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By Devin Rose
Sit back on your tuches, nosh on latkes and kibbitz with fellow Oak Parkers next week because it's time again for Hanukkah at the Buzz. The community's Yiddish singing group, Mameloshn, will be treating listeners for a 14th year to some of their tunes for the occasion.
Hanukkah is the main event for Mameloshn — Yiddish for "mother tongue" — said its organizer, Mike Bass. The group's singers and instrumentalists have been performing songs in Yiddish for 18 years. Yiddish is a High German language of Jewish origin very similar to Hebrew. It's spoken today in many Orthodox Jewish communities around the world.
Bass was working as the adult education chairperson at Oak Park Temple and decided to present a program about Yiddish lullabies. Two members of the temple began to sing and play them together, and eventually the group grew. There are now about a dozen current members who meet monthly.
"This took off and it's continued to kind of grow and prosper," Bass said.
A few years after the group was formed, Bass reached out to Buzz Café owner Laura Maychruk about the members holding a Hanukkah event there. They've been singing and playing for Hanukkah ever since.
Maychruk said the Buzz started offering a dinner special of latkes, or potato pancakes, with sour cream and applesauce, which is traditional Hanukkah fare. Mameloshn is a big hit, she said, and the group packs the café every time. Sometimes singers have had to bring their own chairs to accommodate the large crowd.
"Their passion for their music is evident in their singing — they really sing from the heart," said Max Weiss, the rabbi at Oak Park Temple. He said the group is made up of older singers who remember Yiddish language and music from their youth and younger ones who are seeking to preserve it. Weiss said their performances have brought to the temple a level of awareness about Eastern European Jewish culture, connecting many congregants with their roots. They sing at the temple about four times a year.
Besides the temple's holiday services, Bass said Mameloshn performed at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie for Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. They do a similar program for the holiday in Oak Park that now includes art and music. Bass said they've also developed a program for Tu Bishvat, the New Year of the Trees, which they performed at Morton Arboretum in Lisle. Their songs are performed from their original Yiddish compositions or the group translates songs to Yiddish, Bass said. Audience participation is always a goal.
In the group's 18 years, Bass said members have come to learn how expressive Yiddish is concerning the human condition and Jewish culture. The other wonderful thing is the ability to share the songs with their families during holidays, Bass said. He continues to be a part of Mameloshn because it's a group of friends who have grown together musically.
The Hanukkah celebration at the Buzz Café will be held Dec. 13. The program will have a children's portion that runs from 6 to 7:15 p.m. The show will continue for teens and adults from 7:30 to 8:45 p.m. Song sheets will be available for audience members and they'll light Hanukkah candles and say prayers.
To reserve a seat and a latke dinner, visit www.oakparktemple.com/yiddish-mameloshn.html.