Yiddish Ithaca

I rented a meeting room in the library and put up flyers. Monday evening is our first meeting.

“Yiddish Ithaca” may turn out to be a reading circle with four members, or it may turn out to be a lively conversation group with a dozen, or it could someday morph into a more serious organization, promoting Yiddish learning through classes and cultural events in central New York.

Now, I would be perfectly happy with any of this. If there are four people in Ithaca who want to read a Yiddish word together, I will be thrilled to have the company. All I want is to keep learning, and learning goes best in connection with other human beings. And if there is not even that critical seed wanting to give this a go, I am willing to say, “I tried,” and turn my attention elsewhere.

But, what would make me distinctly unhappy, is if there are in fact people in Ithaca, New York or nearby, who would love to read Yiddish, or to speak Yiddish, who never find out about it. If they never find out about it, they will not come, and if they do not come, the group will not form.

So help me out. If you know anyone in Ithaca who might know anyone in Ithaca who might want this, please tell them about it. Here’s the flyer with the details:

yiddish-ithaca-flyerFeel free to share it, or to put people in touch with me directly. There’s also a facebook group and an event page. Any way you can think of to spread the word, I would appreciate it.

Jonathan Boyarin at Cornell, who is rooting for this to work, reminded me that “Yeder onheyb iz shver” (All beginnings are hard). It is a line from the folk song Oyfn Pripetchik, which has been ringing in my ear since I received that encouraging email.

Just last semester I learned two interesting things about that song. First, it is a ‘folksong’ composed by a known author (Mark Warshavsky) at a known time (the second half of the nineteenth century). Second, the line quoted above is itself a quote, from Rashi, who was born nearly a thousand years ago. In other words, culture does not just ‘arise’, but is created by individuals. Some practices that seem very old are recent innovations, and all ‘innovations’ have roots stretching back father than we can even imagine.

The song is about children gathering in a kheyder, a little one-room schoolhouse, to begin a life of learning. The pripetchik is a hearth. Surrounded by the harsh cold, it created a small heated space in which it was possible to learn. But I learned my little tidbits about that song in a Workmen’s Circle class on the internet, from a teacher over 5000 miles away, in Buenos Aires. Now that is a real innovation! The world is one kheyder now. No one need be quite as limited by the place where they happen to find themselves.

And yet, nothing takes the place of physical presence of human beings in each other’s company. Monday evening. Seven O’Clock.


2 thoughts on “Yiddish Ithaca

  1. I saw the Ithaca Times notice too late to attend the meeting last Monday. Will there be another one?
    I don’t speak Yiddish but I grew up hearing it. The group sounds like something I might be interested in.


    • Hello, E. W.
      Yes, there will be another meeting, again at the TCPL, on Monday, September 26.
      “Beginners” are encouraged to come at 6:45 for a quick intro language lesson.
      The full group will start at 7:15.


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