Jul 4, 2010

Language and Us

 He was a typical macho Israeli who did not even want to sit down next to a religious man, he so despised what he stood for.  Nevertheless, when he eventually sat down and began speaking in Yiddish, to the astonishment of the rabbi, his persona was transformed.  When asked how he knew Yiddish, the Israeli said, "Ich shtam fun Vizhnitz" (I originate in Vizhnitz) - a Chassidic town in the Ukraine. 

I found the idea fascinating, that the language we speak has an effect on our demeanor.  Does the melodic tone or harshness of our primary language shape our outlook? Or perhaps it is because Yiddish speaking people have been closely associated with religious observance that by reverting to Yiddish, the man was also slipping into a more traditional mindset ...

As for Yiddish in our schools where the children don't speak Yiddish at home, I am familiar with the arguments against it and they are reasonable and yet, I think it's such a pity that so many of today's children are deprived of it.  Children are adept at learning new languages, the younger they are the easier it is.  If they had Yiddish immersion at a young age, the arguments about the burden of another language the children don't otherwise use would fall away for it wouldn't be a burden. 

I am seeing the products of the no-Yiddish approach and it seems to me that they are lacking in a way that maybe I cannot express in words.  A language goes along with a culture and mentality and otherwise fine and frum children are missing out because their Yiddish expressions are limited to "nebach" and "gezuntheit" and they cannot follow a Yom Tov Ehrlich song.  These songs and the Yiddish language are saturated with gefil that does not carry over in translation.

The solution: Go beyond Yinglish (yeshivish-English like geshmak and gevaldig sprinkled in English language sentences) and learn Yiddish!


  1. One set of our grandchildren lives in the Shomron. My son speaks to the children in Yiddish and my daughter-in-law speaks to them in Hebrew. They had lived in Yerushalyim, where my older grandson went to a Yiddish speaking Chassidishe (Satmar) gan. The gan that he now attends is Hebrew speaking but my son speaks to him in Yiddish. Now as far as English goes...

  2. This is one of my regrets re. raising kids.
    My husband wanted to speak to the kids in Yiddish when we first started out in parenthood and I was not very encouraging, being as I didn't understand or speak it.
    Big mistake! I should have encouraged him to do it, then I would have picked it up as well and we all would have been better off for it. I wish I understood and could speak it and even more I wish my kids had the language.