WHAT’S A YIDLIFE CRISIS?

1119_ARENSON“What do you mean it’s all in Yiddish?” As a California-raised, third-generation American with extremely limited Yiddish knowledge, that was my first question. It was followed by two more queries that came to mind: “Why Montreal?” and “Subtitles, really?” And yet, just moments into watching my first episode of YidLife Crisis, I was hooked.

Raised in the Jewish day schools of Montreal, Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman crafted the web series YidLife Crisis as a passion project they define as “the identity crisis one has reconciling their old world inheritance with their new world lifestyle.” With over 3,000,000 video views, 30,000 subscribers and collaboration with talent including Mayim Bialik and Howie Mandel, YidLife Crisis grabs you in with authentic storytelling and relatable comedy with an undercurrent of Jewish food culture.

The debates Eli and Jamie engage in throughout the episodes resonate with our unique life-long struggles to balance Jewish identity and everything else in our modern world. How do we each personally reconcile trying to eat kosher—or kosher-style—or just not eating pork? Or maybe just not eating pork on Yom Kippur? The truth and humor escalate throughout lines of dialogue, pushing questions of why we do—or don’t—follow traditions our ancestors observed. It hits on the soft spot of angst so many of us deliberate and justify in deciding where our own level of observance lands. And yes, this all takes place almost exclusively in Yiddish.

Another natural question to ask at this point, “How did two young(ish) Canadian guys end up creating a comedic Yiddish internet video series?” It all started in high school. Eli and Jamie attended the Bialik school in Montreal, which taught Yiddish language. After meeting up again years later, they came together to collaborate on this homage to their backgrounds including a rich tradition of combining solid Jewish comedy with deep Yiddish roots in North America. At the most basic level, they decided to take an old language and put it into a new format while also addressing their own “mid-life crises” in a search for Jewish identity. Incorporating a deep dive into bagels, smoked meat, bialys, a bris buffet and debatably kosher-style poutine (remember they’re Canadian), each episode weaves together cultural and culinary exploration.

While often irreverent (sacrilegious), the heart of YidLife Crisis resides in Eli and Jamie’s deep-set connection to their Jewish upbringing and values. Under the comedic cynicism runs the elevated purpose of reinvigorating the Yiddish language and its relevance in contemporary Jewish life. Layered on top of the regeneration of a cultural language, YidLife Crisis keys in our innate practice of debating Torah and religious customs paired with the underlying application of traditional interpretations to today’s world. The episodes’ core concepts cover disputes that have raged throughout Jewish history. And, the full weight of this historic integrity is rendered highly-relatable through Eli and Jamie’s use of the distinctly Jewish comedic tradition of laughing at our own inconsistencies.

Happily, after performing at more than 20 international film festivals with their new feature length documentary CHEWDAISM: A Taste of Jewish Montreal, YidLife Crisis came to Orange County for two separate events.

On October 24th, YidLife Crisis was featured at the Jewish Community Foundation Orange County’s 7th Annual Endowment Book of Life Celebration and Signing Event. YidLife Crisis was an exceptional fit because sharing individual personal Jewish values with engaging and meaningful connection is integral to the Jewish Community Foundation Orange County’s Create a Jewish Legacy and Endowment Book of Life initiatives. This inspirational event honored the community’s Create a Jewish Legacy Society members and celebrated our local Jewish nonprofits’ success in establishing endowed gifts. Keeping in line with YidLife Crisis’ overarching cultural connection to food, this event also included thematic nosh (snacks). To learn more about programs at the Orange County Jewish Community Foundation, please visit www.jcfoc.org or contact Wendy Arenson at wendy@jcfoc.org.
On October 25th, the Orange County Jewish Community Scholar Program (“CSP”) hosted Eli and Jamie for a special “YidLife Guide to Judaism” lunch event. For more information on the Orange County Jewish Community Scholar Program, please visit www.occsp.org or contact Arie Katz at akatz@occsp.org.

If you’d like to check out YidLife Crisis, you can find links to their web series and other digital content at yidlifecrisis.com. Consider this fair warning that most of the videos contain some adult language.

Wendy Chase Arenson is the Jewish Community Foundation Orange County’s Executive Director and president.

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