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DER YIDDISH-VINKL March 26, 2004

For anyone interested in the development of Yiddish culture as embodied and reflected in Yiddish literature, Miriam Weinstein’s “Yiddish: A Nation of Words” will prove to be an interesting, intriguing and insightful masterpiece. Published by the Steerforth Press, this 300-page volume overflows with the tam of Yiddish.

Each of the 19 tasty chapters is introduced by a short bit of Yiddish (in the Hebrew alphabet) with a transliteration into the Roman alphabet and an English translation. Individually and collectively, they sum up the substance and spirit of the book. She introduces the book as a whole with the following excerpt from a poem by Abraham Sutzkever:

Un vi der uralter kerndl

Vos hot zikh farvandlt in zang —

Veln di verter oykh nern,

Veln di verter gehern

Dem folk, in zayn eybikn gang.

And like the ancient kernel

That transformed itself in the stalk —

The words will also nourish,

The words which belong

To the people, on their eternal journey.

The following can be found in the first chapter, “Long as the Jewish Exile”:

A yid hot lib dem geshmak fun a yidish vort in zayn moyl.

A Jew likes the taste of a Yiddish word in his mouth.

The second chapter, “Poland: Rest Here,” offers a philosophical rationale for the many pains Jews suffered in Poland:

Falshe fridn iz beser vi a rikhtike krig.

A bad peace is better than a good war.

It says in the introduction to the chapter titled “Russia: Kissed by a Thief”:

Nokh a kish fun a ganef, tseyl iber dayne tseyn.

If you’re kissed by a thief, count your teeth.

In the chapter titled “Europe: Life From the Ashes,” that discusses the revival of Jewish life and literature in Europe after the Holocaust, these words from Jacob Pat provide the introductory quotes:

Ikh hob gezen toyzynter yidn vos yeder eyner fun zey iz a tzapldike tragedye oder an umgleyblekher nes.

I’ve seen Jews in [the] thousands, and every one of them is a fresh tragedy or a miracle of survival.

All of the above is intended to whet our readers’ appetites for a delicious, delightful discourse on Yiddish.

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