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Jewish community struts its stuff with Annapolis festival


The lilt is Germanic but the words somehow familiar:

"Dei dray bern" begins Marcia Gruss Levinsohn, manipulating brown bears and a golden-haired doll as she tells "The Three Bears" in Yiddish.

The Silver Spring puppeteer is just one entertainer scheduled to perform at the Annapolis Jewish Festival today at Kneseth Israel Synagogue.

The fourth annual festival begins at noon at Spa Road and Hilltop Lane and continues to 5 p.m., with 50 booths featuring Jewish artifacts, educational information, jewelry, arts and crafts and gifts.

"You don't have to be Jewish at all to come," emphasizes coordinator Nathan Rosen. "The goal is to celebrate ourselves as a community and have a good time, but it's also to let people know we don't have horns. We're inviting the public over to see what we've got!"

Entertainment at the free festival will be provided by groups that include the Capital Klezmers, a traditional Jewish folk group with musicians from Eastern Europe.

Or, for a funkier version of Jewish folk, the Frabrengen Fiddlers will play music with an American bluegrass influence, that Rosen calls "Jew-grass."

County politicians will be on hand for the festival opening, followed by continuous entertainment the rest of the afternoon.

Levinsohn, who created her puppet show nearly a decade ago, is scheduled to re-create the familiar fairy-tale at 1:30 p.m.

She came up with the idea when her oldest grandchild was 4, Levinsohn recalls. "He called me 'bubba,' but that was about all the Yiddish I was transmitting to him. I thought, 'This is not right. I have to give him more than this' ."

So Levinsohn used her college background in childhood education to start a weekly two-hour class for toddlers to help them learn Yiddish culture.

She borrowed a doll from a grandchild and pulled out stuffed Kuala bears from Australia. Her husband, Maurice, put the puppets on sticks to make them movable.

In Levinsohn's version of "The Three Bears," the little girl tells her grandfather about the events that have transpired, then he returns with her to the bear's home, where she offers apples and honey and apologizes.

She and the bears then wish each other a healthy good year.

"Children know the story so well that they understand when I do it with the puppet show; they know what I'm talking about even though they don't understand the language," Levinsohn says.

"It's delightful. Yiddish is quite close to English. Many words are similar and the sentence construction is also similar."

About a year ago, Levinsohn had the revised version of the story published as a book, with Yiddish on one page and an English transliteration with a key of how to pronounce the Yiddish on the other.

A cassette tape with Yiddish music that Levinsohn uses as background for the puppet show is also included.

"I love doing this for mixed groups from age 3 to 103. The older people's mouths almost break from grinning to see that young children are interested in hearing this language," says Levinsohn, who turns 60 this summer.

She plans to return to the University of Maryland for a doctorate in Judaic studies and has ideas for other Yiddish children's books.

"My hope is that this festival will encourage parents and grandparents to share the Yiddish that they know," she says. "Hopefully, this can be a starting point for them."

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