August 3, 2013 | Yiddish
Dreaming in Yiddish
In which I have a Yiddish dream and I get new Yiddish books.
Last night I dreamt I was walking down a street in New York City with a woman around my age, having a conversation in Yiddish. As I talked, I automatically corrected my own pronunciation at one point, replacing a kein (meaning “not any” in German) with keyn (pronounced “cane,” the Yiddish version I have been taught for the same concept).
My companion, who as far as I can recall did not say anything during the dream, was a Yiddish teacher by profession, though not a native speaker.
This dream was funny to me, because I am not in real life speaking Yiddish at all—merely working on my reading and writing skills at the moment. So the idea of my walking down the street having a conversation in it seems a little…idealized. But I did really enjoy my foreign-language dream. It was kind of like those dreams I have every few years or so where I can fly.
Uriel Weinreich’s College Yiddish
Two books arrived in the mail this week (because I ordered them, I mean—not randomly). One was College Yiddish by Uriel Weinreich, a Polish-American linguist and the son of Max Weinreich, founder of YIVO.
From what I have read and heard, this book is the authoritative text for Yiddish language study. I have not used it yet, but I see that it almost immediately gives you full paragraphs of Yiddish (not transliterated). I can sound my way through lines of Yiddish text, but I am so slow it hurts. I am like a kindergartner struggling through syllables one at a time.
The other book is Outwitting History by Aaron Lansky, the founder and president of the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. I am only on page 17 as I write this entry, but wow, what a riveting and moving tale so far. Here are the opening lines of the book:
Max Weinreich, the greatest Yiddish scholar of his generation, was delivering a lecture in Finland when the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. The lecture saved his life.
On Rescuing the World’s Yiddish Books
The book describes Lansky’s mission, underway by the time he was in his early twenties, “to save the world’s abandoned Yiddish books before it was too late.” When Outwitting History was published in 2004, some 25 years later, Lansky had already saved 1.5 million Yiddish books from destruction. When I say “save,” I mean including from places such as New York City dumpsters in rainstorms. When you are saving culture, it does not show up on your doorstep in nice neat carefully labeled boxes.
I am really looking forward to the remainder of this book. What I have read so far brings to mind Charles Gehring, who up in Albany, New York, has devoted much of his professional career to the New Netherland Project, the goal of which is to “complete the transcription, translation, and publication of all Dutch documents in New York repositories relating to the seventeenth-century colony of New Netherland.”
Some people look deep inside themselves to find a very particular and genuine passion. That moment of self-knowledge, when action is linked so purely to ideal, can change history.