Sweden and the survival of the Yiddish

Sweden and the survival of the Yiddish

In 2009, the history of Yiddish culture took a strange and Swedish turn.

That year, Sweden passed its language law, affirming Sweden as its national language but recognizing five minority languages — among them, Yiddish.

The decision to include Yiddish as a minority language goes back a decade earlier to 1999, when the Minority Language Committee of Sweden recognized five minority languages: Finnish (Finland was long part of the Swedish empire), Meänkieli (rel+ated to Finnish), Sami (also related to Finnish and spoken by the Lapp people), Romani (spoken by the Roma, who perhaps are better known as Gypsies, and originated in India), and Yiddish.

No, the latter two do not have secret origins in Scandinavia. But the government decided that Romani and Yiddish had historical importance. Sweden has about 20,000 Jews. Its Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazic community dates back only to the 18th century, when it joined the Sephardim who had been there for centuries. Perhaps 1,500 Jewish Swedes are native Yiddish speakers, most of them elderly.

If this strikes you as a slim basis for an official minority language, we wouldn’t disagree. Nonetheless, that is official policy.

Which means that Yiddish has a higher legal status in Sweden than it does in Israel and the United States, the two countries where most Yiddish-speakers live.

It also means that there are government funds for the creation of Yiddish culture, and for the translation of official materials into Yiddish.

Which brings us to the latest offering from urskola.se, an official Swedish website featuring educational videos in a variety of languages: Titled “Charles och arternas uppkomst” in Swedish, which Google translates to “Charles and the origins of species,” it’s a Yiddish-language video providing a basic introduction to the theory of evolution. Combining nature videos and animations, it features a Swedish-accented Yiddish narrator, animation, and Yiddish words like selektzia — selection — and yerusha — inheritance.

One more reason for chasidim to insist on filtering their internet. Larry Yudelson

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