Page 79 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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5 9
a m u e l
— T
h e
r ib u n e
o f
t h e
o lu s
I make bold to claim, was the beginning of his larger entry into
the English-reading world, nearly thirty years passed. It took
me all that time to summon up the courage to implement my
promise, and the attempt was preceded by countless efforts to
transmit him in lectures. I could not but observe the gradual
transformation in my audiences. When I began, I could assume
that nine-tenths of my listeners had a fair to excellent knowl-
edge of Yiddish; today, the percentage is down to perhaps fifteen,
or even ten. Of the remaining eighty to eighty-five percent, a
few have a smattering, if that. But by way of compensation,
whereas those that came to lectures in Jewish subjects forty and
fifty years ago were close to what is coyly called “Senior Citizen”
age, today a far larger percentage of younger people—as witness
this audience—have become attracted to the cultural heritage of
the Jewish people.
Yiddish as a Mode and a Language
It is being perceived, I believe, that Sholom Aleichem, though
he is primarily the voice of our vanished East European Jewry,
speaks also for the long
as a whole. There were other “Yid-
dish” languages before our Yiddish, that is, dialects which the
Jews, living in their segregated communities, developed out of
the local language—Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Spanish.
In all of them the folk created a currency of its own in which
the permanent treasures of its memory were reminted in the
coinage of the surrounding world. I believe we shall not be far
wrong if we think of Yiddish as a mode, as well as a language.
Whatever the linguistic base, the tonality must have been the
same; there must have been the same intimacy, the same warmth,
the same feeling of shelter. But no other
language has de-
veloped a literature comparable to the Yiddish, none was ever
spoken by such numbers, and none endured (with the possible
exception of Aramaic, which was not strictly a
anywhere near as long. And in the Yiddish language no writer
has so captured the heart of the
experience, none has be-
come so unchallengeably the tribune of the people, as Sholom