[lg policy] Israel: Saving Yiddish from Hebrew

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Sep 17 15:46:52 UTC 2011

Saving Yiddish from Hebrew

Yiddish, the traditional language of European Jews, was almost
entirely wiped out by the Holocaust and Israel's emphasis on Hebrew.
But one man is attempting to save some space for it.

By Daniella Cheslow, Correspondent / September 16, 2011

It’s an imperfect refuge – the walls shake every few minutes as buses
trundle by, the standing fans whir in vain against the stifling heat,
and the neighborhood is notoriously destitute. But to Mendy Cahan, the
fifth floor of the Central Bus Station serves a greater purpose: a
place to save more than 40,000 tattered Yiddish books from a paper

Mr. Cahan grew up speaking Yiddish in Antwerp, Belgium. Although
Yiddish – a mix of German dialects, Hebrew, and other influences
written in the Hebrew alphabet – was once the lingua franca of Jews in
Central and Eastern Europe, the Holocaust nearly eradicated their
communities and their common tongue. The founders of Israel preferred
to speak Hebrew.

Cahan moved to Israel in 1980 and began collecting books a decade
later for his Yung YiDish organization. Now his holdings include the
1922 yearbook of the Forverts Yiddish newspaper and early Zionist
political pamphlets. The greats of Yiddish literature are not simply
confined to books. A puppetmaker donated three chairs to Cahan, each
decorated with the face of one of the storied Yiddish writers: Sholom
Aleichem, Mendele Mocher Sforim, and I.L. Peretz. Cahan also hosts
Yiddish cabaret nights, klezmer music rehearsals, and poetry readings.

“Here in Israel, I noticed this strange predicament that Yiddish finds
itself in,” Cahan says. “After having paved the way through hundreds
of years to build Jewish identity, finally we build our homeland and I
find it unacceptable and wrong if Yiddish would not find its
respectful, loving space.”


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