Isaac Bleaman is taking an old language into the modern age with his digital Yiddish enterprise.
Raised in a Conservative, non-Yiddish speaking home in California, Bleaman discovered the language through traditional music and after-school Jewish education programs; his interest grew into a passion.
“I felt like there was a gap in my knowledge,” he says. “Yiddish is intimately connected to Jewish history outside of Israel,” as well as in it.
Now fluent in the language from education at school and academic programs, he has made facilitating growth of Yiddish a personal cause.
Bleaman is currently in his first year of NYU’s linguistic doctoral program (he received his master’s in Yiddish studies at Oxford). But his interests in Yiddish academia extend beyond the mechanics of the language to what makes it personal — its intersection with Jewish culture. It was with this in mind that Bleaman created Leyenzal.org.
Leyenzal is a website that hosts free content for speakers of Yiddish with original online lectures by leading international Yiddish scholars, as well as source texts. Almost exclusively in Yiddish, the site is a chance for new speakers of the mamaloshen to hone their skills, and for those fluent to engage with it on an intellectual level.
The site was also host to what Bleaman calls the first Yiddish webinar, in which about ten speakers of the language from all around the world met in a Google hangout to discuss Yiddish literature, with Yiddish being the only common language for the group.
Bleaman is excited about using the democratizing powers of the Internet for the mamaloshen.
“Yiddish is supposed to belong to everybody,” he says. “You should have the opportunity to learn.”
Music man: Bleaman’s Yiddishkeit intersects with musical background; he sings in a Yiddish choir, and is considering forming a klezmer group (he started one at Stanford, his undergraduate alma mater,) for which he will play violin.