Yiddish Farm: “You cannot experience this anywhere else.”
by Naftali Schaechter Ejdelman, Co-Founder, Yiddish Farm Corp.
One of my greatest passions in life is to keep the Yiddish language and culture alive and healthy. I have devoted myself to this cause for most of my life by teaching the language and providing its students with opportunities to practice it.
Although numerous institutions offer Yiddish classes, performances and events, Yiddish students rarely become fluent in the language, because they lack meaningful opportunities to speak it. About two years ago, my friend Yisroel Bass and I decided to test a new idea: What if we created an organic farm community that ran Yiddish-immersion programs to bring together Yiddish students with native speakers?
While such a dream in its current incarnation is a deep expression of our own passions, a similar vision has been passed onto me from my maternal grandfather, Dr. Mordkhe Schaechter, of blessed memory. My grandfather imbued his students, friends and family with a zeal for the Yiddish language, and actually attempted to establish a Yiddish-speaking agricultural community in the 1950s, a project that was inspired by the imagination of his father, Benyumen Schaechter.
In the spring of 2010, I retired early from my teaching career, and Yisroel and I started scouring the Internet for a suitable piece of land for Yiddish Farm. We led expeditions to farms throughout the Catskills and the Berkshires. One day, my mother called me and told me that Eve Jochnowitz, her partner on the Yiddish cooking show Eat in Good Health, had a 200+ acre farm in her family. The farm was originally bought with the express purpose of teaching Jews how to farm. Its current owner (Eve’s father) is a linguist with a particular interest in Jewish languages, and Eve herself is both a Yiddishist and an organic foodie. Moreover, the property is less than 60 miles from New York City and 15 minutes from one of the largest concentrations of Yiddish speakers in the world, Kiryas Joel. A match made in heaven.
In the summer of 2011, we launched the Yiddish Farm Summer Program on the Kayam Farm in Maryland. Piloting the program on an existing farm made us free to concentrate on planning the program rather than building the farm. With support from several foundations, our three-week advanced Yiddish program brought together Yiddish students and native speakers, ranging from secular to Hasidic. We spent our days entirely in Yiddish, working the land, rehearsing a play, reading literature, and creating new songs. It was total bliss.
This summer, we move the program to our beloved farm in Goshen. Responding to an increasing demand, we have decided to launch a month-long beginner’s Yiddish program, and we have lengthened our advanced program to nearly two months. For the first time, we are running cultural and educational programs for Jewish summer camps, bungalow colonies and yeshivas. The seeds have been ordered, the greenhouse has been erected, and rows of garlic and wheat have been planted. A new adventure begins.
To learn more about Yiddish farm—including opportunities to get involved—please click here!