Autumnal atmosphere ? Rain drops somewhere, somehow over Eretz Israel ? In Yiddish, there is a song, quite international, “’s faln di bleter/ס' פאלן די בלעטער” (The leaves fall). Nostalgy, spleen, longing after… some would say the Yiddishkayt, the “other cultural area” called in Yiddish “Eretz K’naan/ארץ כנען”, the Land of Canaan, i.e. Poland extending to Ukraine, Belorussia and the Baltic area for the Ashkenazi historical identity. A world that collapsed/עולם שעבר- א פארפאלענע וועלט? As Isaac Bashevis Singer said, some time ago. It is written at Yad VaSHem. A world of ghosts that disappeared in all possible forms of exterminations: exile (and the major First Aliyah to Israel in 1880), secularization? It is trendy in Jewishness to be “apikoyros/אפיקויראס”, not truly “epicurian” but rather full of twisting ups and downs about who is who and why, where, how… often through a mirror.
I grew up among survivors. When, some forty years ago, I was explaining on the phone that Yiddish is my mother tongue, the Yiddishists and Mume-loshn-speakers used to ask “You must be very old!”. I learnt to write in Yiddish, because of my nanny. My parents did speak Yiddish. But the nanny who had fled the Warsaw Ghetto, read the Yiddish newspapers and hardly could speak proper Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and German. Until now, I write almost everything firsly in Yiddish, my diaries and agendas and type the words into my mobiles. I have spent my life looking forward to anticipate the revival of the language as a real and splendid medium. The true Esperanto of the Yiddishkayt, the reality of a dream that will not die. When I was a teen, the Yiddish-speakers were dying around, the words often became uncertain for many speakers. I was then told “Go on, do not forget: we do believe in miracles”.
Different people share diversified opinions about Yiddish: there are super-fans, Yiddish-addicted. It does not mean they can read, speak or write. There are sounds, consonants and vowels, expressions. It is so weird and funny to see a meshuge, a normal crazy person and we have tons of them. When the meshuge is “a frish gesinder meshigener-א פריש געזונטער משוגענער/a fresh healthy and sound crazy one” there is a touch of real Yiddishland flash-back to East-European Jewishness. In Nikolayiv (Ukraine), we used to say “a kop fun a marozhniker - א קופ פון א מאראזשניקער/a head of ice-cream salesman”. That crazy could only be real. It makes sense and is so tasty while eating a “glida” (ice-cream) on Tel Aviv by the sea. All the Yiddish speakers met there, H. Bialik, Eliezer Ben Yehudah and switched to Modern Hebrew.
Then, the Americanized « shmegege/ שמעגעגע « means about the same, but with the some overseas flavor. We just can feel how Yiddish is en vogue, trendy, more than that : we will (not shall) overcome ! It does not mean that Yiddish is North or South American. Indeed, it is spoken in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Mexico, Buenos-Aires along with Ladino down there. It is present in Europe and still in the Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova… though most of the Moldovans are in Israel… or in between. Don’t forget Birobidjan where the language was “sovietized”. I see many students who studied in the nearby city of Khabarovsk. It is bizarre, but Birobidjan is both Russian Christian Orthodox and still maintained a special official Yiddish…
Yiddish showns how the Far West is continuously connecting with the Far East, down to South Africa and back to the Fertile Crescent. Yiddish would say “Goldene medine/גאלדענע מדינה « - it seems to refer to America, but any place in the world can be a « Golden State” for a language that encompasses the whole of humanity.
Yiddish is forward. It is the normal “vernacular” of many Hassidic groups. This will be our next story. Basically, it depends what language is considered : is it a dialect, a series of dialects, a pack of about 25 languages, all the European ones, Turkish, Hungarian, Armenian? It sounds German, Bayerish. It came out from the Rhine River and the Alps of the neighboring provinces.
When I said “Zay mir gezint un shtark: Be in good health and strong” to Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, an in-born Bayerish man and speaker during his visit in Jeursalem, he smiled and answered “Sei gesind!”. We both had the word “Mentsh/מענטש = a very humane person”, apparently adopted from Germanic roots. Still, only in Yiddsih is it possible to hear: “be ‘to me [mir]’ in good health”. A personal concern that deals with the highest humane values available, if any.
Nu. Nu-nu! I could write a blog only in Nu’s, maybe with some German “Na und…” or Danish and pan-Scandinavian “Nå, nå ! ». Not the same touch. Another example: “Pani maje gosci, pani nie ma czasu” sounds and is indeed Polish. If the same words are written as “פאני מאיע גושטשי, פאני ניעמא טשאסו = Mrs. (…) has guests, Mrs. (…) has no time” the words are Yiddish even if one should say “Madam’ [Chaverte] hot gest, Madam’ hot nit kayn tzayt/מאדם-חברתי האט ניט קיין צייט”. Yiddish can include or seize without any violence any speech. The words switch so clearly and swiftly from left-right to right-left. This is not a short-sighted point of view gotten right out of the blue Moon.
Yiddish sounds German, Slavic, Hebrew, Aramaic. Here is the point that I got to some forty years ago while studying in Scandinavia. Yiddish is not Indo-European, not Greek or Latin. It is Semitic. Ever since, some Yiddishists described the matter: Dovid Katz or Michael Wex. I deeply know that Yiddish is not a ghost-bearing medium, it is not a Volapük. It translates Talmudic teaching into the veracity of Jewishness, generation after generation, according to the Ashkenazi tradition and the universality of the Oral Law along with the Torah and the Scripture as a whole.
It maybe quite difficult to accept. Yiddish has developed in the wide areas of Christendom. You want to pray: “Lomir bentshn/לאמיר בענטשן » (Let’s say the graces, blessing) means that a meal can be shared. “Bentshn = benedicere/to bless, oren = orare, to pray and molyen zayn = modliwe sa” witness to intertwining “deals beyond all”.
Why hate overcame and seemed to remove the commandments of love? “Aves-achim iz shtendik der yesod fun sines-achim/אהבת-אחים איז שטענדיק דער יסוד פון שנאת-אחים : Loving the neighbor generates hate of the neighbor ». Israeli society strongly relies upon the fundamentals of the experiences born in non-Jewish contexts. These environments have been profoundly marked by insights shared by the Eastern Christianity. Thoughts and spiritual tendencies are still being spread in a way that is common to the realm of the Jewish and non-Jewish dispersions. It was quite impossible to discuss this fifty years ago. The present development of a very Yiddishized Modern Hebrew language in the State of the Jews allows to scan new and future updates to understand the roots and prospects of the Mame-loshn (Yiddish mother-tongue).
In the years after World War II, in Tel aviv, a woman yells in a bus at her son who does not want to answer to her in Yiddish. A man intervened and told her: “Why do you torment him, the boy should speak Hebrew!” The mother answered: “Indeed, but I don’t want my son to forget that he is a Jew”.
“Bin ich a novi/?בין איך א נביא” (“Am I, me, a prophet! (lol)!”). This blog will be dedicated to some sort of “envisioning”(!) – in the times given to Israel – the multi-faceted connections between Yiddish speech, writing and way of thinking and Hebrew as they grow again together in our heymeland/היימ(ע)לאנד- מולדת. Just feel babeys, at home!
אברהם בן ברוך
avraham ben baruch (avramba)