Skip to comments.Striving to Preserve the Rich Heritage of Yiddish
Posted on 09/02/2013 3:25:37 PM PDT by nickcarraway
As the number of Yiddish speakers declines, those who love the language look for ways to ensure its survival.
In the misery of a Jewish ghetto in German-occupied Poland, Jack Lewin remembers, the books helped him survive. Reading the Yiddish words late into the night, Lewin could forget the hunger that sometimes brought him to tears.
"I lived with the characters of the books," he says in his home near Wilshire Boulevard, his green-and-gray eyes distant with memory.
Maybe it was those books that made it possible for him and the others to be human after Auschwitz. Now he traces his fingers over the faded spines of his collection and worries aloud: Will anyone read them a century from now?
Lewin and his wife, Regina, are among a declining number of people who speak Yiddish at home in the Los Angeles area. Their small ranks dwindled by more than a thousand people between roughly 2005 and 2011 plunging by nearly a third, estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show.
In sheer numbers, the loss is one of the biggest among metropolitan areas nationwide. Many Yiddish secular schools were shuttered as the decades passed. The Los Angeles Yiddish Culture Club, once a thriving hub for Yiddish lectures and events, weakened as its members aged and ultimately folded into another group with programs mostly in English.
"In just my lifetime, I went from seeing Yiddish everywhere, to having to scramble to find people to converse with," said Miriam Koral, founding director of the California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language. "They truly are the last of the Mohicans."
Millions of Yiddish speakers perished in the Holocaust; others dropped the tongue to assimilate. Between 1980 and 2010, the number of Americans speaking Yiddish at home was cut in half, census data show.
Yiddish is the perfect language of disdain. “Schmuck,” “schlemiel,” “putz,” “bupkus”, “tookus,” “schlep,” “shiksa,” ... what great words! It would be a shame to lose that lexicon.
Oy vay, Yud.
“Yiddish is the perfect language of disdain.”
Best summary of the day! It’s amazing how many colorful words of disdain have schlepped into our daily language.
There are huge numbers of Orthodox Jews in NYC who speak nothing but Yiddish.
I rather suspect, however, that the author would not be interested in talking to them.
“Er drayt sich arum vie a fortz in russell”
You forgot schmendrick!
It certainly has contributed to American English all out of proportion to the number of speakers, certainly related to the contributions of the people themselves...I loved reading “The Education of Hyman Kaplan”, which my mom gave to me.
Growing up in the most Jewish neighborhood of Chicago, and watching dozens of Jewish comedians on TV, I gained a rich education in Yiddish!
Here at home, we call toilet paper “papel de tush.”
Unfortunately, this is what happens to any language where there is a dominant language spoken in the schools, on TV, in the media, etc.
My DH knows a number of Yiddish (and Italian) expressions he heard growing up from “the old people” but doesn’t speak either — everything was English for his generation.
But, we DO use a lot of Yiddish words around the house because they’re FUN — kvetch, tchatchke, shtick — and most of the Italian swear words.
And, long may those those words live — and let’s keep them alive!!
I have friend whom I grew up with in NY, who married an Israeli girl in the 70s and moved there. He is total Israeli now, and he sneers at Yiddish. He says it is the language of the docile and slaughtered Jew and has no patience with it ( his view—not mine).
And this - Music !