July 1, 2013 | Yiddish
In which I begin my last language (for now).
Yiddish is the seventeenth language I will have studied in four years, and I confess I am a little worn out. I have been collecting Yiddish books for a while now, in anticipation of this segment, but my brain is rebelling a bit against studying yet another language and abandoning yet another language.
Suck it up, brain.
I will put some pictures of my books in this entry so you can see what I am planning to try out.
Basic Yiddish by Rebecca Margolis, Published by Routledge
Yiddish was a late addition to this project. Most of the languages on my schedule not only are significant to New York City, but also remain world languages spoken by large numbers of people.
Today Yiddish has only about a million speakers, and, like Irish, it is considered endangered.
My relationship to Yiddish is turning out to be more personal than I expected. Late last year I spit in a tube and sent my saliva off to a company called 23andMe. They do genetic testing. You send in your sample, they analyze you, and they stick you in their database of results for other people who have spit in tubes around the world.
It is not legal to spit and mail from New York State, so back in 2012 when I did this, I had to go to New Jersey to mail my sample (I promise you this story is going somewhere). I got on the subway with Pimsleur lessons (I forget what language, but probably Chinese), then transfered to the Path train to Hoboken, pimsling all the way, got off the train at Hoboken, popped into the post office, and mailed my sample.
Colloquial Yiddish by Lily Kahn
For you lawbreaker types who don’t understand why I crossed state lines to mail my spit, well, I had to sign a pact online that I would obey this law, and I figured the U.S. Postal Service was familiar with these packages, so I decided to do as I was told. Though I did collect my sample in New York, in violation of the contract. I mean, what am I supposed to do, drool into a tube on a New Jersey Path train?
I don’t think that would go over well.
The results came back informing me that I was half Ashkenazi Jew. I don’t think too many people in my family doubted that, but it had never been officially confirmed, and there was a complicated situation involving grandparents and Jewishness and possible non-Jewishness and disowning and ultimately a not very specific sense of origin.
The other thing is, although I have devoted much time to studying Jewish history, particularly the Holocaust, I am pretty clueless about Jewishness itself. I have often read about Ashkenazi Jews, but I didn’t connect that reading to me. Until I saw those 23andme results, I didn’t realize that that was what I was. Fifty percent of me, anyway.
A Dictionary from Indiana University Press; I’m a Little Afraid of This One
Anyway, my point is, Yiddish is/was the language of Askenazi Jews! I will talk about this further when I have read something more authoritative to supplement the feeble supply of Yiddish information presently residing in my brain.
On a related note, I went to a party two nights ago where I think just about everyone was Jewish, and some of the older people there were talking about how their grandparents spoke Yiddish. I thought, cool!
Then I went home and it suddenly occurred to me that probably my ancestors had spoken Yiddish, too, so I asked my father, who confirmed that his maternal grandmother did in fact speak Yiddish.
When I added this language to my project, I didn’t really think about any kind of personal connection. That may sound weird, but I didn’t. I wasn’t raised in any kind of Jewish tradition.
Now that I know about and am paying a little more attention to my family roots, the story of the language has become more meaningful.
I will study up and see what happens!