Popular Tel Aviv organization, “Yung Yidish”, forced to shut by December 5
According to a verdict by the Tel Aviv Local Affairs Court, the popular Yiddish cultural center and library,”Yung Yidish”, located inside the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, will be forced to close its doors by December 5, 2021.
The eviction is part of a grand plan by the city to shut down the huge station due to its lack of fire safety standards and build a new one in another location in the city. For years local residents have complained about the high level of air and noise pollution at the foul-smelling station – a hulking seven-floor labyrinth, for years described as “a thorn in our eyes” and “a monstrosity”.
But when you climb up to the fifth floor of the complex and enter the space inhabited by “Yung Yidish”, it’s like entering another world: an impressive library of thousands of Yiddish books, begging to be leafed through. And if you’re lucky, you’ll come just in time to participate in one of their many activities: klezmer concerts, lectures, holiday celebrations and Yiddish courses, all under the direction of actor-singer Mendy Cahan, whose warmth and charisma strike you as soon as you enter.
Itzik Gottesman, a senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin, who interviewed Cahan in 2009, praises one of Cahan’s greatest achievements, something no other Yiddish organization has managed to do: drawing in young Israelis.
“His space in the central bus station looks surrealistic from the outside, but as soon as you enter, you feel like you’re at home, among friends,” Gottesman said.
The Tel Aviv court had already ordered all businesses and cultural groups located in the central bus station to evacuate in 2016, unless Nitsba Real Estate, the company owning the station, obtained approval from Fire and Rescue Services, the Health Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry – something that everyone agrees is virtually impossible.
Trying to “sell” the moving plan to the public, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli listed all the advantages. “In the near future we will see alternative sites, more electric buses, better service and less of the Tel Aviv central bus station and its pollution,” she said in a statement.
She did not specify whether the building will be leveled, an act certain to create even more air pollution in the city, or the fact that the new location, near the Panorama Center, lies far from a train station or main highway. As a result, buses would need to weave their way through the streets of Tel Aviv in order to reach its last stop, substantially increasing the passengers’ traveling time.
When Cahan first heard the news about the December 5 shutting of the bus station, he wasn’t worried. “We’ve heard that before,” he said during an interview with the Forverts. “But a couple of hours later, after I called some journalists and some of my friends, it turned out that it was worse than I thought.”
Because the ongoing feud has been between Nitsba and the municipality, or as Cahan calls it, “a dispute between capitalists”, no agency has bothered to approach the managers of the mom and pop shops housed in the bus station, or to the cultural centers like Yung Yidish, to see if they could come up with some solution. “No one has ever had any interest in culture here, and now – even less,” Cahan said.
What’s even more frustrating, Cahan added, is that this past year, during the pandemic, he and his assistants had finally expanded the bookshelves, enabling them to put thousands more of the books they had collected from residents of the city on display. “Next month, they’ll all have to be packed back into the boxes.”
Yung Yidish isn’t the only organization in Israel hosting Yiddish cultural events. There’s also the Yiddish theater, Yidishpiel, Yiddish courses at “Beit Sholem Aleichem” and in the universities, scholars researching the different fields related to the Yiddish language and culture and informal Yiddish book clubs round the country.
But all the other, more eclectic aspects of Yiddish culture – cabarets, klezmer concerts, dance, storytelling, memoirs, film making, working with Israelis in their 20s and 30s – is what Yung Yidish is all about. That’s its biggest strength.
“The shutting of the bus station and the possibility that Yung Yidish will no longer have its own space is something we cannot allow,” said Bella Bryks, a Yiddish activist in Tel Aviv. “The National Authority for Yiddish Culture helps Mendy but its budget is limited. It’s unfortunate that we have no Yiddish Book Center here in Israel, like they do in Amherst, Massachusetts,” she added.
“If the municipality is really going to shut and tear down the station, it has to find another space for Yung Yidish and help out with the transporting of the thousands of books it has,” Gottesman said. “Its library and the organization itself are national treasures.”