September 5, 2013 | Review Period

Another Dream in Yiddish

Though my Yiddish-while-sleeping skills leave much to be desired.

Before I went to bed last night, I was studying 501 Essential Spanish Verbs, from Dover Publications, and before that some French vocabulary, and before that some Italian grammar, and before that some Portuguese Pimsleur—but in the night it was still Yiddish I dreamt about.

What I Was Studying in the Wee Hours

What I Was Studying in the Wee Hours

It ended up being a wonderful dream, though it did not start out that way. Rather, it began with a disaster: New York was in the wake of a giant flood that had washed away many critical structures and caused massive damage up and down the Hudson River. 

Because of the dream flooding, I had to replace my dream belongings, so I headed up the river to a store beyond the reach of the worst water damage. It was a rather odd store, because it alternated between being a shoe store (I needed to replace damaged boots), a gym (where an exercise class was just beginning), and a school (suddenly I found myself teaching a writing class to all the people who moments earlier had been beginning the exercise class).

In any case, as I exited the mysterious shoe store/gym/writing school, I suddenly found myself standing in the third-floor hallway of a warehouse-like building in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. And to my astonishment, it was an explosion of color and light and sound—and there was Yiddish everywhere!

Right near me was a bustling coffee shop with multi-colored chalk lettering in Yiddish describing food and beverage options on a large blackboard menu. Café tables and chairs and Yiddish-speaking customers spilled out into the public space.

Across the hall from the coffee shop was an office on which a Yiddish sign advertised the services of an accountant. There were more signs up and down the hallway walls, all in Yiddish and promoting everything from business services to upcoming events to the latest local news headlines, clamoring for the attention of the passers-by.

A group of high school kids were walking down the hallway at the same time I entered it, and a girl of about 17, with long dark hair and a knapsack full of books, came up to me and said in Yiddish, “I hear you are studying Yiddish!”

I was so surprised to be addressed in Yiddish that it took me a moment to figure out what was happening, and what she had said, but then I did and replied in the affirmative in Yiddish.

Or at least I thought it was Yiddish.

Sometimes with these language dreams, I can remember enough in the morning to replay what actually came out of my mouth during the dream, and in my awake state I can pick out errors or instances of language confusion. French and Italian have on occasion mingled oddly in the night, for example.

In reviewing this particular dream text later, I realized that I had in fact said ken, which is “yes” not in Yiddish but in Hebrew.

Oh, well. 

The girl was in a rush to get to school with her friends, so she couldn’t wait around to talk more dream Yiddish with me. Instead she got on a giant freight elevator next to me while saying a goodbye-like thing in Yiddish. It contained a word sounding like nächste (which is “next” in German), so I figured it was something like “until next time,” and I repeated it back to her. (I don’t know that there is a Yiddish expression like this with a nächste-like word in it; I haven’t learned one that I can recall.)

She waved and smiled as the heavy elevator doors closed.

My dream village was bustling and burbling and full of life and culture and joy—and Yiddish! I woke up moved and happy to have encountered this beautiful secret Yiddish world in the third-floor hallway of a Chelsea warehouse.

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