Forward Thinking

Yiddish 4.0

By Boris Sandler

  • Print
  • Share Share
nate lavey
Boris Sandler

What mazel! Last week, Yiddishists round the world woke up to find an article by Joseph Berger about the Forverts — in the New York Times, no less — entitled: “For Yiddish A Fresh Presence Online”.

The next day, a Hebrew translation of the article appeared in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, with a slightly different headline: “Will Yiddish be Revived through the Internet?” Basically the same story, but with a more skeptical twist.

Reuters and the Columbia Journalism Review also published pieces about the new daily Forverts, which you can find online at yiddish.forward.com.

So what’s the big deal? After all, the Forverts has had a website since 1999. In fact, the Yiddish language has felt very much at home on the web for years, coining new terms for the electronic revolution (e.g. blitspost for email). Even Hasidic users have set up a haymish Yiddish-language community on the internet.

In other words, the virtual world has been hearing Yiddish for quite some time.

On the other hand, let’s enjoy this moment in the limelight — especially since discussions about Yiddish tend too often to veer towards eulogies. For the past 60 years, Yiddish writers have had to contend with the cliched question: “So how long do you think that Yiddish will survive?”

Often, these are the same people whose knowledge of Yiddish literature extends to just two or three writers, and their fluency in the language to roughly five or six words, like latkes, gefilte fish and … schmuck.

Unfortunately, even the erudite field of Yiddish literature isn’t immune from this pessimism. Most university courses date the era of Yiddish literature starting from the diaries of Glikl of Hamelin, a Jewish businesswoman who lived in the late seventeenth century, to the Holocaust, creating the impression that between the Holocaust and today there were, and are, no Yiddish writers.

Ignorance about Yiddish runs deep. The Reuters author defined Yiddish, for example, as “a vibrant German dialect peppered with Hebrew and Slavic words and written in Hebrew letters”.

And yet, this denigration of a language with a world-class literature has become the norm for many journalists, including those of Jewish publications. Even many Jewish intellectuals, experts in science, art, medicine, and leaders in Jewish organizational life, are sadly ignorant about their own national treasure.

Yiddish suffered terribly in the twentieth century, at the hands of our enemies as well as by many Jews (let’s not forget Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who famously remarked that the Yiddish language “grates in my ears”). And yet, we are also graced by the deep appreciation of others, like Israel Prize-winning writer Aharon Appelfeld, who once told me, in fluent Yiddish, that he happily learned the language from two places in Israel: at Communist meetings, and by wandering the streets of the Hasidic neighborhood, Mea Shearim.

Hopefully, the virtual world of the 21st century will provide an easier path for Yiddish. We certainly hope to do our share, by providing the digital daily Forverts with fresh new articles, daily podcasts from Jewish communities round the world, educational and entertaining video programs, and much more — doing everything we can to ensure a bright future, just as our predecessors at the Forverts would have wanted us to do.

Boris Sandler is editor of the Forverts and yiddish.forward.com


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: online, internet, forward, forverts, Yiddish, website

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?








You may also be interested in our English-language newsletters:













We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.