Good news for lovers of Yiddish

Good news for lovers of Yiddish

“Loosening a Tongue” by Shoshana London Sapir, in the current issue of Hadassah magazine, has good news for lovers of Yiddish.

The early Zionists wanted to create a new world, free from the “taint” of the old one, and when hundreds of thousands of Yiddish-speaking Jews flooded into Israel after the war, their tongues were tied. Even Yiddish newspapers were forbidden to them – and actually outlawed.

Once despised in Israel as, in the words of Hebrew poet Avraham Shlonsky, “tuberculosis gnawing at the nation’s lungs,” it is being resuscitated, if not exactly revived, there. And not just the language but the culture it helped to create and in which it thrived.

As someone whose grandfather, a Zionist through to his bones, insisted she learn Yiddish because he loved it, and because Hebrew would not lack for speakers, I was glad to learn that Yiddish is no longer a “language non grata” in an avowedly “Jewish state.”

Language expresses thought, but it also alters it. If Israel had welcomed Yiddish, would it have developed differently? I am not the first one to ask that question.

It was wrong to try to kill a language. It was, in effect, a denial of hundreds of years of Jewish life and an affront to those who spoke it. It has never lost its charm; may it regain its strength.