Pedagogy

Teaching and Producing Original Yiddish Radio

Shahar Fineberg

In 2021, the Paris Yiddish Center summer program offered several workshops aimed at encouraging the production of original creative work in Yiddish: Sharon Bar-Kochva taught a poetry workshop, Tal Hever-Chybowsky a film workshop, while I led the Yiddish radio workshop.

The idea behind the workshop was simple: To provide students with basic audio production skills and encourage them to produce a short radiophonic piece in Yiddish.

It was incidentally also the first time I taught in Yiddish. This was a doubly challenging task, since even if you have been plowing away at the “Boss Level” of madreyge finf (Level 5) as an advanced student for several years, there will inevitably be entire semantic fields that you have little to no grasp of. In this case they were: 1) “teacher’s Yiddish” and 2) “sound production Yiddish.” Good luck scrambling for the right Yiddish words while trying to explain the difference between ‘volume’ (די הױכקײט) and ‘gain’ (די פֿאַרשטאַרקונג) without completely losing your audience (a challenge regardless of the language you are speaking!). 1 1 I drafted a glossary of basic audio terms that the students received (and that is attached below), compiled using the Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary as well as the generous suggestions of Tal Hever-Chybowsky and Natalia Krynicka.

That being said, even though we did our best to speak entirely in Yiddish, our goal was to learn something “outside” of Yiddish; the Yiddish language learning was secondary to accomplishing to the task at hand, though improving Yiddish language skills was among the goals of the course. In this regard, the workshop differed from other Yiddish classes whose focus is on Yiddish cultural objects. We were using Yiddish to create works that in and of themselves may have had nothing to do with Yiddish culture — it turns out that all of the productions did, but we might as well chalk that up to coincidence.

When I first discussed the workshop contents with the Paris Yiddish Center, and told them of my plan to teach students the rudiments of sound production, there was a fear that the workshop might turn out too technical, not interactive enough, a bit like watching a YouTube tutorial with no pause button. Indeed, some students, mostly beginners in Yiddish, dropped out after the first meeting: If teaching sound in Yiddish was challenging for me, I can only imagine what it must have been like to be on the receiving side! But those who remained plunged wholeheartedly into the adventure.

The workshop took place over Zoom, which presented several problems specific to working with sound production. We have all had the frustrating experience of listening to Zoom concerts, Zoom theater, Zoom-anything that challenges the platform’s aggressive dynamic compression codecs.2 Add to that the fact that generally speaking, in ordinary non-Zoom-era circumstances, you would use good headphones or studio monitors for playback during audio mixing. When everyone is in a different location and using playback equipment that is not necessarily optimal for sound production, it is hard to drive home some of the finer points of audio processing, such as the effects of compression or equalization.

But as Marshall McLuhan stated in his visionary maxim: The medium is the message. Instead of making do with the medium we were using, we made use of it. The world of audio and video production has vastly changed over the past several decades, and with it our perceptions of “good” and “bad” quality. Whether it is the synthesized “Orchestra Hit” sample popularized by 1980s hip-hop or Steven Soderbergh’s use of an iPhone 7 Plus for “filming” a feature “film”, the discovery of quantized digital processing, i.e. the discrete-unit rendering of physical phenomena, grants us access to so many new possibilities. It is the equivalent of the Impressionists getting hold of paint tubes: Suddenly, to produce a guitar sound, you no longer need a guitar. The fact that the vast majority of processed sounds we hear today are recorded and mixed via digital rather than analog processing methods only bolstered the mekhayedik feeling of our digitized DIY enterprise.

So participants made use of the technology available to them. Some had access to “real” microphones, and others made use of their smartphones. We used Audacity, a free open-source digital audio workstation. With the number of digital effects that even an entry-level program such as Audacity allows you to throw onto your mix, there is always the possibility of finding the right sound.

For the second meeting, participants produced fictitious 30-second Yiddish commercials that we then critiqued together, discussing both technical points and style, what works as a listening experience and what doesn’t. Besides the technical stuff, we also looked at some examples of radio, and Yiddish radio in particular. I shared the workflows of some productions I did for Yiddish haynt, and we took a look at Henry Sapoznik’s treasure trove of Yiddish radio on the Yiddish Radio Project. While I didn’t want to impose any content on what participants would produce for the siem party at the end of the summer program, I did suggest that students choose one of either two genres: Fiction or documentary. The workshop results were surprising and exciting: From archive-based documentary to detective radio fiction, it was a joy to see not only how much participants were able to do based on only three 90-minute meetings, but also what radiophonic creations might be awaiting us in Yiddishland in the future.

Download the glossary for a list of radio terms in Yiddish, English and French.

Lis­ten to the radio pieces pro­duced by stu­dents in Sha­har Fineberg’s workshop.

Announcement: Yiddish haynt, the Paris Yiddish Center’s bi-weekly radio program, will be launching this year a series of original short fiction works for radio, in Yiddish and/or French. Scripts of up to 12 pages can be sent for consideration to [email protected].

MLA STYLE
Fineberg, Shahar. “Teaching and Producing Original Yiddish Radio.” In geveb, November 2021: https://ingeveb.org/pedagogy/yiddish-radio-workshop.
CHICAGO STYLE
Fineberg, Shahar. “Teaching and Producing Original Yiddish Radio.” In geveb (November 2021): Accessed Nov 29, 2021.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shahar Fineberg

Shahar Fineberg is host and producer of Yiddish haynt on RCJ 98.4, Paris Yiddish Center’s bi-weekly radio program and a radio actor based in France.