Oct 28, 2012

Yiddish - for those living Yiddishkeit

In continuation of the previous post -
I'm towards the end of an interesting book about a secular Jewish guy who takes such an interest in Yiddish that he and his friends decide to rescue all the Yiddish books they can get their hands on.  They do this through the 80's into the 90's, mostly by elderly Jews donating their libraries of Yiddish books to them.

Yiddish books and newspapers flourished in the early part of the 1900's, but with the massacre of millions of Yiddish-speaking Jews and the integration of the survivors and immigrants into the culture of their host countries, the generations that followed were not interested in Yiddish.  The older generation lamented this lack of interest in Yiddish on the part of their descendents and were thrilled with the idea of giving their books to those who would appreciate them.  He ends up collecting a million and a half books!

The book is a good read with all sorts of wonderful Jewish characters.  It is quite interesting that young people, including non-Jews, have taken such an interest in Yiddish that they are flocking to classes in universities in many cities.

At one point, he describes picking up thousands of volumes that were thrown down into the cellar of a building that was taken over by a yeshiva.  Since many heretical books were written in Yiddish, pious Jews rejected Yiddish literature that sought to wean Jews away from Yiddishkeit.  This is why the hanhala of the yeshiva discarded the books. 

The author speaks negatively of religious people, whom he considers narrow-minded, while I thought - does he not realize that the cry of "Where are our [Yiddish-speaking] youth" is being answered in Yiddish-speaking enclaves in Boro Park, Williamsburg, New Square, Tosh, and Monroe? The very people he looks down on are the very ones who are perpetuating Yiddish as a living language.  While Chassidic children are chattering in Yiddish on the playground, he and others are studying and preserving Yiddish as a relic of yesteryear.  To him, Yiddish books are a source of information about Jewish culture in our past, not something alive in the present.

1 comment:

  1. At the time, the Kelipah of "we'll be Jewish through our language, without following Torah" was very, very powerful in the eyes of many. But like any other philosophy that touted phoney Judaism, it didn't stand the test of time.

    Indeed, the anti-religious Yiddishisten of yesteryear, and their few survivors, must be lamenting their hands-down loss of their language to the Charedim.

    A G-d-fearing Jew doesn't speak Yiddish because it's his language, and language has some kind of inherent value, but because it's part of his service of Hashem, based on various traditions of G-d-fearing Jews. So books written by the anti-religious belong in the garbage--"even" if they're written in Yiddish.