Monday, June 21, 2010

A reader writes: "The Yiddish language in 2010"

The only Yiddish publication in the Asia-Pacific region?

A reader "Chaverim Kol Yisroel" sent us the following piece as a comment and response to an earlier comment by 'a khaver' . We have asked for and received his permission to use his lengthy 'dissertation' on Yiddish language 'bizman hazeh', which we have no doubt will be of interest to many.

A khaver said...

I thank A former Talmid.. for his response.
You ask regarding the Bundistn/Yiddishistn "Are they still around?" . If you really don't know, perhaps that is a marker of how removed you may be from Yidn and Yiddishkaitn other than your own. And if it was a tongue in cheek comment, may I suggest you think about how such a comment would be received by a Bundist or Yiddishist.
But what I really don't understand, is the comment that follows. Frum Jews can't be exposed to other streams of Yiddishkait because they might be led astray? Assuming you include yourself in that group ... how fragile is the strength of your convictions, beliefs, knowledge and values that merely speaking to another Jew may cause you to reconsider your life-long held positions?
And if it did .... I am not clear why that would be a bad thing.
And how do you hope to draw other Jews into frumkait if you don't engage with them? If you don't tell me about your Rosh Yeshivah's visit, how do you expect me to know that I should go?

Finally, ikh vil dikh nisht baleydikn, but it's DIKH not DIR and it's baleydikn not baleydign.

Czernowitz Yiddish newspapers

Reply from Chaverim Kol Yisroel:

I'll leave the rest of Khaver's issues to others, but will give a general comment as well as explain "baleydikn not baleydign".
Zeit mir moychel khaver, but while you may be correct when using "college" Yiddish, the Yiddish spoken by the vast majority of Yidden these days (and also pre-war in Poylen, Galicia, Hungary and most of Russia) was closer to "baleydign" than “"baleydikn”. Introducing the ‘kuf’ in place of the ‘gimmel’ was invented at some Yiddish conference (Czernowitz?) where they tried to bring some sort of order to our zhargon. But while the secular and haskola media went for those innovations they were hardly accepted by most Yiddish speakers – especially the religious - who didn’t care too much for those resolutions.

A glance at any of the hundreds of (religious) Yiddish publications from those times until today will confirm that most ‘Yiddishistish’ ideas were ignored. After all, “MIr zenen Yidden un nisht YIddishisten". (And of course Yiddish books printed earlier had no ordered style or grammar – each area had their own dialect and spelling.)

As to “DIKH not DIR”, you may or may not be correct - but that is how it is spoken by most Yiddish speakers these days.

And while I truly have rachmones on you and the reshtlech ibergeblibene Bundisten trying to save that beached and dying whale, I think it’s too late. "Toyteh bankes" is how your zeide would have described your hopes. (I say this despite my many enjoyable hours arguing and schmoozing with many of Melbourne’s Bundistn and Yiddishestn in the 60s and 70s and from whom I actually learned quite a lot about the history of those movements. They all saw the demise sooner or later.) Melbourne Jewry already has a generation and half of people who have never seen or even heard of “Der Oystralishe Yiddishe Nayes”. (Are you one of those?)

Yes, Yiddish is alive and well - in fact flourishing. But not amongst Bundist comrades and their offspring. I have no idea what remains of this once noisy and reasonably powerful group here in Melbourne? In fact I am unsure what their function is these days. Skif? How many belong there? Or attend their camps? What is the attendance at the annual breakaway memorial gathering for the Warsaw Ghetto uprising – which the farakshen themselves so naarishly and still observe on the secular date. [Even the Israeli govt, selected a Hebrew calendar date - 27th Nissan, (despite being unacceptable to religious Jews – being in the month of Nissan). But not the Bundists, cholileh. Using our ancient and historic calendar would be far too “Jewish”. So they stick to April 19th – which seems to please the “Khaverim” and no one else.]

So vos iz gebliben fun zei?? And what about the future? Is there anyone who really cares? And what percentage of the einiklech Melbourne’s many original Bund families have any connection to Judaism? (I mean those who did not meanwhile become Chabadniks or other brands of baalei teshuva?) And have you any idea on how many have married out? (In that figure please include those with spouses “converted” via the Temple).
Pretty sad when one thinks about this. Those post war stalwarts deluded themselves into thinking that their children and grandchildren will continue in their unique or peculiar style of Yiddishkeit with the Bund having a real future. Nebach.

