Congregation Etz Chaim of DuPage County

Program on Yiddish Breaks Attendance Record

Fri, 12/22/2017 - 2:58pm -- Seniors Group

Program on Yiddish Breaks Attendance Record

Many of us remember a few words and phrases from growing up in Jewish homes where, typically, Yiddish was spoken when we weren’t supposed to know what the parents and grandparents were talking about.   Whether much or a little is remembered, it is highly probable that this linguistic/cultural connection to home and family is what brought nearly 60 congregants and friends to the Lunch ‘n Learn/Senior-Sponsored program on December 20th to hear David Fried, a young man of 37, talk about his passion for Yiddish.

Although his parents and grandparents spoke Yiddish, it wasn’t spoken in his home, so David didn’t learn it until many years later.  He did develop a love for languages and dabbled in a few, including Finnish.  As a young man, he realized that the one that really spoke to him, the one that embodied the tradition, culture and world to which he felt at one, was Yiddish.  He also sees it less as a heritage than as a living inheritance.  It is a global language, one that has no land but may be taken wherever one goes. 

David’s study began with podcasts, online study and with a group in Skokie where he was well-received.  He views learning Yiddish as a way to fill the intergenerational gap.   For deeper understanding of the language and culture he credits a ten-day immersion program he attended at a Yiddish Farm in New York.  Yiddish was studied in Yiddish, and even the Hebrew in their siddurim was translated into Yiddish.   Efforts are made to bridge the gap between Orthodox and secular Jews who can communicate with each other in Yiddish. It was interesting to learn that Yiddish is not only spoken among the Chasidim, but also among a growing number of secular Jewish youth.    

David also discussed the privilege of spending a month studying in Vilna where he, other Jews and Christians as well, had access to the brightest Yiddish minds.  During the mornings, he took classes in Yiddish literature and, in the afternoons, studied grammar and structure through reading Yiddish stories and poetry.  Clearly, Yiddish is a language on a par with other languages of the world, with a rich history, culture and literature.  One memorable moment for David was to read a beloved Yiddish poem and realize that he truly understood it without doing any kind of translation.  He clearly sees his learning of Yiddish in a different light than learning a “foreign” language, as he stated, “This was mine all along.”  Among his most valued experiences are the Shabboses he spends with others who speak Yiddish. 

The Workman’s Circle and YIVO are two organizations which seek to keep Yiddish a language of the present and of the future.  David has become interested in teaching, a value inherent in Judaism.  His group has been awarded a $2,000 grant to help start education programs next year.

In his closing remarks, David encouraged the commitment to pursue learning regardless of age – to sustain health and stave off illnesses of old age, to improve social life and to enhance personal development.   

Submitted by Barbara Turner