Editor’s note: Read this story in Yiddish here.
I’m 13 years old, just graduated from the eighth grade and recently started studying Yiddish! Not too many kids get this opportunity. I’ve been homeschooling since second grade and will continue homeschooling as I enter high school. Being a homeschooler has helped with learning Yiddish because of the freedom I have with my schedule. I don’t know of any schools that offer Yiddish as a language option. Most offer French, Spanish, or even Chinese - but not Yiddish. Due to homeschooling, I was able to sign up for whichever Yiddish class I could find.
My family was thrilled when I told them I wanted to learn Yiddish. Three of my grandparents spoke Yiddish as their first language. Although they still understand and speak a little, they’re no longer fluent. They told me that speaking Yiddish wasn’t encouraged in America when they were growing up. They wanted to learn English like the rest of the children. Now they regret not being able to speak it. My mother took a Yiddish class in college, but only finished the beginner’s level.
The only family member who still speaks Yiddish is my great-grandmother. She’s 94 years old and has dementia, so she often switches to Yiddish since that was her first language. I’ve been trying to speak to her using the little bit I’ve learned so far. I can’t wait until I’m fluent enough to have real conversations with her. Unfortunately, I can’t go see my great-grandmother because it isn’t safe for her to have visitors during the coronavirus crisis.
So how did I start learning Yiddish? Last year, a friend of mine told me that classes were being offered through The Workers Circle in Manhattan, so I asked my mother to sign me up. Class was on Wednesdays at 3 p.m. Although I was younger than all of my other classmates by 50 years, they were really friendly. I was sad when the coronavirus hit and we had to move to online classes; I prefer learning in person. But my Yiddish teacher, Lazer Mishulovin, made the class interesting by playing games in Yiddish to help us learn.
I’ve been teaching some of my friends Yiddish phrases and words like “ikh voyn in Brooklyn” (I live in Brooklyn). They think the language is cool and funny. I love that every word is spelled the way it sounds. It’s so much easier to spell than English.
My family is still excited about my learning Yiddish. In the beginning, when I had trouble with my reading assignments, my grandfather sat down with me and helped me. Now my mother says I’ve inspired her to start learning Yiddish again. And my nine-year old brother, Marvin, is considering learning another language too. Who knows, maybe he’ll learn Yiddish, too!
Charles Serber is a rising ninth grader.