Yiddish Prevails at New York City Theater

As the Bronx neighborhood of Norwood continues to change, Sholem Aleichem Cultural Center keeps the Jewish language alive.

There’s a building on Norwood’s Bainbridge Avenue, a busy thoroughfare at the heart of the Bronx neighborhood, that still displays Yiddish’s serifed, curling script on its marble facade. Inside, members of the Sholem Aleichem Cultural Center can be found speaking the language with the same fluency and passion that their Jewish ancestors did, centuries ago.

In mid-November, an audience of 50 gathered at the cultural center to see a play based on the works of Sholem Aleichem himself. Members of the acting troupe, the New Yiddish Rep, said that after having done previous performances for English speakers, they relished a crowd that was hanging on every Yiddish vort, or word.

Yiddish theater
Nathaniel Herz

“This is the real thing,” said Shane Baker, one of the actors. “It’s a different connection. You’re close to them — it’s not mediated through the supertitles.”

Founded in 1929 as a Yiddish folk school, the center persists as a stubborn bastion of the language — a place where it is spoken, not studied. While some of the Bronx’s other Yiddish institutions have withered, the center’s monthly lectures and performances draw an avid audience, from Holocaust survivors to students hoping to pick up a few new words.

Read more at the Forward.