Jan 07 2014

Yiddishland in Switzerland

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It’s been awhile! Hi!

A friend of mine wrote an article for the Forward on his trip around Swiss Yiddishland. Take a look at it here (if you read Yiddish).

Leyzer writes that Jews came to Switzerland in the 17th century and spoke Western Yiddish. The particularly settled in 2 towns, not far from Zurich, Endingen and Legnoy. In the mid-1800s, Jews started leaving for the big cities (Zurich and Geneva). There isn’t much left of those communities now. No Western Yiddish speakers–but there is a project to document it.

He visited the towns and remarked that they did not have the typical church at the center of town. They each had restored synagogues, however–which are still in use, on occasion. The Jewish houses are distinguished by two entry doors. In between the towns there is a Jewish cemetery. He doesn’t see much of a Jewish future in the towns, but points out the history of these places has been mostly friendly, reminding readers that Jews lived peacefully with their Christian neighbors and left for economic opportunities.

I heard of these towns while living in Switzerland–they were depicted in paintings at an art museum I visited and I have wondered about them since. I’m hoping to be back in Switzerland this May or June for a short visit. Maybe I will get Sore to take me to Yiddishland while I’m there. In the meantime, I am writing my dissertation. Wish me luck.

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Sep 21 2009

To a sweet new year in CH

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This past week, Seth and I both went back to school.  As we were trying to figure out what classes to take, in came the new year.  Typical. Welcome 5770.

We spent a nice weekend, albeit full of far too many train trips into Geneva.  Services at the GIL were not particularly inspiring, but there were reasons to celebrate nevertheless: there are two new and one returning (welcome back HSF!) Harvard recent grads who have come to Geneva, and we also met a handful of young and interested Jews through a connection and by meeting incoming students both at IHEID and EPFL.  Enough people so that we are hosting our very own break fast to end Yom Kippur on Monday in Renens!  If we’re lucky, we’ll even have bagels (if you would like some as well, leave a comment and we’ll send you the email of Ion, the bagel maker of Geneva).  I also acquired delicious artisanal Swiss honey, harvested by the father of a fellow choir member in a small town near Sion called Grimisuat.

Difficult readjustments aside, we are looking forward to a new and improved year in this country.  Now if only we could settle on our academic schedules…

Shana tova.  A sweet, fulfilling, and healthy 5770 to all.

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Jul 21 2009

More like Yiddishland than Paris

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I have walked into several boulangeries, cafes, supermarkets, and asked the rude-ish person attending in rather broken Yiddish for something or other several times this last week.  What can I say, when I am in Yiddish immersion most of the day, and everyone around me speaks Yiddish, I forget that in Paris, people speak French.  Also, I forget how to speak French.  Hmm.  I wish I could learn one language without erasing parts of another.

So Seth and I (or should I say Shmul un Blime?) have plopped into Yiddishland, located in the Yiddish center in Paris.  This means 4 hours of Yiddish classes per day, another 4-6 hours of lectures, films, workshops, extra help sessions, museum visits, etc, as one desires to attend, and then a few hours worth of  homework.  It is a bit odd because everyone has such different backgrounds and there are so many people in each of the classes that despite immersion and fast-pacedness, I still feel like I am learning at a slower rate than I might be.  In particular, I am between levels 2 and 3, 2 being boring and 3 being too hard, so I, along with 2 other students, are going to 2 hours of each level every day.  Which thus makes it less coherent, but better paced.  Ah well.  And the advantage of their being too many other students is that there are actually OTHER people with whom to speak Yiddish, who have different accents, different dialects, different abilities, etc.

While we’ve been mostly Yiddishing, we did get to Harry Potter yesterday (with French subtitles, not dubbed), and we’ve been able to meet up with 2 different Harvard friends, one of whom we just ran into on the street and is visiting Paris during her half year in Barcelona, and the other of whom is working for Let’s Go.  Turns out there are far more people we know who pass through Paris than who pass through Lausanne or Geneva.  We also went to one of few hills in Paris on Bastille Day to picnic and watch the fireworks shooting off the Eiffel Tower with one of Seth’s freshman roommates and a bunch Harvard people we did not know.  We have been enjoying the cheap fruit available at open markets (apricots, cherries, peaches, plums!!!), and the not-so-cheap-but-at-least-good food we can find in restaurants.  At some point, hopefully soon, I will be reuniting with my exchange friend from high school; we’ve kept in touch for 8 years now, and we’ve seen each other every few.  Then again, I find myself with another cold, so maybe not so soon.

