I’ve always enjoyed Yiddish music. It helps me feel connected with my Jewish roots in some sort of unspoken way. In the last few years my appreciation for Yiddish music and language has grown exponentially since I have been running JF&CS Café Hakalah, a social and cultural program for Holocaust survivors.

Each month we invite Holocaust survivors to enjoy music performances, participate in discussions about Jewish holidays, or watch a film in Yiddish. Our discussions are lively as guests reminisce about their childhoods, their families, and favorite foods and music. And something magical happens whenever we have an opportunity to sing Yiddish music and especially the song Tumbalalaika.

Tumbalaika is a riddle song seeped in ancient European tradition. A boy asks, “What can grow without rain? What can burn and never stop burning? What can weep and never shed a tear?” to which a girl answers, “A stone can grow without rain, love can burn and never end, a heart can yearn, cry without tears.” Our guests have sung this song since childhood whether they are from Russia, Vienna, or Italy. It’s a song that connects older adults with their roots, their families, old friends, and traditions.

At Café Hakalah, singing Tumbalaika always inspires at least one guest to stand and lead the song. There is laughter, dancing, and a feeling of joy. And for those few moments the years seem to slip away. While singing together, I gain a clear sense of what it may have felt like to be a Jew living in pre-war Europe, singing, dancing, and laughing with family and friends.

Sue Spielman, MPA, has worked with JF&CS for more than 13 years managing the Friendly Visitor Program and the Caring Communities Resource Network, both programs of JF&CS Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller Center for Jewish Healing, and more recently, Cafe Hakalah of JF&CS Schechter Holocaust Services in her work with people of all ages, Sue has developed a deep appreciation for the positive impact a feeling of connection can make on one’s quality of life, and she is honored to be able to help create those connections. Prior to her work with JF&CS, Sue worked for 20 years in the world of parenting education and support as an educator and community organizer. Sue received degrees from Harvard University, Wheelock College, and the University of Massachusetts.

Originally posted on the JF&CS blog.

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