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Behind the Headlines the Sound of Yiddish

The sound of Yiddish has filled the halls of the King David Hotel as some 500 delegates have arrived here for the first World Conference in Israel for Yiddish and Jewish Culture which opens tomorrow and runs through Thursday. The conference hopes to stem the decline of Yiddish in Israel and abroad.

Meyer Bass, secretary of the American committee for the conference, said he expects the conference to give an impetus to Yiddish research and studies in many countries. “There are millions of Jews who speak the language in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Australia and even Israel,” Bass said. “There is a Jewish culture of which Yiddish is part and parcel. As a matter of fact it is a culture of 1000 years of Jewishness in Europe.”

Bass noted that there are some 40 colleges and universities where Yiddish is taught in the U.S. and the need is for more teachers and librations. He said he hopes the conference will draw up plans for teachers seminars education systems and a Yiddish theater. “If there are plans, I am sure funds will be available to carry them out,” he said.

Dr. Judah J. Shapiro, president of the Labor Zionist Alliance in the United States and another member of the large U.S. delegation, said he sees the conference as recognition given to Yiddish culture by its sister culture, Hebrew and by Israel.

CHANGE OF ATTITUDE FORECAST

Noting that world Jewry has placed Israel on the top of its priorities, Shapiro stressed that cultural survival must be regarded as the next priority. He said the centrality of Israel creates a situation that world Jewry will take up any hint from Jerusalem.

“The conference in Jerusalem, sanctioned by the Minister of Culture of Israel, is apt to bring about a change of attitude toward Yiddish,” Shapiro said. “Jerusalem has to be the basis for all activities of Yiddish.” He called on the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency, which are interested in promoting Jewish education in the diaspora, to provide teachers, typesetters, secretaries and librarians “who can be sent to Jewish communities as shlichim.”

Shapiro said he wants the conference to bring about a recognition among world Jewry that the Israeli cultural leadership supports the Yiddish culture, “We want the conference to set up plans for the translation of Yiddish literature into English, Spanish and other languages so that people will understand the Jewish life in Eastern Europe through the generations,” he declared.

TOOL AGAINST ASSIMILATION

Itzhak Korn, head of the Israeli branch of the World Jewish Congress and head of the organizing committee for the conference on Yiddish, said he hopes this week’s event will strengthen Yiddish culture throughout the world, bring nearer the cultures of Yiddish and Hebrew, and set up plans for strengthening Jewish education. He said he regards it as an important sign that the Minister of Culture has included Yiddish as a language to be studied in Israel’s secondary schools.

Korn also wants the conference to establish a national Yiddish theater centered in Israel but performing throughout the world, and wants to increase academic research in Yiddish culture. He said Yiddish should become once again the major tool to help fight against assimilation.

The struggle to retain the Yiddish language and its cultural ramifications was dealt a body blow with the massacre of European Jewry during World War II and the suppression generally of Jewish culture both Yiddish and Hebrew — in Eastern Europe under the Soviet and Soviet-sponsored regimes.”

Yiddish had been dying in many countries especially in the United States, because it was viewed as a badge of the immigrant. In order to better participate in their new homes, the immigrants sought to speak the dominant language and, thus, failed to impart their mother tongue to their offspring. Even in Israel, Yiddish has long been viewed condescendingly as the “language of the golah.”

The three major sponsors of the conference — the Yiddish Writers Union in Israel, the Yiddish Culture Committee in Israel and the WZO’s cultural department — all see it as a major turning point in Hebrew-Yiddish relations. It may mark an official end to the long war here between Yiddish and Hebrew. The delegates, who have come thousands of miles to attend the conference, deeply hope that the State of Israel will now provide a helping hand for Yiddish, for the preservation of the Jewish people and for the preservation of a rich heritage of a thousand years.

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