yiddish history

Yiddish-speakers themselves, including some of the most prominent Yiddish writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, routinely referred to their language as Zhargon – Jargon. It was a bastard tongue, bad German, a linguistic mishmash, hardly a language at all. Jews intent on assimilation found it particularly odious. In Germany for example, Jews tried to reduce Jewishness to a Konfession, a religion divorced from culture, insisting they weren’t Jews at all, but rather “Germans of the Mosaic persuasion” Go make the case in Yiddish, where every word, every linguistic tic, is a reminder of peoplehood. Consider, for example, Max Weinreich’s example of a more or less random Yiddish sentence: Di bobe est tsholent af Shabes – The grandmother eats warmed-over bean stew on the Sabbath. Bobe, “grandmother” is a Slavic word that entered Yiddish in the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Est was adopted a thousand years ago, from Middle High German. Tsholent, bean stew, came from Old French more than a thousand years ago, probably from chaud, “hot”, and lent, “slow” – a fitting name for a dish that Jews keep warm on the Sabbath, when cooking is not allowed. And Shabes, “Sabbath,” is a Hebrew word that dates back several thousand years. Quite literally, Yiddish is a living chronicle of Jews’ historical experience, proof of their peoplehood, and therefore spills the beans on assimilationist aspirations. No wonder Bourgeois Jews hated it; no wonder scholars ignored it. In 1873, for example, the German Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz afforded Yiddish just two paragraphs in his magisterial six-volume History of the Jews. Never mind that Yiddish was then the first or only language of 80% of the world’s Jews; for Graetz, it was “eine halbtierische Sprache,” a half-bestial tongue.

- Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books by Aaron Lansky

The lyrics are taken from a poem by Morris Rosenfeld commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. It’s a few months yet until the anniversary, but the song came on while I was working (it also struck me for it’s similarity to Simon & Garfunkel’s El Condor Pasa (If I Could)).

These are the lyrics in English and Yiddish:

Mayn Rue Platz

Nit zukh mikh, vu die mirten grinen,
Gefinst mikh dortn nit, mayn shats.
Vu lebns velkn bay mashinen,
Dortn iz mayn rue plats.

Nit zukh mikh, vu die feygl zingn,
Gefinst mikh dortn nit, mayn shats.
A shklaf bin ikh, vu keytn klingn,
Dortn iz mayn rue plats.

Nit zukh mikh, vu fontanen shpritsn,
Gefinst mikh dortn nit, may shats.
Vu trern rinen, tseyner kritsn,
Dortn iz mayn rue plats.

Un libst du mikh mit varer libe,
To kum tsu mir, mayn guter shats.
Un hayter oyf mayn harts, dos tribe,
Un makh mir zis mayn rue plats.

Don’t look for me where myrtles are green.
You will not find me there, my beloved.
Where lives wither at the machines,
There is my resting place.

Don’t look for me where birds sing.
You will not find me there, my beloved.
I am a slave where chains ring,
There is my resting place.

Don’t look for me where fountains spray.
You will not find me there, my beloved.
Where tears flow and teeth gnash,
There is my resting place.

And if you love me with true love,
So come to me, my good beloved,
And cheer my gloomy heart
And make sweet my resting place.

Jews of the World

Let’s do to Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Arabic and all the other Jewish languages from the Diaspora what Eliezer Ben-Yehuda did with Hebrew. Let’s bring them back. Let them be spoken by our people again. 

Don’t let these languages die.

Don’t let part of Jewish history, Jewish culture, Jewish identity die. These languages deserve to live, to flourish, to be spoken by eager tongues and felt in warm hearts. 

Yes, Hebrew is our unifying language. The language all of our people is connected by. But the languages of the Diaspora shaped us to who we are, as people and as Jews. 


I’m working on a calligraphic commission for a client who wants me to include reference to his Lithuanian-Jewish heritage from Vilna (Vilnius). While researching imagery from Jewish Vilna, I found this charming film about Jewish Vilna from 1939 — in Yiddish with English subtitles. It shows various aspects of Jewish life in the city, the Jewish Quarter, synagogues, the marketplace, YIVO headquarters, and more. It ends with footage of Jewish children swimming and demonstrating athletics — an image of the flourishing Jewish future… Of course, Jewish Vilna was destined for horrendous destruction only a few years later. What a bittersweet treasure this film is!


