I Need Yiddish Back In My Life | Teachers College Columbia University

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I Need Yiddish Back In My Life

I started elementary school being completely bilingual in English and Yiddish. It was a result of growing up in a four-room apartment shared by my maternal grandparents who spoke only Yiddish, and my parents...and maternal aunt...When I turned 12, my parents and I moved out of that apartment and into another... Linguistically, my situation did not change at all. Fluent Yiddish was still part of my daily experience...that living experience lasted only a year.
I started elementary school being completely bilingual in English and Yiddish. It was a result of growing up in a four-room apartment shared by my maternal grandparents who spoke only Yiddish, and my parents...and maternal aunt...When I turned 12, my parents and I moved out of that apartment and into another... Linguistically, my situation did not change at all. Fluent Yiddish was still part of my daily experience...that living experience lasted only a year.

In the absence of a daily exposure to Yiddish, I was losing my ability to speak it. As the years went by, my focus shifted to career pursuits and raising a family. I soon concluded that saving my grandparents' language by keeping it alive in me was a goal that I was not likely to achieve. I convinced myself that Yiddish was a dying or perhaps already a dead language. While Yiddish may have replenished my grandparents' spirits in a puzzling environment, it no longer had the power to nurture me.

I carried this sense of failed mission for several years until Aaron Lansky established the National Yiddish Book Center on the Hampshire College campus in Amherst, Mass. With several helpers, Lansky collected one and a half million Yiddish books that were still in the possession of the remnants of European Jewry. The Yiddish language, on life support for so long, had begun to stir.

As for the role of my grandparents in all of this, I am happy to be back restoring a language that they bestowed on me with love when I was a child. They would have been happy to know that I was still working at being a Yiddish speaker. It gives me a sense of connection to know that what was important to them a long time ago is still important to me.

Thie full version of this article was written by Leonard S. Blackman and appeared in the July 27th, 2006 publication on the New Jersey Jewish Standard. Mr. Blackman is a professor emeritus of education and psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. He lives in Paramus.

Published Friday, Jul. 28, 2006

I Need Yiddish Back In My Life

I started elementary school being completely bilingual in English and Yiddish. It was a result of growing up in a four-room apartment shared by my maternal grandparents who spoke only Yiddish, and my parents...and maternal aunt...When I turned 12, my parents and I moved out of that apartment and into another... Linguistically, my situation did not change at all. Fluent Yiddish was still part of my daily experience...that living experience lasted only a year.

In the absence of a daily exposure to Yiddish, I was losing my ability to speak it. As the years went by, my focus shifted to career pursuits and raising a family. I soon concluded that saving my grandparents' language by keeping it alive in me was a goal that I was not likely to achieve. I convinced myself that Yiddish was a dying or perhaps already a dead language. While Yiddish may have replenished my grandparents' spirits in a puzzling environment, it no longer had the power to nurture me.

I carried this sense of failed mission for several years until Aaron Lansky established the National Yiddish Book Center on the Hampshire College campus in Amherst, Mass. With several helpers, Lansky collected one and a half million Yiddish books that were still in the possession of the remnants of European Jewry. The Yiddish language, on life support for so long, had begun to stir.

As for the role of my grandparents in all of this, I am happy to be back restoring a language that they bestowed on me with love when I was a child. They would have been happy to know that I was still working at being a Yiddish speaker. It gives me a sense of connection to know that what was important to them a long time ago is still important to me.

Thie full version of this article was written by Leonard S. Blackman and appeared in the July 27th, 2006 publication on the New Jersey Jewish Standard. Mr. Blackman is a professor emeritus of education and psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. He lives in Paramus.
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