The Sto­ry of Yid­dish: How a Mish-mosh of Lan­guages Saved the Jews

  • Review
By – March 2, 2012

The Sto­ry of Yid­dish is a book that you will pick up and browse for a while, and come back to lat­er for some more historical/​hys­ter­i­cal sto­ries of Jews as they wan­dered through the world, speak­ing the only lan­guage that tied them togeth­er. It does not pro­ceed either sequen­tial­ly by year or geo­graph­i­cal­ly by coun­try — some read­ers will be irri­tat­ed by this lack of orga­ni­za­tion. The sto­ry wan­ders back and forth from bib­li­cal times to the present, and back and forth from top­ic to top­ic, in no obvi­ous sequence. The sto­ry ref­er­ences both the shtetl’s untu­tored… shov­el­ing drek” and the famous: actors, come­di­ans, and authors. (You will dis­cov­er that Steve McQueen’s first speak­ing part on the stage was a sen­tence in Yid­dish.) One chap­ter, Yid­dish, or envy in Amer­i­ca,” is devot­ed to the hatred of I.B. Singer by almost every­body else who wrote in Yiddish. 

But be warned: this book will not help you read or speak Yid­dish; it is not an aca­d­e­m­ic study of the growth and dis­per­sion of a lan­guage; it does not explain exact­ly how Yid­dish saved the Jews. But you will read some amus­ing sto­ries, and per­haps even learn some new Yid­dish phras­es to ridicule your ene­mies. Karlen includes a good num­ber of Yid­dish jokes and expres­sions, all trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish, to make his numer­ous points. Acknowl­edge­ments bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, notes. 

Marge Kaplan is a retired Eng­lish as a Sec­ond Lan­guage teacher. She is a con­sul­tant for the children’s lit­er­a­ture group for the Roseville, MN school sys­tem and is a sto­ry­teller of Jew­ish tales.

Discussion Questions