Jewish folk choir keeping Yiddish culture alive in South Vancouver

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The Vancouver Jewish Folk Choir performs regularly around South Vancouver. Photo courtesy of Donna Becker

Reported by Tanner Bokor

For the Vancouver Jewish Folk Choir, singing is a way to keep its cultural identity alive.

The choir rehearses and performs a mix of Jewish music such as, Ashkenazic, Sephardic, and Ladino descent in various spoken languages from around the world. They have been gathering together since 1979 to help preserve Yiddish culture in Vancouver.

“There’s always pressures to lose your identity in the soup of amalgamation that is a nation, where everyone comes together and then get this homogenous identity where they all speak the same languages and think the same ways,” said Victor Neuman, a member of the choir. “You want to retain your uniqueness, and that comes through the language, and the music.”

The choir of 16 takes the music it rehearses, including a Yiddish adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, and performs it in regular concerts. They will be carrying out an upcoming Chanukah performance this December at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture, as well as in more intimate performances at local retirement homes.

Keeping the Yiddish language alive a priority for the choir

Donna Becker, one of the organizers of the choir, says that keeping Yiddish – a language mixed from Hebrew and German – as an actively spoken language is one reason why the choir exists.

“The mandate of this organization is to preserve Yiddish language and Yiddish culture for as long as possible, while there are still native speakers left,” said Becker.

Balance among performers is key

David Millard, the conductor and arranger of the choir, says that it can be challenging to balance musicians with varying choral experience.

“There’s a variety of levels of musicianship, so trying to keep it interesting for those who are more advanced while not leaving the people that are less advanced behind, that’s probably the diciest juggling act,” said Millard.

But Millard says that the most rewarding part of being a member of the choir is exploring Jewish culture and other, unique languages.

“If you love to sing, if you love to explore languages that you’ve never encountered in your day to day to life, or if you of Jewish heritage and you love Yiddish and Hebrew, then welcome,” said Millard.

Click below for an audio clip from one of the choir’s rehearsals

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