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Yiddish Vinkl marking 25 years

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The group continues its silver anniversary season with Carnival of the Animals on March 13

By ERIN ELLIOTT BRYAN / Community News Editor

The Minneapolis Yiddish Vinkl is marking an important milestone this year: its silver anniversary.

In a brief letter circulated in December 1991 by Roz Baker, who was a member of the Sabes JCC’s Cultural Arts Committee, it was announced that a “Yiddish Vinkel” would begin meeting in January 1992.

“If you can understand Yiddish (at least some) and speak Yiddish, and think that you would enjoy meeting with others to talk, discuss, have fun and enhance your Yiddishkeit, come to the JCC,” Baker wrote, adding that attendees could enjoy “coffee and a bagel.”

Over the last 25 years, the group has consistently provided a rich and varied slate of programming that highlights not only the Yiddish language, but also its associated history, literature, culture and life stories. Paraphrasing Franz Kafka, Dorothy Marden, a native of Boston who co-chairs the Yiddish Vinkl with Annalee Odessky, told a recent audience that they are a “privileged beneficiary” of this heritage.

Dorothy Marden (left) and Annalee Odessky are co-chairs of the Minneapolis Yiddish Vinkl. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)

Dorothy Marden (left) and Annalee Odessky are co-chairs of the Minneapolis Yiddish Vinkl. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)

“We are Jews that have embraced modernity with good results,” Marden said. “Your heritage is rich and multilayered. It will enrich you to understand that part of the Yiddish experience.”

Programs ranging from film screenings and concerts, to anniversary commemorations, holiday celebrations and fully produced musicals make the Minneapolis Yiddish Vinkl a unique resource in the Twin Cities and beyond. And though Yiddish is spoken and celebrated, programs offer English translations to make them accessible to all.

On March 13, the Yiddish Vinkl and the Sabes JCC will present a “musical extravaganza,” a multimedia production of Carnival of the Animals, written in 1886 by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. There will be live music, readings and projections portraying this “zoological fantasy of feathers, fur and fin.”

In 1949, poet Ogden Nash wrote verses for each suite, but the Minneapolis Yiddish Vinkl will use poetry from the writings of Boris Sandler, a contemporary Jewish author and editor of the Jewish Forward (The Forverts). Verses will come from his book, Nisht Geshtoygn, Nisht Gefloygn, with illustrations by Itella Mastbaum.

Retired actor Lev Mailer will narrate the program in Yiddish, and Mindy Ratner, Minnesota Public Radio host of classical music programs, will narrate in English. A 10-piece orchestra, comprised of Judith Gitele Eisner and musicians from MacPhail Center for Music, will provide the rich symphonic suites. Vinkl member Doug Cole will project illustrations to accompany the music.

The program is open to all ages.

“You ain’t gonna see this anywhere else,” Marden commented, during a recent interview at the AJW offices.

The Minneapolis Yiddish Vinkl meets monthly (usually the second Sunday of each month), from September through May, at the Sabes JCC. General meetings sometimes include a vocabulary lesson, a topic of interest and sometimes a musical component, which attracts upwards of 50 people; special concerts and events fill the Sabes JCC’s auditorium or theater to full capacity at more than 200 people.

The most recent event, on Feb. 14, focused on Yiddish folk songs, many of which were sung by families like campfire songs. But Marden explained that many of those songs were originally written as a commentary on the Yiddish speakers’ experiences at the time.

Bulbes (Potatoes),” for example, was about a people facing starvation and famine.

“But we sing these songs now because we are so remote from that experience,” Marden said. “If all you did was familiarize yourself with these songs, you would learn a great deal about the circumstances that drove Jews to emigrate in large numbers.”

The Yiddish Vinkl has featured a number of local musicians, including Eisner, Cole, Amy Olson, Amanda Seigel, Mark Stillman, Sima Shumilovsky, Maggie Burton, Ralph Wittcoff, Rita Lusky and the Twin Cities Jewish Chorale, as well as Marden’s original musical production of Anitevkah Relocates to Manhattan. Other popular programs have marked the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, Anne Frank’s yahrtzeit, and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s expulsion of the Jews from Paducah, Ky., in 1862.

“There is no place in the country that has done a better examination of those topics,” Marden said.

An offshoot of the Yiddish Vinkl is the Tuesday Shmuesday Group, which meets each week at the JCC. It is not a teaching class, but an opportunity for Yiddish speakers to converse in an informal setting.

In addition to Roz Baker, the founding members of the Minneapolis Yiddish Vinkl were Michael Baker, Roslyn Fletcher and Edward Fletcher, Joe Rosenberg, Sophie Teener, Dr. Markle Karlen and Professor Maurice Kreevoy. Many of the first meetings were held in members’ homes.

Marden and Odessky, both of whom learned Yiddish from their parents and grandparents, joined the group a little later.

“I thought I would never hear it again,” Marden said. “I thought I lost a part of myself. The Vinkl restored it for me.”

“The letter Roz Baker wrote years ago still holds true today,” Odessky added. “Aside from our cultural program, the Vinkl is still a place to reconnect with landsmen (fellow Jews) to hear, speak or just sit and enjoy our mamaloshen (mother tongue), to reminisce and share life stories over a nosh. It is a warm and welcoming place that promotes Yiddishkeit.”

Odessky and Marden are both members of the International Association of Yiddish Clubs (IAYC), and Marden serves on the national board. Odessky said the Minneapolis Yiddish Vinkl is a “service to the community.”

“Dorothy and I both bristle when we hear ‘Yiddish is a dying language,’” Odessky said. “We do our share to give pleasure to those who still want to hear it in our community.”


The Minneapolis Yiddish Vinkl will present Camille Saint Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals 3 p.m. Sunday, March 13 in the auditorium at the Sabes JCC, 4330 Cedar Lake Rd. S., St. Louis Park. The AJW is a media sponsor of the event.

Light refreshments will follow the program. It is free for all children and paid-up Vinkl members, and $5 for guests.

Yearly dues for the Yiddish Vinkl are $20, or $15 for JCC members. For information, visit:

(American Jewish World, 2.26.16)

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