The language is simply fun to listen to and since most people know the show and what happens, it's like looking at it through a different set of glasses.
—Kinsey Posen, producer
You could say it's Fiddler on the Roof the way it was meant to be.
This Broadway favourite is getting the Yiddish treatment right here in Winnipeg. It's possibly the first Yiddish production of Fiddler on the Roof in Canada and definitely the first in the western provinces.
It's the grand finale of the Mameloshen Festival of Yiddish Entertainment and Culture. Highlights from the musical will be performed at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on June 13 and 14. And you don't even need to be a rich man to see it.
Here's some background on the Yiddish language in Winnipeg: The Yiddish language has been around for a thousand years. It's basically 70% Middle High German, 20% Hebrew and 10% Slavic languages such as Polish, Russian and Ukrainian.
Winnipeg was at one time known as the Jerusalem of North-America, because of the multitude of Yiddish schools in the city. The language has long had a strong presence in the city and even though all the Yiddish schools have closed, there's an endowment fund that helps provide Yiddish at the University of Manitoba and the High School at the Gray Academy.
Out of a community of 16,500, including immigrants from Argentina and Russia, several thousand speak and understand Yiddish.
Kinzey Posen is the producer of Fiddler on the Roof.
SCENE wanted to delve more into his personal experience with the Yiddish language.
Where did you learn Yiddish, and where/when do you use it now?
Kinzey Posen, producer (CBC)
I learnt Yiddish at the Peretz Folk Schul located at 601 Aikins Street. Why do I remember the address? We had to write letters starting with the address.
I attended from kindergarten to grade 7, half day in Yiddish and half day in English.
I also spoke Yiddish with my grandparents. When I married my beautiful wife, my in-laws, who were born in Europe, also taught me a great deal of Yiddish.
I also made a commitment to speak only Yiddish with my two sons and that alone helped me learn in the fast lane.
What do you love about Yiddish?
For me, the language is much like a comfort food for my ears and soul. It's so expressive and the words are literally so much fun to say.
It has the power to describe a complex situation or concept in one word.Where did the idea to produce a Yiddish version of Fiddler on the Roof come from?
When the original Broadway show was mounted back in 1964, shortly thereafter, Shraga Friedman of Israel translated the show into Yiddish.
It was a natural thing to do since the modern story of Tevye the Milkman was inspired by the stories written by the famous Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem who died in 1916.
Locally, the idea came from Laurie Mainster, who is a long-time supporter of the language in Winnipeg and is one of the founders of the Mameloshen Festival. It's his Yiddish dream come true.
What do you think the Yiddish translation gives people that the English version doesn't?
I would say the Yiddish version is more rooted in the culture and as I said before, some of the words convey the drama, the characters and the times with much more depth than the English.
What if I don't speak Yiddish? What will I get out of coming?
Miriam Bronstein as Goldeh (CBC)
You'll laugh, you'll cry in both languages! First of all the English translations will be projected on a screen, so everyone knows what's going on at all times. The language is simply fun to listen to and since most people know the show and what happens, it's like looking at it through a different set of glasses.What are you most looking forward to on Wednesday and Thursday night?
I think the reaction of the audience more than anything. The work the cast has put into this production is very inspiring and to think that some of them didn't even know a word of Yiddish, puts it over the edge. They've all worked so hard and to see the culmination of so many weeks of hard joyous labour is incredibly satisfying.