Canada: Ottowa prof teaches Yiddish as a living language

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Dec 8 13:18:42 UTC 2006

Forwarded from edling at

December 7, 2006
16 Kislev, 5767

Ottawa prof teaches Yiddish as a living language

Ottawa Correspondent

OTTAWA If Prof. Rebecca Margolis has her way, not only will the teaching
of Yiddish become more widespread, but Yiddish will once again be a
modern, vibrant spoken language. And she's part of an ambitious program at
the University of Ottawa thats trying to accomplish these goals. Speaking
Nov. 19 to an invited audience at U of O, Margolis, an assistant professor
at the schools Vered Jewish Canadian Studies Program, reviewed the history
of Yiddish as a spoken language in a lecture delivered in both English and
French. To understand this thousand-year-old culture of European Jewry,
you have to know Yiddish this is my personal opinion, began Margolis.

Explaining that Yiddish is a Jewish Diaspora language with origins in
10th-century Germany, Margolis described early Yiddish as being connected
to the study of Torah and observance of Jewish law. Beginning with the
Jewish Enlightenment of the 19th century, it was no longer assumed that
your goal in life was to do Gods will. The Enlightenment meant that a
number of ideological cultures appeared and modern Yiddish came into
being, as a language itself. Canada had Yiddish schools in the early
1900s, and some taught only Yiddish while some also taught Hebrew. As
well, some taught Yiddish language, some Yiddish literature and history.
However, history has not been kind to Yiddish. The Holocaust destroyed the
culture. Five out of six million Jews who perished were Yiddish speakers,
Margolis said.

In the 1920s, you could get a PhD in Yiddish and about Yiddish in the
Soviet Union. But those days are, unfortunately, gone, she said. Because
Yiddish has no homeland, and the best way to learn a language is
intensely, the only way to learn now is at one of the intensive university
programs that exist, she said. My vision is to establish Yiddish education
at the University of Ottawa on two levels: as a subject of interest, and
as a learning tool. She added that Yiddish will be taught as a living
language, which seems obvious when speaking of any other language. My
approach is to make the Yiddish experience a living experience.

In order to do this, Margolis plans to offer a variety of courses and to
use modern technological teaching tools. Yiddish still uses a textbook
from 1947, she said. The Yiddish teacher today has to work very hard to
make it interesting. She is planning to use an interactive Yiddish
teaching program on the Internet to enhance her students learning
experience. The program at the University of Ottawa is a first in Canada.
Our Canadian Jewish history is so rich in Yiddish writers, poets, etc.,
said Margolis, but as of now, there is no such thing as Canadian Yiddish
studies outside of the University of Ottawa.


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