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What is Yiddishkeit?


“Yiddishkeit” means “Jewishness”, i.e., a “Jewish way of life”. It encapsulates the expressed culture or folk practices of Yiddish speaking Jews through humor, klezmer music, ideologies, practices, tradition, and food. In other words, it is the Jewish heritage of Eastern and Central Europe and Russia. Yiddishkeit represents not only the shtetl life of the poor, hungry, and illiterate, but it also represents the life of affluent, educated, and prominent thinkers and scholars—a fact that brought much pride to be called a Yid (a Jew). Yiddishkeit is the path to our current Jewish identity and our connective thread to our Jewish future and creativity. The ability to speak Yiddish is not required to appreciate the spirit of Yiddishkeit.

 “It is common sense that we cannot throw away an entire literature, that we cannot discard a millennium of our history , that we cannot forget or purposely ignore where we have come from and still expect to know who we are and where we may yet go from here.”    Aaron Landsky, founder of the National Yiddish Book Center

In its years of decline, Yiddish culture was more than ever an international culture, a fraternity of survivors across the globe.   Irving Howe (1920 – 1993)

Yiddish wasn’t just words, you see, it was an attitude. It was sweet and sour. It was a shrug and a kiss. It was humility and defiance all in one.   Erica Young, American author (1942 - )

Yiddish is the Robin of languages. It steals from the linguistically rich to give the fledgling poor.  Leo Rosten, American writer (1908 – 1997)


10 Reasons to Learn Yiddish

10. Yiddish is the best way to understand the soul of the Jewish people.

  9. Yiddish allows you to communicate with the past- the dead and the living.

  8. Keeping Yiddish alive is one of the most powerful ways we have to defeat Hitler’s goal of the Final Solution” to eradicate every last vestige of the Jewish people.

  7. Yiddish is the way to enter the doors of a magnificent literature and culture.

  6. Yiddish brings sacred concepts and beautiful traditions down to earth and makes them comprehensible.

  5. Yiddish has profound insights and wisdom that lose a great deal of their power in translation.

  4. Yiddish teaches an optimistic vision that allows us to view the world with joy and with hope.

  3. Yiddish teaches us how to laugh more and how to weep with more feelings.

  2. To know Yiddish is to become an artist with words and a master at describing the foibles, the quirks, and the strengths of human character.

   1. And the number 1 reason for learning Yiddish? It’s the same inimitable two words that serve as the answer to every other question: Why Not?