Lessons from Six Weeks in Yiddishland

(or: The Uriel Weinreich Program in Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture, at YIVO in NYC).

  1. 1. Learning a new language demands coffee and persistence in equal measure.
  2. 2. Yiddish Beatboxing Is The Future.
  3. 3. Twenty questions = more fun in Yiddish.
  4. 4. The Verb comes second. The verb comes second. The verb comes second. Except for when it doesn’t.
  5. 5. Yiddish feminist podcasts are the best use of one’s one hour-long commute to Chelsea.
  6. 6. Yiddish Punk Is Also The Future (and the present).
  7. 7. There’s a great part of the Center for Jewish History on the second floor under a glass roof, where you can see the sun and not have to go outside.
  8. 8. The snack break between your 9AM grammar class and 11AM Literature is the only time you will feel justified eating M&Ms and ice cream at 10:30AM because You Just Need To.
  9. 9. L. Peretz: MAJOR literary figure, also major talent crush.
  10. 10. Nothing is better than finally getting the joke in a new language.
  11. 11. Learning a new language involves occasionally saying many dumb things, stuttering your sentences, and running in verbal circles around what you actually want to be saying. You’ll get used to that. Sort of.
  12. 12. In Yiddish: “It’s all Greek to me” = “It’s all Turkish to me.”
  13. 13. Stoops are nice places to talk, have lunches, and laugh.
  14. 14. Women did write play in Yiddish, and you will want to find them.
  15. 15. In Yiddish, “Ver” is “Who” and “Voo” is “Where.”
  16. 16. In Yiddish “Vikhtik” is “important” and “Rikhtik” is “right,” (as in correct, but not, because correct is “gerekht”, and you use different words for correct when you talk about ).
  17. 17. You will want to learn more these women, who wrote beautiful things in Yiddish but were forgotten or ignored.
  18. 18. Much of contemporary Simcha dancing has its roots in an Eastern European desire to create a space in which mother-in-laws could face off and burn off their aggression using the language of dance.
  19. 19. New Yiddish Translators Like My New Friends Are Also The Future.
  20. 20. Commuting in New York City by train is often a nightmare, especially in a summer where the Single Downtown Train You Can Take From Riverdale is being renovated. Change to the express at 96th Also: You can get your Yiddish homework done of the subway, but you probably don’t want to.
  21. 21. Motl peysi dem khazns will become the highlight of your Fridays, and you will learn why people get hooked on the Yiddish serialized novels published in Yiddish newspapers.
  22. 22. You will be struck by the politics of Yiddish, and will spend a lot of time grappling with it.
  23. 23. You can give a presentation on Yiddish cultural demons (“sheydim”) and superstition, and it’s better if you feature a baby dressed as an elf in your slides.
  24. 24. Indecent is a gift to the world always, but it’s so much better in a summer where you’re studying Yiddish. Also, Ansky’s The Dybbuk is so good.
  25. 25. When studying a new language during a hot New York summer, you will experience strange differences in climate: hot, sticky, humid, sweat-through-your-clothes-in-five-minutes outside and the arctic air-conditioned tundra on the inside of the Center for Jewish History.
  26. 26. You can get a great sweet cheese blintz in the East Village.
  27. 27. Like Brecht and lots of other dudes, Isaac Bashevis Singer also had a group of women working for him.
  28. 28. You will try out Yiddish sketch comedy. Brukhe from Motl Pesye will become your girl. Sneezing in Yiddish (tsch-chi) is funnier than sneezing in English (a-choo).
  29. 29. If you’re trying to learn how to decipher Yiddish handwriting in letters, prepare for squinting, headaches, and reading hundreds of repeated of wishes for good health.
  30. 30. Yiddish is not a cute language, or a small language, or a silly language. You’re far from done learning, but the door is open, and that is simply thrilling.

Many thanks to the Office of Undergraduate Research for making my time at YIVO possible. It was immersive, challenging, and transformative.