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Is Yiddish Getting Popular Among Arab Israelis?

The mame-loshn may be finding new speakers

Adam Chandler
October 15, 2012
Bar Ilan University(Demotix)
Bar Ilan University(Demotix)

The debate about whether Yiddish is or isn’t becoming trendy again seems to crop up every few years. First, it was the Israelis, then the hipsters, then the politicians. Then came the worriers who fretted aloud that Yiddish was dying. Some assessments about the language seem to suggest that it’s doing well and remains popular enough to keep it off the list of endangered languages (sadly, not the same can be said for Chamorro). Today, I was pointed to a story (h/t Miriam Krule) about how Yiddish might gaining steam with a new group of speakers:

About a quarter of the 400 students studying Yiddish at Bar Ilan are Arabs, says Ber Kotlerman, academic director of Bar Ilan’s Center for Yiddish Studies. According to Kotlerman, some of the Israeli Arabs are searching for a way to connect to the Jewish culture with which they must cope, and it is not easy for them.

“Even Jews in the Diaspora search for this — a way to connect to the local culture — and it is wonderful that Yiddish can be a sort of ambassador, a bridge between nations and cultures,” he says. “Take, for example, the case of Tevye the Dairyman, whose daughter marries a Christian and he sits shiva [the traditional Jewish mourning ceremony] for her. Two years ago, a female Arab student approached me to say that her father would do the same thing if she fell in love with a Jew,” says Kotlerman.

The rest of the story is pretty great. Be sure to check out the whole thing.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.

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