«Jewish Observer»
October 2002
5763 Cheshvan

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Loshn yz lebn, shvagn yz toit!
(Language is life, silence - death!)

In September the Kharkov Jewish culture center "Beit Dan" started a new program "Club of Yiddish learners" headed by Stas Raiko. Best American and Israeli teaching materials are used during the studies.

Most active participants will go abroad to attend best Jewish seminars and conferences dedicated to Yiddish learning. The seminar's head promises the participants will not only receive linguistic knowledge and train the ability "to speak Jewish not only with hands", but will also acquaint themselves to the Jewish culture and spirit of Yiddishkait inaccessible without the knowledge of Yiddish.

Yiddish, once a jargon, dialect and later a language sacralized to reach the status of "mame loshn", is still fraught with charm of non-standard language thinking and remains a "linguistic sign of Jewishness".

Let's turn to I.Bashevis-Zinger, "Spirit of Yiddish is filled with sincere joy, love for life and genuine respect for a person. It harbours hope for a coming salvation by Messiah and a great ability to patiently anticipate salvation. I feel in Yiddish sad humour, gratitude for each day of life, for each, even occasional, independence... Figuratively speaking, Yiddish is a wise, obedient language of a person full of hopes, an idiom of intimidated but optimistic humanity".

The project initiators are Stanislav Raiko and Yevgenia Lopatnik, widely known for their kleizmer performances. The author of this article - a linguist, specialist in the Jewish-Russian language communication, whose materials on Yiddish have come out in the editions of the Moscow center "Sefer" and Kiev Institute for Judaic studies - also participates in the program.

The aim of the program organizers and participants is, first of all, practical language skills, comprehending the culture, discovering new possibilities for communication with the European youth speaking Yiddish, Internet including. In my opinion, the Internet-portal "Davar", as well as the database of Internet-resources on Yiddish collected by the author will come in handy. The course is now delivered by an experienced pedagogue Y.Lopatnik who has participated in many Yiddishkait-seminars (by the way, she is a wonderful expert in the culture of Yiddishkait and its musical heritage). The author of this article has prepared a series of lectures on Yiddish-Russian linguistic and culture interrelationship. Naturally, the life and soul of the project is wonderful Stas Raiko who aptly governs the flow of a teaching process.

These are not only lessons, rather, not lessons proper - this is a live communication of people united by a common cause.

The first lesson. Almost ten persons are in a small kleizmer room of "Beit Dan". They form the first group to study twice a week.

The second group is about to appear...

The age of the participants ranges from 17 till 30. They feel free and willingly learn the alphabet, learn to pronounce their names in Yiddish, recognize familiar phrases, distinguish known and unknown letters and even - at the end of the lesson - understand a small text. This everything occurs within an hour and a half.

Stas Raiko and Yevgenia Lopatnik give the lads a "present" - probably, the biggest present on the earth - they present them with a new word of their mother tongue!

Later on this great value - MOTHER TONGUE - shall become a basis for a new Jewish community of Kharkov, community of the young speaking their native language.


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