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 Montréal, Québec, Canada. Aron's parents were Holocaust survivors who lost most of their relatives during the war. They came to Montréal in 1948 with a very young Aron and his older brother after time in a displaced persons camp in Germany. The two boys grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home and Aron attended the Avrom Reyzen Workmen's Circle shule (secular Yiddish school) after school. The family's friends, mostly Bundists, became a substitute family. Aron realizes today what a rich cultural foundation his parents and their friends provided. He recalls that many famous Yiddish writers settled in Montréal and how artists from all over the world read, lectured and performed for the close-knit Yiddishist community. Aron describes the important role that Dora Wasserman played, teaching theater arts to young people and opening their eyes to the world of Yiddish language and culture. Today, although he makes a living as an oral surgeon, what Aron loves is his work as a member of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre Company. From the early years, they performed plays from the Yiddish cannon as well as new works commissioned by Dora. They have recently celebrated their fifty-year anniversary. Aron, along with a very large traveling company, has performed internationally. He talks about the emotions that came up when they brought Yiddish theater to Vienna, and he recognizes the gift and responsibility of performing in a language that was almost destroyed. It is interesting to note that the French and the Jews in Montréal have something in common – the desire to preserve their language and their culture. Dora made friends with some of the greats of the French-Canadian theater and even performed one of their plays in Yiddish. Aron talks about Jewish values in both the secular and religious sense. He feels that it is more important than ever in our modern world for young people to be grounded in the history of their people. He ends the interview singing "Zing shtil [Sing quietly]," looks back at his life, and feels satisfied that he made a meaningful contribution centered in Yiddishkayt.
This interview was conducted in English.
Aron Gonshor was born in Poland in 1947.
Video highlights from this oral history
"It Was As Simple As Breathing the Air": The Yiddish Community in Montreal1 minute 57 seconds
Important Jewish Writers and Performers Always Passed Through Montreal2 minutes 7 seconds
A Brief History of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theater4 minutes 24 seconds
"With That Gift Comes Responsibility": Reflections on the Importance of Yiddish3 minutes 34 seconds
Yiddish and the Question of Lingua Franca3 minutes 17 seconds
"Zing Shtil" (Sing Softly)1 minute 13 seconds
Germany to Canada: My Jewish Family's Immigration Story2 minutes 57 seconds
Performing "The Dybbuk" in Vienna4 minutes 5 seconds
Advice to Jewish Performers2 minutes 34 seconds
More information about this oral history
- Jewish Identity
- Yiddish language
- Yiddish revival and activism
- Yiddish scene
- Immigration and migration
- Eastern Europe
- Family histories
- Western Europe
- Politics and political movements
- Cultural transmission
- Jewish community
- Aron Gonshor
- Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theater
- Jewish Public Library
- Solomon Mikhoels
- Maurice Schwartz
- Workmen's Circle
- Peretz Shul
- Dora Wasserman
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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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