Sometimes I dream in Yiddish. It’s so long since I lived in a house where it was spoken. When my grandparents died–and they went young–it stopped. I never speak it now. I couldn’t. I can just barely understand it. But when I hear it, I feel oddly at home in the sound of it in the way I did back then. It’s amazing to think that the civilization of my grandparents, that of Yiddish, the language of a poor people, is gone. It did not survive. The literature, the theater, everything. What’s left is a remnant of a remnant of a remnant. A scent from a kitchen long blown away.
I wonder what it would have been like if Israel had adopted Yiddish as its national language. Interestingly, to me at least, it was the secular leadership that pressed for Hebrew. More than that, they tried to wipe out Yiddish completely. There was shame attached to speaking it on the street, except among the small communities of traditionally religious Jews who used it—and continue to do so—for daily speech, reserving Hebrew for instances befitting it’s holy status.
Without Hebrew, I suppose the mythic dimension of Israel’s rebirth after millennia would not have been as grand or sticky. But a Yiddish-speaking land? Wouldn’t that be heimish?