In the language and culture of Ashkenaz I found everything I had once assumed Judaism simply didn’t have: songs for every occasion, dances other than a zombified hora, and a radical history very much of use for the present. Yiddish presented to me what [early 20th century Jewish educator] Jacob Golub called “cultural autonomy,” something I see little of in American Jewish life.
For Golub and his peers in the pre-war era, however, the cultural autonomy of American Jews would be lived in modern Hebrew, not the despised tongue of exile. “The Jew must, to a large degree, live vicariously through Palestine,” he wrote in 1937. In 2012, Golub’s statement has the sour tang of half-fulfilled prophecy.
Read more of Why Yiddish Matters, at the Forward's Arty Semite Blog.