By Judy Kunofsky
KlezCalifornia, founded in 2003, and located in the San Francisco Bay Area, connects people and communities with Yiddish culture. A decade ago, one of our Board members, Robin Braverman, identified a need in our community for opportunities for Jewish youth to learn to understand and appreciate the role of Yiddish culture in Jewish life today. She suggested that our organization take up an initiative focusing on Jewish youth in religious schools and day schools.
Her proposal to the Board in February 2007 said:
“The Yiddish Culture Curriculum Project has the overall goal of providing both adults and children who have little or no knowledge of Yiddish language and Yiddish culture with some essentials in order to allow them to begin enjoying and understanding the Yiddish language elements and concepts which are part of the “way of thinking” of American Jews of Ashkenazi descent. These concepts were so much a part of the American Jewish scene in the two or three preceding generations that even Jews who do not speak Yiddish today, but who grew up in culturally rich Jewish environments understand at least these basic Yiddish concepts.”
She envisioned regular presentations to children up to bar/bat mitzvah age and high school students, and also eventually also to Jews by choice, who might have missed learning about this important Jewish culture during the process of becoming Jews, which focuses (almost exclusively?) on the Jewish religion.
While the program was proposed in 2007, we were not able to seriously pursue it until six years later. Since that time, KlezCalifornia has worked to develop lesson plans that can be used in a variety of settings, and has brought trained instructors into educational environments to present the content (and to test and refine the lessons). We have also been identifying and coaching presenters outside of our own local community, including educators from San Diego, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Victoria. We aim to continue this work of identifying independent Jewish educators to present our material in their own regions.
In the newest phase of our initiative, we are expanding our model beyond independent presenters, empowering teachers already educating students to use our knowledge and our prepared materials to teach their own students. KlezCalifornia has published twenty-six lesson plans for K-12 classes at religious schools and Jewish day schools. These lesson plans are available for free downloading by teachers, principals, parents, and students at klezcalifornia.org/tam. We hope that educators in other parts of the country and world will use these materials.