Naftali Schaechter Ejdelman grew up in what he calls a “typical American household,” but for one curious difference: Yiddish.
“It didn’t feel strange,” said Ejdelman, who incurred punishment if he spoke in English with his brothers at home. He hails from a prominent family of Yiddish poets, academics and singers, including his grandfather Mordkhe Schaechter, the renowned Yiddish linguist; his mother Rukhl Schaechter, who is an editor at the Forverts; and two teenage cousins who perform in Di Shekhter-Tekhter troupe, the singing Schaechter sisters.
In all senses, Ejdelman has entered the family business. For starters, he assists his father, Leon Ejdelman, who runs a wholesale watch company. Ejdelman’s other job, though, is his passion: He co-runs The Yiddish Farm, an organic, Shabbat-observant farm based on 200 acres in Goshen, N.Y., an operation Ejdelman founded with a partner, Yisroel Bass, in 2010.
It may seem like an unusual project for a boy from the Bronx with a degree in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University. In fact, though, the Farm falls directly in line with his mother’s mission of spreading the Yiddish word, the joy of Mama Loshen. Participants in the farm’s summer programs typically learn Yiddish in a classroom setting in the mornings, and continue their language acquisition in the afternoons, while working the farm, cultivating the organic garlic fields, or harvesting the wheat for next year’s matzah. Ejdelman believes it provides “the best Yiddish immersion program in the world.”
Recognized by both PresenTense Community Entrepreneur Partnership as well as the ROI Global Community of Jewish Innovators, The Yiddish Farm draws a diverse crowd, including tzit-tzit-wearing women as well as old timers who grew up speaking Yiddish. But it’s not always a party living on the Farm, which until recently only had one shower and no tractors.
For participants, “it costs a lot of money; you have to work hard in the field; you have to learn a language,” said Ejdelman.
He grins. “I think people like that.”
Russian connection: Ejdelman is studying Russian, but says he won’t be founding a Russian Farm. After all, “they have a whole country.”