Ashkenaz began as a festival of Yiddish music; Ashkenaz literally means ‘Germany’ in Hebrew and refers to the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, known as Ashkenazim. While my own family is of Ashkenazi background, my work with henna has led me to the Jews of North Africa, Yemen, Central Asia, and elsewhere — that is, the non-Ashkenazi world.
When people think of "Ashkenaz", the first images that usually come to mind are Yiddish (the Judeo-German language historically spoken by Ashkenazi Jews), klezmer music, the shtetl, the Lower East Side, Fiddler on the Roof... But usually not henna.
Thus, some of my friends thought it was surprising that I would be offering henna at a festival called “Ashkenaz,” and one even asked somewhat sarcastically, “Well, how do you even say henna in Yiddish?”
The truth is that I myself never imagined that I would come across Yiddish in my henna research… Wrong, as usual! In honour of the upcoming festival I thought I’d bring up a few fun points of encounter between henna and Yiddish. If you've always wondered how to say 'henna' in Yiddish, wait no longer! And feel free to stop by this weekend if you're in Toronto.