Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Mighty Resurgence Just Keeps on Surging

So, here's an article about the 15th annual conference of the International Association of Yiddish Clubs, tsu lange yorn. But the conference itself isn't news enough; no there's only one hook for Yiddish.

For a lexicon that's supposedly dead, Yiddish language and culture are undergoing a remarkable revival.
Klezmer music, with its signature laughing/weeping clarinet and violin, is enjoying a worldwide resurgence, even in Warsaw, Poland, where almost no Jews are left. The Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass., is translating and digitizing a million rescued volumes and organizing Yidstock, an annual festival of new Yiddish music. Researchers are learning the language in order to understand historical records. Israeli universities have established Yiddish language and literature centers, often attended by non-Jewish students from Germany and other Holocaust-linked countries.

I dunno. According to my musician friends, the klezmer 'revival,' which began in the mid-70s, has been over for over a decade. And it's no khidesh that klezmer is popular in Poland; Jewish music has always had more popular and critical attention in Western and Eastern Europe than it has among American Jews. All respect to Yidstock, but it's small potatoes compared to the annual Jewish Culture Festival in Cracow, Poland. And so on and etc. 

The real story is that Yiddish is taken seriously, and supported as a serious world language, pretty much everywhere but the United States. Why else would every American article written about Yiddish take its terminal condition (and miraculous recovery) as a given? The revival narrative keeps any discussion of Yiddish, and its relevance to American Jewish life, at a superficial level, hence the erasure of the past 35 years of scholarship, art and institution building each time another 'revival' is invoked. In fact, everything between 1945 and 2013 gets pushed to the margins:

But if reports of the death of Yiddish were exaggerated, it's understandable.
A German dialect that probably dates to the 10th century, includes Hebrew words and is written in the Hebrew alphabet, it was a thriving vernacular spoken almost exclusively by Ashkenazi Jews of central and eastern Europe. They developed a rich, centuries-old culture with Yiddish as its base, producing such renowned artists as painter Marc Chagall and writers Isaac Bashevis Singer and Sholom Aleichem -- until the Nazis and their collaborators virtually wiped it out. Many view its improbable rise from the ashes 70 years later as a fitting, if posthumous kick to Hitler's gut.

Improbable rise from the ashes 70 years later? Oysh. Can't we just talk about Yiddish like normal people, for once? Without the sentimental frosting and ahistorical distortions?

And, no, Yiddish is not a German dialect , unless you also consider English a German dialect. But don't take my word for it: 

The basic grammar and vocabulary of Yiddish, which is written in the Hebrew alphabet, is Germanic. Yiddish, however, is not a dialect of German but a complete language—one of a family of Western Germanic languages, that includes English, Dutch, and Afrikaans. Yiddish words often have meanings that are different from similar words in German.