Life & Culture

The Yorkshire festival that proves Yiddish is trending

The sof-vokh for non-Charedi speakers will take place at Wortley Hall near Sheffield in June


The first festival for non-Charedi Yiddish speakers to be held in the UK since the 1930s has sold out – two months before it takes place.

Professor Stephen Ogin, co-chair of the sof-vokh – or “weekend” – which is being held in South Yorkshire in June, could barely believe how quickly tickets went. “It was astonishing,” he said. “We thought, goodness, who’s going to buy tickets at up to £300 each?”

Set to feature leading academics and klezmer musicians, participants are expected from across the UK, as well as Israel, America and Poland.

Prof Ogin appears to be riding a global wave of interest in the Germanic language. Having run the monthly Yiddish Open Mic Café in London’s Covent Garden before the pandemic, he took the event online to find he could not only reach more Yiddish speakers around the UK but that enthusiasts from as far afield as Argentina were joining in.

“Since we went online we’ve had around 1,000 participants,” he said, adding: “The weekend event grew out of the success of the open mic sessions.”

Asked what’s behind the mini-renaissance, Antony Lerman, ex-director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, says: “The main driver of this revival is the fact that, as Jewish populations become more diverse and Jewish identity less connected to religion and more to ethnicity, Jews are increasingly looking for alternative ways to be Jewish.”

It is thought that there are 4,000 non-Charedi Yiddish speakers across the world, and around 30,000 speakers in the UK, including the Orthodox.

Prof Ogin, who insists that only Yiddish will be spoken for the entire sof-vokh, says about 15 per cent of those who will attend will be people who grew up in Yiddish-speaking households. He also estimates that approximately 25 per cent of participants will be younger than 35.

The sof-vokh, which takes place at Wortley Hall near Sheffield (17-19 June), will consist of workshops, activities, games and walks, plus talks on London Yiddish writers, Yiddish in Scotland, and Chasidic Yiddish. Academics Lily Khan, Heather Valencia and Doctor Helen Beer are due to attend.

Klezmer musician Michael Alpert, who has been helping to revive Yiddish since the 1970s, will give a performance to conclude the event on the Sunday afternoon.

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