Yiddish, Ladino and Jewish English: Do American Jews Speak a Jewish Language?

Vote for the Jewish People’s Party

Solomon Borisovich Yudovin (Iudovin)
Jewish People’s Party
Soviet Union, ca. 1918

The Yiddishe Folkspartei (Jewish People’s Party) was founded by the historian Simon Dubnow following the 1905 pogroms in the Russian Empire. The party took part in several elections in Poland and Lithuania in the 1920s. The artist of this poster, Solomon Yudovin, unlike several other Russian Jewish artists of that period such as Marc Chagall and El Lissitzky, did not embrace modernism but remained a figurative, realistic artist throughout his life. He likely created this poster between 1918 and 1923 while he lived in Vitebsk, a predominantly Jewish city that was at that time an important center for the Russian avant-garde.

Translation from Yiddish: The Jewish People’s Party. Vote for ballot line #4 for Jewish cooperation

nalia-r  asked:

One of my projects is the story of a Mexican Catholic girl and an Ashkenazi Jewish boy. Due to a citywide disaster, their large feuding families are forced to move in together. There's tension due to religious differences and an unresolved dispute from years back. Because there's a tight focus on these two families and their home life, what are some things I could write that would ground readers and read as authentic? FMC is second generation immigrant, MMC grandpa was holocaust generation.

Mexican Catholic and Ashkenazi Jewish Family Tensions

If you’re looking for reasons to get into conflicts, the first thing that comes to mind is just that kind of mutual secular xenophobia that happens when marginalized people date outside their group.

I’ve never seen Christians of color try to drag non-Christians to church the way white Protestants do, so I don’t know if that’s realistic… I could see pork being a conflict – even if the Jewish family doesn’t keep strict kosher, they might still eschew pork for tribalistic reasons and that might seem unreasonable to the Mexican family.

I don’t know if Mexican Catholics “blame us” for Jesus’s death, but some other types of Christians do so that’s worth looking into. I could see the Ashkie family being secularly racist if they were super white-passing – not that it’s a particularly Jewish problem, just a white problem. It’s learned behavior.

Or, maybe I misunderstood and you’re not looking for realistic sources of conflict but just general details that would add verisimilitude to your setting. From the Ashkie/Shoah refugee standpoint:

Does this family have a mezuzah outside the door? It’s a little tiny box with a protective prayer inside.

Passover and the High Holy Days (the stuff around new year’s, i.e. Sept/Oct) are more important than Chanukah in the Jewish calendar but because of Christmas, Chanukah got blown out of proportion and some of us have taken the ball and ran with it (which is ironic, for an anti-assimilationist holiday lol.) Nevertheless, don’t treat Chanukah as bigger than those other things if you’re writing from the outside.

How closely do they observe Shabbat? That can be anything as casual as having challah and other slightly more culturally significant foods (chopped liver, matzo ball soup, etc.) on Friday night or something as observant as asking the Mexican family to help out with turning the lights on and off until Saturday evening. Do they go to shul? Have families invented a shul in someone’s living room bc of the citywide disaster?

Do they have books like my grandparents had, huge compilations of Jewish humor and books about the history of Yiddish, etc.?

Are there smells that the grandpa can’t smell without being triggered? (This is an example from my own life.) Are there memories he doesn’t talk about? Did he get out before everything went to shit or does he have a tattoo? Do you have a specific country in mind that your grandpa character was from?

The Mexican characters can affectionately make fun of Ashkie food for not being spicy, if they want.

It’s gonna be up to you how strict kosher they are. Some of us don’t care. Some of us leave out pork but otherwise don’t care. Some of us leave out pork, shellfish, don’t mix meat and dairy, but don’t care about the little mark. And some of us check the package for the little marks that say yes, this chicken breast is kosher, etc.

If you’re not Jewish, if you’re gonna write us, please go read something we’ve created first. Something relatively light-hearted and easy to deal with is the Rabbi Harvey graphic novels. They’re a retelling of old Jewish stories set in the Old West in Colorado, and if you read one of those books you’ll probably feel more comfortable recreating our culture.


