Culture, Global, Justice

Vos machst du, Yidish?

Okay, well, my yiddish isn’t too good – my parents having spoken it as their first language, have politely never mentioned that I and my sister never learned to speak it, despite their having done their best to get us interested by speaking Yiddish when they didn’t want us to understand what they were saying about us or other family members.

Worse, it’s probably not even because of them that I understand what little Yiddish I do… as we all know, Yiddish has had far reaching effects on the American mamaloshn (can someone who actually speaks yiddish help me out here if I mangle anything?)

BBC radio of all places, has understood this and is doing a piece on the influence of Yiddish on American culture. Of course, Jewish culture in general has had wide effect, as we all know, from the cross-pollination of klezmer and jazz, the Ashkenazi comfort foods now offered in green by fast food restaurants on St. Patrick’s day, the wise-cracking, cynical and/or self-deprecating humor of Seinfeld, Stewart, Bruce and Mason -depending on your generation and tastes- to name the fewest of the few… but we all know when something’s not kosher, stay away – even if you’re the whitest WASP that ever was descended from a Plymouth rock.

Link here to the audio slideshow.
Hattip to BoingBoing

10 thoughts on “Vos machst du, Yidish?

  1. Hey,
    I was one of the voices featured on this program. Dennis Marks came to my Yiddish svive (shmooze group of mostly 20-somethings) in June. You can hear my dulcet Long Island tones kvetching about my shameful Yiddish free Hebrew school experience and how we dishonor Holocaust victims denigrating Yiddish.
    Marks spent two hours with us and never got all of our names. The end result is 45 minutes about Yiddish and how it’s dying, but the large group of young people who are speaking Yiddish EVERY DAY don’t even merit being identified. What kind of journalism is this? Methinks that the positive angle- young people pushing back against the ‘Yiddish is dying meme’ does not fit in with the producer’s frame for the story. Feh.

  2. “the Ashkenazi comfort foods now offered in green by fast food restaurants on St. Patrick’s day,”
    Where have you seen this? Green gefilte fish and kugel? Green bagels and lox?

  3. BTW, no offense to some very close friends of mine, but Yiddishism is dead. Long live organic everyday Hasidic Yiddish.

  4. Its hard for me to accept that someone who sits around a table with other 20 somethings to speak Yiddish in New York somehow undermines the plain reality that the diverse Yiddish-speaking societies of Eastern Europe were destroyed not only by fascism, but also by an increasing amount of Polonization, Romanianization and Russification.
    It seems to me that these young Yiddishists today are preserving a language among themselves, but seeing Yiddish as some sort of metaphor for an “alternative” Jewishness obscures our the language’s real potential for diversity.

  5. you’re forgetting zionism, assimilation, and internalized anti-semitism on that list (and maybe a bit of anti-communism and some of the self-orientalism that’s so hip among ashkenazish folks). languages and language choices are always ideological – they don’t just evolve, as the previous poster wrote, “organically”.
    yeah, among a lot of yiddishists, young and not-so-young, yiddish is a tool for building an alternative jewishness – alternative to all the things that made a culturally grounded, substantive jewishness otherwise inaccessible, things like fascism, assimilation, zionism, etc. – and there ain’t nothing wrong with that. but, ask any one of those yiddishists about the historical and current diversity of the language, and you’ll find that they’re far more informed on those issues than the vast majority of non-yiddishist jews. so, no, i don’t think anything is being obscured.
    (oh, rokhl, you kids are just so angry, don’t you know…)

  6. “Where have you seen this? Green gefilte fish and kugel? Green bagels and lox?”
    I’m not sure about the rest of the country, but around NYC, they make green bagels on St. Patrick’s Day.

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