The Yiddish language was at the centre of the first festival of Jewish cultures in Paris.
The Yiddish language was at the centre of the first festival of Jewish cultures in Paris last month. At the beginning of the 20th century, Yiddish was spoken by an estimated 11 million Jews living mainly in Eastern Europe and the US.
The festival was organised by the Unified Jewish Social Fund (FSJU) in Paris’ historical Jewish quarter, the Marais.
Today, Yiddish is still spoken by about four million Jews around the world, particularly among Ashkenazi Jews.
“We want this first festival of Jewish cultures to be more than a community event, its objective is to be as pluralist as possible,” Lucien Khalfa, head of the FSJU culture department and the festival’s organiser, told EJP.
Pierre Aidenbaum, the mayor of the Marais borough, recalls that when he was a child, it was common to hear Yiddish in the streets and shops of this area where Jews had come to live from East Europe.
The vast festival programme includes some 30 events in various domains such as art, culture, photos, painting, theatre, cinema and music.
The opening of the festival took place on Wednesday in the presence of Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe. He participated in the ceremony to rename a square in the honour of Bernard Lazare, the journalist who first stood up in defence of Captain Alfred Dreyfus.
Dreyfus, a French Jewish military, was falsely accused of selling military secrets to Germany in 1894. He was rehabilitated several years later.
On Thursday, a colloquium featured Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Jewish writer and winner of the Nobel Prize of literature in 1978, who dedicated his work to the Yiddish world.
Popular balls, concerts of traditional Yiddish and klezmer music, exhibitions, workshops for children and movies also feature on the festival program.
“All the tastes have been respected and we wanted to meet all wishes,” Khalfa said. “One will find everything related to Yiddish,” he added.
On 19 June a “Yiddishland day” will be opened by Simone Veil, the president of the Foundation for the Holocaust Memory.
The Polish embassy in Paris, which was one of the partners of the festival, hosted a private evening.
According the Khalfa, next year the festival will focus on Jewish Sephardic world in partnership with the cities of Barcelona and Montreal.