‘It’s needed here’: La Jolla’s new Yiddishland California shares Jewish culture
The first building space for the Yiddish Arts and Academics Association of North America officially opens Nov. 14 as a cultural center, a classroom and an art gallery in a community where Jews were once excluded.
Yiddishland California, the first building space for the Yiddish Arts and Academics Association of North America, has arrived in La Jolla to fill what YAAANA founder and President Jana Mazurkiewicz Meisarosh feels is a multigenerational need.
Yiddishland had a soft opening last month and officially opens at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14, at 1128 Wall St. with a dedication event including a ribbon cutting, Yiddish-themed artwork, a klezmer concert and more.
The dedication also will include placement of the mezuzah, a decorative piece of parchment with Hebrew verses hung at doorways outside Jewish homes to indicate “it’s a Jewish institution,” Mazurkiewicz Meisarosh said.
Yiddishland California will function as a cultural center, a classroom and an art gallery, adding a brick-and-mortar space to YAAANA’s online classes and events. Mazurkiewicz Meisarosh said she is trying to launch an after-school program.
The venue will offer concerts, lectures and small stage activities, such as a drag queen performance and a cabaret, Mazurkiewicz Meisarosh said. She said she is working to have local artists, musicians and actors appear there.
The La Jolla resident said she chose La Jolla for Yiddishland California because “historically Jews were not allowed to settle here, so I think it’s an excellent place.”
An article by Mary Ellen Stratthaus in the 1996 book “American Jewish History” and other sources, including a UC San Diego oral history project from the 1980s, describe housing discrimination against Jews in La Jolla from the 1920s into the 1960s.
In addition to Yiddish classes, Yiddishland plans Hebrew and Polish classes. “The Jewish community is the same size as the Polish community,” Mazurkiewicz Meisarosh said. “I’m Polish-Jewish; I’m connected to those two [communities] and I see they have the same needs for language.”
Mazurkiewicz Meisarosh said Yiddishland will offer classes for all ages. Jewish parents will speak to their children in Hebrew, Polish or Yiddish and the children will answer in English, she said. “They need to be exposed to the language.”
The history of Yiddish is “really long and convoluted,” Mazurkiewicz Meisarosh said. “It’s the language that used to be very commonly spoken all over the world … as the main Jewish language.”
Over time, “for lots of historical reasons like the Holocaust,” Yiddish “lost the competition with Hebrew,” the official language of Israel, she said.
Now, she said, Yiddish “is facing its renaissance. People are curious about the language of their grandparents and they are rediscovering it, for their sake and for the sake of their children.”
When she learned Yiddish, “there wasn’t any renaissance; I had to fish for classes,” she said.
One of the perks of learning Yiddish is that “no matter where you go, you’re going to find Yiddish speakers in every single country on the planet,” Mazurkiewicz Meisarosh said.
Yiddish itself “has no country,” she said, and that’s why she named the cultural center Yiddishland. It “already exists in the imaginary, in poetry, in the arts … but it has no border and no army,” she said.
The art gallery will display pieces from Eastern European artists on one side and North American artists on the other. The pieces are donated by YAAANA supporters, Mazurkiewicz Meisarosh said. She plans to hold regular exhibits.
Yiddishland California has been in the works for a couple of years, with fundraising beginning before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which delayed the plans, she said.
“When we were starting, people were doubtful there will be need for a space, but there is,” Mazurkiewicz Meisarosh said. The center’s storage rooms are full, she added. “People give us so much.”
Yiddishland is different from local synagogues in that “we are not a religious organization,” she said. “We cater mostly to secular people; religion is not a factor here. It’s for everybody who wants to learn about Jewish culture.
“It’s a niche and it’s needed here, both for adults and for kids. It must be multigenerational.”
Mazurkiewicz Meisarosh said she “would like to give people a place to hang out during the day casually ... stop by and have coffee, tea, snacks.”
Her long-term plans for the center are to offer guest rooms for artists in residence, visiting scholars and tourists, “furnished like the old country,” referring to pre-Holocaust settlements in Eastern Europe called shtetls.
For the time being, Yiddishland California will be open from 3 to 9 p.m. daily. Mazurkiewicz Meisarosh said YAAANA is looking for volunteers and donations to help keep the center open and expand its offerings.
For more information, visit yiddishlandcalifornia.org. ◆
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