‘Mameloshen’. Literally, it means ‘mother tongue’ in Yiddish, and for Ashkenazi Jews, it is a synonym for the Yiddish language itself. But the word carries deeper meaning than that. It not only conveys a series of how successive generations learned the language (at mother’s knee), but how the language, and all that it expresses, has sustained us for more than a thousand years.
The Friends of Yiddish Endowment Fund at the Jewish Foundation is our contribution to an international effort to ensure that this rich and vibrant culture is preserved for our children and grandchildren. The language is part of our being, our roots. It is the sound of our history, our literature, our songs and poetry, our philosophy, our commerce and politics, our conversations with one another over centuries.
The story of Yiddish has its warm and joyous side. It is filled, for example, with images of Jewish homes where parents, relatives and friends would argue in Yiddish about this and that, left wing, right wing, heated discussions at the end of which everyone would sit down and have a glass of tea with sugar. But, we also are ever-mindful that the majority of the victims of the Holocaust were Yiddish speakers, and that it is our responsibility to foster the language and culture that sustained them to the end.
Friends of Yiddish was established thirty-five years ago. It began with a group of people, all with Yiddish backgrounds, who would meet at the Arcadian Court at Simpson’s downtown for lunch and discuss our heritage. Eventually, we started to meet at one another’s homes and discussed everything Yiddish. We sang, told jokes, read books from our wonderful legacy of Yiddish literature and shared stories. And, over the years, the group has grown, running monthly programs in Yiddish for both our members and the public, fostering new Yiddish performers and scholars, to the point that it is recognized internationally as a force in the so-called Yiddish Renaissance.
We are the last generation who were immersed from childhood in the Yiddish culture, and we want to cultivate an appreciation of this culture for the future. We talk about the golden chain and the links that intertwine, creating a beautiful expression of our Jewish identity. Yiddish is a piece of that cultural link that is the chain of Jewish life. It is our hope that this endowment will create the programs and provide the education that will preserve this magnificent culture.