Mir redden Yiddish in der Knesset

Next week top politicians will pay their respects to the language once spoken by over 12 million Jews.

knesset building 248 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
knesset building 248 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
After years of Yiddish being viewed as a "Diaspora" language, inappropriate for use in the newly independent State of Israel, the mamaloshen is making its way into the Knesset. Next week, top politicians will pay their respects to the language once spoken by over 12 million Jews, with Yiddish Language and Culture Day at the parliament. It is especially important now that the generation of Yiddish speakers is disappearing, said event sponsor MK Lia Shemtov (Israel Beiteinu), to officially welcome the language within the walls of the Hebrew-speaking legislature. Shemtov herself grew up in a Yiddish-speaking family in Ukraine, in a town where "many people spoke Yiddish on a daily basis," even in the years following World War II. She is not the only MK to remember her childhood in shades of Yiddish. Israel Beiteinu chairman and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke exclusively Yiddish until the age of six, said Shemtov. Lieberman is expected to participate in the festivities planned for next Tuesday, when the Yiddishpiel Theater will present theatrical selections in the Knesset auditorium. A third Israel Beiteinu MK - David Rotem - also speaks Yiddish, making the right-wing party the second-most Yiddish-speaking party after United Torah Judaism. Minority Affairs Minister Avishai Braverman (Labor), MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima) and National Union chairman Ya'acov Katz also list Yiddish among the languages they speak. The number of Yiddish-speakers in the parliament hit a 15-year peak of 12 in the last Knesset - a far cry from the early days of statehood, in which almost all of the MKs could speak the language. Shemtov explained that in the 17th Knesset, she had established a forum for Yiddish language and culture, but it was only in this Knesset that she had managed to arrange a Yiddish day in the parliament. "It is sad that here in Israel, of all places, the language is disappearing - but it is imperative that the memory live on," said Shemtov. She added that she had been pleasantly surprised by the number of citizens who expressed interest in the activities surrounding Yiddish day, which will open with a joint meeting of the Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee - which Shemtov chairs - and the Education Committee. "People are thirsty for the language and culture," Shemtov added. Recognition of Yiddish culture in Israel, she said, still has a long way to go. "There is a statue of Shalom Aleichem in Kiev, and practically every city in the Ukraine has a road named after him," she said. "If only that were true here as well."