all week.)

About 80 people came to the Yiddish Marathon, among them families with children, students and retirees from Russia, England, Israel, France and the United States. The result: New friendships and unique cultural exchanges. At the family-run Hotel Saron, where the Marathon took place, for example, hotel workers even played Greek music at our evening concert.

The children’s group at Yiddish Marathon. Image by Ethel Niborski

The hotel is located on the shore of the Mediterranean, where you could stroll along the beach in the few moments between activities, enjoy a little of the Greek landscape, and get a taste of the unexpectedly cold Greek January weather. In light of this fact, a special tour was organized to the nearby Poseidon Temple, where Lord Byron is said to have once carved his signature, a story recounted at one of our lectures.

On our last evening, five groups of “actors” performed short sketches that they had prepared and rehearsed several days prior. Among the heroes on display were Yenta the Olive-Trader, Avrom Poseidenovich, a Greek golden peacock, and Odysseus the clockmaker. The moral of the story that washed ashore here was clear: Leshone haboe, let’s meet again next year for a second round.

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