Leading Yiddish festival reveals ‘unseen diasporas’

Leading Yiddish festival reveals ‘unseen diasporas’

Yael Breuer reveals how Summer Weimar provides leading educational programmes about Jewish culture.

Kadya are one of the main performances in the festival.
Kadya are one of the main performances in the festival.

The celebrated city of Weimar, resting place of Schiller and Goethe, was from 1918 to the Nazi take over in 1933, renowned as a hotbed of literature, music and the visual arts, and home to some of the great Jewish names in these genres. Once again the city pulsates with cultural activity and artistic innovation, with Weimar being home to Yiddish Summer Weimar (YSW).

The 17-year-old Festival has its origins as a workshop on Yiddish music in Weimar as part of the 1999 European Summer Academy, and the event has become one of the most respected festivals for Jewish music and culture in the world. Dr. Alan Bern, Founder and Director says: “With the topic ‘The Other Israel: Seeing Unseen Diasporas’, as with all our projects, our goal is not merely to gain new knowledge, but to change how we experience ourselves and others, to create new possibilities for being together in this world.”


The festival title itself implies the extent to which Israel is a nation of numerous Diasporas, each with its own culture and heritage. In order to create an open collegial space in which dialogues take place to explore shared heritages and fundamental differences between Israel’s various ethnic communities, rather than sources of fear and mistrust, the expert team of Yiddish Summer Weimar 2017 have assembled wide-ranging, entertaining musical and lecture programs, surprise guest artists, as well as daily Yiddish language courses.

Highlights of this year’s festival include innovative youth exchange programmes with the Israeli based KADYA and CARAVAN ensembles. In KADYA, the Arab-Jewish choir ‘Voices of Peace’ from Jaffa will collaborate with Weimar’s Schola Cantorum, integrating the diverse musical and linguistic heritage of the choir members, who speak (and sing in) five different languages – Yiddish, Hebrew, Arabic, German and English – in Alan Bern’s musical arrangement of poems for Children by Polish Jewish author Kadya Molodowsky. In the newly formed CARAVAN ORCHESTRA, musicians from multicultural Haifa will join forces with European instrumentalists whose programs will offer works of European, Arabic and Jewish musical modes and styles.


Thousands of people have visited the festival over the years and many enthusiastic visitors and members return year after year to experience the flavour of Yiddish Summer Weimar Yiddishkayt. International Artists Consultant Helene Kamioner, whose mother tongue is Yiddish, explains that Yiddish Summer Weimar is not just another Yiddish music festival: “The outstanding factor of this particular event is its universal effort to revive, research, develop, advance and celebrate a culture and a language which produced the greatest artists, writers, thinkers and musicians the world has to offer.”

Brighton’s renowned musician Polina Shepherd is running Yiddish music workshops at Weimar Festival which, she says, is one of the world’s leading educational summer programmes about Jewish culture. “It brings together top international faculty and participants from all over the world, a fantastic community of people of all ages, professions, ethnic backgrounds and political views. Apart from the highest level of studies, I really like YSM’s openness to discussion. It opens doors to discussion about Yiddish- and Jewish, in general- culture, welcomes sometimes challenging and forward thinking opinions and it also presents a fantastic range of performances to illustrate that our culture has moved into the 21st century and is always fresh, new, and up to date.”

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