A bisl Yiddish: Talking the talk

If we do not speak, we will forget, and that mustn't ever come to pass.

The Vilnius Yiddish Institute 390 (photo credit: Chavi Moskowitz)
The Vilnius Yiddish Institute 390
(photo credit: Chavi Moskowitz)
It’s not just about reading Yiddish, it’s about speaking Yiddish, Fania Brantsovsky, former Jewish partisan and current librarian at Lithuania's Vilnius Yiddish Institute, stresses. As Brantsovsky expresses, If we do not speak, we will forget, and that must never come to pass.
Rachel Steindel Burdin who is working on her PhD in Linguistics at the Ohio State University shares: "I took Yiddish at my university, but it was mostly focused on reading Yiddish, not speaking it. This program is really special, because I actually got to speak Yiddish."
Aside from replanting Yiddish roots, the Vilnius Yiddish Institute sets forth to create a new sort of Yiddish community, one bound to the past, to the survivors, one devoted to the future of Yiddish in all of its manifestations.
The Vilnius Yiddish Institute began 32 years ago in Oxford and moved 15 years ago to Vilna in order to give the program more depth in the former ‘Jerusalem of Lite.’
The summer program brings together a group of students who want not only to learn Yiddish in order to translate documents, but who want to live in Yiddish. Every aspect of life during the summer program involves Yiddish: from classes to cultural activities in the afternoon, evenings spent discussing Sholem Aleichem and Perets over local cuisine and even simply shmuesing with friends, in their adopted mamme-loshn.
In particular the Vilnius Yiddish Institute offers the unique opportunity to interact on a daily basis with Vilna natives, for whom Yiddish is their mother tongue.
Brantsovsky, who many might call the heart and soul of the summer program, gives students an authentic look at what Jewish Vilna used to be. She works tirelessly to make sure they understand Vilna’s past, her story and why it is so important to continue learning Yiddish.
“It is my third time in Vilna and probably the greatest draw to continue coming is the chance to interact with people like Fania and to see Yerushalayim of Lite through her eyes,” says Daniel Kennedy who is from Ireland.
Fleur Kuhn from Paris, continues: “To be able to hear Fania’s story, in her Lithuanian Yiddish, in her native Vilna, well that’s just something you can’t do anywhere else.”
Abraham Lichtenbaum, veteran professor at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute says that, “The program is an intelligent solution to a complex challenge: to approach Ashkenazi culture, 1000 years of creativity through that which defined it, and to coexist with the cultural heritage of the Litvaks.”