Hankus Netsky, left, and Eden McAdam Somer, of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, will be performing Saturday and Sunday night as part of the Maine Jewish Film Festival’s Yiddish Cultural Festival. Courtesy / Maine Jewish Film Festival

PORTLAND — From bagel to glitch to klutz to schmooze to tchotchke, a number of Yiddish words have found their way into the English vernacular, but folks at the Maine Jewish Film Festival are out to prove that Yiddish culture is more than just some borrowed language.

This weekend, the Maine Jewish Film Festival will be holding its inaugural Yiddish Culture Festival, a two-day celebration of films, music, lectures and family activities.

Barbara Merson, executive director of the Maine Jewish Film Festival, said over the years the organization has been holding year-round events to complement its annual film festival that takes place in March.

“Our the past several years the festival has grown and diversified,” Board President David Scholder said. “It was born as just a film festival, but has grown to include food and film events, music and film events. This was an opportunity to build off that legacy and celebrate the Yiddish culture.”

Yiddish culture started in Eastern Europe, but was brought stateside by Jewish immigrants, Merson said. According to YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, the Yiddish language dates back to “the 10th century as Jews from France and Italy migrated to the German Rhine Valley and features elements of Hebrew, Jewish-French, Jewish-Italian, and various German dialects and later Slavic elements.”

“It is a really rich culture that has aspects of music and aspects of food,” Merson said.


Many of the Yiddish-speaking communities were destroyed during World War II, but many of today’s Hasidic Jews still speak the language, she said. Scholder said in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was the third most commonly spoken language in places like Montreal and New York City.

The festival, taking place at various venues across the city on Saturday, Nov. 2, and Sunday, Nov. 3, is designed to celebrate all aspects of the culture.

The Yiddish Cultural Festival will include a showing of “Chewdaism: A Taste of Jewish Montreal,” a film by Eli Batalion (left) and Jamie Elman. Courtesy / Maine Jewish Film Festival

The festival kicks off Saturday with a klezmer music concert by the Casco Bay Tummlers and Hankus Netsky of the Klezmer Conservatory Band at 7:30 p.m. at One Longfellow Square. Sunday’s offerings include a lecture by Michael Wex, author of “Born to Kvetch”; music, storytelling and crafts with Rabbi Sruli Dresdner and Lisa Mayer; a lecture and dance party with Netsky and Eden MacAdam-Somer; and showings of “Chewdaism,” a culinary tour of Jewish Montreal, and “A Day in Warsaw,” a film that uses historic footage to show Jewish life in Poland before World War II.

“By having so many events, we wanted to connect to a really broad audience, so no matter what you are interested in, you are going to find something,” Scholder said.

Merson said she is particularly excited the festival is featuring Netsky, the founder of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, an internationally renowned klezmer band for more than 30 years, and Wex, a New York Times best selling author and expert on the Yiddish language, who uses humor to teach Yiddish.

While he hopes those who attend the events learn a little something, Scholder said his main goal for the festival is that “folks come and have some fun.”


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