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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Why I Enjoy Yiddish

This is part of a new series on my blog which aims to show people's interests, what brings them satisfaction and happiness.

This essay was written by Lillian Leavitt.

Lillian Leavitt, daughter of Shoah survivors, grew up with Yiddish as her first language.

She has been teaching and translating Yiddish for the past 3 decades.

Why I Enjoy Yiddish

Yiddish makes me feel viscerally good. What do I mean by that? Specifically: hearing, speaking, reading and translating Yiddish all give me a serotonin/dopamine surge. Aside from the fact that it’s a beautiful language with lots of affectionate diminutives and clever witticisms, translating from Yiddish to English is a special gift for me.

I think that’s because Yiddish was my first language and making Yiddish become English, (the reverse of what I did through my childhood, i.e., translating English into Yiddish for my parents) gives me a unique feeling of fullness and completion, perhaps self-integration, i.e., merging my Yiddish self with my English/American self.

I recently translated a series of Yiddish tape-recorded interviews, replicating various tonal affects, to the extent I could. The friend for whom I did this, said the transcript gave him the feeling of “M’khayeh Meysim” (bringing the dead to life). I have not yet experienced that depth of feeling myself, but the joy I feel engaging in Yiddish with any of my senses stirs my heart in a way that nothing else does.

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