Our Yiddish library

We welcome, once again, our rabbinic intern Lindsay Goldman as a guest contributor to our blog!

There is a Yiddish library inside the walls of the Tel Aviv bus station. It’s on the fifth floor among the artists’ collective that began when the artists were offered old storefronts as cheap studio spaces. When I was living in Jerusalem before the start of Covid in 2020, we went on a field trip to the library and it was exactly what I expected–a dimly lit room covered with old tchotchkes and floor-to-ceiling stacks of used books. It felt old and stale. While my friends oohed and aahed at the plethora of Yiddish books, I was pretty creeped out. I had never felt a connection to Yiddish or to my ancestors in the shtetls in Eastern Europe. They had all passed away before I was born and it felt like thousands of years existed between us, though it was probably closer to 80 or 90. 

More importantly, however, I believe the disconnect came from how I imagined they would feel about how I am living my life today. I am a single woman living in New York City becoming a rabbi. Would they be proud? Furious? Disgraced? In my head, they and their beliefs–about the way the world works and about what I can or cannot do–were old and stale. 

I am pursuing my master’s degree in Jewish Gender and Women’s Studies along with my ordination. This semester fewer classes were offered to fulfill my requirements, so I was compelled to sign up for a class entitled “Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Women’s Literature.” Each week we explore a different female author, mostly poets, who either wrote in Hebrew or in Yiddish. As we studied Celia Dropkin, our first Yiddish poet, I was quite moved. Her writing about her womanness and about her body felt incredibly modern, like something that could have been written today. She writes about love and sexuality in a way that felt radical for her time, and especially for Yiddish language literature. It felt fresh. And I learned she was not alone in this exploration of thought and language.

The dusty Yiddish library didn’t feel like my story, but Yiddish was the language my great-grandparents spoke so that my grandparents wouldn’t understand what their parents were talking about. Today my siblings and I speak in Hebrew so that our parents won’t know what we are talking about. Every Shabbat, I light my great-grandmother’s candlesticks and say the same Hebrew words she said week after week. But this week after reading Dropkin’s words, I began to wonder what my great-grandmother and my great-great-grandmothers thought about, what they prayed for, and what they talked with their female friends about. And I realized that perhaps we’re more similar than I had ever known.

Lindsay Goldman, OJC Resnick Intern

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4 responses to “Our Yiddish library”

  1. rhoda pochter says :

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  2. Lloyd Fishman says :

    Thank you for sharing. I learned Yiddish before Hebrew and as many know, my Hebrew pronunciation is shaped by Yiddish. My grandmother often spoke Yiddish to my Dad and I picked it up through osmosis. There was such a richness in her expressions when speaking Yiddish. Regrettably I didn’t keep up after she passed away in 1967.

  3. Helen Barnett says :

    On Sat, Mar 12, 2022 at 7:25 PM Two Rabbis, One Voice, Three Opinions wrote:

    > Rabbi Craig Scheff posted: ” We welcome, once again, our rabbinic intern > Lindsay Goldman as a guest contributor to our blog! There is a Yiddish > library inside the walls of the Tel Aviv bus station. It’s on the fifth > floor among the artists’ collective that began when the artists ” >

  4. ellyn Cohen says :

    I too wonder what my ancestors thought about, talked about, prayed for. How I wish they had written diaries! That is why I think it’s so important to write down our stories for our children/grandchildren/great grandchildren to come.
    Many times duirng the year, I send my childlren emails about their ancestors- just a bit of trivia so they know something about these people and keep their memories alive. The young people are in such a hurry these days, I have a better chance of getting them to read these stories if they are only a paragraph or two.
    Thank you for sharing your connection with your grandmother. She would qvell to know that you are using her candlesticks!

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