[Mendele] Mendele Vol.20.005

Victor Bers victor.bers at yale.edu
Sun Sep 12 09:14:08 EDT 2010

Mendele: Yiddish literature and language

Contents of Vol. 20.005
September 12, 2010

1) ayngeshpart (Irwin Mortman)
2) ayngeshpart (Leyzer Gillig)
3) ayngeshpart (Lillian Leavitt)
4) ayngeshpart (Martin Jacobs)
5) ayngeshpart (Maurice Wolfthal)
6) The Popular Language that Few Bother to Learn (Zachary Sholem Berger)

Date: August 25, 2010
Subject: ayngeshpart

In my family and many other families, "ayngeshpart" means stubborn.

Irwin Mortman
Date: August 25, 2010
Subject: ayngeshpart

I knew the word "ayngeshpart" as meaning "imprisoned." In that context, at 
least, it is not at all a localized word. I don't think I ever heard it 
used as meaning "stubborn" but I can see the connection.

The word I would use for "stubborn person" would be "akshn." The noun form 
"stubbornness" is "akshones" and the adjectival form is "akshonesdik."

Leyzer Gillig
Date: August 25, 2010
Subject: ayngeshpart

In response to Nicole Taylor's inquiry about "angeshpart": yes, my family 
used it often talking about being stubborn or set into a particular 
position.  Yes, standard Yiddish would use "ayngeshpart." Another word to 
mean the same would be "Farakshent," (accent on second syllable), with the 
same Central Polish and Standard Yiddish

Lillian Leavitt
Date: August 25, 2010
Subject: ayngeshpart

Weinreich's Modern Yiddish-English Dictionary: "stubborn, obstinate, 

Martin Jacobs
Date: August 25, 20100
Subject: ayngeshpart

In response to Nicole Taylor's query about "angeshpart," this was the word 
- and the pronunciation - that my parents used to mean "stubborn." I don 
't know how "local" this usage was, but they were from Buczacz, then in 
Pol and, now in Ukraine, long ago in Galicia under the Austrians.

Maurice Wolfthal
Date: September 7, 2010
Subject: The Popular Language that Few Bother to Learn

Will Yiddish scholarship, the eternal victim, fall prey to lackluster 
language learning?

Twenty years ago there were four American universities with Yiddish 
programs: the Jewish Theological Seminary, Harvard, Columbia, and UCLA. 
Now there are more than a dozen. From Michigan to Maryland, from Chicago 
to Santa Cruz, students are learning about Yiddish literature and culture. 
Interest in Yiddish is growing even as its speakers
(outside Charedi enclaves) continue to decline in numbers.  But interest 
in the topic of Yiddish does not translate into a stable foundation for 
teaching the language, which makes some scholars nervous about the future 
of Yiddish scholarship.

At most institutions, Yiddish is taught by part-timers, graduate students, 
or faculty with other commitments. Given economic constraints, and the 
second-class status that Yiddish enjoys, even experienced teachers can't 
be sure of stable employment. Miriam Isaacs, the only full-time Yiddish 
instructor at the University of Maryland, was
recently fired. "I taught Yiddish there for 15 years," says Isaac, "and no 
one ever tried to find me a permanent position. I was always a visitor, 
from Yiddishland, from Mars, a lecturer from year to year." Hayim Lapin, 
director of Jewish studies at the University, says that the issue was not 
Yiddish per se, but the elimination of all visiting faculty as a part of 
budget cuts. "We were not opposed to Yiddish as a field, but in the short 
term other priorities came first: Israel Studies and Bible."

At the University of Kansas, a Jewish studies professor has tried to offer 
Yiddish for three years but has gotten no takers. At Brandeis, Yiddish 
language and culture will soon be eliminated as a minor (as will Hebrew 
language), though elimination of Yiddish courses is not currently planned. 
At the American Jewish University (formerly the University of Judaism) 
Yiddish is not offered.

