The Yiddish language maintains the distinction that Jewish culture makes between a holiday that is Jewish and one that is not. The former is a “yóntef” (plural, “yontóyvim”) and the latter a “khóge” (plural, either “khóges” or “khagóes”). (A “shvyénte,” by contrast—from Polish “święto”—is a …

Now that the smell of frying latkes has delighted our noses and saturated our clothes, let’s talk a little bit about “khánike” (Chanukah). The iconic features of the holiday are especially evocative in America, where they have become not only emblematic of Jewish culture as a whole but also …

As we move into the Thanksgiving season with thoughts of “índik” (turkey), “zíse kartófl” (sweet potatoes), and “kírbes tort” (pumpkin pie), we have reason to give our attention to expressions of gratitude. In English, such expressions are fairly straightforward. In Yiddish we encounter a li…

As we move through October our minds turn towards the ghoulies and ghosties and long-legeddy beasties that begin to appear in our windows and yards. Yiddish culture, too, is populated by demons and imps and all manner of fell supernatural forces buffeting the Jew going about his or her daily life. 

August has a special resonance for Yiddishists. It was on August 12, 1952, that some of the finest minds in the Yiddish intellectual elite in the Soviet Union were murdered by the state in Moscow’s Lubyanka prison. These were members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, a group that had bee…

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As we head into July in all its sultry glory I am continually reminded of what a sauna summer can be. Yiddish’s understanding of this time of year, though, has more to do with heat and its associations than with humidity.

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Yiddish abounds in distinctive features, vocabulary, and idioms. The more familiar we become with Yiddish, the greater our cherished storehouse of intimate expressions, and the happier we are to let them vie for pride of place. But it can often be the little, unremarkable things that leave t…

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So we’ve all been watching “Unorthodox.” Whatever you might think about the show, it has brought a lot of attention to the cultural details of one branch of the Jewish experience. The one constant in all the critical commentary is a near universal praise and appreciation for the show’s use o…

While I have envisioned this column predominantly to deal with issues of language, these troubled times call for the wider consolations of culture. Jewish religious culture, of course, has ample resources to draw on, well-stocked theological storehouses of solace and succor. In modern Yiddis…

With its story of liberation and redemption and its intense heymish family orientation, Passover has long offered remarkable opportunities for Yiddish’s linguistic creativity and playfulness. What’s more, because Passover falls in early Spring, it is often represented as a time of rebirth an…

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What is Yiddish? “Yiddish is a way of life,” you will hear. “Yiddish is a culture, a heritage,” or “Yiddish is an entire world.” Whatever else Yiddish may be, it is foremost a language. A unique, supple, expressive, fascinating language; a language with its own set of histories and delectabl…