Thai Course Launched

By Ran Ezer

Published March 02, 2007, issue of March 02, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

A new Yiddish course is debuting in an unexpected place: Bangkok.

The Goethe Institute in the Thai capital is offering Yiddish for the first time to graduates of its advanced German-language program, most of whom are Thai Buddhists.

The class, which is being conducted in German and Yiddish, will also teach the basics of Jewish religion, history and culture — from Albert Einstein to David Ben-Gurion to rapper Matisyahu. In addition, students will do field research: visiting one of the country’s Chabad houses to interview rabbis about Jewish life in Thailand, or asking for kosher food in an Israeli restaurant on Bangkok’s Khaosan Road, which is the central locale for most visiting Israeli backpackers, and noting the waiters’ reactions.

The 10-person class, which began last week, is being offered on a trial basis exclusively to the Goethe Institute graduates for now; it is not yet open to the public.

Peter Ewaldt, a teacher at the institute, created the program for the German students, noting that “Yiddish is very close to German.” Although he is not Jewish, Ewaldt studied Yiddish as part of his research on the Jewish community in Thailand, which comprises about 1,000 residents plus more than 100,000 visitors each year, including many Israelis. “The Jewish-Israeli community in Thailand, in which many members speak Yiddish, is united much more than any other foreign group in Thailand,” he told the Forward. “Jewish people stick together, help and care for each other. I chose Yiddish to show the students how a nation separated from its homeland developed a language and a system to survive.”

Since Yiddish is not a mother tongue for Ewaldt or for the other teachers, students will use Internet sites to enhance their “self-learning” outside the classroom. The Israeli ambassador to Thailand, Yael Rubinstein, has offered to help find native Yiddish speakers who can assist the students with practice; she also offered to help organize a Yiddish theatrical or musical performance in Bangkok. Rabbi Nehemiah Wilhelm, who oversees Bangkok’s Chabad house, volunteered to answer students’ questions and to give a lecture in Yiddish about Judaism; the class will visit the Chabad house this week and meet with Wilhelm.

Many Thai people know about Hebrew, which is sometimes taught to those who travel to Israel as guest workers. But there is almost no awareness of Yiddish.

Nat Pra, a 25-year-old graduate of Bangkok’s Ramkhamhaeng University with a focus on political science, is interested in signing up for the new program. “Jewish people are clever,” she said. “One needs to study their language and culture to understand the way they think.”

The language is already gaining traction. In a small alley in the Banglampu area of Bangkok, I recently met two Thais speaking a bit of Yiddish.

Pi Tuk, 47, has worked for 15 years driving a tuk-tuk, a three-wheeled pedicab. He practices Yiddish with Orthodox Jewish customers who come to Thailand on business: “When I see a Jew wearing black and white with a long beard, looking for a taxi, I shout at him, ‘Vos vilstu? Ikh ken layder nor a bisl yidish.’ [“What do you want? I can speak Yiddish a little.”] When they hear it, they will take me for the whole day.”

Nong Somchai, 33, is also a tuk-tuk driver. He has picked up a bit of the mamaloshn from Pi Tuk. “My brother, Pi Tuk, taught me every trick in the taxi business,” he said. “I do not know the meaning of that sentence, but I have tried it more than once with the Israeli backpackers I drive. It is working better than Hebrew-slang phrases. When they hear it, they always laugh.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.