Yiddish in Melbourne
by Freydi Mrocki – Australia - Correspondent for Der Bay
Melbourne has the highest percentage of post- Holocaust Jews outside of Israel. Many who have settled in this city are of Polish background.
The kindergarden and primary-school children learn Yiddish naturally because their parents have chosen this place for their education. These days, fewer are choosing the college because of the Yiddish, but for other reasons: proximity, reputation, lower school fees, secular Jewish approach heymishkayt. Many parents wish there was more Hebrew and less Yiddish.
The youngsters enjoy singing, celebrating the festivals and performing in Yiddish. I think there is also a comfort and joy in expressing Jewish identity via Yiddish. The older students are exposed to a more text-based Yiddish education.
What would be great would be to come up with a reasonable and appropriate way to teach Yiddish grammar subtly to children in grades 5 and 6.
High-school students choose Yiddish for a variety of reasons, some to continue their primary school Yiddish learning with friends they made in primary school
Those who choose it as a first time study may do
so because they are required by their school to choose a language and they prefer Yiddish because it means more to them than French, Spanish or Japanese; often their parents and grandparents know some or much Yiddish and they want to "join the club". Others are only looking to choose a language for a year and Yiddish is seen as more relevant and/or a 'soft option'.
As they advance, these students begin to love
the humour and wisdom found in many Yiddish stories. They enjoy learning curses, proverbs and folk songs. As their oral communication and writing improves, they feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. At all times they appreciate their people's history, heritage, culture, folk beliefs and different perspective than the one offered to them in their religious classes, Jewish studies classes or at their Zionist youth groups.
Since many of our students hear Yiddish at home or an English that is peppered with Yiddish, people speaking Yiddish on the streets, or grandparents that use it liberally, Yiddish has meaning to them. As generations die out, the youth in Melbourne are becoming more removed from Yiddish and are seeing it as less relevant. They refer to it as a
'dead' or 'dying’ language.
Of course, among the Charedim this is not so. Yiddish is being taught to students at Chabad Lubavitch and Adass Yisroel (Satmar) schools
at high-school level.
I know less about this group, although I do teach two university students privately. They have chosen to learn Yiddish as a hobby—a once-a-week lesson. Just like the high-school students (those with a positive attitude) they love to learn curses, Yiddish wisdom and songs. They enjoy broadening their vocabulary and knowledge so they can talk with grandparents and stump (i.e. confound) their parents, and also so they can finally understand the bits and pieces of Yiddish they have heard around them since childhood. Since these two students come from Modern Orthodox homes, they also appreciate the language and culture from the perspective of Jewish identity and expression.
For some it is a sense of nostalgia, for others it is
to fill the void and regret that they didn't learn or even rejected learning Yiddish from their parents or grandparents when they were younger. For others, they want to sweep away the cobwebs and refresh their Yiddish knowledge. For still others, it is something they have always wanted to do and now they have the opportunity to do it. Some like structured classes with formal grammar, while others like a more informal approach— a shpatsir, kave grupe, Yidish sof vokh, or gezang ovnt.
We have groups who meet in leyen krayzn and also have lessons at advanced university level taught by a university lecturer at her home. Here we use serious texts as springboard for our grammar, vocabulary, learning hebraisms, etc.
Editor’s note: Freydl is active in messaging to the new International Association of Yiddish Teachers.
Klezmania is Freydl and Lionel Mrocki’s klezmer band. Freydl can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org