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Ot Azoj! Club Etcetera explores culture in many formats

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Yiddle Met A Fiddle. JULIA SPIVAK PHOTO

During the 1960s, Vita Shvitelman’s father ran a philosophical club in his resident city of Kazan in the Soviet Union. He continued hosting a club in Kfar-Saba, this time an interdisciplinary one, after the whole family immigrated to Israel in the 1990s. Now living in Canada, Shvitelman decided to follow in her father’s footsteps.

Shvitelman’s “Club EtCetera” is based on exploring culture in a variety of formats.

Aside from her father’s work, Shvitelman took much of her inspiration from a Russian saying that translates directly to, “physics and lyrics,” and explores the relationship between arts and science.

“Both are forms of creativity and they compliment each other,” says Shvitelman.

Club EtCetera organizes and hosts a range of programs, from benefit concerts for various charities to the annual Jewish Culture Festival hosted in Toronto.

One of the most notable parts of the Jewish Culture Festival is the Yiddish component.

“When I was young, I didn’t like Yiddish. I thought it was a poor and ugly language, but I always thought Hebrew was beautiful,” said Shvitelman as she remembered only her grandparents speaking Yiddish, and her parents speaking it when they didn’t want her to understand something.

Vita Shvitelman

“But I discovered my interest in Yiddish at a time when my grandparents began slowly losing their memory,” she said. “I felt that I wanted to ask all these questions and at that moment I put all my efforts in preserving the culture.”

Currently, “Ot Azoj!” which translates to ‘just like that’ from Yiddish, is the Yiddish component of the annual Jewish Culture Festival that Club EtCetera puts on.

The segment features a range of acts including speakers, singers, and dancers. Some of the performers include director of the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies and the Al and Malka Green associate professor in Yiddish Studies, Anna Shternshis and her children, Russian Jewish singer-songwriter, Psoy Korolenko, and violinist, Alexandra Berland.

Although Shvitelman operates the club independently, she says much of the success is due to the enormous support she receives from others, including Julia Spivak.

READ: THE YOLKA HAS BECOME A FIRM RUSSIAN JEWISH TRADITION IN THE DIASPORA

“Julia is my greatest help in all areas,” said Shvitelman.

Spivak assists Shvitelman on many fronts, including running the website, organizing events, and providing recommendations and feedback on future projects. She also believes in the importance of preserving the Yiddish culture.

“There’s something about a gentleman who comes on stage and starts performing in Yiddish that leaves me with a warm feeling,” says Spivak, recalling one of the latest ‘Ot Azoj!’ performances in March of this year when Korolenko performed one of his Yiddish pieces.

For Spivak, EtCetera has a role in the community and encourages her to continue helping Shvitelman in her work.

“[The club] allows people to gather and gives them opportunities to speak,” she said. “For those who miss Yiddish, it allows them to live their culture.”