Yiddish at CBI!
On the hearth, a fire burns,
And in the house it is warm.
And the rabbi is teaching little children,
See, children, remember, dear ones,
What you learn here;
Repeat and repeat yet again,
Kometz alef: o
We live in the miraculous world in which Hebrew has been revived as a spoken language; where we can not only write the words of the prophets on the subway walls but we can do so in the original. Hebrew is not just our sacred tongue, but is our academic language, our grocery list, our social media and hopefully not too often our profanities. That this has happened is a miracle we can take part in daily. But we also live in a time of loss. Prior to the Second World War, the language of the market, the language of the street and the language mothers tucked their children into bed each night with was Yiddish. And it is mostly gone.
I’m looking forward greatly to teaching a series of classes on Yiddish this month. I had the opportunity to study Yiddish for several years at the University of Pennsylvania. I did not realize at the time how radical my teachers were, and how stubborn they had to be, for devoting their lives to the cultivation of academic expertise in the language that was derided by the enlightened Jewish world for more than a century before Hitler put a final end to European Jewry and its language. Their story is a great one and I hope to tell a little of it. The argument may go back for two-hundred years or so, but the question of what it means to be Jewish still revolves around the issue of what language we should speak. The differences in Hebrew pronunciation between Jews who lived in Christian and Islamic countries are fascinating and we will explore those. But most of all I hope to share with others my love for the literature and culture that Yiddish speakers have given to the world. We will remember and learn a little of the basics of the language, because as the song reminds us, it all begins with Kometz aleph: o. I hope you will consider joining us, Thursday evenings beginning May 11 at 7 p.m.
Rabbi Bill Siemers