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Palace residents embrace Yiddish for anti-aging and keeping their heritage alive

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Janis Ehlers
Janis Ehlers

When instructor Chany Stolik comes into the classroom at The Palace Coral Gables, her students typically say a "gutn morgn” instead of “Good Morning.”

They are practicing Yiddish, the hugely popular class offered at The Palace Coral Gables, an active retirement and assisted living community in Coral Gables, FL. While the community offers 32 different classes every month, there are devoted students attending Stolik's class, coined “Kvell and Kvetch” or, translated to English, “Beaming with Pride and Complaining.”

How did Yiddish come to be offered at The Palace?  When Lifestyle Director Pam Parker learned residents were interested in having a class offered, she found many of the residents were exposed to Yiddish as children. Their grandparents and parents came from Eastern Europe and Yiddish was their preferred language. Parker asked Chany Stolik if she would like to teach. Stolik teaches at the Chabad in Coral Gables where she is the co-director with her husband.

According to Stolik, for many years it seemed Yiddish was a dying language, but there are now growing efforts to keep it alive. It is a wonderful source of expressions. Jewish scriptwriters for TV and movies have introduced many Yiddish words into popular culture. Yiddish makes its way into HBO's “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and the award-winning “Mrs. Maisel” on Amazon. There's an International Association of Yiddish Clubs and universities offer courses along with online classes and websites.

Research shows that learning a new language exercises the brain, regardless of age. A number of recent studies also suggest that learning a foreign language can slow the inevitable age-related cognitive decline or perhaps even delay the onset of dementia.

Each week, Stolik themes her class around a holiday, season or current event and selects 10 key words to incorporate the theme. She combines learning the language with music giving both the left and right sides of the brain a workout.  

Another benefit she has found in the class is that speaking Yiddish words seems to take people back in time. The words evoke memories. Often, someone will say the word, pause and then say, “I remember my mother or grandmother saying that.”  In her opinion, igniting the memories is very powerful.

Stolik said Yiddish ties residents to their families, their youth and Jewish heritage. Many students recall that when Yiddish was spoken when they were children, it was a secret language that the grandparents would use to talk with the adults.

At The Palace, classes offered are included in the monthly rental at no additional charge. The community also has a partnership with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of The University of Miami for an ongoing lecture series. Educational classes, crafting, and fitness classes are available each day as well.

Janis Ehlers is president of The Ehlers Group, which she founded following a successful career as the vice president of marketing and communications for homebuilding giant Levitt Homes.

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