The Story of Yiddish: How a Mish-Mosh of Languages Saved the Jews

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The Story of Yiddish: How a Mish-Mosh of Languages Saved the Jews Neal Karlen is available to download

The Story of Yiddish: How a Mish-Mosh of Languages Saved the Jews
Neal Karlen
Type: eBook
Released: 2009
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Page Count: 337
Format: pdf
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0060837128
ISBN-13: 9780060837129
From Publishers Weekly Karlen (Shanda: The Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew) offers an often pleasant but clunkily written romp through Yiddish and Yiddishkeit (the culture of Ashkenazic Jews) in America.The Story of Yiddish: ... Textbook There are some colorful anecdotes about figures as varied as Bob Dylan, the philanthropist Jacob Schiff and the contemporary Hasidic rabbi Manis Friedman, as well as an introduction to many useful witty Yiddish phrases (the literal Yiddish for she's good in bed is she knows how to dance the mattress polka). But, oy, are there problems. The book is replete with repetition of anecdotes and observations, and there are errors of fact (Moses Mendelssohn never converted to Christianity, nor does the Bible say, you shouldn't cook beef in its own calf's milk). Worse, Karlen provides cartoon versions of Jewish history, shtetl life and scholarship. He makes only a thin case for the thesis stated in his subtitle. As an introduction to Yiddish, Michael Wex's Born to Kvetch is not only more erudite but funnier as well. (Apr. 8) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the edition. Review In this witty, lively, thoroughly engaging, and thought-provoking book that is part memoir, part anecdote, and part linguistic history, literary journalist Karlen captures the impressive and exhaustive history of Yiddish as a language: how it came about, its metamorphosis throughout the ages, and its place in Jewish culture and history. He also attempts answers to larger philosophical and cultural questions, e.g., "What constitutes 'Yiddishkeit'?" examining a dazzling array of personages through the alembic of Yiddish language and culture to help define this ever-changing, all-inclusive, and somewhat amorphous concept. He devotes much of the text to examples with translations from Yiddish, how Yiddish is distinguishable and distinctive from German, and the sometimes uncomfortable relationship between the two. In addition to being a wonderful popular history of Yiddish, this is an accurate (albeit abbreviated) account of how Yiddish found legitimacy in America and a place in the academy that manages to capture both the linguistic diversity of Yiddish and the cultural diversity of Yiddishkeit. With an exhaustive, well-documented bibliography; essential reading for anyone interested in Jewish culture and the Yiddish language. Highly recommended for all libraries -- Library Journal, April 1, 2008Neal Karlen's earlier book Shanda: The Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew bravely explores the author's attempt to come to terms with a dizzying array of personal demons - his relationship with his stern and demanding father, his troubles with women, his complicated attachment and simultaneous distaste for Judaism and the emotional fallout from his youthful decision to abandon his plans to become a rabbi. Karlen fled his comfortable upper-middle-class Minnesota home in his early 20s and landed in New York, where he spent two decades writing for various magazines and newspapers. He endured a brief disastrous marriage to a non-Jewish girl, much to the chagrin of his parents. Later on, he suffered a serious leg injury that finally drove him back home to Minnesota to nurse his wounds and to try to figure out why at 40 he still seemed so depressed - lost among both Jews and Gentiles. The reader senses that there has always been an uncomfortable edge to Karlen: He seems to have been born a skeptic and a rebel, a rabble-rouser and a maverick. Surely this temperament interfered with the expected Orthodoxy and obedience of his youth. Karlen was also always smitten with American popular culture at large; he was overeager to fit in and win the approval of others. A random encounter with Rabbi Manis Friedman, the rabbi famous for bringing Bob Dylan back into the fold after his flirtation with born-again Christianity, proved life-changing for Karlen. The two began meeting and studying together. Rabbi Friedman told the eager but anxious Karlen a story that resonated with him. He said that in addition to the four sons who come to the Pessah table, there is a fifth one who we don't usually talk about since he has left the fold. Friedman described this metaphorical son lovingly as "a Jew, and he has to be considered as such. We have to reach out to him and get him to come to the Seder table. What part of him refuses to come to the Seder? His Jewish part. His Jewish soul is objecting because the Judaism that is being offered to him does not live up to his expectations. What he wants is a better Judaism, not no Judaism. The lost son is warning us that we're drifting, becoming too petty, too insular, or simply too bland. His Jewish soul is asking us to listen." Karlen's Jewish soul is evident on every page of his new book, an interesting and quirky and sometimes