Jewish Ozzies' Inter.Net
The electronic voice of the Australian Jewish Community



By Geraldine Jones
19th November, 1996

Yiddish is a culture which originated in the Jewish communities of Eastern and Middle Europe.

As the Australian Jewish community developed there was a desire to maintain links with their culture and tradition and in 1916 the Kadimah was established as the Yiddish cultural centre of Melbourne. Once the home of Australian Yiddish theatre, the Kadimah now hosts a library and regular weekly Yiddish functions. Melbourne also has a Yiddish primary school.

In 1941, a time when the Nazis were working assiduously on its destruction, The Jewish Folk Centre was established in Sydney to promote Yiddish language and culture.

Among those working tirelessly to support the Centre's goals is Aliza Siderowitz, a Holocaust survivor and outstanding educator who was born in a Lithuanian shtetl (small town) and educated in Vilna, a place she describes as "the Jerusalem of Lithuania, the very cradle of Jewish learning and culture for generations".

Since her arrival in Australia she has completed a BA in modern Hebrew literature, translated a book from Hebrew into Yiddish and is now writing a book of her own on teaching Hebrew and Yiddish as second languages. She is writing it in Hebrew and a student is translating it into English.

The first broadcast of Yiddish in Sydney was conducted from Aliza's home on a small transistor 19 years ago. Every Friday over the next 17 years she and Rabbi Leader ran a segment on SBS Jewish Radio called Shabbat. She still contributes to this program which is increasingly important to the Yiddish speaking community since the demise of the Australian Yiddishe Nayes last year.

An educator par excellence Aliza conducts Adult Education classes in Yiddish and Tanach. Her pupils have included teachers from Moriah College, Sydney's largest Jewish Day School, where she has notched up an incredible 25 years of teaching, first Hebrew then Yiddish as well.

Her greatest naches (pleasures) come from her youngest pupils. Little children from King David Primary School (Yrs K-2) volountarily give up their lunch playtime to learn to speak and sing in Aliza's mother tongue and she makes sure that they love every minute of the lesson. This infant choir performs at many Jewish venues and functions and gives great delight, particularly to aged care goups.

The Queens Park Yiddish Choir, also under Aliza's wing, is comprised of 16 Moriah Pupils from years 3 to 6. They, too, are an asset to our community. Tomorrow they will be giving a concert which includes Hebrew and English songs translated into Yiddish at the Burger Day Care Centre. Their repertoire includes "Der Koisel", "Yerushalayim foon Gold" and "Dos seine gevern de tag mein freind", better know perhaps as Ha Kotel (The Wall), Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold) and Those Were the Days My Friend.

For these youngsters, many of whom are children of Aliza's former pupils, a wonderful window of opportunity is about to open. With the first full time Lecturer-in-Yiddish due to take up her appointment at Sydney University at the beginning of 1997 they will be able to continue their studies to the tertiary level within Australia.

To the people at The Jewish Folk Centre this is the most exciting and significant development in Australian Yiddish history. Yet further excitement is afoot for those Australian Yiddish enthusiasts with Web access on the net - and it's starts this Sunday.

From 24th November until 1st December 96 the Second International Yiddish Festival will be held in Amsterdam (The Netherlands). Yiddish language will be spoken, Yiddish music will be heard and Yiddish theatre will be performed and a festival website has been launched making it possible for Australians, along with people from all over the world, to participate in the festival via the internet.

Beside information on the festival, a virtual wall of wisdom has been constructed so that we can read and mail wise (Yiddish) expressions. The best expressions of wisdom will be placed both on this virtual wall of wisdom and on a real wall at the festival. There will also be a Yiddish on-line quiz and the opportunity to make a contribution by posting short (Yiddish) stories and expressions.

We have established a link to the Yiddish Festival website from our JOIN home page and the site will remain active after the festival.

Those JOINers who have email-only need not feel left out as there are Yiddish mailing lists such as "Mendele" for the discussion of Yiddish literature and language and "Yiddish" for the discussion of Yiddish language & culture, in English & romanized Yiddish.

The revival of Yiddish in its modern form is something which Aliza has long dreamed of, but the happiness it evokes is tinged with many sad memories of voices stilled. We take pleasure in sharing Aliza's poem with you and thank her for her enormous contribution to Jewish life in Australia.

Shalom and Zay Gezunt!

Geraldine Jones


 The strings of my verse awaken within
The sad songs of memories with tears that I sing.
Images like precious stones washed by a stream
That flows forth from the soul form the depth of my being.

With compassion with wonder and tremulous fear
I recall the sweet sadness of my childhood years
As if not a year or a month had gone by
The visions of youth dance before my eyes.

Here is my school, a small sanctuary
Of knowledge and learning, from here I can see
Young boys of Yeshiva bow as they pray
Engraving these words on their hearts as they sway
"Hear Oh Israel the Lord is one
And this is the source from which life hath begun".

In the streets I can see the young and the strong
Come together in dance and in song
The song of freedom, future and joy
The Zionist dream of the the forefathers' soil.

Who can forget those Sabbath days
In the warmth of my home where we rested and played
With bread and with wine and a blessing of gold
A caress of my father I'm nurtured and held.

Not one time have I cried to the Lord, not a once
To return me my youth and my dreams now all lost.
How do you return to your mother's soft voice
How do you return to where all is destroyed?

The flames that consumed her still burn my heart.
The dreams of a childhood now torn apart
All that remains is the pain that I feel
And a rent in my heart that will never heal.

Aliza Siderowitz

Sydney, Australia


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