Things to come?
New York City’s last secular Yiddish bookstore is set to close shortly, unless someone steps in and finds it a new home. The “store”, called the “Central Yiddish Cultural Organization” was founded in 1937 and is currently open only by appointment on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and made a whopping $11,220 last year – not enough to cover its modest operating budget.
The survival of Yiddish in America is an on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand story. Yiddish, once the language of the Jews of Eastern Europe, is undoubtedly moribund, with its last full-throated speakers, Holocaust survivors, now well into their 80s and 90s. (A smattering of their children speak it through sheer willpower whenever they can buttonhole a comprehending ear, but some, like this writer, grew up nagging parents to speak English and regrettably saw their first language wither.) … On the other hand, the language is booming among Hasidim, for whom it is a lingua franca, mushrooming so prolifically that by some estimates the ultra-Orthodox will form a majority of American Jews by century’s end.
Is this reflective of the inevitable long-term direction of Jewish secularism in America? Or rather did Yiddish simply lose its raison d’etre in a society where being Jewish no longer means you are marginalized?
Now, moving from the Goldene Medinah to the Falafelisch Medinah, Israel recently announced that as part of aa pilot project, Israeli students in the North will receive Arabic language instruction beginning in grade 5. Arabic was already available as an option in grades 7-10 but now it will become compulsory. Haaretz reported:
“We live in a country that has two official languages,” Dr. Shlomo Alon, Head of Arabic and Islam Education in the Ministry of Education, told the ‘Walla’ news website. “Studying Arabic will promote tolerance and convey a message of acceptance.”
So if things continue this way, how long will it be before before more Jews speak Arabic than speak Yiddish? Either way, greater Arabic literacy amongst Israelis and Jews is a good idea – tolerance, acceptance and simply being able to communicate more effectively will certainly help foster understanding and maybe even peace one of these days. And better chummus. It’s really all about the chummus.