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San Francisco Gate Article

“Because of the computer, we now have a revival in Yiddish,” said Philip “Fishl” Kutner, a 73-year-old San Mateo retiree who taught himself Yiddish over the past decade.

Kutner, an amateur storyteller, said he set out to learn Gaelic, but when it proved to be too difficult, he turned to Yiddish, which he had spoken as a young child to his European grandmother.

“I realized, I’m Jewish, so I’ll study Yiddish and let the Irish study Gaelic,” said Kutner, who helped establish Yiddish book collections at San Francisco State University and the University of California at Davis.

He said he now devotes at least 12 hours a day to teaching private Yiddish classes, publishing newsletters and compiling an international calendar of events on his Web site — www.derbay.org , “The Golden Gate to the Worldwide Yiddish community.” He said he collects his information through contacts across the United States and in 32 countries.

“If it were a language alone, Yiddish wouldn’t be worth saving,” said Kutner. “But it’s a whole culture.”

Yiddish is not in imminent danger of dying as a spoken language the way Latin did, said Kutner, because it is used every day by members of the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community. People also continue to write books and songs in Yiddish, he said.