And if one looks at the situation in the US you find Arbeiter Ring/Bund type groups where the best they seem to achieve is to get a few dozen kids into TAFE-style courses taught by the few remaining Yiddish ‘scholars’ studying Yiddish some lost indigenous language.
Their famous newspaper – the Forverts – which was published daily for around a century - including of course Shabbos and Yom Tov - has long ago died and revived as an English language weekly (actually quite a good read). Admittedly the owners – reputed to have millions of dollars in the bank after selling off their valuable radio license, also publish a weekly Yiddish tabloid which has hardly any circulation at all. Most of their staff are late arrivals from the former Soviet Union - as are the majority of its readers. Even that infinitesimal readership is expected to dry up in the next 10-20 years.

On the other hand, in frum Jewish kehillos worldwide the Yiddish language (takeh, not the ‘faultless’ Czernowitz-nusach) is alive and well and growing in leaps and bounds.

In New York alone there are over a dozen weekly newspapers (paid and freebies) with a number of them running to 100-120 pages and to over 200 pages before the yomtovim. Yiddish CDs for children and adults are being issued every few days. Seforim in Yiddish abound. Yiddish news services via telephone (Chasidim usually don’t have radios) compete with each other both in Israel and New York. Similarly new email newsletters reporting on general and Jewish news worldwide are being launched all the time.

Thus Yiddish is Boruch Hashem alive and well. It just depends where you look.
Sorry about the rant but it was a good opportunity to get all this off my chest and also to pass on to a wider audience what I have gathered in the past few years. I seem to find that there is great interest in the Yiddish language - both by those who can and do speak it and those who don’t.

It always amazes me when reading how the AJN makes a big deal of some tiny local “achievement” re the Yiddish language - either at the Sholem school or at some course at Monash - which would be lucky to attract half a dozen students. At the same time it totally ignores the evenys and places where Yiddish really lives on, ie, the Charedi and Chassidish community. Eg, Yeshiva, Adass, somewhat less in Beth Hatalmud, Ger shteebel. Boys and lately even the girls going through the Adass school system can talk, read and write quite a passable Yiddish. In the Yeshiva there are boys who can read and give over the rebbe’s talks in Yiddish.
As to Sholem Aleichem graduates, I find that most seem to struggle to put together a complete sentence by the time they reach 20, as they have no one and nowhere to practice what they had been taught. Even the presenters on ethnic radio speak a forced and stilted Yiddish which often hurts my ears.

That’ll do me for now…

Meanwhile I looked up the ’original’ (dos haist the German) for ‘insult’ and it clearly says:

Beleidigung ; insult;
beleidigen; to insult 
beleidigt; insulted
beleidigte; insulted
Niemand beleidigt ungestraft meine Schwester. Nobody insults my sister and gets away with it!
Du beleidigst meine Intelligenz! [humor.] You insult my intelligence!

All, you will note, are with a “G” not “K”.


  1. A very interesting post indeed. Where has that writer been all along?

    More please!

  2. Agreed with maskil. I especially am grateful to the interesting photographs and bits and pieces that you illustrate your posts with.

    Thanks and keep it up.

  3. Interesting read, well done on compiling such a fantastic insight.

    Truth be told, it was the natural progression of the Bundists/ yiddishistn. They learnt very early on 60's & 70's that what they were trying to re-create. Their children on the whole were not interested and moved on to a new path.

    The same can be said for the vast majority of survivors who tried to recreate Yiddishkite. During the 60's & 70's they too realised that the vast majority of their children were drawn to a new path. This is true for the likes of Elwood, Caulfield Shul, Katanga, South Caulfield and yes, even the Adass and Yeshiva. It's funny to see some of the people I new growing up in the 50's & 60's attend (or even run) local property auctions who 'moved on'.

    In terms of yiddish, I think it's fair to say that even in the new Yiddishistn bastions, particularly Adass I enjoy a good laugh at the morphing of the language to the new style 'Williamsburg' Yiddish in both how it sounds coming out of peoples mouths and how it is written in posters on the notice boards.

