Russia's Yiddish actors, playwrights and poets are some of the oft-forgotten victims of the 20th century's murderous Stalinist purges.
"It was such a crazy-making situation; one minute they were praised to high heaven and the next minute they were torn down," said Sabell Bender, a retired high school theater teacher who will lecture on the Soviet Union's Yiddish theater during the Dec. 19-25 intensive language/culture immersion courses at the Skirball Cultural Center.
The California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language (CIYCL) is sponsoring "The Art of Yiddish 2004 -- A Bridge of Light Around the World" with klezmer music, four language course levels, plus lectures on Yiddish culture. The Skirball will host a finale concert starring actor and Yiddish "true believer" Theodore Bikel on the evening of Dec. 25.
Some of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater's artwork was found in a Soviet museum in 1973. After opening amid the world-changing ethnic pluralism promised by communists leading Russia's 1917 revolution, the theater (also called the Jewish Chamber Theater and the State Jewish Theater during its 1918-1948 existence) attracted a set designer named Marc Chagall. Rather than creating stage backdrops, the Russian-born French artist designed three-dimensional sets and even painted theater ceilings.
The surviving Chagall set pieces will be discussed by Bender, who said Chagall's art shows how Russia's Yiddish artists, "really fought to maintain their Jewish identity and their Yiddish theater. There is still Yiddish theater in Montreal, Toronto, New York certainly, Tel Aviv, Melbourne -- wherever there are pockets of Yiddish-speaking Jews."
Miriam Koral, CIYCL's director, said about 300 people will attend at least part of the intensive Yiddish courses, with about 40 to 50 Yiddish lovers at all the language courses, up from 35 people who attended all of last year's courses.
"We thought more people would be able to attend during their vacation time," Koral said of the post-Chanukah Yiddish week, now in its fifth year.
"The Art of Yiddish 2004 -- A Bridge of Light Around The World," Dec. 19-25, Skirball Cultural Center. For more information, visit www.yiddishinstitute.org or call (310) 745-1190.