Tuesday, April 06, 2004

A Fraylekhn Pesah

In honor of Passover, Crooked Timber reprints (and links to) an essay by Michael Chabon, Next year in Yisroel. Coincidentally, you can also read a piece about Chabon at the blog of my good friend George Wallace, A Fool in the Forest.

I'd actually read this essay before, and might have even linked to it. Though I'm certain at having linked to Chabon's site, which is very generous with reprints of essays and articles by the author.

Chabon's essay is a sad lamentation on the melancholy idea of a book called "Say it in Yiddish". Where would you use such a book? In what country would you need to ask an airport employee, "what is the flight number" or a medical worker, "I need something for a tourniquet" in Yiddish?

Yiddish is the kitchen table language of Jews. Sadly it is the language that my grandparents used when they did not want the children to understand. So, apart from a smattering of expressions and curse words, I am illiterate in the Yiddish language.

Fantasizing an alternative Jewish state, Yisroel, where the Hebraists lost out in favor of the establishment of Yiddish as a national language, Chabon writes, " There is Yiddish on the money, of which the basic unit is the herzl, or the dollar, or even the zloty. There are Yiddish color commentators for soccer games, Yiddish-speaking cash machines, Yiddish tags on the collars of dogs. Public debate, private discourse, joking and lamentation, all are conducted not in a new-old, partly artificial language like Hebrew, a prefabricated skyscraper still under construction, with only the lowermost of its stories as yet inhabited by the generations, but in a tumbledown old palace capable in the smallest of its stones (the word nu) of expressing slyness, tenderness, derision, romance, disputation, hopefulness, skepticism, sorrow, a lascivious impulse, or the confirmation of one's worst fears."

Now to look for my copy of "Say it in Ladino".

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