Monday, December 19, 2005

Learning Yiddish

I've always wanted to learn Yiddish because there is great poetry, particulary by women, in that language--poetry which hasn't been translated into English. I particularly love the Yiddish poet Kadia Molodowsky who, I think, is a major poet in the 20th century but little known outside the Yiddish-speaking world. So when my mother asked me to go to the study Yiddish with her, I said yes, and we both attended the one-day intensive on Yiddish language and culture called the Sixth Annual Winter Yiddish Intensive held at the University of Judaism.

In the morning there were Yiddish conversation in four levels, but I took the Beginners which didn't require any previous knowledge. My mother joined me though I think she should have really taken Yiddish 2 for Advanced Beginners since as a child her father spoke to her in Yiddish while her mother spoke to her in English. I said that's a realy bilingual household.

When we arrived the teacher Sheindl gave us all cards which said "yo" (yes) on one said and "nenh" (no) on the other side, and when she asked us questions we had to hold up our cards. Since I didn't know how to say yes or no in Yiddish, I was already learning. From my childhood I knew how to say "hello" which is "sholem alekhhem." One says hello back by reversing it or "alekhem sholem" which means "peace be with you" forwards or backwards.

Then I learned how to ask what is your name, and answer "Ikh heys Galia," ("My name is Galia"). I chose the name "Galia" because I was named after my great-aunt Galia but in this country they Anglicicized her name to Julia. We had names like Leah, Sara, Galia except one man was named Jerry! The youngest in our class was an eight-year old girl named Leah, so the teacher renamed her Leahla--the "la" is a dimunited attached to children's names.

We learned a little conversation asking about each other's health, and learned that (zeyde) grandfather has a heachache, so one of us suggested he take two aspirin (Er mus nemen tsey aspirin tabletn." Then we learned numbers one through a million and how to say her phone numbers and address in Yiddish which wasn't that easy. After we learned our numbers, we learned how to ask how many people are in our family, and answer with their names. The teacher explained to us that Eastern European Jews were afraid of the Angel of Death taking their children, so when asked how many children they had, they said "nicht eyn, nicht tsvey, nicht dray" (not one, not two, not three).

Also, the teacher gave us a list of proverbs in Yiddish. So here are two Yiddish proverbs:
1. Az men vil nisht alt vern, zol men zikh yungerheyt oyfhengen: (If you don't want to get old, you should hang yourself while you are still young.)

2. A bisl un a bisl vert a fule shishl! (Little by little becomes a full bowl!)


Lyle Daggett said...

Earlier this year the U. of Wisconsin Press published the poetry anthology "Proletpen: America's Rebel Yiddish Poets" edited by Amelia Glaser and David Weintraub, translated by Amelia Glaser. I haven't seen the actual book, have only seen info about it online, however it looks like it should be great, based on the little bit I've seen. Main reason I haven't ordered a copy yet is the price. The U. of Wisconsin Press listing of the book is here.

California Writer said...

Thanks a lot for the information about this book. It's the first time I've heard about it, though I did know many Yiddish poets were socialists and wrote poetry about the labor movement. Because of the extreme poverty of Eastern European Jews both in Europe and United States, many joined trade unions and were fervrent trade unionists. The poets, many of whom worked in factories or as workers, also were very pro-trade union. Their work reflects that.