So, we’ve been busy.  In a good way, but let’s just say Seth and I have not been working as much on our research projects as we’d hoped to do.  And in less than two weeks, we will be in the states!  Please check your calendars and write us in; more detailed information for your city to come by email (if you don’t get said email, send us an email…we can’t remember where all of our friends are currently living.  And if you live in Philly, can you come meet us in another city?).  Our current plan, susceptible to slight modifications in the northeast corridor:

  • 1-4: Seth in Evanston/Chicago, Jackie in NJ/NYC
  • 5-11: Evanston/Chicago (both of us)
  • 12-15: Seattle
  • 16-19: Hilton Head, South Carolina
  • 20-21: Washington, DC
  • 22-26: NJ/NYC
  • 27-28: Boston/Cambridge (if you’re lucky…we may not make this one)
  • 29-30: attending a family friend’s wedding in upstate NY
  • 31: Back to Geneva!

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Mar 09 2009

Haupt Mayn Homentashen!

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It’s the most freylekher time of the year!  In Jewish time, not school time.  Purim, we realized, is an awfully difficult holiday to celebrate without a surrounding Jewish community of peers.  There were youth Purim parties in Geneva, Basel, and Zurich, but not Lausanne.  So, instead, this is what we did:

Step 1.  Forget homework and bake homentashen!  A challenging task with so little counter space.  Ours are filled with: plum jam (kind of approximates lekvar), sour cherry jam, apricot jam, and melted swiss chocolate bar.  Also, since we don’t really have many people in Switzerland eligible for receiving mishloakh manos, and they probably won’t fare so well in airmail, we have a lot of them to eat!

Smiling at baking homentashen
Are they done yet?  My reflected stare at the bubbling cookies in the oven.

Freshly Baked Homentashen!
Mmm, hot homentashen, just out of the oven!

Bouncy Homentash
Seth eats a homentash while bouncing on his new exercise ball!

Step 2.  Go to Yiddish class as usual at the Lausanne Jewish community center, read a few poems from Itzik Manger’s Di Megile together, and listen to Yiddish Purim songs!  Seth came for the song part.

Step 3.  Head downstairs to the Purim seude (meal), and have lots of parve, sweet desserts with people from Yiddish class.  The teacher, on a mission to find us friends, introduced us to a very nice woman about our age, who proceeded to introduce us to everyone at her table.  And now, we have officially met just about all the observant, young, and newly married members of the Lausanne Jewish community.  They were very nice, and now we have people our age to sit next to when we finally go to services there (which we will now do!) and hopefully they will invite us for Shabes dinners or something.  It’s perhaps a bit awkward that they are more observant than we are, but I am hopeful they’ll be ok with us liberal Jews and we’ll get along just fine.

A gutn Purim!

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Dec 28 2008

A Provençal ChanNoëlukah

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Normally, I don’t like combining words into one cheesy, hard-to-read string, but it just worked so well…

We spent Noël (what Francophones call Christmas) and Chanukah (what Jews call Chanukah) in the Provence region of France with Seth’s parents. Logistics were rather harried, due to baggage delays combined with our inability to delay our travels because of the impending shut-down of Western Europe for Christmas. However, Provence was still beautiful. We were only there for 2 full days, and I would love to go back, as we just got a small taste. Fortunately, it is pretty close, so we might be able to go back and make it, say, to Marseille and to see the lavender fields in bloom.

We based ourselves in Avignon, in a lovely apartment we rented right in the middle of the walled part of the city, which gave us the opportunity to cook and hang out in a common space while everything else was shut down for the holiday.  Check out the view from the the living room window:

View from Apartment

We spent one of our days in Avignon, wandering the streets of the old city and visiting the enormous papal palace, where the pope was installed from 1309–1377 instead of in Rome.  But then there was a great schism and the popes in Avignon became the anti-popes.  Confusing, and I only remember a little bit from Modern European History in high school, so that’s all the history you get.  The palace was huge, with big, cavernous rooms, as our guide book described them, “denuded.”  Although it was at one time lavishly decorated, it’s mostly a series of big empty rooms nowadays.  We also took a stroll along the famous Pont d’Avignon (I didn’t know it was famous, but apparently everyone should know about it because of a famous song).  Avignon reminded me of Jerusalem, oddly enough, despite its staunchly Catholic history.  I think it was the stone that it was all built out of which resembles Jerusalem stone as well as the old, windy streets where old and new meet with striking contrast. Avignon had amazing food, in particular, French bakeries, which are SO much better than Swiss bakeries, sadly.  I was given a reusable, long, skinny baguette bag at one bakery—so exciting.  We dined at numero 75 as well, which was tasty and beautiful, and they were happy (!) to make us vegetarian, three-course French meals.  Below is a photo of the walled part of Avignon, taken from the rooftop of the Palais des Papes, followed by a picture of the city lit up for Christmas, taken just outside the walls looking in through a gate:

