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Contemporary Yiddish Performance and Jewish Futures

My work examines the music of Yiddish-speaking Jewish partisans and ghetto resisters, as sung for a modern audience by the Boston Worker’s Circle community chorus, A Besere Velt (‘A Better World’). For my master’s thesis, I drew from a combination of original interviews with current members of A Besere Velt across a wide age range, folklore and related interdisciplinary research, and primary Yiddish source material, examining what makes singing these songs so poignant for contemporary Jews, giving them a life that exists beyond their original audience through continued performance. Ultimately, I argued that through repeat performance and interpretation of partisan and ghetto songs, members of A Besere Velt are creating a conduit between past and present time—a liminal space, ripe with possibility. I utilized the interviews I conducted with A Besere Velt chorus members to provide a nuanced portrait of the varying motivations and affiliations of the group, with an emphasis on each individual’s relationship to Jewishness and the Yiddish language. This talk will examine these efforts, with an emphasis on contemporary performance and Jewish futures.

Justine Orlovsky-Schnitzler is a 2021 graduate of the Folklore MA program at UNC, where she completed a master’s thesis on Yiddish music and contemporary Jewish performance. She also earned the Graduate Certificate in Jewish Studies and served the Center for a year as its graduate student assistant. She is a frequent contributor to Lilith magazine, and the politics writer for the Jewish Women’s Archive.

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