Aarale Ben Arieh

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Yiddish sculpture

Aarale Ben Arieh – "If fortune calls, give him a chair"

Sculptures inspired by Yiddish sayings


Yiddish was the common language of the Jews of Eastern and Central Europe, by 1939 some seven million people living across a vest range of lands from Poland to Russia and from Latvia to Romania. While these diverse populations spoke the local language with the authorities and their non-Jewish neighbors, within their own communities it was mama-loshn or their mother tongue of Yiddish which was the common language. Yiddish was the vernacular of Jewish daily life.

Yiddish was adapted mainly from high German, while using the Hebrew alphabet. Though for many centuries this language was looked upon as vulgar and non-scholarly, in reality it became the repository for a rich oral and written tradition which includes everything from Judaic texts and Yiddish theater of folktales, Yiddish humor and proverbs, the subject of this exhibit.

A proverb is defined as a traditional saying which offers advice or presents a moral in a short and pithy manner. If people sometime fault them or being clichés it is because they are. Proverbs share a universal ring that cuts across time and culture, expressing in a short turn of phrase something basic and intimate about daily life.

In fact, all known cultures have such a tradition and frequently these expressions are surprisingly similar, as reflected in the familiar sound of some of the proverbs depicted here: for example "An oiled wheel does not squeak".

In this light , it makes good sense that Aarale Ben Arieh was choused to create an exhibit such as this. Aarale is an Israeli artist whose work is warm and lighthearted, almost whimsical in nature as well as being simple in form, construction and finish. His artistic style is perfectly suited to express the intimacy and warmth of the Yiddish language and culture. Aarale's work is accessible, tactile and provocative, like the language which inspires his creations.

Finally, insofar as there is currently a resurgence of interest in Yiddish language and culture, it is hoped that this exhibit can contribute to such consciousness by igniting the viewer's in the 'joy of Yiddish'.

This sculptures exhibition created by Aarale at the request of the Yeshiva University Museum, New York, where the exhibit was displayed from October 1994 to February 1995.