Why Learn Yiddish?

Stories about the many joys, occasional frustrations, and changing nature of learning Yiddish

Why study Yiddish? In this feature, we explore what learning the Yiddish language has meant to some of the people we have interviewed over the years. Why did they decide to learn Yiddish? How did they overcome the challenges of learning the language? And what did Yiddish offer them in the process? The perspectives we have gathered demonstrate the many joys, occasional frustrations, and changing nature of learning Yiddish. 

Studying Yiddish Is Like an Onion

Professor Yechiel Szeintuch, scholar of Yiddish literature, tells the story of the first Japanese student who came to study Yiddish with him, and who compared learning Yiddish to peeling an onion.

Learning Yiddish, First with My Grandfather

Zachary Baker, Reinhard Family Curator of Judaica and Hebraica Collections at Stanford University, describes learning Yiddish with his grandfather’s help.

An Opportunity to Be an Expert

Jessica Kirzane, Yiddish language instructor at the University of Chicago and editor-in-chief of In Geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies, speaks about the joy of studying and researching undiscovered Yiddish authors and thinkers.

We Forget How Hard It Is to Really Learn Yiddish

Paul (Hershl) Glasser, Forverts columnist and former dean of the Max Weinreich Center at YIVO, discusses how hard it is for students of Yiddish to truly master the language today, especially if they don’t live in a Yiddish-speaking community.

Learning Yiddish as a Non-Jew

Satoko Kamoshida, linguist and Yiddish teacher based in Tokyo, describes the process of learning Yiddish without the cultural reference points that come with growing up in a Jewish household.

Learning Yiddish from a Soviet Textbook

Nikolai (Kolya) Borodulin, director of Yiddish programming at the Workers Circle in New York, describes his first Yiddish textbook, which was written in Soviet orthography and did not discuss Jewish history or culture.