«Jewish Observer»
September 2002
5763 Tishrei

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Yiddish. For many of us it is the language spoken by grandmother and grandfather when they wanted their grandchildren not to know what they were speaking about. Those who know this language since childhood find it helpful learning German and at the initial stage can use it as a substitute. Most of us came to know this language from a couple of popular songs, say, "Tum balalaika" and consider it not a language of full value but a chaotic mixture of German, Russian, Polish and Hebrew.

Still, however, professor Antroot is teaching it at the Dusseldorf University. Marion is a Dutchwoman and not a Jew. Until 20 she never thought about studying such an exotic language. She was studying French and English for 2 years at the university. Once, for fun, she joined a Yiddish course and understood from the first lesson that it was her choice. The language attracted Marion with its unusual composition, beauty and, first of all, by its virginity. "Yiddish is a planet on which a man hasn't stepped on yet. I strongly advise all those who want to make a linguistic discovery to study this language. Very little is known about its history until now", said she. Marion was granted a doctorate degree at the Oxford University, which was then the only university in the world where one could defend the doctorate thesis in Yiddish.

A newly born doctor Antroot began lecturing in America, in Harvard, then she was invited to work in the Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf. Who are these students who venture to study such a strange language as Yiddish? Most of Mrs. Antroot's students are students of the department of Jewish studies at the Duisburg University. Yiddish for them is a compulsory subject. Both these universities in the land of Rhinevestfalia are located nearby (within an hour ride by car). They "share" the Jewish studies between themselves. Culture, history and religion are studied in Duisburg, whereas the language is taught in Dusseldorf. However, half of the students who joined Antroot's course this year (enrollment - 100, with attendance being a bit less) has chosen the subject as optional, i.e. their own free will. They are students of German and English studies, history of art and philosophy. Does it mean that Yiddish is just their hobby?

"It is not very true", explains Marion. "Future journalists, for example, will only benefit if they know some "exotic" language. Not long ago one girl who graduated from the department of the history of arts got a very good job because she knew Yiddish. She was employed by the Jewish Museum in Bavaria".

So, studying Yiddish is practically useful. However, some people are wrong thinking that it easy to learn. : Yiddish is a language of full value, with complicated grammar rules and a tremendous number of synonyms - sometimes the same notion is duplicated by words borrowed from German and Hebrew. In such a case, the first variant is usually a colloquial one, whereas the second one is literary. There is also a big difference between "Eastern" and "Western" Yiddish. This is what Marion explains to students from the very beginning. After one month of studying students should know how to read. "To know Yiddish is not the end in itself. It helps to better understand the Jewish culture and makes it possible to read in original the masterpieces of Zinger and Sholom-Aleikhem or, for example, the autobiography of Shagal".

There is one more question to Marion, "Is Yiddish a dead language?" "Nothing of the kind! Previously, Yiddish for Jews was a common language for everyday use, whereas Hebrew was for religious purposes. Now that the State of Israel is formed, Hebrew has become a secular language but Orthodox Jews and Hasids prefer to speak Yiddish. There are school manuals in Yiddish in Israel".

In Europe school manuals in Yiddish are in great shortage. Marion has to write them herself. Lately, in collaboration with Joseph Michman she has published the book "Storm in the community" in English. She is also a co-author (with Kholger Nutt) of the manual "Einfuehrung in die jiddische Sprache und Kultur" which will soon be published to work with students in class. This book will be useful also for volunteers who come to listen to Marion's lectures in dozens. Among them is Marion's assistant from Saint Petersburg for whom Yiddish is her native language. Despite the poor knowledge of German and difference in age, Anna Abramovna Reizlina has already got acquainted with many students. Of course, with the help of Yiddish!

"Russkaya Germania"

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