Friday, December 6, 1963—THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS-3$
Mapping a Culture in Yiddish
Eidtors Note: This is an excerpt
from an article in Columbia Uni-
versity Forum by Dr. Weinreich,.
Atran Professor of Yiddish Lan-
guage, Literature and Culture and
chairman of the department of
linguists at Columbia University.
Prof. Weinreich is one of the
prominent leaders in YIVO.
is regrettable that the re-
cent upsurge of foreign study
in this country has so far tended
to bypass a language and a cul-
ture from which millions of
Americans are but a generation
removed. The United States Of-
fice of Education has until now
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rejected the suggestion that the
study of European Jewish soc-
iety, its language, and its litera-
ture, is in the national interest
and deserves support under the
National Defense Education Act.
Show us the country in which
Yiddish is an official language,
say the strategists in Washing-
ton, and we will gladly include
it in the list of critical tongues
along with Gujerati, Khalkha,
Twi, and the like. But merely
because an exclusive Yiddish
area does not appear on any
administrative map, is the hu-
manistic relevance of this cul-
ture to be denied? Fortunately,
in other quarters more enlighten-
ed counsels have prevailed, mak-
ing it possible for the facilities
of a major graduate school to be
used in the advancement of Yid-
dish scholarship; one urgent re-
search project now under way
at Columbia University is the
preparation of an atlas of Euro-
pean Jewish Culture.
Just before World War II, it
is estimated, there were over
seven million Jews in Eastern
and Central Europe. They made
up the bulk of the so-called Ash-
kenazic, Yiddish - s p e a k i n g,
branch of Jewry. Today, after
Germany's war . against the Jews,
which took six million civilian
lives, and after a decade and a
half of Soviet cultural repres-
sion virtually unrelieved by de-
Stalinization, the surviving off-
shoots of this society are grow-
ing increasingly apart.
The desire to know and under-
stand this society for its own
sake would be reason enough
for the development of Yiddish
studies on the University level.
Central and East European Jew-
ry by and large determined the
face of the vigorous "colonial"
Jewry, notable in America and
Israel, and this alone commends
the mother society to the atten-
tion of the scholar. But that
society also has facets that make
its study engrossing on other,
more general grounds. The his-
torian cannot fail to note that
the economic and cultural tone
of a substantial part of Europe
would have been different dur-
ing many centuries if the Chris-
tian rural society had not lived
symbiotically with Jewish mar-
ket towns (shtetlekh) in the
thousands. They provided the
growing cities in Poland, Lith-
uania, Rumania, and western
Russia with entrepreneurship
and labor forces. They gave us a
diversified literature of consid-
erable proportions; a literature
rooted in tradition, yet conscious-
ly universal and modernistic; a
literature rich in folklore and
famous for its humor.' They de-
veloped a fiber of character re-
silient in perennial crisis, firm
Holiday Best Wishes
in intellectualism, and gentle
in humanitarianism. Without
them our educational horizon
would be darker.
Had Adam reason to be dis-
satisfied? One rib was taken
from him and for that a servant
was given him.—Sanhedrin 39.
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