A hilarious Yiddish video clip about Jewish diners in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas has now been released with Mandarin subtitles, opening up the video’s exposure to a whole new audience. Because YouTube is blocked in China, the video is being shared on China’s own video platform, Bilibili.
In 2015, it was estimated that Bilibili had over 50 million users — 75% of them under the age of 24.
The videotaped skit is an episode of the online comedy series YidLife Crisis. The clip, titled “Yingl Belz,” has the two main characters Chaimie and Leizer (played by the show’s writers, Jamie Elman and Eli Batalion) dining in a Chinese restaurant, arguing in Yiddish on the true reason that Jews eat Chinese food on Christmas. The clip is accompanied by English subtitles.
As it turns out, a professor at Peking University in Beijing has been showing episodes of YidLife Crisis in her Yiddish course. Yang Meng launched the Yiddish class, called “Yiddish and Jewish Culture,” in September and says it’s the first university Yiddish class to be taught in all of mainland China.
Yang is one of only a handful of Chinese academics fluent in the language. She learned Yiddish in New York City and wrote her dissertation on the Jewish exile in Shanghai during the Holocaust. This semester, 18 students are enrolled in her course. In addition to the language lessons, Yang also screens films on Jewish content. This semester they watched the first season of Shtisel and Woody Allen’s film Cafe Society.
The students who translated the subtitles of the Yiddish video into Mandarin Photo by Yang Meng
Yang told the Forward that she believes YidLife Crisis has much to teach her students about Yiddish and Jewish culture. Sensing that an episode set in a Chinese restaurant in North America would resonate with them, she launched a class project: The students would translate the English subtitles into Mandarin and share it on Chinese social media.
Getting the task done wasn’t easy, though. Because there are so few Jews living in China (only 2,500 out of a population of 1.4 billion), Yang’s students had trouble understanding the cultural references and the humor in the clip. To help them along, she asked Elman and Batalion to answer her students’ questions over Zoom and email — not always easy, considering the time zone difference.
“We went over every joke, every line and every nuance in the episode,” Elman said.
The Chinese restaurant clip went live on Bilibili on Saturday. By the time this article and Yang is both excited and grateful for Elman’s and Batalion’s help in getting the project done. “Now we know the rule in kashrut about no milk and meat together and about the tradition of Jews going to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas,” she said.
“Yidlife Crisis has really enriched our class, making us think more about our cultural differences and similarities,” she said. “What they’re doing is a mitzvah.”
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