August 8, 2002
The Lost Yiddish World
"In many ways, it was a good world. In many ways, it was a hard world," observes narrator Elliott Gould in introducing "A Yiddish World Remembered."
It is not easy to evoke a lost era through television footage, but "Yiddish World" largely overcomes the difficulty.
There are lively interviews with half a dozen elderly men and women who remember the shtetls from their childhoods, vintage photos and some newly discovered archival films, including one showing the bloody aftermath of a 1919 pogrom.
The views of shtetl and city life in the pale of Eastern Europe tend to be more "good" than "hard," but shade into the sentimental only in the vignettes of childhood life recalled many decades later.
The smells and savors of mama's heavenly cholent, chicken soup, gefilte fish or even herring and potatoes all but leap off the screen in the ecstatic reminiscences.
"Rockefeller wasn't as happy as I was on Friday nights when we made 'Kiddush,'" recalls one former shtetl child.
The vibrant cultural life of the time and place is perhaps familiar , as are the political and religious rivalries among Chasidim, bundists and Zionists. Still, it gives one pause to learn that there were no less than 24 competing Yiddish dailies in Poland at the turn of the century.
In the end, though, it is the language itself that embraces all other aspects of the lost world.
"Yiddish is the soul of the Jewish people, it speaks by itself," says one old-time immigrant to America. "Sometimes I want to talk in English, but it comes out Yiddish....Even if you don't know the language -- you feel it."
The one-hour PBS special will premiere Aug. 18 at 5 p.m. on KCET. For more information, go to www.kcet.org. .