Thus he and I sit at a dwindling table: Tevye, Poetry, and the Power of Text
Jensen, Max S.
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The core of my SIP is Yiddish literature. I've been interested in Yiddish since I spent nine months in Israel after high school and learned about contemporary Jewish culture there. I learned a little about Yiddish in the context of the culture of Eastern European Jewry and about how it was largely quashed as “old-world” by the early state of Israel. What struck me was that the language that had been a uniting factor across a large portion of the Jews in Eastern Europe up until the creation of the state of Israel wasn't being highlighted as an important cultural aspect of Judaism, but was instead being denounced as negative and backward looking. This denouncement and the following decline of Yiddish as a language through the 20th century has always struck me as a huge and unnecessary loss. Losing such an integral thread of a vibrant culture and allowing it to fade away unchallenged seems like a tragedy. Something that my trip to Israel highlighted was the important role that language has in defining culture. Because Yiddish was seen as “old-world” and tied up with a history of perceived weakness and non-resistance, it didn't fit with the ideal of the strong “new-Israeli” that the newly formed Israel was trying to cultivate. Never before had I seen such a clear example of the privileging of one language over another. Inherent in this privileging was an assertion that language is important, and so is engagement with that language. The experience in Israel has led me to question the role that language plays in my own life in America. My SIP is in some ways an attempt to engage with that power and through that, to understand my own culture and history here in the United States.