Reading Practice From the Vault
Twelve Yiddish Learning Books at the Yiddish Book Center (That You Can Read Right Now!)
Looking for an accessible book to accompany your Yiddish learning journey? Look no further than these twelve fun lernbikher (learning books), which are all digitized and available for free through the Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library. While some of these are explicitly language learning books, others introduce students to the wide world of Yiddish literature and Jewish history. They also showcase a range of political beliefs, often aligning with the secular Yiddish school systems that used or published them. Most of them are 50 to 100 years old and would have been used by kids who spoke Yiddish at home, yet they still offer handy and sometimes challenging reading practice for students of all backgrounds. Take a look and see what might be best for you!
If you’re learning the alef-beys with In eynem, and are hungry for more practice, this slim book originally published in 1926 is a great source of supplementary materials. While you are reading short poems and texts in both print and script, keep your eyes peeled for the adorable illustrations scattered throughout. This book doesn’t have a glossary, though, so be sure to keep a dictionary handy.
Vividly illustrated in bright monotone colors, this book contains short activities to add bits of Yiddish to your day, as well as charming stories to read before bed or when you wake up. Perfect your handwriting and learn a few songs all while improving your Yiddish. Show off this book’s beauty and exuberance to all your Yiddishist khaveyrim (friends).
Published by the Arbeter Ring (the Workers Circle), this illustrated book will introduce you to lots of new vocabulary and provide dialogues for practicing spoken and written Yiddish. There is a comprehensive glossary in the back with English transliteration. It is an excellent book for someone with a basic reading ability in Yiddish who would like to take their learning to the next level.
Ideal for study buddies and group learning, this textbook is full of interactive activities such as fill-in-the-blanks, short translation exercises, and opportunities to create your own stories based on pictures. It is sure to charm with its vintage color scheme and illustrations. Mayn shprakhbukh is wonderful for eager beginners and intermediate students who want a fun review.
Calling all Communist kids! Do you want to learn Yiddish like a student in a 1930s International Workers’ Order School? Use their official textbook to learn about different careers, how to protest and strike, and how to draw your own hammer and sickle. This book is best suited as a supplementary text for a beginner student interested in secular Yiddishist culture, since the interactive content is limited. Be warned: in keeping with the times and the ideology, the book uses the Soviet phonetic spelling system. Yiddish students of the world, unite!
Take the leap from beginner to intermediate with this highly interactive book full of dialogues, synonym and antonym exercises, and general vocabulary acquisition. A great choice for the self-motivated learner, Yidishe kinder would also be perfect for a music-oriented group or learner, as there is musical notation with English transcription at the back. Portable and softcover, it makes Yiddishland all the more accessible.
Students and teachers alike will appreciate this chapter-book-style approach to Jewish history with extensive maps of biblical Canaan and tales from the Tanakh. With large type, discussion questions, and frequent glossaries, Mayn folk definitely levels up in difficulty from the earlier books on this list, but it is still an accessible choice for building Yiddish reading comprehension.
If you want a more advanced choice but don’t want to give up fun illustrations, check out this Arbeter Ring textbook full of tales of sweatshop life, readings on Jewish holidays and culture, and discussion questions and brief activities. It is a comprehensive choice for an intermediate student looking to deepen their Yiddish knowledge while still having access to glossaries and phonetic spellings.
Full of vocabulary applicable to real world situations like sweeping up your breklekh (crumbs) and noshing on some loyze eyer (soft-boiled eggs), this book provides a taste of the daily life of a Yiddish-speaking child in mid-century America. Learn how to cross the street, include your friends in games, and study some Shabbos vocabulary. This final volume of Yidishe kinder is a timeless classic for learners of all ages.
Arranged thematically, with headings such as “Work and Struggle,” “America,” and “Despair and Comfort (Holocaust),” Dos naye vort is a good option for students who want to move from In eynem to reading texts independently. It shares some content with our next book but is a little more accessible because of its frequent glossaries and discussion questions. This anthology will be sure to keep you busy and informed on all the peculiarities and treasures of Yiddish literature.
More text-heavy than other choices on this list, this book is suitable for students who want to dive into classic Yiddish authors such as Sholem Aleichem, I. L. Peretz, H. Leyvik, Avrom Sutzkever, and many other towering names in between. Also included are readings on figures from Jewish history like Emma Lazarus as well as selections about all the major Jewish holidays. It’s a great choice for students who want to try their hand at reading without a glossary.
Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and venture into the spiritual world of the stories of I. L. Peretz, one of the most celebrated Yiddish authors of all time. But don’t worry: you won’t make the trek alone. This book contains page-by-page glossaries with phonetic spellings that will transform you from a beginner to a seasoned Yiddishist. Soon you’ll be writing mayses (fables) and dertseylungen (stories) of your own.
We hope this list—a drop in the bucket of yidishe bikher—supports you on your Yiddish journey. Take the dive and open up one of the links above! If you are curious about getting your hands on a physical copy, shoot us an email at [email protected] or place an order here. Leyent gezunterheyt!
—The 2022–23 bibliography fellows (Caleb, Charlotte, and Joey)