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.
Aron Gonshor's Oral History
Aron Gonshor, actor in the Montreal Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre and surgeon, was interviewed by Sara Israel on December 15, 2011 at the Montreal Jewish Public Library in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Aron starts the interview by discussing his family background. He was born in Poland after WWII and his family immigrated to Montreal in 1948 after Canada’s immigration policy became more liberal. Aron goes on to describe growing up in Montreal’s flourishing Yiddish-speaking community.
He explains how his parents were members of the Bund, which met at the Montreal branch of the Workmen’s Circle. He also describes how he grew up attending afternoon school there, at the Avrom Reisen Shul. He recalls how the Workmen’s Circle became a home, and the community there became family, for many survivors of the war. Aron explains how Bund meetings, lectures and concerts in Yiddish allowed survivors to live out their lives in a way they were used to, and created a very full, animated atmosphere. For Aron, being enveloped in this environment from childhood, speaking and performing in Yiddish was “as simple as breathing the air.”
Aron also discusses his involvement with Yiddish theatre. He describes the early days of Yiddish theatre in Montreal when Soviet-trained actress Dora Wasserman began to give theatre classes to youths at the Jewish Public Library, and traces the theatre’s development over time. He shares a particular story about traveling to Vienna with the theatre company to perform in Yiddish there and giving a particularly emotional performance of The Dybbuk. He reflects on that visit to Austria and notes that it gave the whole theatre company the understanding that they have a responsibility, as Yiddish speakers, to preserve the legacy of Jewish culture.
Towards the end of the interview, Aron urges the importance of one knowing one’s history, and speaks about the fulfillment of conveying that history to others so that the next generations can build on it.
This interview was conducted in English.
Aron Gonshor was born in 1947 in Poland.
This interview is part of the Yiddish and the Arts: musicians, actors, and artists series.
Video highlights from this oral history
"It Was As Simple As Breathing the Air": The Yiddish Community in Montreal1 minute 57 seconds
Yiddish and the Question of Lingua Franca3 minutes 17 seconds
Performing "The Dybbuk" in Vienna4 minutes 5 seconds
"Zing Shtil" (Sing Softly)1 minute 13 seconds
A Brief History of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theater4 minutes 24 seconds
Advice to Jewish Performers2 minutes 34 seconds
Important Jewish Writers and Performers Always Passed Through Montreal2 minutes 7 seconds
"With That Gift Comes Responsibility": Reflections on the Importance of Yiddish3 minutes 34 seconds
Germany to Canada: My Jewish Family's Immigration Story2 minutes 57 seconds
More information about this oral history
Themes in this oral history:
- Aron Gonshor, Montreal, Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theater, Jewish Public Library, Outremont, Vienna, Solomon Mikhoels, Maurice Schwartz, Workmen's Circle, Peretz Shul, Dora Wasserman, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, Bund, Zionism,
- Jewish Identity
- Yiddish language
- Yiddish revival and activism
- Yiddish scene
- Eastern Europe
- Family history
- stories about ancestors
- Western Europe
- Politics and political movements
- Jewish community
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About the Wexler Oral History Project
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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