A four-day seminar this week at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem hopes to prove that there is more to Yiddish than the "oy veys" and "kvelling," of your grandparents' generation.
The conference, which will take place Monday through Thursday at the Wise Auditorium at the Edmond J. Safra Campus, plans to show that Yiddish is blossoming and its use is becoming more widespread.
According to Yechiel Szeintuch, professor of Yiddish at the university and one of the conference organizers, the seminar hopes to debunk widespread beliefs about the language.
"Until recently, Yiddish was thought of as a channel for jokes," Szeintuch said. "But in the last decade, we have witnessed a renewed interest in Yiddish language and culture among young people and adults who are not ultra-Orthodox, and the demand for courses teaching the language has increased."
The four-day conference, entitled "A Century of Yiddish: 1908-2008," which is being coordinated by the Institute of Advanced Studies of the Hebrew University and the Israel Science Foundation, will bring together 40 experts from Israel and around the world for 16 sessions.
Sessions at the conference include: Yiddish on the Electronic Jewish Street; The Fate of Yiddish in the Soviet Union; Zionist Language Policy and Yiddish; Yiddish in Travel Literature: Between Poland and South America; Teaching Yiddish to Israeli Defense Force Veterans; and Elie Wiesel's Yiddish.
Szeintuch said that Yiddish came into wide use over a century ago but didn't fade away after World War II, as some believe.
"Yiddish was at its height about a hundred years ago. Between the two world wars, 1,700 national and local Yiddish newspapers were published in Poland alone," Szeintuch said.
"The Holocaust dealt a severe blow to Yiddish after millions of Yiddish speakers were murdered. But Yiddish didn't die with them."
He estimated that in the world today there are some two to three million Yiddish speakers.
Eli Lederhendler, chair of the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University and one of the organizers of the conference, said that there is a future for the Yiddish language and hopes the conference conveys that message.
"The fate of the language is like the fate of the people," Lederhendler said. "One of the ways to follow the course of the language is to follow demographic, linguistic and cultural changes of the Jewish people, and this is the aim of this conference."
The conference is open to the public and will be conducted in Hebrew, English and Yiddish.