We’ve been learning Yiddish in our house. The mathematician grew up in a Yiddish speaking home, and although he never was a fluent speaker, still remembers the music of the language. I think it also makes him feel closer to his parents, who have passed on (or, as I prefer to say, emigrated to the shadowy land where we’ll all someday apply for—and probably get—residency).
Me? The second language that makes me feel at home, although I never learned to speak it well, is Spanish. I grew up in California after all, and lived in Mexico for a time. It’s a familiar tune that I can only partially play, but can hum beneath my breath.
But now I’m learning Yiddish. At first I figured, it’s a mental exercised that will help keep my brain fresh and plastic. It’s a fun game to play. And it’s got an incredibly beautiful alphabet.
Then I heard a piece on PRI about the Yiddish language.
One of the people interviewed makes the observation that the only thing we really know these days about the pre-WWII European Yiddish speaking community is the holocaust. And that limited bit of knowledge is not very respectful to that culture.
And I thought, my God, that’s true. What do I know about those people? I know the horror of their end, but not the beauty of their lives. I know their culture was nearly exterminated, but I don’t know what was lost.
In my small way, I hope that by learning this funny, sparkly, imaginative, old language, I will not only honor who was lost, but will also learn a bit about their lives.