Statistics show no mass interest in Yiddish language learning at the 
university level. Figures from the Modern Language Association for 2006 
(the only year available) show 969 students enrolled in Yiddish courses 
nationally (about a tenth of those studying Hebrew, albeit somewhat 
greater than the 750 or so students studying, say, Armenian)
This number also includes 400 students at the Rabbinical College of 
Monsey, where administrator Adam Berger seemed bemused when asked if 
Yiddish was taught there. "We learn our shiur in Yiddish. We speak 
Yiddish," he said. "We don't teach Yiddish."

In addition, there are no formal standards or central certifying authority 
for Yiddish teachers. Little formal training in Yiddish language 
instruction has been available since 1987, when the Yiddish Teachers' 
Seminar (a graduate-level institution in New York) shut down. Thus 
consistency is lacking, as well as consensus about what kind of language 
should be taught: an academic literary Yiddish spoken by a few thousand 
today and necessary for the study of Yiddish literature; or a "Chasidic 
Yiddish"? (Alternatively, says author Michael Wex, "candidates wearing 
sandwich boards reading Lebn zol medinas yisroel should be dropped off in 
Williamsburg. Those who talk their way out, pass the test.")

Why is Yiddish language learning not more popular or established? Perhaps, 
says Ruth Wisse of Harvard, it is because Jews are insufficiently engaged 
in their own heritage. "Were Jews to become as numerous as the Chinese and 
as aggressive as Islamists, Hebrew and Yiddish might become the most 
popular languages in higher education." Wex says learning about Yiddish is 
more popular than learning the language itself "for the same reason that 
there are more boxing fans than boxers: it's difficult, occasionally 
painful, gains the practitioner neither status nor respect and is not 
needed to live a full and satisfying life."

There is understandably a note of panic among some scholars when you ask 
them about the future of Yiddish instruction in American universities. 
Justin Cammy of Smith College is among them: "We are in grave danger 
within the next 10-20 years of losing qualified Yiddish language teachers. 
[In part] it has to do with the lack of funding for
serious Yiddish teacher training. It is critical that some institution, 
organization, or funder take this on as its central mission. Nothing would 
serve the field of Yiddish more and ensure its survival that the focused 
training of Yiddish language teachers."

If Yiddish language instruction in the United States is not stable, 
perhaps its advocates could learn from the example of Hebrew? Certainly 
the number of students in Hebrew courses is on the rise. But the quality 
of Hebrew language instruction in universities, as well as the connection 
between day school Hebrew and university Hebrew, is not on the communal 
radar as a concern. None of the major "incubator" organizations have 
awarded grants to organizations concerned with language teaching or 
learning, whether in Yiddish or Hebrew. Donald Sylvan, the director of 
JESNA, the major advocacy organization for
Jewish education in North America, agrees that Hebrew is important, but 
"segregating" Hebrew education from the rest of Jewish education might not 
the best way to improve language proficiency.

Yiddishists might envy the position of Hebrew, but at least as far as 
language instruction in the United States, they are in similar straits. 
Perhaps this is a matter of priorities. Wex
gain: "If even a fraction of the money currently used to send teenagers on 
free trips to Israel...were used to subsidize free Jewish 
education--ideally in both Hebrew and Yiddish-- perhaps we'd be able to 
give our youth something more substantial than a chance to get laid for 

If cultural literacy in Yiddish (or Hebrew, for that matter) is out of 
reach of all but a diminishing number of American Jews, perhaps 
translation is the answer? The New Yiddish Library, hosted by the Yale 
University Press, aimed to fill this gap, but will soon cease publishing 
new titles; the books, says Wisse (a member of the editorial board, along 
with Cammy), "have not yet made their way into the life stream of American 
culture." The highly regarded translators of a previous generation 
languish in nursing homes or have passed away.

"We have to be realistic," says Cammy, almost wistfully. "In the context 
of contemporary world culture, Yiddish is not a significant player. ... 
The kind of undergraduate student who will want to learn Yiddish just to 
be able to read Yiddish literature in the original is quite special." It 
could be that in the not-so-distant future, Yiddish scholarship will be 
left to those autodidacts who find their own way to the language, despite 
the lack of communal support.

Zackary Sholem Berger
End of Mendele Vol. 20.005

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