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.

Anna Gonshor's Oral History

Anna Gonshor, Faculty Lecturer of Yiddish Studies at McGill University and Montreal-based Yiddish activist, was interviewed by Sara Israel on December 13, 2011 at the Montreal Jewish Public Library in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Professor Gonshor begins the interview discussing her family background. She was born in 1949 in Paris, France, and in 1950 her family immigrated to Montreal, where she grew up. She talks at length about her mother, a Yiddish teacher, and her father, a factory worker, who were both deeply committed to Yiddish culture and identity, and were actively involved in building Montreal's Jewish cultural institutions. She goes on to describe growing up in a "charmed" environment of Yiddish-speaking culture-makers, where her first language was Yiddish, her heroes were the heroes of modern Jewish history, and she met many great Yiddish actors and writers. Professor Gonshor talks about her parents' secular Judaism, and her father's insistence on one knowing one's roots and traditions are before choosing to reject them. In spite of her family's lack of religious feeling, they were deeply committed to Jewish cultural existence, and she describes their Friday night table as "the most Shabbosdik place" she has ever seen. Professor Gonshor talks about how she ended up teaching Yiddish in spite of her training as a librarian, and describes her passion for educating young people about their culture and history. She discusses the challenge of transmitting historical context to her students, and the pleasure of teaching them to think critically and differently about their world. She talks about what her students connect to when they learn Yiddish, and what they discover besides language. Professor Gonshor also discusses her very active role in Montreal's Jewish community – from past work as President of the JPL and chair of the Montreal Committee for Soviet Jewry, to present work with Montreal's Federation Combined Jewish Appeal – and describes how her upbringing gave her a sense of love and commitment to the Jewish community. She talks about her long connection to the Jewish Public Library, and the institution's central role in Montreal's Jewish community. She describes the uniquely organic nature of Jewish life in Montreal, where a strong cultural support network allows people to live diverse Jewish lives while remaining connected to the same community. Near the end of her interview, Professor Gonshor talks optimistically about the future of Yiddish. She is enthusiastic about the ways young people are unearthing and reclaiming Yiddish in song and poetry. She reflects on the ability of language to enrich one's life and reminds present generations that their history is a rich and valuable inheritance in which they can still find relevance today.

This interview was conducted in English.

Anna Gonshor was born in Paris, France in 1949.

About the Wexler Oral History Project

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Since 2010, the Yiddish Book Center’s Wexler Oral History Project has recorded more than 500 in-depth video interviews that provide a deeper understanding of the Jewish experience and the legacy and changing nature of Yiddish language and culture.

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