A Look into Language

On Saturday, October 30, documen­tary filmmaker Pearl Gluck came to the Saperstein Jewish Center sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program for a special presentation entitled “Living in Yiddish: Documenting In and About a Language and Tradition.” Much of the focus was on the issues that arose from Gluck’s decision to move away from the Satmar Hasidic community in which she was raised. In the process, she talked about the many facets of Hasidic community living as well as the intricacies of the Yiddish language.

During the presentation, she showed clips from her two documentary films titled Divan and Soundwalk: Williamsburg. While watching Divan, the audience was able to witness Gluck’s journey from her former community in Borough Park, Brooklyn to Hungary, where many of her ances­tors used to live. Gluck was able to travel to Hun­gary on a Fulbright Fellowship that allowed her to study the history behind the Yiddish language.

A self proclaimed “zomer” or “collector,” Gluck has traveled throughout much of Eastern Europe in search of a better under­standing of the culture into which she was born. While she was able to collect much information about her culture and tradi­tions, she faced animosity from the practic­ing Hasidic Jews who were offended by her attempts to film them.

In both documentaries, a contrast is displayed between the simplistic and whole-heartedly religious lifestyle of Ha­sidic Jews and the values of those believing in other forms of Judaism. The values of Hasidic Jews, who seek to foster and main­tain their religious zeal, are inherently dif­ferent. Hasidic Jews reject many elements of our society, including technology such as filmmaking and the college experience.

During the course of the two-hour event, Gluck gave her commentary about her films and conversed with the audi­ence about her experiences growing up in a Hasidic community. She also talked a great deal about the process of collecting information and filming her documen­tary. She was extremely open to questions and comments from the audience regard­ing her experiences and Hasidic traditions in general.

Yiddish was Gluck’s first language, yet she studied it because she was fascinated by the dif­ferent dialects of the language. She talked a lot about the different dialects portrayed by differ­ent communities within the realm of Hasidism. Additionally, she described how the meaning be­hind the language has become more mainstream and excessively associated with humor.

After breaking away from her communi­ty, Gluck attended Brandeis University and studied anthropology and ethnography. Iron­ically, however, her father bought her first camera as a token of his eventual approval of her new lifestyle. She believes that a lot of her work is about “building bridges” between dif­ferent cultures and people, ultimately leading to a greater understanding of one another.

Recently, Gluck has been working on the Archives of Historical and Ethnographic Yid­dish Memories (AHEYM) project, which con­sists of many interviews in Yiddish and com­pares the different dialects that are apparent within the language. In comparison to other more formal written languages with set rules and extensive grammatical intricacies, Yiddish is largely an oral language.

The program itself was extremely suc­cessful. It received a vast turnout of many students, parents and community mem­bers, all of whom seemed to be extremely engaged with the presentation.