The Yiddish Book Center's

Wexler Oral History Project

A growing collection of in-depth interviews with people of all ages and backgrounds, whose stories about the legacy and changing nature of Yiddish language and culture offer a rich and complex chronicle of Jewish identity.

Paula Teitelbaum's Oral History

Paula Teitelbaum, a Yiddishist and Yiddish language teacher, was interviewed by Pauline Katz on Dec. 28, 2010 at KlezKamp in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. Paula was born and raised in post-war Poland. Her parents were active in the Jewish community of Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland), were socialists, and hoped for a socialist society "with a human face." They sent her to a state-sponsored day school specifically for Jews where she learned some Yiddish as well as some Jewish history and culture. She knew about the Holocaust, but for her it was history. Her life seemed normal for a Polish Jew, because it was all she knew. Her day-to-day language at home was Yiddish, and she was surrounded by a Jewish (as well as a Polish) milieu. She, a younger brother, and her parents came to America in 1967 when she was thirteen years old. Her father's brother and mother were already in the US, and another uncle had settled in Venezuela. Paula's immediate family was the last of the extended family to leave Poland. Arriving in the US, she was shocked to find that most American Jews had little or no knowledge of Jewish life in Poland. She relates that she learned English well, entered seventh grade and then high school, where she began to study Spanish and Hebrew (having relatives in Israel and Venezuela). She began a lifelong relationship with Camp Hemshekh (Camp "Continuation"), a summer community created by Bundists to transmit to the spirit of the Bund, a Jewish socialist and secular movement, to their children. She soon became active in Yugntruf (a youth organization devoted to preservation of Yiddish as a living language and culture), which allowed her to feel continuity with her past – both pre- and post-war. She met her husband, Adam Weitzman, there, and they raised their two children in Yiddish, with no English when they were young. Rokhl Schaechter, one of the Yugntruf activists, helped create a shule (a Yiddish school) for the children who went to Camp Hemshekh in the summers, allowing her children to meet others who spoke Yiddish and shared their values. Paula was a singer, and she made recordings of Yiddish songs for children and participated in the Folksbiene, the National Yiddish Theatre in New York City. She also taught English and Hebrew to adults at various venues in New York City, and studied Russian and Spanish at the State University of New York at Buffalo as an undergraduate student. She continues to be involved in Yiddish language programs and considers herself a Yiddishist. She attributes to her parents the belief in "supporting one's own heritage, and that "growing as a healthy human being requires being proud of oneself, one's people and culture." She is a proud secular, Yiddish-speaking Jew, steeped in Yiddishkeit ("Jewishness"). She doesn't speculate on the future of Yiddish and Yiddishkeit, but says "in fifty years I won't be here, so I don't know what will happen. But surprises do happen! As long as a language is used, it can live and grow, and become enriched."

This interview was conducted in Yiddish.

Paula Teitelbaum was born in Wroclaw, Poland in 1954.