Study of Yiddish needs a boost, say educators

Interest in Yiddish education is dwindling and the 1,000-year-old language and culture is no longer widely esteemed, reported Canadian Jewish News June 15. That was the conclusion reached by panellists at the closing panel of the Association for Canadian Jewish Studies’ (ACJS) conference, "The Futures of Yiddish Education and Culture in Canada". Yiddish was once the language of the masses and is now the language of a small minority of people, said Keith Weiser, professor of Jewish history at York University’s Centre for Jewish Studies. Weiser was speaking to an audience of about 100 people at York’s Keele campus on May 30.

He cited Hebrew University in Israel as the only university to still conduct graduate programs in Yiddish. Columbia University no longer incorporates Yiddish interaction into its graduate program, said Weiser. He noted that people "do not know a language until [they are] fully exposed [to it] and brought into the culture" and said one problem faced when learning Yiddish is, "Where you speak Yiddish, you speak English." Weiser, who received his doctorate from Columbia in 2001, said it’s important to be "fully immersed" in the language of a people, rather than learning solely from a textbook. "[At Columbia University] we were exposed to a wide range of Yiddish-speaking people," he said.

Earlier that evening, Irving Abella, history professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, and author of six books, including the award-winning None Is Too Many, received the 2006 Canadian Jewish Studies Distinguished Service Award.