Culture, Global

Schwedishe Mameloshn?

A children’s program in Yiddish very nearly aired on Swedish TV. Why, you ask?
Since Jews are one of five “national minorities” in Sweden, Yiddish is one of five official “national minority” languages. This means the government “supports Yiddish with view to keeping it alive.” This is pretty cool, though slightly misguided. Plenty of older people spoke Yiddish when I was a kid. Sadly most have passed. Few, if any, Swedish Jews under the age of 70 speak Yiddish at home.
Apparently efforts to keep Yiddish alive in Sweden at one recent point in time included plans for a children’s show in Yiddish. The show was killed when a Jewish woman saw the script and pointed out that a show in Yiddish about children on a pig farm was a little culturally off.
How do I know this? Well, I am on vacation in my native Sweden. I switched on the TV and stumbled on a live Q. & A. in the Swedish parliament with representatives from these five national minorities. One of the Jewish representatives related the story.

8 thoughts on “Schwedishe Mameloshn?

  1. My [rabbi] wife’s family is Swedish (her dad’s grandparents were born there) and — given the lack of other Sweden/Juden crossover news — this will be something I have to pass on to the in-laws, apparently.

  2. Few, if any, Swedish Jews under the age of 70 speak Yiddish at home.
    True. But shall we begin by stating the reality. There are relatively few Jews in Sweden. Excluding Habad and Israelis, there are few who speak Hebrew in the home either. Indeed few speak any Hebrew or Yiddish at all.
    But almost all speak English.

  3. Meir,
    I’m not sure I get your point. Yes there are few Jews in Sweden, obviously. Between 15000 and 20000. There are also very few Jews in the world, relatively speaking. This does not make us irrelevant.
    Just like most other Swedes, Swedish Jews speak good English and even better Swedish.
    The vast majority of Swedish Jews descend from people who arrived in Sweden after the holocaust. Most of those immigrants came from a Yiddish-speaking background.
    I’m the first to defend the value of Yiddish and am certainly not against government efforts to support Yiddish.
    I just think it is a bit funny that instead of say, teaching it in the Jewish day school in Stockholm they considered a TV show. Funny, in a nice way that is.

  4. As some people “here” may know, there was a massive anti-Jewish purge within Poland four decades ago, and many Jews left the country, especially leading members of the Communist Party, academics, and other intellectuals. A good number of them spoke and read Yiddish. You can look it up. And also, see and hear below.
    40 Years Since Polish Jews Came to Sweden
    40 years ago, Poland expelled almost its entire Jewish population of around 20,000.
    Listen here!
    An estimated 3,500 Polish Jews came to Sweden. One of them was Jurek Holzer – today a leading photographer at the Stockholm daily Svenska Dagbladet.
    We hear his story and how Sweden commemorates the 40th anniversary of the arrival of the Polish Jews.

  5. P.S. —
    History of the Jews in Sweden – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaThe history of Jews in Sweden can be traced back to the seventeenth century, as vouched for by church records at Stockholm, from which it appears that …
    and also:
    The Virtual Jewish History Tour – SwedenWhile a number of Jews lived in Sweden, practicing their rituals in … Sweden was involved in many efforts to save Jews from Nazi brutality and murder. …
    and also
    Sweden and Jews: History, Tensions, and changing relationshipsSweden and Jews: History, Tensions, and Changing Relationships A Research Project Proposal.
    and let’s not forget
    Contemporary Jewish Writing in Sweden: An … – by Peter Stenberg

  6. Diaspora Mentality said:”I just think it is a bit funny that instead of say, teaching it in the Jewish day school in Stockholm they considered a TV show. Funny, in a nice way that is.”
    Well, it makes sense in that the government is doing something that does indeed back up its stated support for the continuance of Yiddish as a living language in Sweden. Cultural programming is an invaluable part of a language transmission plan.
    However, the government can’t force the Jewish community to take Yiddish seriously and can’t force the Jewish community to put Yiddish on any Jewish school curriculum. As someone who has been studying and speaking Yiddish for the last 13 years or so, I’ve found that it’s pretty common for non-Jews to recognize and affirm the importance of Jewish culture (especially Yiddish) even when Jews themselves do everything to minimize and de-legitimize it.
    I happen to believe that this situation has a political component, but I won’t get into that here…

  7. Jewschool reader in Stockholm here. I’ve heard rumor that this minority language status means that the universities in Sweden have money allocated for the study of Yiddish which currently isn’t being used. True? If so, could mean possible employment for struggling Yiddishist out there…

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