Yiddish, anyone?
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Yiddish, anyone?

If Yiddish holds a special place in your heart — and you can write down or draw the reasons why — you may win tickets to the second annual "Yiddish in America" celebration, to be held at the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne on May 18.

According to Naomi Miller, a Wayne resident and international singer who is chairing the event together with her husband, Harvey, the celebration is one way of expressing her "passion to perpetuate Yiddish," her first language.


Naomi Miller

The contest, inviting answers to the question, "What does Yiddish mean to me," is for entrants of all ages and will accept responses in all forms, whether artworks, poems, or essays. The first-place winner will be dubbed "Der Gantze Knocker," with second- and third-place winners earning the titles "Der Gantze Macher" and "Der Kleeger Kup," respectively. "We’ve already gotten a few beautiful submissions," said Miller, "beautiful pieces of nostalgia."

"Everyone will be a winner," she said. "We’ll publish them all."

The contest question, she agreed, is open-ended. "Let people take the question and do what they want," she said, suggesting that some people may choose to remember when their "bubby threw some Yiddish words into the conversation. Remembering makes you feel good. It warms your heart."

The child of Holocaust survivors, Miller said that "keeping Yiddish alive is a way of paying homage to my parents and to the countless Jews who perished in the Holocaust. It also pays tribute to the thousands of Yiddish-speaking immigrants who fled persecution to find freedom in America."

"I want to bring Yiddish to the younger generations," said Miller, who teaches Yiddish to teenagers at Wayne’s Shomrei Torah. "At the last class I taught them some Yiddish curses. I asked Rabbi Mark if I could tell the children to say them to their parents. ‘Only lovingly,’ he said."

During May’s Yiddish fest, she said, the Y will be "transformed," with costumed characters and street musicians recreating "an early 1900s Lower East Side motif, with a fraylacheh [joyous] atmosphere." A similar event two years ago drew some 1,500 people, said Miller, who is hopeful that an equally large group will attend this year.

The event — which will include a magic show, puppet show, "Yiddish petting zoo" (animals will wear Yiddish labels), as well as crafts projects and games — will feature performances by Binyumen Schaechter and the Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus, the Folksbiene
Yiddish Theatre Musical Comedy Troupe, and Margot Leverett & The Klezmer Mountain Boys.

In addition, said Miller, mock storefronts will house vendors selling hot dogs, deli, bagels, knishes, kugel, pickles, art, books, music, jewelry, handbags, Judaica, clothing, "tchotckes and other zachen [things]." There will also be Yiddish bingo, Yiddish aerobics, and Yiddish Simon Sez, and participants may join a scavenger hunt to collect all the pages of a Yiddish glossary.

Miller pointed out that attendees can bring Yiddish letters or documents they want translated. In addition, participants can bring Yiddish books for the National Yiddish Book Center, which she will deliver on their behalf.

As part of the celebration, children from local Hebrew and day schools will perform Yiddish songs together with Miller, a cabaret singer who participates in and coordinates the Y’s annual summer concert series. She also serves as a consultant to the Y’s cultural arts department, chaired by her husband.

"When I’m not on stage, the next best thing is finding and bringing talent to the Y," she said, noting that she has been invited to sing at the Jerusalem Synagogue in Prague in August.

"Yiddish is definitely enjoying a renewal of popularity," said Miller, adding that people should attend the May event because "it will be a lot of fun."

"It will be a day of laughter," she said. "It’s a fun language and we’re building all of the activities around the language to make people chuckle."

The Yiddish festival will take place at the YM-YWHA of North Jersey, One Pike Drive, Wayne, from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For additional information, call (973) 595-0100.

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