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D. B. News Letter

A great deal of Yiddish is spoken in South Africa, but only among the unfashionable classes for unofficial purposes.

Practically no Jew in South Africa speaks Yiddish who was born outside of certain countries in Eastern Europe, or who left those countries before adolescence, or who has had what is known as an “education;” very rarely does a Jew speak Yiddish who is a member of a profession, or who has been admitted into “society.” Moreover, one of the greatest ambitions of any Jew, wherever born and of whatever status, who comes to South Africa, is to learn English; which he has no sooner done to his own satisfaction than he discards Yiddish for any official business or public purpose; when buying or selling, talking over the telephone or shouting across the street, addressing a Barmitzvah party or the Snipishok Benefit Society–he talks English.

Nevertheless, it is true to say that a great deal of Yiddish is spoken in South Africa, for there is a large population of Jews who have come from the Eastern European countries after the onset of adolescence, who speak a language at home, sometimes in the street, and occasionally even in public–that has a system of sounds, a sentence-structure and a spirit of its own. And while this element is diminishing on the one hand by natural decrease, it is increasing on the other by an inflow of immigrants from the Yiddish-speaking centres. If there were no such immigration, Yiddish would very likely die out in the course of the next three generations. For whatever the language of the South African-born Jewish child may be, it is not Yiddish; although perhaps 50 per cent, of the second generation understands the language to some extent, and perhaps 50 per cent, of these again can, upon compulsion, speak a garbled form of it.

When one comes to consider Yiddish as the basis of some culture, even if only to the extent of newspaper publication, one is confronted with a very sad situation indeed; for, from that point of view, Yiddish in South Africa hardly exists.

In the history of the Jews in South Africa, I really believe there have been more than a dozen attempts to have a periodical published in Yiddish. Yet there has been in existence up to now just one paper–a weekly. As for books, the records are not worth looking into. If we again say a dozen, I think we are in no danger of understatement.

There does exist in Johannesburg a Yiddish Literary Society–a very small body, very limited in power and influence, that yet forms a small centre where Yiddish retains a little of its vitality and cultural value. This society has from time to time issued a journal, always a short-lived affair. It is the first issue of a renewed attempt that has stimulated these remarks. The introductory editorial admits that what has been an encouragement is the inflow of immigrants “who cannot and do not desire immediately to cut themselves adrift from what has been part of their life in Eastern Europe.”

The editors state that the journal will keep up contact between South African Jewry and the cultural centres of Yiddish, will discuss specifically Jewish problems, and will reflect the life of all the peoples of South Africa. They consider it of importance that a Yiddish culture should be developed here, and they promise to encourage local literary talent. They are proud of the fact that almost the whole of the first issue consists of local contributions.

In an article, E. M. P. point out that, although we give large sums of money for Jewish causes in other countries, we do next to nothing to foster Jewishness in South Africa itself: “Upon platforms we hear of Jewish interests, the Jewish spirit, Hebrew culture, but at home we speak English, and attach ourselves and our children by a thousand bonds to English culture, English life, and show no signs of Jewishness.”

Another contributor, A. A., shows succintly and clearly the necessity for Jews becoming a productive element in South Africa.

Rabbi Nathan Krass and Samuel Untermyer are among the thirty-six members of the Advisory Board of the Religious Film Trust which will film religious talking pictures in Palestine.

The project is to be non-sectarian it was said, providing films suitable for presentation in churches of all creeds throughout America.

Professional players will be chosen for the principal roles with the cooperation of the Episcopal Actors’ Guild of America, the Catholic Actors’ Guild of America, the Jewish Actors’ Guild and others.

CORRECTION

A typagraphical error occurred in the communication to the editor in Friday’s issue of the Jewish Daily Bulletin from Dr. B. Revel. Dr. Revel is President of the Faculty of the Rabbi Isaac Eichanan Theological Seminary.

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