Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Yiddish audio books come to local library

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WHEN the I.L. Peretz Folk School on Jefferson Avenue closed its doors for the final time back in the early 1990s, many Winnipeg Jews feared that the city's long and distinguished reputation as a centre of Yiddish language, education and culture would be lost.

They need not have worried. Immediately following the sale of the building, a group of committed Yiddishists, all of them alumni of the city's Yiddish day school system, established the I.L. Peretz Folk School Endowment Trust. Through this trust fund, they have managed to keep Yiddish language, education and culture very much alive in this city.

In the years since the fund was created, it has been used to sponsor and support Yiddish concerts and theatre productions, a Yiddish radio program and weekly newspaper column, a Yiddish language course at the University of Manitoba and even a four-week Festival of Yiddish Culture and Entertainment.

One of its largest and most enduring undertakings has been the creation of and support for Dos Yiddish Vinkel, or the Yiddish Corner, a quiet reading room located in the Kaufman Silverberg Library at the Asper Jewish Community Campus.

Dos Yiddish Vinkel is devoted exclusively to Yiddish language books, periodicals and audio tapes.

Recently, this corner of history was expanded with the arrival of a large collection of Yiddish audio books.

These audio books, recorded on 240 separate digitally remastered CDs, represent 30 of the greatest works of Yiddish literature. They include both novels and short stories, among them the fiction of I.B. Singer, Sholem Asch, Mendele Moykher Sforim, the first known Yiddish novelist, and I.L. Peretz, the namesake of Winnipeg's vanished Yiddish day school.

Singer's Di brider Ashkenazi, exploring pre-war Jewish life in Poland, is included in the collection, as is Sholem Aleichem's Tevye der milkhiger, the story on which Fiddler on the Roof is based.

"The audio books are of excellent quality," says Lawrie Cherniack, chair of the Dos Yiddish Vinkel subcommittee. "The ones I've listened to have very nice Yiddish. They are easily understood and the Yiddish is spoken in a very conversational tone. "

The CDs were recorded by native Yiddish speakers associated with the Jewish Public Library of Montreal, and were issued by the Massachusetts-based Sami Rohr Library of Recorded Yiddish Books at the National Yiddish Book Center. The project was initiated largely in proactive response to the declining numbers of Yiddish speakers worldwide.

By its very nature, the CD collection will preserve both the authentic literature of a bygone era and the authentic sounds of a language that once was the primary form of expression for thousands upon thousands of Jews, many of whom once lived here in Winnipeg.

"It is clear that the readers of the books understand exactly what they're reading," says Cherniack.

"They are able to convey their understanding and the characters' emotions through intonation and diction. It's a real mekhayeh to hear these books read!"

Mekhayeh is the Yiddish word for pleasure. While it clearly describes the joy of listening to the new audio book collection, it also describes the work of Cherniack and his fellow Yiddishists who have collectively ensured that Winnipeg's Yiddish heritage remains a vibrant force within the community.

schisvin@hotmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 18, 2009 B8

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