Welcome to our new series: Yiddish Teacher Spotlight! Throughout the year, we’ll interview as many of our Yiddish teachers as we can so the whole community can get to know them a little better.
Jonah Sidman (he/him) is teaching two sections of Yiddish classes this semester, and is also the music teacher for Shule.
BWC: Can you tell me a little bit about why Yiddish is important in your life and why you like to teach Yiddish?
Jonah: It’s important to me because I speak it every day with my family, though that wasn’t the natural thing to happen since I didn’t grow up speaking Yiddish myself.
BWC: What is your history with Yiddish?
Jonah: I’m not a native speaker, and I didn’t grow up around a lot of Yiddish, but I’ve always been interested in traditional music and dance, and I play Irish music, so I came to Yiddish through my interest in folk music and dance, and wanting to explore my interest in Jewish folk music. I had never really learned a language before – I studied a foreign language in school, but never really learned it. Learning Yiddish felt like a huge undertaking, so I told myself at the very least I would learn some good music and come away with that. Then it turned out I really enjoyed learning the language and kept doing it!
BWC: What brought you to teaching Yiddish?
Jonah: I’ve been an educator for a while – mostly science education. I’ve always loved the opportunities to teach the cultural side of things whenever that comes up, so I guess it was really a lot of interests of mine coming together at a time I was wanting to engage more as an educator and with Boston Workers Circle. When I first started, I was really excited about Yiddish, but had never taught a language before.
BWC: How was it to teach a language when you hadn’t taught that kind of subject before? What kinds of supports did you get?
Jonah: I definitely had a lot of support from the other teachers at Boston Workers Circle, and previous Yiddish teachers. A lot of what makes a good teacher though is very transferable between subjects, so my previous teaching experience was an enormous help even though I taught other subjects. I definitely had a lot to learn as well – I’m always continuing to learn, which is something I really enjoy about teaching.
Every time I get a new group of students, it’s really wonderful what a wide variety of backgrounds they come to class with. Even if I knew everything, I’d really prefer a classroom where the students teach each other as well as me teaching them. Often there’s someone with a knowledge of Hebrew or German grammar who can offer insight from that perspective, or someone with expertise in leftist history or religious practice who can deepen class discussions on those topics. Those kinds of rich discussions are what make a classroom experience, whether it’s on Zoom or in person.
BWC: If you’ve taught both in person and on Zoom, can you talk a little bit about what’s different in those two settings? And do you have a preference for one or the other?
Jonah: I’ve come to really enjoy teaching on Zoom, though I also would like to get back to teaching in person. Zoom has been great for accessibility – we’ve had participation from people really far away, or people not so far away but who might have trouble getting out in the evening for an in-person class. It’s been great for expanding our community.
BWC: To finish, can you share a link to a favorite Yiddish song or performance our readers might enjoy?