Highlights from a Decade of Yiddish Stories

Celebrating Ten Years of the Wexler Oral History Project

Since its launch ten years ago, the Yiddish Book Center’s Wexler Oral History Project has collected over 1,000 oral history interviews in seven different languages on six continents. Those interviewed range in age from 17 to 103, each offering a unique perspective on Jewish identity, history, and the place of Yiddish in the past, present, and future. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Project, we’re sharing a handful of stories that represent the range of what we’ve collected over the years.

A hartsikn dank, a heartfelt thank you to Deborah and Peter Wexler and many others who have contributed to and supported the Project during our first decade. We’re so appreciative of all that you’ve helped make possible, and we’re excited about the future of the Project. We hope you enjoy the stories below and invite you to continue to explore the collection and all that it has to offer.

Yiddish Songs and Poems

Some of the most special gems in the collection are the Yiddish songs and poems that our narrators recite or sing during their interviews—ranging from famous songs passed down through generations to personal poems and more contemporary songs. In this clip from an interview recorded in Wroclaw, Poland, Bente Kahan, a Jewish-Norwegian performing artist, sings a Yiddish song that reminds her of her father and explains what speaks to her about the song.

Celebrities in the Collection

The diverse group of narrators in our collection includes famous actors and other celebrities recognized in popular culture. In this clip from his 2013 interview, actor Leonard Nimoy explains the Jewish story behind the “Live Long and Prosper” hand gesture he made famous through his role as Spock in the Star Trek science fiction series.

Yiddish Theater Stories

Yiddish theater has a long history and is a vibrant and vital part of the culture—and our collection includes a wide variety of stories about Yiddish theater around the world. Here, Lea Szlanger, a Yiddish actress born in Poland and interviewed in Tel Aviv, describes how a conversation with Jakub Rotbaum—a famous Yiddish theater director, actor, and painter—convinced her to go into theater instead of pursuing a career as an engineer.

Beyond the Books—Interviews with Descendants of Yiddish Writers

Our “Beyond the Books” series centers around stories from descendants of Yiddish writers, enriching our understanding of Yiddish authors by providing personal perspectives of them as parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. In this clip, Israel Zamir, son of Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, shares a story about the adventure of attending his father’s Nobel Prize Ceremony in 1978 as a reporter for an Israeli newspaper.

Who Studies Yiddish and Why?

The place of Yiddish in classrooms and scholarship is another focus of many interviews in the collection. In this excerpt, Chava Turniansky, professor emeritus of Yiddish literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, discusses experiencing and participating in the modern revival of Yiddish and shares her reflections on Yiddish in Israel.

Yiddish Around the World

Over the past 10 years, we have had the joy and privilege of traveling around the world to conduct oral history interviews, collecting stories about Yiddish from narrators in Finland, Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, Poland, and Israel, among other places. Here, David and Ben Burstin, Yiddish-speaking brothers from Melbourne, Australia, share their memories of Carlton, a Jewish neighborhood in Melbourne, describing their house, the sock factory in their backyard, and the local Jewish shops.

Discover Something New in Our Oral History Collection

The Yiddish Book Center’s Wexler Oral History Project is a collection of over 1,000 in-depth video oral history interviews with people of all ages and backgrounds that represent a wide variety of perspectives on many aspects of Yiddish language and culture and of Jewish history, culture, and experience more broadly. Explore the collection. Don't know where to start? Check out our user guide for instructions on how to browse and search.