Shanie Levin brought Sholem Aleichem’s stories to life with Al Stein. (photo by Binny Goldman)
Tell me a story, please…. Which one of us has not made this request of a mother, a father, a zayda or bubbie?
On Oct. 30, almost 70 people gathered at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture, where they were welcomed by Peretz president Gene Homel, who shared some of the activities that the centre hosts, including the Sholem Aleichem speaker series (SASS, or “SASSY,” as they call it). The Tuesday night event was held by Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver in partnership with SASSY.
Gyda Chud of both JSA and Peretz introduced the first session of this year’s JSA Elders Empowering Elders series, which focused on storytelling.
The audience sat enraptured, traveling back to their kinder yorn, childhood years, as they listened to Myrna Rabinowitz. She sang several Yiddish songs. Among her original compositions was one that she had composed for the birth of her grandson.
From stories told in song, to those spoken, Shanie Levin and Al Stein read stories that came alive with their interpretations of the text and their excellent delivery. Enhanced by the clever use of minimal but appropriate costuming, and done with humor, the characters and the way of life of Shayneh Shayndel and Menachem Mendel became real to those listening, as did the ongoing dilemma that they each faced. As Sholem Aleichem once famously stated, “You can take the Jew out of the shtetl but you cannot take the shtetl out of the Jew.”
In thanking the performers, Chud quoted Stein, who had said in his preface to reading his first story: “In keeping with the Narodnik movement (Power to the People), the young Russian intelligentsia at the time and not the elite, Sholem Rabinovitch chose the name Sholem Aleichem, the common Jewish greeting, as his pen name, ‘Peace be unto you.’” Chud commented on the fact that Power to the People motivated Sholem Rabinovitch to change his name, and that the theme of JSA’s Empowerment series is “Elders Empowering Elders.”
Ken Levitt, one of JSA’s vice-presidents, rose to the occasion by thanking the performers partly in Yiddish, having researched the phrasing on the internet. He explained that he hadn’t grown up in a Yiddish-speaking household, although Yiddish had been used as a secret language between his parents. His valiant effort endeared Levitt to all the Yiddish-speakers in the audience.
The session ended with eppes zees mit a Yiddish taam, something sweet with a Jewish taste, accompanied by hot drinks. To quote one of the characters in the story that Levin read: “If you have a piece of bread, take your eyes off the cake!”
Volunteers of both JSA and SASSY helped make the event a success, as did JSA staff Karon Shear and Rita Propp.
Es eez given a mechayeh, it was a pleasure and an oisgetzaichent, outstanding and enriching time together.
For more on JSA and future events, visit jsalliance.org.
Binny Goldman is a member of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver board.