Walking the Yiddish Trail

Illustration by Elwood Smith

A highlight of the Yiddish Book Center's Steiner Summer Yiddish Program for college students is a field trip to New York. According to Amy Leos-Urbel, director of educational programs at the Yiddish Book Center, the students will find several metaphorical intersections (and some real ones) where religion and the everyday meet, and where Yiddish and Hebrew are as often heard as English.

Want to get in touch with your Yiddish roots? Follow this trail through Yiddish New York—you’ll hit three boroughs along the way!

1. The Pickle Guys: The place for kosher pickles—and sauerkraut, and pickled tomatoes, and olives. Step in to waft that vinegary scent, or better yet take a bite.

2. YIVO: A rite of passage for every budding Yiddishist is a visit to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. YIVO—the acronym for “Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut” (Yiddish Scientific Institute)—was founded in Vilna, Poland, in 1925.

3. Eldridge Street Synagogue: Once a hub of Jewish observance on the Lower East Side—it first opened its doors for High Holidays in 1887—it’s now a community center, shul, and museum of Jewish immigrant life.

4. Forward Building: The Jewish Daily Forward, once published here, had a peak circulation of 250,000—the largest immigrant newspaper in America. The Yiddish word “Forverts” still dominates the building’s facade.

5. Eichler’s Bookstore: On the corner of 50th St. and 13th Ave. in Boro Park, this superstore has a children’s section—Yiddish and English. The Mitzvah Kinder line, featured in the toy section, includes a shul play set.

6. Bobover Shul: At 48th St. and 14th Ave. in Brooklyn stands this Hasidic synagogue, with men’s and women’s entrances labeled in Yiddish.

7. Zingeray: The Gottesmans, a prominent Yiddish-speaking family in the Bronx, host a zingeray (song session) for our students. Sorry—by invitation only!

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