Yiddish, the Germanic language of Eastern European Jews that was imported to the US during waves of Jewish immigration, was once a thriving language that fueled vaudeville, newspapers such as the Forverts, Yiddish comedians, radio dramas, and a rich literary tradition. Sadly, few speakers or vestiges of Yiddish's cultural beacon survive in the US. Numerous Yiddish words such as bagel, chutzpah, glitch, klutz, maven, and schlep have made their way into American vocabularies (for an excellent discussion on Yiddish and its influence, read Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods (P.S.) by Michael Wex).
Originally broadcast on NPR, the Yiddish Radio Project was the brainchild of musician/historian Henry Sapoznik. He discovered few dozen acetate-coated aluminum discs at a rummage sale, then spent the next 17 years rescuing surviving discs. Some had been melted down for WWII scrap metal drives, others tossed or disintegrated, but the rare surviving copies opened the door to a long-lost glimpse of Jewish immigrant culture in the mid-twentieth century. We hear bilingual advertisements for Barbasol, Manischewitz, and Hebrew National Meats among others, Yiddish swing, and fascinating Yiddish radio dramas (the soundtrack is available as a standalone CD, Music from the Yiddish Radio Project, featuring highlights of commercials and swing melodies).
Narration is by Scott Simon, and translations are provided by Carl Reiner and Eli Wallach. The two-CD tribute includes segments on Yiddish commercials, radio dramas, and rabbinical radio courts, filled out by snippets of tantalizing products long gone, such as Brillo Kosher Soap: "the Star of David is worked right through the soap, it never disappears"! This is a treasure of those of you who grew up in a Yiddish-speaking household, or who might want to reconnect with the culture of our immigrant grandparents.