The renaissance of a seldon heard language; Learn Yiddish at Temple Beth-El

Humboldt Beacon

By Joe Friedman

Beacon Correspondent

Yiddish is a language related to German spoken by Jews throughout the world, Mainy associated with Eastern European Jews, it originated in the middle ages. As it developed over the centuries it incorporated bits of Slavic , Hebrew, Polish, Ukrainian, Czech and romance languages.

Modern Yiddish came into existence after 1700 as a body of Yiddish literature developed. Notable among these authors was Isaac Bashevic Singer who wrote in Yiddish and translated his works into many other languages, incuding English. He won the Nobel prize for literature and his story 'Yentl: the Yeshiva Boy' was made into a movie in the U.S. with Barbara Streisand.

Many Yiddish words have become part of English, including bagel, kibbutz, mensch, pastrami, schmaltz , chutzpah and mazel tov. As a response to this renaissance of Yiddish, Sam Oliner, member of the Temple Beth-El Board in Eureka, has begun an adult education class in Yiddish open to all, that meets once or twice a month on Sunday afternoon at Temple Beth-El. Says Oliner, "there was an expressed interest by a few people for me to help teach this class. There is a renewal of interest in Yiddish when people want to discover their heritage."

Harvey Raider, president of Temple Beth El , and Yiddish student said, "Temple Beth El in Eureka has an adult education class which is learning to read, speak and understand Yiddish. Under the guidance of native Yiddish speaker, Sam Oliner, a number of people have been gathering every third Sunday (or so) here from 1 to 3 p.m. (or maybe a bit past 3 p.m.) to enjoy revitalizing this wonderful and colorful language."

The class uses music, film, video and texts to aid in the learning process. Students learn in small segments, making sure each student can understand and converse in Yiddish that day's lesson. At each class, we speak as much Yiddish as we can muster.

We fress a little. We have a cookie and a glesele tea. We laugh and have a good time, just the environment in which Yiddish was meant to thrive. We do hear the occasional 'oy' or 'oy vey' none-the-less.

Yiddish is usually written in Hebrew characters, but commonly appears and is taught using transliterated text. The pronunciation varies depending on the geographic location. It is spoken all over the world, with the predominant presence in Israel, Argentina and the USA.

Yiddish is written and spoken as a living language in many Orthodox Jewish communities around the world. It is most notably used as a first language in most Hasidic communities, where it is the first language learned in childhood and used in home, schooling and many social settings.

Also, there is a Yiddish theater, including musicals, Yiddish films, and a large body of Yiddish songs and music including the Klezmer tradition from Eastern Europe.The 1932 swing tune 'Bei Mir Bist du Sheyn' (By me you are beautiful), made famous by the Andrews Sisters, is still performed and recorded.

Sam Oliner, teacher of the class, is well known for his books on altruism during the holocaust, 9/11 and other events. He was a native Yiddish speaker in his birthplace in Poland, and survived the holocaust while his ghetto was being destroyed. He is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at HSU and lives with his wife Pearl in Arcata.

There is a nominal $5 charge per student. It's not too late to catch up with the class currently underway. Call Temple Beth-El at 444-2846 for details of the next meeting. Mit ein vareme gruss un zeyt gesund. (With warm greetings and stay well)