International Yiddish Conference & Retreat

Debbie Herman: Conference Coordinator, Webmaster, Registrar; Lakeland, FL

Debbie Herman

Debbie Herman worked in environmental chemistry for Allied Chemical Corporation, International Environmental Services and Institute of Phosphate Research. She has taught Yiddish in Sunday School and has worked on multicultural, inter-generational programs, such as Mitzvah Soup, Israel Expos, and Shalom Troops 2005.

Israel Expo won nationally for the United Synagogue Solomon Schaechter Gold Award for Educational Event on Israel, and was repeated on a larger scale in 2000 showcasing Israel’s cultural diversity, including Palestinians, Christians and South African women’s tribal goods. Israel Expo was the work of 500 volunteers, high school students, scouts, non-profit organizations, churches, Temple Emanuel, whose congregation, along with Lauren and Yvonne McGill’s artisans worked with a vision. Our first donation was for $1,000 from Chicken of the Seas, and featured Charlie The Tuna on the check. Publix Supermarket was a major backer. Featured exhibits: Israeli Grocery Store, Book Store, Live Animal Petting Zoo, camels, Kibbutz, Archaelogical Dig, Dead Sea Scrolls, simultaneous Hadassah Hospital 80 years apart in time, Jerusalem’s Old City, complete with eighty 8 foot high walls and the eight gates of Jerusalem, carved in fiberglass, rendered from aerial photographs, each slab was 4 inches thick and was heated, carved and shaped with grooming tools, designed for this event by a scenic artist that did the Tree of Life at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, and Yvonne McGill’s group at Tehilla Hadasha, and for which homeless people were paid to work to construct, erect and take down the walls. Each panel had to be trucked in individually on a flat bed truck. Yiddish Language Exhibit, Israeli Dancing, Bands, Israeli Preschool with Field Trips, Exhibit Hall, Recycling Exhibit, and museum-quality embroidered dresses from Palestine were flown in from Palestinians in California, members of the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue, San Francisco.

They were blessed to have five billboards in Florida, and the city donated shuttle buses and trolley cars between the event and parking garages. The event was held on the grounds of a major park surrounding Lake Morton. The City of Lakeland retroactively applied for and was awarded a grant from the Florida Visitors and Convention Bureau and presented that to the event as a thank you, and wrote off all expenses. The city newspaper took out a full spread centerfold on Sunday with a map of the grounds at the event. Speakers who worked on the Dead Sea Scroll Project in Israel flew in to speak.

Shalom Troops 2005 a joint program between the five branches of the U.S. military Armed Forces and Magen David Adom in Israel, and was the first event held at the Lakeland Airport, bringing in World War II historic fighter planes for the event, and American Veterans motorcade. 700 pounds of donated goods for soldiers serving in Iraq was collected. Historical military uniforms from different countries were on display around the airport. The idea for a joint project came after the first suicide bombing of an American base at Mosul, Iraq.

Tenemant Project: A Week in the Life of Immigrants of the Lower East Side. Students were taken through seven days of Cheder, Working in a Shoe Factory, Garment Workers Factory, Cigar Factory. Sleeping bags jammed into a hallway, was reminiscent of crowded tenement conditions, and lights off for 5 minutes, triggered the end of work day. Officials from Ellis Island were portrayed along with passports and medical conditions considered. Temple Emanuel is on Lake Hollingsworth, which we used to portray the arrival of steerage passengers.