My favorite Mother’s Day gift was a refrigerator magnet set with more Yiddish words than even my “Bubbie” (grandmother) spoke. Every time someone passes through my kitchen, they rearrange the magnets to make a sentence that speaks to them. My daughter’s message reads, “My mother has chutzpa (boldness).” My neighbor left behind a note saying, “What’s your shtick (talent, special area of interest)? Although I only recognize about half the words (fortunately, it comes with a dictionary), there is something so appealing about the vocabulary that brings the text to life. Right now, I’m playing with the magnetic words “plotz” (collapse from excitement), and “kvetch” (complain).
I decided to bring my magnet set to Orlando’s Yiddishe maven (Yiddish expert), to see what a real specialist could create with it. On the third Thursday of each month, volunteer Yiddish instructor, Joan Pohl (pictured below, with husband, Frank, and mother, ‘Malka’) can be found surrounded by a crowd of seniors at a Longwood/Lake Mary Senior Living community, eager to practice the Yiddish language during the one hour conversational class.
For the past eight years, the longtime Winter Park resident has enriched and reconnected Yiddish speakers with a heritage that could have easily been forgotten. Pohl’s class, sponsored by the Jewish Pavilion, brings a taste of the Yiddish culture and language to the 15-40 students who attend the monthly offering. She also supplies a “nosh” or snack, home-made by her mother, who recently relocated to Central Florida.
Pohl, a retired speech pathologist, welcomes students of all faiths and backgrounds. While most of students hail from Brookdale Island Lake in Longwood and Oakmonte Village in Lake Mary, others commute from surrounding areas, even as far away as the Villages, for the one-of-a-kind chance to communicate in a forgotten tongue.
Born in Israel, Pohl grew up in New York and Miami, and was the child of two Holocaust survivors, Aaron and Monya (Malka) Kornicki, from Poland and Germany. Her paternal grandmother, Rachel Kornicki, spoke Yiddish in the home while her parents were away at work. Pohl has fond memories of her Yiddish roots, and is happy to have a skill that she can she share with the senior community.
Pohl noted, “Teaching Yiddish is as rewarding for myself as it for the seniors. Though I am probably a generation younger than these seniors, their stories and childhoods are identical to mine. We are all the children of refugees, raised with grandparents and the Yiddish language in our homes. Spending time with other speakers (from beginner to fluent) has brought back feelings from my childhood and theirs, as well.”
She concluded, “I am so grateful for this opportunity to share my love for Yiddish and to give back to my roots. I love this language and culture of inclusion, where everyone is welcome, and where we ‘come back to the past to create the future’. I invite community members of all ages and all backgrounds to join us for “A Taste of Yiddish”, starting again in the fall. Knowledge of Yiddish is not required, just bring a sense of humor and a taste for learning.” Come and “plotz” with the group, but save the “kvetching” for later.
Contact www.jewishpavilion.org or call 407-678-9363, to make a donation, or to find out more about Joan Pohl’s Yiddish Class, meeting again in September.