Adventures in Yiddishland

Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language and Culture

JEFFREY SHANDLER
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 278
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppkmf
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  • Book Info
    Adventures in Yiddishland
    Book Description:

    Adventures in Yiddishlandexamines the transformation of Yiddish in the six decades since the Holocaust, tracing its shift from the language of daily life for millions of Jews to what the author terms a postvernacular language of diverse and expanding symbolic value. With a thorough command of modern Yiddish culture as well as its centuries-old history, Jeffrey Shandler investigates the remarkable diversity of contemporary encounters with the language. His study traverses the broad spectrum of people who engage with Yiddish-from Hasidim to avant-garde performers, Jews as well as non-Jews, fluent speakers as well as those who know little or no Yiddish-in communities across the Americas, in Europe, Israel, and other outposts of "Yiddishland."

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93177-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. AUTHOR’S NOTE
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. INTRODUCTION: POSTVERNACULARITY, OR SPEAKING OF YIDDISH
    (pp. 1-30)

    “I’m writing a book about Yiddish after World War II,” I tell a colleague, whom I’ve known for years, when she asks what I’ve been doing lately. “It’s a sad story,” she replies. The fact is, I don’t quite agree with her, though I refrained from saying so then. Hers is a response I hear often, especially from people who, like this colleague, are a generation older than I am and are native speakers of Yiddish. Their sense of its trajectory is different from mine, and while I have developed my own understanding of Yiddish language and culture, it is...

  7. CHAPTER ONE IMAGINING YIDDISHLAND
    (pp. 31-58)

    The postvernacular mode prompts us to rethink the possibilities of language. The implications of this exercise are of particular importance to Yiddish, since ideas about what roles it might play in Jewish culture shifted radically during the past century. Once widely regarded as a central force, in mid-century Yiddish was abruptly displaced. Other linguistic prospects—especially the establishment of the State of Israel, with Hebrew as its official language, and the greater importance of English as a language for Jewish culture internationally—just as swiftly came to the fore. In the post–World War II era, testing this new configuration...

  8. CHAPTER TWO BEYOND THE MOTHER TONGUE
    (pp. 59-91)

    A friend of mine once told me that for years she had wanted to learn to speak Yiddish. Several times she had asked an aunt of hers, who was a native speaker and active in New York’s Yiddish cultural scene, to give her lessons—but the aunt kept putting her off. Finally, my friend offered to do her aunt a favor, provided she would give her Yiddish lessons in exchange. The favor done, my friend asked her aunt to hold up her end of their agreement. And so the aunt invited her into the kitchen, where they sat down at...

  9. CHAPTER THREE FOUNDED IN TRANSLATION
    (pp. 92-125)

    This piquant observation by Yiddish literary critic Shmuel Niger (né Charney; one language was apparently not enough for him even nominally) suggests that code-switching—moving back and forth between one language and another—constitutes a definitional Jewish activity. Indeed, most Jewish cultures have routinely entailed code-switching, not only as practitioners shift from one task to another but also within their performance of a single activity, be it devotional study, prayer, writing belles lettres or personal correspondence, singing songs, relating folktales—even in daily conversation. In the course of these language shifts, translating from one language to another occurs regularly—sometimes...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR YIDDISH AS PERFORMANCE ART
    (pp. 126-154)

    I am at a conference held in an American city in the early 1990s. In the lobby of the building where the proceedings are about to begin, participants mill about, chatting. Among them are two people who greet each other in Yiddish:

    Sholem-aleykhem!” [Hello!]

    Aleykhem-sholem!” [Hello!]

    Nu, vos makhstu?” [So, how are you?]

    Gants gut, un du?” [Pretty good, and you?], and so on.

    Why does this conversation catch my ear—and eye? There is nothing extraordinary about the content of the exchange; it is a very routine give-and-take of salutations. This is a Jewish academic conference, where Yiddish language,...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE ABSOLUT TCHOTCHKE
    (pp. 155-176)

    On a shelf in my office I’ve accumulated an assortment of objects—coffee mugs, refrigerator magnets, lapel buttons, knickknacks, board games, toys, snack canisters, cocktail napkins, greeting cards, and other items—all bearing one or more Yiddish words. Nearby sits a stack of comic Yiddish-English dictionaries; in a drawer is a growing collection of T-shirts also featuring one or more Yiddishisms. Friends and relatives have given me some of these objects; I’ve come across others in stores, catalogs, and online, and I’ve encountered more such items in the homes and offices of colleagues and acquaintances.

    One might easily dismiss these...

  12. CHAPTER SIX WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE?
    (pp. 177-202)

    Hovering around postvernacular Yiddish in all its manifestations are questions regarding the language’s viability. More often than not, contemporary Yiddish culture is assessed—even by some of its champions—according to the widespread notion that the language is moribund. So pervasive is this notion that at the turn of the twenty-first century it also haunts those, such as S. L. Wisenberg—a young American author studying Yiddish in continuing-education classes—who are seeking ways to engage with the language and make it part of their lives.¹ In response, some Yiddishists—among them David Braun, who taught Yiddish language at Harvard...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 203-242)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 243-263)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 264-264)