A bisl Yiddish: Replanting Yiddish roots in Vilna

Exploring the role of Yiddish to bring you a weekly dose of Yiddishkayt.

A bisl Yiddish (photo credit: Courtesy)
A bisl Yiddish
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"Love and interest in Yiddish brings together people of all ages and nationalities from all over the world to Vilna, once known as Jerusalem of Lithuania, to bring back Yiddish to the places where it belongs, where it was once widely spoken and thriving," says Indre Joffyte, coordinator of theGrowing up in Poland, the topic of whether you are Jewish or not tends to be avoided, it is easier to look forward than back. Unlike many who find themselves in that situation, Malgorzata Maciejewska, who grew up Catholic in Kalisz, has chosen the road of most resistance.
Though her grandfather is likely turning in his grave, by studying and embracing Yiddish, Maciejewska is paving the way for a new generation of Poles to coexist with other nationalities. Maciejewska is passionate about Yiddish and recognizes how precious it is to have the opportunity to interact with those native speakers that we still have with us.
Violaine Lochu did not have any native Yiddish speakers in her family nor was she exposed to the language growing up, but an interest in Eastern European music led her to Klezmer, and naturally Yiddish. She began to sing in a Klezmer band called Freylakh in her native France and found frustration in singing songs in a language she couldn’t decipher.
Lochu moved to Paris and began to frequent La Maison de la Culture Yiddish, where she studied Yiddish and immersed herself in Yiddish culture. In Paris she was a founding member of the group Mashke, in which she continues to play today. Lochu says that her relationship with Yiddish has led her on a life-changing adventure filled with unforgettable encounters.
Lea Schaefer is a scholar of German linguistics whose current focus is on Western Yiddish. She says she finds Yiddish particularly interesting because, “It is a language that we knew nearly nothing about, specifically the history of the language and how it has evolved…”
Hisashi Shigematsu, originally from Japan, is now living in Vilnius, Lithuania where he is studying at the University of Vilnius. As a graduate student, his focus is Lithuanian Studies with a particular interest in Jewish history in Lithuania during the interwar period. Learning Yiddish is an invaluable tool for Hisashi’s research into the Lithuanian disposition towards Jews; in order to understand the Jewish response to anti-Semitism as well as general culture, he needed Yiddish.
Olga Vlčková, who is a theatre historian from Prague, says that, “When I asked people from the Jewish Studies department at Charles University if they were aware of any possibilities to study Yiddish in the Czech Republic, the answer was very shocking for me: Yiddish doesn’t exist here anymore.”
To study Yiddish is not like studying Spanish or French. With Spanish or French, you can study the language and then move to one of the many countries where those languages are spoken and put your studies into practice. While Yiddish is still a spoken language, it does not have a country, and those that choose to learn it often find themselves isolated in their studies. Whether for research purposes, to speak the language of one's ancestors, or to gain insight into the world that once was and perhaps project it into the future, choosing Yiddish does in fact carry unique values.
Maciejewska says, “Yiddish is an extremely fascinating and still very rare language. It mixes so many languages: Polish, German, Hebrew, Russian in such an interesting way. I’m so proud that I can communicate with other people in Yiddish.” She spent last summer at the and says ”it made me aware of the the fact that Yiddish is a part of all of our shared culture.”
Malgorzata, Violaine, Lea, Hisashi, and Olga are all of different nationalities, backgrounds, and religions, but they have, if nothing else, Yiddish in common, and the time they spent studying it in Vilna. This is the unique value that Yiddish carries, its ability to bring such a diverse group together with one common goal - to recreate something. With Spanish you can go to Spain, with French to France, and be a part of something that is. With Yiddish you are recreating something that once was, and in the case of Vilna, in the place that it used to be.
The 2013 summer program in Yiddish language and literature will run from July 21 through August 16 at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute in Vilnius, Lithuania.For more information and to apply:
Try it at home: A bisl Yiddish music A sampling of Violaine Lochu's musical talents.