Tuesday, January 21, 2020

  • Tuesday, January 21, 2020
  • Elder of Ziyon
IfNotNow wrote a tweet, trying to use a story in the Forward to make an anti-Israel point.

Now, how many members of IfNotNow bother to learn Yiddish? How many really care about Yiddish culture? The article about YIVO laying off its librarians was just used as an excuse to say that, look, Jews are giving more to an awful Israel than to a vital effort to preserve Yiddish culture.

If you care about Judaism, where should your charity dollars go? What should be your priority?

This Yiddish topic indicates how anti-Zionists think.

The Yiddish that YIVO preserves, and that organizations like the Workman's Circle celebrate and study, is essentially a dead language. For historical and sociological reasons it is nice to study the history of Jews arriving in the US in the 19th and 20th centuries and their media, but outside a tiny number of people who keep it barely breathing there is nothing left.

They are interested in pretending to preserve a culture that exists only in history, one that doesn't affect their lives today. That is the Judaism of the socialist Left.

But there is another Yiddish that is thriving - the Yiddish of the Chassidic communities in New York. They have newspapers, magazines, children's periodicals and books. It doesn't need preservation - Yiddish newspapers have hundreds of pages in an era where secular newspapers are shrinking.

No one in the secular Yiddish community is interested in current Yiddish culture. Because it is the Yiddish of a living, breathing people who are committed to living Yiddishkeit. Even though it is centered on the anti-Zionist Satmar chassidic community, this is not something that the socialist Left wants anything to do with.

Yiddish is the microcosm of how people think of Judaism.

If you care about Judaism, you would want to prioritize Jewish education, Jewish culture, and Jewish living today, not yesterday. Preserving the memory of the Holocaust is important but preserving Judaism today is more important. Living Jews are a higher priority than martyred Jews. Keeping them Jewish and proud should be the project that proud Jews support.

Right now, Israel is where that is happening more than anywhere else. The most innovative and creative Jewish education and cultural initiatives are in Israel. If anything, we need to export their ideas to Jews in the diaspora. American Jews are hanging on, Israeli Jews are thriving. In Israel, Judaism is happening today, not the turn of the 20th century.

There may be exceptions but "progressive" anti-Zionist Jews are more interested in dead Judaism than in Judaism that demands participation, creativity and innovation.

If they cared about Judaism, they would care about Israel.

UPDATE: I received a response that is worth reading.


In your recent post, you started off by attacking If Not Now? for pretending to care about Yiddish, and segued straight into attacking those who actually do care about Yiddish.

I don’t get offended easily, but I was surprised to learn that my attitude toward Yiddish is a microcosm of my attitude toward Israel, so that if I study and enjoy Yiddish I am a progressive anti-Zionist, who turns his back on living Jews to hang out with dead ones.  I am 69 years old.  My father’s first language was Yiddish.  I have been studying Yiddish for nine years, mostly in his honor, and have made some progress. He is dead, but he can’t help it, and I try not to hold it against him when we chat, as we do now and then.

As a young man I studied in Israel and learned Hebrew. I speak it much better than I do Yiddish. I am a strong supporter of Israel. Where did you get the idea that loving Yiddish and support for Israel are mutually exclusive?  That’s not true among my friends. Nor is it true of Ruth Wisse, the most distinguished, intelligent and humane living Yiddishist.  I doubt that you know who she is. I also doubt that you know Yiddish, the language in which your ancestors expressed their Yiddishkeit for a thousand years.

Your view of Yiddish and Yiddishists is both inaccurate and 40 years out of date.  Yiddish scholars of today study the living Yiddish of the Hasidim all the time, both as a spoken language and as the basis for a newly emerging journalism and literature. The Yiddish-speaking world is also newly aware that the Yiddishists have created and preserved resources (dictionaries, grammars, immense quantities of Yiddish texts) which they may find useful.

But I have a confession to make.  I belong to the League for Yiddish, mostly because I studied with its former head, Sheva Zucker, and she is a friend.  I also am a member of YIVO—just before this news broke I sent them $54.  And I belong to the Yiddish Book Center  That’s about $150/yr. I invest in this appalling dead language, when I could be supporting living Jews. Sorry!

Next time try to think a little before you attack whole classes of Jews about whom you know nothing. This is sin’at khinam.  And this isn’t the first time I have encountered this unreasoning hatred among Jews of the handful of us who express our “khibas tsiyon” partly through Yiddish.  What harm are we doing you?

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