The Fading Yiddish Language I Grew Up With is Still Alive in Metro Detroit

December 05, 2013, 8:17 AM by  Allan Lengel


Growing up in Oak Park, half of the adults on my block were from eastern Europe and spoke Yiddish.

My parents, who were from Europe, spoke Yiddish to each other,  often in front of us kids when they didn't want us to understand. Their friends would come over to play cards some Saturday nights and speak Yiddish to one another. I was surrounded by it, at bar mitzvahs and brises and at the deli.

As very young kids, we rejected learning the language. We thought it was old world. We were into assimilating. Baseball, Hot dogs. And more baseball. And we sat around some days imitating the accents of one another's parents. 

As I got a little older, I started to realize what a cool language Yiddish is. Even the Three Stooges used some in their show.  

By mid-teens, I became interested in learning the language. Today, I can speak some and understand even more.

Wikipedia describes it as the " language of Ashkenazi Jewish origin, spoken in many parts of the world. It  developed as a fusion of different German dialects with adstrats of Hebrew, Aramaic and Slavic vocabulary and some traces of vocabulary from the Romance languages. Yiddish orthography uses the Hebrew alphabet."

Today, some Yiddish words have slipped into the mainstream. Chutzpah (nerve); schlep (to drag); nosh (a bite to eat); plotz (to burst) and meshuganah (crazy).

I was reminded of this fading language when I read an article in the latest Detroit Jewish News.

Esther Allweiss Ingber writes in the Jewish News:

A survey of the Metro Detroit community, extending to Ann Arbor, uncovered speakers, teachers and others interested in perpetuating Yiddish language and culture.

Three-year-old children learn the language at two Lubavitch elementary schools in Oak Park, while students in Ann Arbor take Yiddish classes at the University of Michigan. An elderly man at Hechtman Apartments in West Bloomfield, administered by Jewish Senior Life, recites Shakespeare in Yiddish. Twenty-four Oakland County women recently celebrated 30 years for their conversation group. All of them, and more, belie the supposition that Yiddish is either a dead or dying language.

My mother has passed. My father is nearly 94. At times, he'll utter some words to me in Yiddish. But he's among last of the true Yiddish speakers.

That being said,  it's heartening to see that there's still interest in a colorful language right here in Metro Detroit.

Read more:  Jewish News

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