The Yiddish Farm is a bridge. Today Yiddish is spoken and used daily in small but quickly growing communities that most of the world’s Jews have only seen in pictures. Owing in part to our adherence to traditional Jewish observance, Yiddish Farm is a unique environment where members of two very different groups, those seeking Yiddish as a form of identity and expression, and those living exclusively in a world of Yiddish identity and expression, can share space and learn from one another.
There is often a debate among Yiddish enthusiasts over what role Yiddish plays in our lives. Is Yiddish a means, or an end in itself? Yiddish Farm was founded in an attempt to move those with a passion for the Yiddish language away from seeing Yiddish as an ends unto itself. We believe Yiddish is a tool: it is to be spoken, sung, written in and read.
The question then becomes, what are we using this tool to accomplish and what is it that is binding us together in that work?
We are seeking to create a community rooted in Jewish observance and a passion for the land. We envision our yishev as becoming a unique and important part of Diaspora Jewry’s plurality of settled communities. We see our future community using Yiddish as the primary means of communication and farming as one of the means for economic sustainability.
Our educational offerings represent another means in our attempt to achieve our goal. Our programs are a source of passion for motivation for us. We truly believe that we are the best place to learn a rich and living Yiddish. Every student that leaves our programs speaking Yiddish is an inspiration for us. We are proud that we empower Jews of all backgrounds to reclaim Yiddish as a source of Jewish culture, identity and learning.
What students do with the education they receive here is up to them. There is a value in simply learning Yiddish for every Jew seeking access to our Eastern European history. While Yiddish Farm has a specific role to play in the world of today’s Yiddish, there are a multitude of other ways for individuals to relate to, use, and think about Yiddish. Many of our students go on to form chevras (groups) that rent apartments together, learn in Yiddish together, and maintain friendships in Yiddish long after leaving our programs. Others are attracted to our vision and return as employees or shabbos guests, while some have even contemplated settling their families here one day.
Due to our general adherence to Jewish observance, which we view as a pillar of our people’s radical tradition, our Yiddish immersion programs stand out in so far as students are exposed, first hand, to a lifestyle that informs their language acquisition. Whatever one’s personal beliefs or path, Yiddish simply cannot be understood without an understanding of Eastern European Jewish traditions, rituals, and customs.
Learning about tradition from a textbook may help inform one’s learning, but nothing beats seeing and hearing it first hand. Think about how many expressions in American English are informed by baseball. Does every American play baseball? Well, no. But a latent knowledge is necessary for basic understanding. Now consider the language of a people that developed over the course of 1000 years in a context where everyone played baseball all day every day. Understanding baseball would be pretty key do understanding that language, even if little league participation has been on the decline for the last 120 years.
Insofar as we are a meeting place, or bridge, between Jews of various backgrounds, we are committed to maintaining a difficult balance. Our values, including hakhnoses orkhim (hospitality) guide us in this commitment.
On Shabbos we eat, pray and sing joyously, and we create a peaceful “shabesdik” atmosphere by refraining from using electronics, writing implements and other activities that symbolize work. Shabbos rituals are discussed and then experienced. Women are invited to light shabbos candles and recite tkhines, Yiddish prayers that have largely fallen out of practice. By reclaiming tkhines, we hope to reacquaint Jews with Yiddish-language Jewish rituals and reintroduce these special prayers for women. Our services are Orthodox, meaning, among many other things, that they are led by men and a quorum of 10 men is required for certain prayers and rituals. Women and men sit separately. We find that most of our guests, no matter their background, find shabbos davening to be a lively and enjoyable experiance, as well as a time for relaxation and self reflection.
People of all religious backgrounds are welcome at Yiddish Farm programs. We cater to a wide range of people, including those who identify as secular, modern Orthodox, Conservative, Chabad, Hasidic, egalitarian, Reform, etc.