The first thing coming to my brain is that there’s a lot of Jewish influence in Mexico, particularly our food. We have a family tradition here, us Rodríguezes, of doing cabrito for special occasions and I am told that this is a Jewish thing.

There’s the ugly and awful history of the Inquisition, on the one hand, with people burned publicly for being Jewish.  Then there’s the part of our history where we had a LOT of refugees coming in in the late 1800s. Today there are vibrant communities and big synagogues and so forth, but there was this long period of basically being Secretly Jewish and mixing your culture with Mexican culture, like I remember there were these little deserts that is basically unleavened bread for Passover, that Mexican Jews made to participate but not be outwardly obvious about it to duck persecution. 

Anyway point is, because we have a fusion culture of things we don’t even realize on its face are of Jewish origin, you could maybe do one of those “we’re not so different” ways of resolving their differences.

– Rodríguez

Shakespeare in het Jiddisch: Sonnet XVIII

Zol ikh dikh tsu a zumer-tog farglaykhn?

Bist milder, liblikher in yedn zin;

Durkh Frilings blitn roye vintn shlaykhn,

Un kurts iz fun dem zumer der termin:

Oftmol tsu heys dos oyg fun himl laykht,

Oft iz zayn goldener glants fartunklt gor,

Un oft dos sheyne fun der sheynkayt vaykht

Durkh tsufal, enderung fun der natur:

Dokh eybik lebn vet dayn zumers prakht,

Un vos du sheyns farmogst vet eybik vayln;

S’vet toyt nit hobn iber der keyn makht,

Vayl bist fareybikt in di eybike tsayln;

    Vi lang nokh mentshn otemen, oygn zen

    Lebt mayn gedikht, un du vest nit fargeyn.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)


Vertaald uit het Engels in het Jiddisch door Abraham Asen


Sonnet XVIII

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimmed,

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,

Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,

    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

If you’re interested in Jewish literature, then listen up because I’ve got a book for you. The title is The World to Come by Dara Horn, and it just about bowled me over.

In brief, it’s about Benjamin Ziskind, a man who, shortly after his mother’s death, goes to a single’s mixer at a museum, sees a Marc Chagall painting that he thinks used to hang in their living room, and steals it. It’s also about his sister, an artist he enlists to forge a copy, and his grandfather, who was tutored by Chagall as a child in the Soviet Union, and Der Nister, the Yiddish novelist whose pen name means “the Hidden One” and who feels compelled to hide his work so it will survive, and Benjamin’s parents, who kept secrets that haven’t been uncovered even after their deaths.

On a broader note it’s about the angels who teach unborn babies the entire Torah and then knock it out of them, the relevance and magic of Yiddish in the modern world, and the different ways in which artists portray or distort or channel the truth in their work. It’s 75% family drama and 25% midrash–the final chapter, especially, left me absolutely breathless as Dara Horn explored the education of Benjamin’s unborn nephew in Paradise. It’s a tricky book–there are a lot of references that you probably won’t get unless you have at least a passing familiarity with Jewish theology and Ashkenazi folklore (Russian history and Yiddish writing are also a plus) but man oh man, READ THIS BOOK.

Isaac Leib Peretz, depicted on a Yiddish postcard, c. 1910
Isaac Leib Peretz (also known as Yitskhok Leybush Peretz (יצחק־לייבוש פרץ) and Icchok Lejbusz Perec or Izaak Lejb Perec (in Polish)) (May 18, 1852 – 3 April 1915), best known as I.L. Peretz, was a Yiddish language author and playwright. Payson R. Stevens, Charles M. Levine, and Sol Steinmetz count him with Mendele Mokher Seforim and Sholem Aleichem as one of the three great classical Yiddish writers. Sol Liptzin wrote: “Yitzkhok Leibush Peretz was the great awakener of Yiddish-speaking Jewry, and Sholom Aleichem its comforter… Peretz aroused in his readers the will for self-emancipation, the will for resistance…”

“Religion is a hindrance to the Five-Year Plan. Down with religious holidays! Religion is a weapon for enslaving the worker. Join the union of militant apikorsim.” Printed in Moscow, ca. 1928.

Shortly after this poster was printed, the Moscow and Leningrad choral synagogues were closed by force. By 1932, just three synagogues remained in Leningrad. By 1938, most Jewish religious functionaries had been arrested.