The first thing you need to know about Yiddish Farm is that it is not a joke. It’s neither a punchline to a quip involving rabbis, herring or schlemiels nor a set for a surreal catskills comedy skit. Nor is it a heritage re-enactment park somewhere outside Warsaw where gentile tourists can interact with Yankel the sheep-shearer and Sorehle the kosher cow. No, Yiddish Farm is absolutely for real, and constitutes a serious attempt to rethink modern Jewish identity. Here a smattering of Yinglish – chutzpah, naches, shvitzing and mishpocha – won’t get you very far. At Yiddish Farm the language is treated with utmost seriousness – and if you want to learn the language seriously, in an immersive environment where you can chat to a range of native speakers – it’s hard to imagine a better place to do it.
Founded in 2010, but only in its present site from 2012, Yiddish Farm occupies an idyllic site in rural upstate New York near the small town of Goshen. Despite the grandiose ambitions of its founding charter (written in Yiddish, naturally) the farm has the ramshackle charm of a small kibbutz, with communal meals round a huge table, distinctly basic living accommodation and a cabal of ever hungry chickens forever at large. At the heart of everything are founders and organisers Naftali Ejdelman and Yisroel Bass. They make an effective team, but display a surprising reversal of roles; Ejdelman the gregarious native speaker writes all the English-language funding applications (both Jewish and agricultural) that keep the project alive while the more austere Bass, who learned the language as a teenager and now dislikes speaking anything else, deals with the outside Yiddish-speaking world, styling himself ‘ambassador to Monsey, Kiryas Joel and Brooklyn’.
Alongside them are a motley crew of idiosyncratic Yiddishists who come to teach, cook and generally hang out – representatives of New York’s thriving non-Chassidic Yiddish-speaking community.
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