Mendy Cahan, an Israeli performer, will be singing a program of Yiddish songs at his first-ever performance in Toronto, May 5.
The one-man show, For the Love of Yiddish, is dedicated to the memory of Gloria Morris, a former president of Friends of Yiddish and a member of Temple Sinai Congregation, two of the sponsors of the event.
Other sponsors include the committee for Yiddish of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, the Canada-Israel Cultural Foundation, the ShaRna Foundation and the Morris family.
Cahan, a child of Holocaust survivors, is a multilingual singer, actor, writer, lecturer and storyteller, who was born and raised in Belgium.
He made aliyah as a young man and after graduating from Hebrew University, founded Yung Yiddish in 1993, a cultural organization initially dedicated to saving Yiddish books, but now pursues many additional forms of Yiddish cultural activism in Israel.
As well, Cahan lectures on Yiddish literature; performs with his band, Yiddish Express; and is founding director of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute in Vilnius, Lithuania.
In an interview from Israel, he described Yiddish as an amazing kaleidoscope of our development as a people during the last 1,000 years.
“The Yiddish language, as opposed to our Hebrew and Aramaic traditions, has created space for common people to express their own Jewish identity.
“That is how the incomparable Jewish humour, irony and drama have developed. Yiddish jokes, parables, songs and idioms are now an integral part of our Jewish heritage.”
One learns much, he said, “by watching how a culture with no central body, and without ministries of education or culture, managed to survive, bloom and create – sometimes under extremely hard conditions – fuelled by an unequalled conviction of the need to transmit and educate. This could be the most powerful lesson of Yiddish sustainability.”
He added, however, that the preservation of Yiddish in Israel is a difficult task. “For many years, Yiddish had the burden of keeping our Jewish memory and identity intact, and for keeping the longing for Israel alive.
“It is painful, then, to see that when we finally reached our homeland, Yiddish was discarded and nearly pushed in to the realm of forgetfulness.”
But in the past 10 years, this has been changing, he said, “thanks in part to the incessant work of our Yung Yiddish volunteers. More and more youngsters are turning to us to learn.
“We are in dire need of support, though, and the Israeli government is slow in responding. We are supported mainly by private donors.”
On the other hand, he said, Yiddish does have an active component of speakers and readers of the language. “So we have a lively public that seeks and enjoys our Yiddish events. The constant influx of immigrants and tourists keeps our work relevant and meaningful.”
Cahan said performing here is special, “because Canada safeguarded a unique Yiddish tradition after the Holocaust. Peretz Miransky, Melekh Raviatch, Dora Wasserman, Y.Y. Segal, Rokhl Korn are just a few names that highlight the unique Canadian-Yiddish heritage. It is an honour to come and sing Yiddish.”
For the Love of Yiddish, also with pianist Nina Shapilsky, will take place at Temple Sinai, 7:30 p.m. on May 5. For information or to purchase tickets, go to templesinai.net or call Marcie at 416-487-3281.