Saturday, June 22, 2024

Parlez-Vous Yiddish?

By Sherri Stewart

From the time we were in grade school, we learned that America is a breadbasket, which is why the English language is so hard for foreigners to learn as a second language. French, German, and Spanish are the major contributors to the English language, but there are other influences as well. Who hasn’t used the words klutz, Oy veh, schlep, schmooze, chutzpah, mensch, tchotchke, nosh, and mazel tov? Yiddish words are fun to say, and they carry a bit of attitude, but where did Yiddish come from?

Literally, Yiddish means “Jewish.” Linguistically, it refers to the language spoken by Ashkenazi Jews — Jews from Central and Eastern Europe and their descendants. Though its basic vocabulary and grammar come from medieval West German, Yiddish blends many languages including German, Hebrew, Aramaic, and various Slavic and Romance languages. In Ashkenazi societies, Hebrew was the language of the Bible and prayer, Aramaic was the language of learning, but Yiddish was the language of everyday life. Scholars refer to this as the internal trilingualism of Ashkenaz. Though they vary in sound and use, all three languages are written in the same alphabet.

In the early days of the Soviet Union (1922 until the mid-1930s), the Communist government supported Yiddish schools, theater, research, and literature — as long as they were cultural expressions rather than religious. The Soviet support given to Yiddish and the respect shown to Yiddish writers led many around the world to see the Soviet project as a hopeful harbinger for the future of the Jewish language. 

On the eve of World War II, there were roughly 13 million Yiddish speakers in the world. However, the Holocaust destroyed many of them. During the purges of 1937, many Yiddish writers and leaders were arrested and executed at the  orders of Joseph Stalin, who viewed Yiddish as anti-Soviet. In 1952, the remaining Yiddish writers in the Soviet Union were brutally murdered in what is known today as the Night of the Murdered Poets.

In America after the war, Jewish parents were often hesitant to speak Yiddish with their children. Though there were a few Yiddish schools in the post-war period, after-school programs and camps could not compete with the intense pressure to Americanize children from other countries. Yiddish began to take on a negative image, and its use was associated with failure to climb up the American socioeconomic ladder of success. 

Yiddish Vaudeville was one way early twentieth-century immigrants celebrated their roots. Its venues included music halls, variety houses, and roof gardens. Vaudeville’s introduction in general preceded full-scale Yiddish theater in America. Vaudeville ranged from individual songs, song-and-dance routines, and comic monologues to skits, revues, and even one-act sketches and playlets. More recently, Yiddish has been seriously studied as an academic discipline, and Yiddish literature has been recognized for its cultural value, exemplified by Isaac Bashevis Singer who received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Selah Award finalist Sherri Stewart loves a clean novel, sprinkled with romance and a strong message that challenges her faith. She spends her working hours with books—either editing others’ manuscripts or writing her own. Her passions are traveling to the settings of her books and sampling the food. She traveled to Paris for this book, and she works daily on her French and German although she doesn’t need to since everyone speaks English. A widow, Sherri lives in Orlando with her lazy dog, Lily. She shares recipes, tidbits of the book’s locations, and other authors' books in her newsletter.
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Secrets Dark and Deep

TV anchor, Maddie Caldecott, has a secret so deeply buried within that she doesn’t remember it. But the man called Absalom knows her secret, and his threats to exact his revenge are becoming more and more intrusive. As an investigative reporter, Maddie can dig out the truth of any story, but she can’t unearth the secret she’s blocked until it’s too late.

Police Detective, Brody Messner, is at his wits end. How can he protect Maddie if she resists his every suggestion? His need to protect her has become personal. From Orlando to Z├╝rich, he follows her, trying to stay one step ahead of her assailant—all of his notes to her, and the song.


  1. Thank you for posting today. It must be so hard for immigrants to remember their cultural heritage and yet celebrate their American life. I didn't know about Yiddish vaudeville. Very interesting. And your book sounds awesome.

  2. Thanks, Connie. It's one of the great things about America is our shared heritage, sprinkled with the variety of cultures we inherited from our families.