Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dark Corridor Filled with Nothing

Dark Corridor Filled with Nothing.... At the end of which is less than nothing-- a big pile of Yiddish books.

I've been waiting ages to use Dark Corridor Filled with Nothing as a pronouncement on the future of Yiddish. Happily, an intrepid Haaretz journalist has given me the opportunity with this new piece about Mendy Cahan and Yung Yiddish. It's called 'The haimisher mensch in the central bus station.'

First off, the disclaimer. I love Mendy. I love Yung Yiddish. I love bus station Yiddish. I prefer it over airport Yiddish, dentist waiting room Yiddish and train station Yiddish. What I can't stand is stupid, hacky, pointless articles about the Yiddish community. In my opinion, they hurt more than they help by recycling the same asinine, and flawed, cliches about Yiddish. You know, those putrid tidbits of common wisdom I call the Memes of the Yiddish Atlantis.

So. The rules say that any article written about Mendy and his enterprise must follow a certain pattern. I've written about this in much greater detail, here.

Past the vendors hawking cheap knapsacks, phone cards, plastic toys and greasy falafels, up the ramp beyond the STD clinic and the school for remedial driving, and around the corner from a Filipina-Israeli matchmaking agency and a kindergarten for African migrant workers’ children, is a dark corridor filled with nothing.

The bus station is an apt symbol for the journalist's perception of Yiddish: tainted by association with its neighbors and clientele.  And her reaction upon entering the Yung Yiddish space goes further: "...one stumbles, as if down Alice’s rabbit hole, into a wonderland."

Whoa. There's some serious Othering going on here. Are we really so alienated from our own recent past? Am I the only one disturbed by this?

Anyway, the requisite elements of a such an article are here. Mendy's work is minimized by his identification as a Yiddish 'enthusiast.' The journalist is astonished by the very existence of such a space (which has been in operation for decades);  astonished that Yiddish literature is more than 'Tevye the Milkman' in a thousand iterations.

Then there's the dour imagery to remind us that Yiddish is a linguistic ghoul, skulking about liminal spaces like the Tel Aviv bus station. The office is at the end of aforementioned dark corridor filled with nothing. And this gem:

Some might call it a Yiddish graveyard, but far better, suggests Cahan, would be to call it a library. A cultural center, even, where these books live on.
 As the kids say, LOL!

Then there's the requisite sprinkling of Yiddish words the author knows (or thinks she knows.) "Cahan turns to the back of the office and opens up a bisselleh door." A bisselleh door. Who knows, he only opens the bottom part, maybe? But anyway, who cares? IT'S A DEAD LANGUAGE NO ONE KNOWS THE DIFFERENCE. Who could even say what's correct or incorrect. Certainly not the subject of the story.

Or wait a minute....???
No one cares.

PS- Non-Jewish Arabs in Israel are learning Yiddish. 

1 comment:

  1. Rokhl,

    Another funny riff on how the world of journalism perceives Yiddish. Unfortunately, those of us who wind up trying to promote Yiddish organizations more often than not have to gratefully accept whatever spin journalists choose to put on their perceptions of the language, or wind up being ignored. As one who's dealt with the media with varying degrees of success, I'm beginning to think (and, maybe this is your point) that these misconceptions about Yiddish are fixed and fossilized, and that we simply have to live with them. Oddly enough, the Yiddish flavor pieces seem to wind up reporting more on the OUTSIDE world's views of Yiddish than anything to do with what's really happening in the last (and increasingly embattled) bastions of the secular culture, in the world of Torah, or in the very interesting places in between the two.

    Gey shlog zikh kop in vant.