    Everything moves on - The Yeshiva has lost a lot of it's 'old school' roots and has been transformed into Chabad Lubavitch world as Adass has lost it's 'Oberlander'roots and has been replaced by the modern interpretation of the old Chassidic world.

  4. Besides for the small Jewish Communist groups we had in the 50s and 60s ('Council to combat Fascism' and the 'Progressiver', I don't think any other has fared worse than the Bundisten. Even then their sum total of yiddishkeit was the Yiddish language and anti-israelism ["do-ism" IIRC].

    Today nisht Yiddish and not really anti-zionist either

  5. You just quoted a German dictionary to prove how to pronounce something in Yiddish. They're two different languages.

  6. PART TWO .....

    I now turn to your comments on the Bund. They seem to be thriving perfectly well. They have over a hundred kids attending their SKIF camps. They publish journals, they hold meetings (some in English, some in Yiddish), debates, conferences. They ran In One Voice - the biggest Jewish event in the Southern Hemisphere for 15 years. Why exactly are you extending your rakhmones?

    As for the Warsaw Ghetto uprising commemoration, I find your comments rather strange. The Bund first commemorated the Warsaw Ghetto uprising on April 19th in 1944. As a matter of fact so did most Israelis until the late 1950s. It was only later that Khov Zayin Nissan was formalised, as a lead in to Yom Haatzamut. So could you please clarify your comment that the Bund's commemoration is somehow a "breakaway".

    May I also point out that the Warsaw Ghetto uprising actually DID commence on April 19th? So when would you like the Bund to commemorate it - in November? Of course the commemoration could be held on the Hebrew date of the uprising each year. But I am not sure you'd be any happier if the Bund commemorated annually on first seder night, would you?

    You ask “vos iz geblibn” of the Bund and Bundistn? Well – do you ever go to any of their functions to find out? Why not?

    And if the Charedi community is so vibrant with Yiddish, perhaps you’ll let some outsiders come and “shep nakhes”. Our children aged 5, 4 and 11 months are always eager to find other fluent Yiddish speaking kids to play with – but sadly most Charedi kids won’t even talk to them.

    And that’s what is really a rakhmones.

    (Note to blogmaster - apologies for the length of this post, but its 1/3 shorter than Chaverim Kol Yisroel's!)

  7. Well....that's quite a response to a paranthetic comment I made. I note that whilst Chaverim Kol Yisroel has invited others to respond to what I felt were the more substantive questions that I asked (with derekh-eretz I hope), no-one as yet has.

    Meanwhile CKY has extensively attacked a straw man and made a number of incorrect assumptions and assertions.

    First, the Czernowitz conference didn't decide anything about "kufn" and "gimlen" because that wasn't the subject under debate, which was the relative places of Yiddish and Hebrew as Jewish national languages. So I am not sure why you mentioned the conference at all. And there is no such thing as the Czernowitz nusakh, dialect or style.

    Second - language development. All languages have two competing forces at play - evolution in response to the linguistic needs of its users influenced by the other languages they are exposed to; versus the need to maintain a standardised and formal grammar, syntax, orthography and spelling.

    Throughout your post you claim that the majority of Yiddish speakers today use certain pronunciations and grammars. Most of your assertions are made without any evidence (...the majority of Yiddish speakers would say "dir" instead of "dikh" in the accusative case?) But even if they do, that doesn't make it correct, any more than the fact that a substantial number (perhaps a majority) of people use the word "ain't" in English.

    Yes languages evolve. But languages also have formal structural rules. For example Yiddish has gendered articles. You ask if I am familiar with "Der Oystralishe Yidishe Nayes". Of course not. There was never any such paper. But I was very familiar with "DI Oystralishe Yidishe Nayes". Nayes takes Di. And if it were Der Nayes, it would be "Der OystralisheR..."

    Do you not think that any of that matters? Would you accept your children saying "I want youze to come here". Then why would you accept a lower standard of Yiddish grammar?

    I have heard it argued that in the Chassidic community articles are being discarded completely. That of course is the influence of English, and it is a fascinating by-note to see that those who are most concerned about avoiding assimilation are also most ready to take on the linguistic traits of non-Jewish languages.

