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Yiddish Praised for Contribution to Zionist Movement and As a Tool in the Fight Against Assimilation

An overflow crowd of some 2000 persons jammed the Jerusalem Theater yesterday for the opening session of the first World Conference in Israel for Yiddish and Jewish Culture. Every type of Yiddish could be heard–Litvish, Galitzianer, American Yiddish interspersed with English words and Latin American Yiddish with a mixture of Spanish.

President Ephraim Katzir, in a message from Hadassah Hospital where he is recovering from surgery, set the tone for the four-day event by noting that the conference is living evidence of the mutual respect existing today between Hebrew and Yiddish.

He stressed that in Israel, more than anywhere else, Yiddish literature is flourishing with more Yiddish books being printed here than in any other country. One cannot conceal the contributions of Yiddish to Jewish culture, the President said, adding that it was a glorious contribution.

Katzir’s message, like all the addresses at the conference, was in Yiddish. Education and Culture Minister Aharon Yadlin, accompanied by Interior Minister Yosef Burg, Minister-Without-Portfolio Gideon Hausner, Absorption Minister Shlomo Rosen and Labor Minister Moshe Baram, gave the official greetings on behalf of the government.

YIDDISH TAUGHT IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS

The government of Israel must preserve Yiddish along with the other cultures and languages brought to Israel by the various Jewish communities, Yadlin said. He reported that the Ministry of Education has recognized Yiddish as a language in the secondary schools and that some students have taken their matriculation examinations in Yiddish. He said he has asked Habimah, the Israeli national theater, to include Yiddish plays in their performances in Israel and abroad.

Yosef Almogi, chairman of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization Executives, declared that Yiddish was a component in the creation of the Zionist movement and must now stand side-by-side with Hebrew in fighting the increasing waves of assimilation.

Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, president of the American Jewish Congress, told the 500 delegates to the conference that there is an essential need for Jewish content in the lives of Jews. He said the Jewish people cannot permit itself the luxury of giving up any of its creations throughout the centuries. Giving up Sholom Aleichem or Tzeina Reina (the Yiddish book that simplifies halacha for East European women) cannot be tolerated, Hertzberg said, just as Jews cannot give up Yehuda Halevi or the sacred Art of Safad.

VARIOUS CONCERNS, NEEDS AIRED

The Yiddish writers, journalists and actors who spoke today and yesterday gave vent to their feelings of years of discrimination against Yiddish. There was also a group of young writers who spoke against what they termed the Yiddish establishment.

A number of speakers received warm receptions for their thoughtful and incisive presentations, including Mordechai Strigler of New York, the editor of “Yiddishe Kemfer” and a writer for the Jewish Daily Forward, who dealt with the social-humanist tradition in Yiddish literature. Other speakers dealt with the situation of Yiddish culture in the diaspora and current themes and concerns in Yiddish literature.

The conference got down to practical questions today and will continue tomorrow and Thursday at working sessions at the Wise Auditorium at the Hebrew University. There are five committees covering Jewish education, Jewish press, translations to and from Yiddish, the Yiddish theater and plans for strengthening Yiddish culture.

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