Simon Weber editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, the largest and best-known Yiddish newspaper in the world, declared that while Yiddish may be sick it will not die. In fact, Weber, who considers himself a realist, emphasized that Yiddish cannot die.
To ensure the survival of the 1000-year-old language of European Jews, Weber was among the 500 Yiddish writers, Journalist, artists, scholars and lovers of Yiddish, who participated last month in Jerusalem in the first World Conference in Israel for Yiddish and Jewish Culture.
Interviewed at the Forward’s offices in the new Workmen’s Circle building in midtown Manhattan, Weber termed the conference a success because It established the importance of Yiddish to Jewish culture and survival, an importance emphasized by the appearance of top Israeli government and Zionist officials.
But Weber stressed the real work of ensuring the survival of Yiddish is up to each Jewish community. He said that in the United States, a committee on which he is a member will work for spreading Yiddish culture and particularly for teaching Yiddish. He noted that while some 40 universities and colleges offer courses in Yiddish, only the ultra-Orthodox schools teach Yiddish and in fact use it as their basic language. Weber would like to see all Jewish schools teach Yiddish, starting in the elementary grades.
ISRAELI PRESS TREATMENT CRITICIZED
While pleased with the result of the Jerusalem conference, Weber is not happy with the way it was treated by Israel’s Hebrew-language newspapers. He said while some 20 stories were printed, many were derogatory and had headlines such as the “Death of Yiddish” or “Kaddish for Yiddish.”
At the same time, there was a great interest in the conference by Israelis and some 2000 persons jammed the Jerusalem Theater for the opening conference. “I think they are hurting Israel” by their attitude, Weber said of the Hebrew press.
“They can’t forget the competition between Yiddish and Hebrew” when the leaders of the Yishuv and then the State of Israel were trying to ensure that Hebrew would be established as the language of the Jewish State, Weber said. He noted that speakers at the conference proclaimed that the war of languages is over and all, including President Ephraim Katzir, stressed the importance of both Hebrew and Yiddish.
DIASPORA NOT AT FAULT
Weber noted that the English-language Jerusalem Post in an editorial echoed the comments of some Israelis–that the decline of Yiddish was the fault of the Jews in each diaspora country and that now they were coming to Israel for help in a task they should have done for themselves.
The Forward’s editor said this was untrue, that they were not seeking Israel’s help, but were instead helping Israel. He said the conference was held in Jerusalem as a display of solidarity with Israel. After all, he noted, they could have met in New York or Paris at a much loss expanse to the delegates.
Weber said another reason for the attitude of the Hebrew press to the conference is that they cannot forget the old fight with the Bund, when the Jewish socialist group used Yiddish as a weapon against Zionism. But, he noted, today Yiddish speakers are among the leading supporters of Israel, they buy Israel Bonds and contribute heavily to the United Jewish Appeal. He said when he travels to Israel he hears Yiddish spoken by many of the passengers on El Al.
Weber noted that most of the delegates to the conference paid their own way. There were 88 delegates from the United States, the second largest delegation after the 106 Israeli delegates. There were 38 delegates from Canada and 28 from France. Delegations also came from Belgium, Rumania, Sweden, Britain, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Australia and South Africa.
BASIS FOR YIDDISH REVIVAL
Hope for the revival of Yiddish in the United States comes because of the new trend toward cultural pluralism, Weber said. He noted that years ago the pressure was for everyone to be Americanized. “I remember when you rode in a bus or subway and spoke Yiddish, someone would shout, ‘speak American.'”
But he stressed that the survival of Yiddish will not come through translations, although he said translations help spread Jewish culture. He quoted former Premier Golda Meir’s comment to the Yiddish conference: “A child does not cuddle up to its mother in translation.”
Weber also stressed the importance of the Yiddish press. Besides the Forward, there are Yiddish dailies in Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Israel and newspapers in Paris and Sao Paulo.
The Forward, which has always been the largest Yiddish daily
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.