TORONTO — In recent years, Jeannette Stein – a retired public school teacher who also taught Yiddish for two years at Bialik Hebrew Day School – has been sharing her passion for Yiddish with adult students.
Shely Mann, who just completed Stein’s 10-week beginner’s Yiddish course this past semester, said her teacher brings enthusiasm, love and commitment to her students. The classes were held at Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am Synagogue, and sponsored by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Committee for Yiddish.
“If I can share learning with people, and I see the joy in their faces, and they’re connecting with whatever I’m teaching, that’s the pièce de résistance for me,” Stein told The CJN.
A native of Toronto, Stein (née Chapman) was born to Polish immigrants and imbued as a child with a love for Yiddish, her first language. Her parents were members of the Farband (Labour Zionist Alliance), and she attended the Farband Folk Shule.
After graduating from Harbord Collegiate Institute, Stein went to teachers’ college in Toronto. “I love working with children. This is in the very marrow of my bones,” said the grandmother of one.
Her first job was at Overland Drive Public School, and she went on to teach every grade from kindergarten to Grade 8, sometimes in tough areas of the city.
Lehrerin Gitel – as she likes to be called by her Yiddish students – segued into teaching weekly children’s Yiddish classes and then intermediate level adult classes after she appeared in a three-night production of Schver Tzu Zein A Yid (It’s Hard to be Jew) at the Mount Pleasant Theatre about a decade ago.
“We always have music, to make it a little more lively but also to connect with our roots,” Stein said of her classes. As well, she likes to bring in Yiddish literature, esoteric items such as author Sholom Aleichem’s will, and chendelach (“little jokes and charming stories”).
She encourages her students to persist with grammar and vocabulary even if they find it hard. “The reward is getting to read in the original language the authors’ own words.”
More recently Stein has written and performed in Yiddish productions as part of New Voices for Yiddish, with Nathan Garnick and Faye Zeidman. They have appeared at Toronto’s Jewish Book Fair, and are searching for a venue for a show they are preparing for next fall.
A lesson from the teacher: “Laughter through tears – that’s [the lesson of] Yiddish, through Sholom Aleichem.”