Yiddish revival creates rift with Hebrew speakers

Mon Nov 3, 2008 3:06am EST
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By Helen Chernikoff

COPAKE, New York (Reuters) - Hebrew is the language of the state of Israel and the Bible, but a growing number of Jews around the world are reclaiming Yiddish as the language of their culture, creating a rift with some Hebrew speakers.

Before the Holocaust, Stalinist persecution and mass assimilation, Yiddish -- a fusion of German, Hebrew, Slavic and other languages -- was the daily language of 11 million people.

While Yiddish words like nosh and schlep live on and have been absorbed into everyday English, outside ultra-orthodox Jewish communities it is considered a dead language. Not so, says a group of passionate Jewish parents, many of them in the United States, who are making Yiddish their children's first language.

"Tsi kenen mir koyfn ayzkrem itst," said Itsik Leyb Eakin Moss, 5 1/2, asking for his mother for ice cream.

"OK, mir kenen yo koyfn ayzkrem," she replied.

The Eakin Moss family were among 150 people from around the world, including 20 under age 10, gathered in Copake, New York, in late August for a week of lectures, bonfires, films and games -- all in Yiddish.

Yiddish came into being about 1,000 years ago, when Jews settled in Germany, said Paul Glasser, a dean at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City.

"Kenen mir koyfn," or "can we buy," is of German origin. "Tsi," a word that introduces a yes-no question, is probably derived from the Polish "czy," while "ayzkrem" is a more recent borrowing from English, Glasser said.   Continued...

<p>Kreyndl Neuberg, age two and a half and wearing a T-shirt that reads "meydele," or "young girl" in Yiddish, stands between Sholem Burshtin (L) and Mekhayele Burshtin (R) as the three work on an art project at Yiddish Week in Copake, New York, August 24, 2008. REUTERS/Helen Chernikoff</p>