Zalmen Mlotek performs at the Mameloshen Festival in Winnipeg (Golden Land Concerts & Connections)
Put the word Yiddish into Youtube and you get over 16,000 hits. There are Yiddish blogs, websites and Facebook groups, Yiddish forums and mailing lists, Yiddish Wikipedia and Google. For Yiddishists, the internet has become a vital link and tool, because there aren't that many and they are dispersed in different cities and countries.
Yiddish - it's one of those words that is somehow fun to say. But not everyone knows its true meaning.
Which is why events like the Mameloshen Festival of Yiddish Entertainment and Culture continues.
The shows feature high calibre entertainers from both here in Winnipeg and out of town. One of the featured performers this year is singer Zalmen Mlotek.
Scene asked local Yiddish cultural afficionado Rochelle Zucker to enlighten us as to the importance of this festival and Mr. Mlotek's place within Yiddish culture.
What does Mameloshen stand for?
The translation of the word Mameloshen is "mother tongue". It is an affectionate way to refer to the Yiddish language.
What is Yiddish anyway?
Yiddish is the language of the Ashkenazi Jews. It is over 1000 years old. Though originally Germanic in its roots, it evolved and incorporated elements of Hebrew, Slavic and Romance languages. Written Yiddish uses the Hebrew alphabet.
Expulsions, persecutions and the search for new opportunities caused the Jews to move from place to place. And with them they took Yiddish. In every place they settled, new components were added to this fusion language.
Although it is not and never has been a national language of any specific country, Yiddish was at one time the first language of millions of Jews all over the world, especially in Argentina, Canada, France, Israel, Mexico, Poland, Romania, the United States, and the republics of the former U.S.S.R.
Before the Holocaust it is estimated that about 11 million Jews spoke Yiddish. Since then that number has greatly declined.
Why is it important to keep Yiddish alive and well?
Yiddish is more than just a language. Tied to it is an entire culture so it is an integral part of the history and heritage of so many Jews. Much worthwhile Yiddish literature and music has been created over the centuries.
We will never bring Yiddish back to the way it was before the Holocaust - an everyday language used by millions. But there is still an importance in preserving it. We can't bring back those who died speaking Yiddish, but we can honour them by holding on to the language which they spoke and the culture it represents.
Some people say that Yiddish today is a dying language. However, put the word Yiddish into Youtube and you get over 16,000 hits. There are Yiddish blogs, websites and Facebook groups, Yiddish forums and mailing lists, Yiddish Wikipedia and Google. For Yiddishists, the internet has become a vital link and tool, because there aren't that many and they are dispersed in different cities and countries.
What is your connection to Zalmen Mlotek?
My father was born in Poland and survived World War II as a refugee in Shanghai. One of his close friends there was Joseph (Yosl) Mlotek - who was Zalmen's father.
It was actually through Mr. Mlotek that my parents met. After the war, Mr. Mlotek came to Calgary as a Yiddish teacher. He met my mother who lived in Winnipeg but was visiting her family who was active in Calgary Yiddish circles. When my father arrived in Winnipeg, it was thanks to Mr. Mlotek that my parents got together and actually that I exist.
Why would people come to see Zalmen Mlotek?
Mlotek is a internationally known authority on Yiddish folk and theatre music. He is very versatile and innovative, with classical music training as a conductor and musician from the Julliard School of Music, the New England Conservatory of Music and several other elite musical institutions. As well he has deep roots in Yiddish music and culture. His presentations are high calibre, interesting and can also be lots of fun.