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The Boston Globe: “Roots of Yiddish are traced by documentary filmmaker”

n the documentary “In Search of Yiddish,” which screens tonight in Brighton, Russian-Jewish singer-songwriter Alexander Gorodnitsky travels through Belarus in search of the former centers of Jewish life before the Holocaust. He finds that the people who still speak the language of European Jews are sometimes not Jewish themselves. And his search has a personal side: His grandparents and extended family members perished during World War II, and like many Russian Jews of his generation, he cannot speak his ancestors’ tongue.

This weekend marks the first public screening in the world to have English subtitles. Although the film is in Russian, it has not been shown in Russia or in Belarus, where it was outlawed, said Yevsey Fabrikant, a friend of the filmmaker who lives in Wayland. After Boston, the film will travel to Stanford University and New York.

Gorodnitsky, who is known in Russia for his guitar tunes about travels in the far north, wrote nine songs for the film. In one song, he is drawn to the popular name Rachel – and the fact that his 12-year-old granddaughter, who lives in Israel, has the same Jewish name as her grandmother.

Gorodnitsky and producer Natalia Kasperovich will answer questions after the showing, but director Yuri Khashchevatsky was not allowed by Belarusian authorities to travel to the United States, Fabrikant said. The government of Lithuania, a nearby Baltic country that used to have a large Jewish population, on the other hand, has expressed interest in having a similar film made about Yiddish in its country, Fabrikant said.

“In Search of Yiddish” screens tonight at 7 at Shaloh House, 29 Chestnut Hill Ave., Brighton. A $20 donation is suggested. The film will also be shown today at 2 p.m. in Cafe St. Petersburg, a Russian restaurant in Newton.


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