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Detroit-area philanthropists memorialize their
parents at the National Yiddish Book Center.
Ukranian town of Zhitomir. Both Joseph
Applebaum and Charles Driker, the
fathers of the two Detroit philanthro-
pists, were born in this town, whose pos-
session passed from Poland to Russia and
back again before Ukraine became inde-
pendent in 1991.
"Yiddish was the universal language,"
Driker said. "Jews spoke the language of
whatever country they lived in —
Polish, Russian, German, Hungarian —
and they prayed in Hebrew, but the lan-
guage they spoke at home, and the lan-
guage they wrote in, was Yiddish."
Since its founding in 1980 by
MacArthur Fellow Aaron Lansky, who
continues to lead the organization as its
president, the National Yiddish Book
Center has rescued 1.5 million Yiddish
works, Driker said — "works that would
have otherwise been thrown in the
"Now they are digitized, so you can
order any book online," he said. "And
they have a joint agreement with Yale
University Press to translate all Yiddish
books into English."
In Yiddish, the word "Driker" means
"printer." "Applebaum" means "apple
tree" — and the Yiddish Book Center is
located in the middle of an apple
orchard. "Cosmic forces must have been
at work here," Driker quipped.
arly in the 20th century, a
generation of writers mined
the traditions of the Eastern
European Jewish folk tradi-
tion to create stories and poems in the
language that united the world's Jews
Yiddish. They were called Di lunge (the
young) and took as their symbol —di
goldene pave — the golden peacock
On May 4, the National Yiddish Book
Center dedicated its new theater, the
focal point of its
building on the cam-
pus of Hampshire
College in Amherst,
Mass. And the cen-
terpiece of the
$400,000 theater is
an ornate handmade.
a golden peacock.
The theater is a gift
from two Detroit-area philanthropists
who grew up in Yiddish-speaking house-
holds: Eugene Applebaum of Bloomfield
Hills and Eugene Driker of Detroit. It's
named after their two sets of parents,
Joseph and Minnie Applebaum and
Charles and Frances Driker.
"Most American Jews are descen-
dents of Eastern European Jews,
Jews who had spoken Yiddish for
1,000 years," said Driker, a board
member of the Yiddish Book
Center and chair of its develop-
"They captured in Yiddish the
language of the shtetl (village), the
language of the home. If we don't
unlock the keys to Yiddish, we
won't have the keys to our ances-
tors, to our heritage."
Photo courtesy of the National Yiddish Book Center.
The first event after the theater's
May 4 dedication took place
At the dedication: Elaine Driker, Eugene
immediately after the 1:30 ribbon- Driker, daughter Elissa Driker-Ohren and 3-
cutting. In commemoration of the year-old granddaughter, Rebecca Driker-Ohren.
60th anniversary of the Warsaw
The Applebaum-Driker Theater will
Ghetto Uprising, Dr. Saul Kassow, pro-
be the Center's main meeting place for
fessor of Judaic Studies at Connecticut's
lectures, readings, film screenings, per-
Trinity College, spoke about the Oyneg
formances and weeklong conferences,
Shabbos archives, one of the most com-
said Nancy Sherman, the organization's
prehensive chronicles of life in Poland
vice president. "It's really a major gift,"
under Nazi occupation.
she said. "They were extremely gener-
For hundreds of years, one of the cen-
ters of Yiddish publishing was the