    I turn now to the issue of “baleydikt”. Of course you are correct that there are various nuances in constanantal pronounciation. But no Yiddish dictionary that I have consulted spells the word "baleydiGt". Even if people pronounce it that way, the convention when writing in transliteration is to spell the word according to it's spelling, not pronunciation. Whether you say "Yakh" or "Ekh" it is still written "Ikh".

    So rather than looking up German/English dictionaries, why not reference a Yiddish one that spells it with a "G"? I suspect because, even in the Khassidic community, there aren’t any.

    Or perhaps your Yiddish knowledge is greater than that of Weinreich, Harduf and Stutchkov and therefore Yiddish dictionaries are not necessary at all?


  8. Thanks khaver, I am always happy to learn. I'll try and respond - but s'iz shoyn noch chatzos way past by bedtime..

    You are correct, my Yiddish and knowledge of 'secular' Yiddish history is not much. As I mentioned, many years ago I was friendly with types like Hershel Bachrach, Yitzchok Rubinstein, Shaye Taub, Yidel Kersh etc etc.
    (I've forgotten many of the names, but there was also a Chaim Kelman, Bolek ?, Tigel, Sokolowitz and more). I was young and interested (but not TOO interested) Thus I 'nashed' from their knowledge and spent time listening and arguing. It was a new world to me at the time and am not sorry at having a peek into it. Very few from my side of the fence tasted it.

    But we all seemed to agree that secular Yiddish was doomed. The many publications that they had (and some were really good reading) were getting fewer and fewer and unlike it would have been in der alter heim - where most were violently anti-religious, they lapped up my old copies of frum Yiddish language newspapers and magazines that I subscribed to.

    Maybe you know, how many of the names I mentioned have family involved in your Yiddish speaking circles?

    Re Czernowitz, seems I got that wrong, but as I recall, there were or was a conference to standardise Yiddish, maybe elsewhere.

    Re language development etc, if you had your druthers what would you choose "standardised and formal grammar, syntax, orthography and spelling" (I don't even know what 'orthography' means... and I doubt that I am Robinson Crusoe)) or a lively, live and vibrant language spoken as a first language by generation after generation of people who really don't give a cracker whether it it's 'di', 'der', 'dem' or 'dos'? And boruch Hashem it looks like it will keep going for a l-o-n-g time. (I for one could never work all that out and gave up on it. Abee m'farshteyt vos me'redt.)

    Go to Brooklyn, Jerusalem, Antwerp, London and even around Ripponlea and listen to 3 and 4 genrations of Yiddish speakers - mit alle taamim. OTOH, listen to the stultifying products of the Sholem school - especially on the radio here and es gritzelt di (or should that be der) oyren. Sadly kein trop geshmak. (And if, lo oleynu, an unusual loshen hakodesh word appears on their script, then it's a groyseh broch, noyach mit ziben grayzen. But I am sure that you know all about that too)

    Yes, especially the NY Yiddish is has taken on a lot of English, but it was always thus, Poylish Yiddish had Polish words and Russish had Russian. But it was all considered to be Yiddish. I don't have official figures but in NY state and surrounds [which includes Brooklyn, Monsey, Lakewood, KJ, Montreal] there are approx 30-50,000 families whose #1 language is Yiddish and as they have 6-12 kids per family you can see where these numbers are going. Tens of thousands of kids and yeshiva talmidim studying, and conversing almost exclusively in Yiddish. Yitzchok Rubinstein wouldv'e been chuffed!

    And then you wonder why I have rachmones on you having 100 kids at the SKIF camp?

    Visit Yeshiva, Beth Rivka, Adass and you'll find more than 100 kids in their kindergartens alone. And they were established IIRC even later than the Bund, Kadimah etc and by far, far less people.

    Shoyn shpet.

    I make come back with more another time

  9. While I see where Khaver is coming from, I agree with CKY. The tachlis of all the Yiddish studies and activities is that it again becomes a daily living language and that is what has happened amongst chasidim - spectactularly. Obviously it will keep on changing and seeing that most - except for the Chabad - speak with the Polish/Hungarian dialect "kim aher" "ich in dee" - that is becoming the Yiddish of today.

    I hear the kids in Ripponlea 'shmeezing" and I kvell..


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