On May 15, Speakers’ Lab and the Forward will present a moderated town hall-style event called “Now What? The Future of New Jewish Culture” at the 14th Street Y in downtown New York City. In preparation for the event, each panelist was asked to respond to a question related to his or her work. The Forward will publish one panelist’s response every Tuesday leading up to the event, and a second panelist’s response will be published on Speakers’ Lab’s website that same day.
This week Rokhl Kafrissen, Yiddish arts critic, writes about why she’s a Yiddishist. On Speakers’ Lab, Alana Newhouse, editor-in-chief of Tablet Magazine, writes about the Jewish community’s investment in culture, and David Jordan Harris, executive director of Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council, writes about the Jewish arts scene in Minnesota.
Speakers’ Lab: You’ve written about the importance of promoting Yiddish, and your experience learning more about Jewishness by studying Yiddish than from years at Conservative Hebrew school. How important do you think Yiddish is for the future of American Jewish culture? If Yiddish grew out of Jews’ interactions with other cultures in Eastern Europe at a specific time and place, why not encourage American Jewish culture to develop the same way? Do you think English is insufficient as a potential Jewish language?
Rokhl Kafrissen: When they find out I’m a Yiddishist, people often ask if I grew up in a Yiddish speaking home. The answer is no. My parents did not speak the language, although now and again they dropped a Yiddish word or phrase. But it was a long time before I connected those isolated words and phrases to an actual language.