irreverent look at how the Yiddish language has survived all over the world. He describes Yiddish as trying "to live life as a mentsh, a human being, not a vilde chaya, a wild beast." There is an intuitive code of proper conduct imbued in Yiddishkeit that teaches us lessons about how we should treat ourselves, our neighbors, other Jews and society at large. The author is moved by Yiddish's tenderness and warmth and wisdom and irony, and its uncanny adaptability. Karlen asks, "And how does one describe the almost ineffable sounds and rhythms of a language as beautiful as a minor-key sonata, and as bitter as three yentas gossiping about everybody else's business; a language seemingly frightened by mankind, yet powerful enough to rib God, as if He's a poker buddy, for His never-ending failures?" The author demonstrates how Yiddish often expresses for us what we can't, how it absorbs the pathos and obsessions and neuroses and compulsions of a people that have been tossed on their backs over and over again, and how it anchors them to focus on the most pressing of questions: "Es iz gut fur yidn?" (Is it good for the Jews?). Karlen's own introduction to Yiddish began early. The youngest of three, he would sit in between his siblings on long car rides listening to his parents speak in English and then glide into Yiddish, their secret language that often led to laughter and strange glances between them. He would struggle to decipher what they were saying. His mother came from a bilingual home, but his father's parents, who had been the only ones in their extended families to escape the Nazis in Slutsk, spoke only Yiddish. Mostly, he remembers an early infatuation with words that began with "sh." There were so many of them: "Shmuck, Shmeckel, Shlemiel, Shlimazel, Shmatte, Shmendrick, Shmeggege, Shlock, Shlockmeister, Shmo, Shtup, Shmutz, Shnook, Shnoz, Shlep, Shlepper, Shiksa, Shagetz, Sha! Shabbos Goy, Shamus, Shloomp, Shlub, Shmeer, Shnapps, Shtunk. Shtick, Shvitzer, Shanda, Shvantz, Shmooze, Shikker." The book researches the development of Yiddish literature and theater in America beginning in the 1890s when the great men of Yiddish letters first printed their work in the Yiddish Forverts. The Forverts appealed to both scholars and layman alike and featured articles on family matters and sophisticated commentary on the emerging ideologies of the time. Karlen notes that in 1939 75 percent of the world's Jewish population spoke Yiddish as a first or only language; Hitler murdered half of them. What brings an author to his subject? Karlen's earlier memoir offers us some telling clues. Karlen rejected the Orthodoxy of his childhood home and mentions being disturbed by the status-seeking Jews he remembers from his high-school days who seemed more concerned with materialistic pursuit than spiritual transcendence. When he met Friedman, he began to explore his own heart and find a solid relationship with Judaism that suited him, not the rabbi's or his father's but his own, and in doing so he began to heal himself. This book feels as if it is his valentine to Friedman and we readers are the lucky beneficiaries of his journey. -- The Jerusalem Post, May 4, 2008New York Times contributor Karlen (Shanda: The Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jews, 2004, etc.) proffers an idiosyncratic take on Yiddish, the heroic vernacular that gets no respect. This wide-ranging survey rejoices in Jewishness rather than Judaism. The author sporadically quotes Lenny Bruce, Isaac Bashevis Noebl speeches and Three Stooges movie to support his notions. He attempts with easygoing chutzpah (you know, "nerve") to draw apt lessons in linguistics and philology from history, philosophy, sports, literature and showbiz in the old world s as well as here in the goldene medine ("golden country.") He comes to praise, not to bury a language often lamented as moribund. Yiddish, the lingua franca and soul music of Jews around the world and soul music of Jews around the world for a millennium is ever-dying and evergreen, Karlen reports. -- Kirkus Reviews, Jan. 15, 2008The Story of Yiddish is a book [for] historical/hysterical stories of Jews as they wandered through the world, speaking the only language that tied them together....The story reference both "the shtetl's untutored shoveling drek" and the famous: actors, comedians, and authors. (You will discover that Steve Mcqueen's first speaking on the stage was a sentence in Yiddish.) One chapter, Yiddish: Or Envy in America [its title an homage to Cynthia Ozick) is devoted to hatred of I.B. Singer by almost everybody else who wrote in Yiddish. You perhaps will...even learn some Yiddish phrases to ridicule your enemies. Karlen includes a good number of Yiddish jokes, all translated into English, to make his numerous points. Bibliograph, index, notes. -- Jewish Book World, Spring Issue, Spring 2008This lighthearted and irrevert history of Yiddish depicts the language as an irreverent history of Yiddish depicts the language as an unlikely survivor of the ages. Karlen charts Yiddish from its beginnings as minor dialect in the elevent century through its peak in World War II and revival in recent years. -- Pakn Tregr--The Magazine of the National Yiddish Book Center, Spring 2008 issue. --This text refers to the edition.

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