Rooftops of Avignon on Christmas

Avignon of Light

We did some Jewish tourism, too.  There is a strong Jewish tradition in Provence, which includes two of the oldest, still open synagogues in France among other Jewish sites.  We went to light candles and eat home-made donuts with the very friendly Jewish community of Avignon in their old, beautiful synagogue, which was a highlight of the trip.  The second day in Provence, we visited the synaogue in the nearby city of Carpentras, which looked like a small baroque concert hall and has apparently allowed women to become Bat Mitzvah for several centuries, despite being a traditional syngagogue.  This synagogue is one of the prime tourist destinations in Carpentras, which is suprising, as synagogues are not often popular destinations for non-Jews.  But everyone knows about it, as evidenced by the fact that the woman who gave us keys to the Avignon apartment told us that Carpentras was only worth going to if we wanted to see the “Jewish Church” there.  Here’s a photo Seth’s father took of us in front of the ark in Carpentras:

In the Synagogue

We also made it to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, a tourist/traditional Provençal village alongside a natural spring that feeds a rushing river.  The spring and the old buildings were beatiful, but it was super-touristy, even without tourists there…too many postcard and souvenir shops. We then took the challenging drive to the Village de Bories, featuring awesome stone huts built without mortar.  It doesn’t seem like anyone has expended much energy learning the history of these things, though (or maybe they just didn’t deem it necessary to tell visitors), and thus, we still don’t know why or when they were built and how people still lived in them until just over a century ago.  Here’s Seth in a hut doorway:

Perfect Fit

Then we headed into nearby Gordes, a cliffside village reminding me of Tsfat but with Christmas lights instead of ultra-Orthodox Jews, for a brief night-time walk through the twisting streets surrounding the chateau.

Chateau of Gordes

Then we went back to Switzerland via a disastrous early-morning train ride for a delicious fondue dinner.

More photos are on my photostream.

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Oct 12 2008

1/3 Minyan! Alee, Yom Kippur, Gruyeres, and Biking

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Alee, our friend from the Reform Minyan at Harvard, came to visit us for a long weekend!  It was great!  Alee is a junior and is studying abroad in Nantes, France, this semester.  She arrived just after Kol Nidre, and we hopped onto the train she took from the airport, and showed her back to Renens.  The next day we took a late morning and headed into Geneva in the early afternoon.  We walked around the old city (which I still hadn’t been to since age 14!) for a few hours and, in particular, visited the old cathedral and its archeology museum.  We went to the 3.5 hour afternoon service, during which we all felt very lathargic and pretty darn hungry.  Then we broke fast with apples and headed to Mary’s for dinner, which was delicious.

Seth went to work on Friday, but Alee and I took the day to go to Gruyères, of cheese fame, and the Cailler chocolate factory in Broc.  Gruyères was a beautiful old village nestled on the top of a hill, amongst trees of all sorts of vivid autumn colors.  We ate a traditional Swiss lunch of rosti covered in gruyère and macaroni in cream and melted gruyère and then walked down the one main street towards the chateau.

The Gruyères Chateau

The cheese factory was a bit disappointing, as it was targeted towards elementary school children and seemed far away from the artisanal processes we had been imagining.  We liked the Cailler factory in nearby Broc much better.  This little rural town for some reason hosts the only Cailler factory, which we learned differentiates itself from most Nestle products by virtue of the fact that Cailler chocolate uses condensed milk rather than the standard Nestle milk powder.  All of said condensed milk comes from the cows grazing on the land around the factory, although, of course, the cocoa beans come from far, far away.  This tour was free (!!!) and gave us unlimited tasting of Cailler chocolate, yum.

Jackie Tasting Chocolate

On Saturday Seth was back with us as we went biking in the Canton of Geneva.  We rented bikes (cost 2 francs per bike) for the day right by the train station, and we biked along the lake through the city and out into the country side.  Most of it featured a clearly marked bike path, but there was a stretch where it disappeared.  That plus a couple big hills made me somewhat unhappy for a little while (but the hills were great on the way back!!!).  We stopped at an apple orchard and bought a 5 kg sack of apples and a bottle of hard cider, and then we stopped at a squash farm and picked out a couple of those, too.  We biked back into town, stopping at the Jet D’Eau for some photos and a coffee/sorbet break, and then Alee was off on the train to the airport, back to Nantes.


You can see more of my photos, as usual, on my photostream, and here are Alee’s pictures from the weekend.

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