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Music and the continuity of Yiddish language and culture in Melbourne.


Yiddish is widely recognised as being an endangered language (1) and is one of thousands of minority languages that are in decline as their speakers turn to more common and prevailing vernaculars such as English (Dalby 2003: ix). Scholars warn that the loss of any language, especially one that is transmitted orally only, can result in the erosion of unique ways of knowing, thinking and talking about the world and human experience (Harrison 2007: 7), ultimately leading to the disappearance of a unique cultural tradition. The situation with Yiddish is somewhat unusual in this respect because while the numbers of Yiddish-speakers are diminishing, the quantity and range of people discussing Yiddish literature, theatre, cultural history and the like, is encouraging (Shandler 2006). How long, however, can such a situation endure through the generations without active use and knowledge of the language? Can anything be done to revive the vernacular aspect? Why bother?

This article will attempt to address such questions, focusing on Melbourne's Jewish community. It is presented in two parts, the first of which is analytical in approach and informs the logic of the second, which is in essence a proposal where analysis is replaced by descriptive detail and suggested courses of action. The content of the first part examines the issue of endangered language as it applies to Yiddish in Melbourne, noting its relatively rapid growth then decline as a typical mass migration phenomenon and investigates reasons for that decline. The article will then briefly explore the potential of music in assisting language ability and retention. Music's power to heal and to influence emotional states has long been realised, but the recognition of its capacity to enhance one's brain function and learning skills in language, mathematics and critical thinking is a comparatively recent development (Catterall et al. 1999; Ehrenberg 2010). The second part of the article proposes a means, through music in the classroom, to stimulate the revitalisation of Yiddish within Melbourne's Jewish community and potentially further afield.

As the ideas offered in the proposal are dependent on a number of contingencies, they risk the possibility of being relegated to the realm of wishful thinking. In this age of globalisation, however, the push to revitalise declining languages by either tested or innovative processes, or both, is gaining strength amongst a variety of stakeholders who recognise that language diversity (and its corollary, cultural diversity) is a catalyst for innovation and can offer alternative approaches for addressing the human condition (Nettle and Romaine 2000). But beyond the knowledge and insights that diverse languages can preserve and transmit, the existence of a wealth of assorted languages is also required for the interactions that may occur between them to keep them flexible and creative (Dalby 2003). For example, the Yiddish term "bagel" for a ring-shaped bread roll has been embraced by the English language and culinary world, and the English "swatch" for a sample piece of cloth has been adopted and adapted into Yiddish to become "svotch," interactions like these helping make both languages richer.

Yiddish--from Europe to Melbourne

The most common name for Yiddish during much of the nineteenth century was "jargon", often bearing all the pejorative connotations associated with this linguistic epithet, and it was not until the 1880s that the language acquired the name "Yiddish" (Karlen 2008: 5). The idiom had originally developed amongst the Ashkenazi (2) Jews of Germany about a millennium ago and gathered elements of various other languages as Ashkenazi communities spread eastward to regions currently known as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus and the Ukraine. Through the centuries, it was referred to in a variety of ways including loshn ashkenaz, a Hebrew phrase meaning "the language of Ashkenaz," and taytsh which is the Yiddish term for "meaning" and also for "German" (Weinrich 2008: 315-27). Indeed Hebrew and German, as well as Aramaic and Slavic are considered the main components of Yiddish vocabulary, which is also peppered with minor contributions from other vernaculars, the obviously hybrid result having earned it the "jargon" label.

The imminent demise of this jargon was already being articulated, and even "eagerly" awaited, in late eighteenth century Germany by members of the Jewish enlightenment (3) (Dalby 2003: 96). In 1899, American historian and linguist Leo Wiener saw the impending death of Yiddish as inevitable, especially in the United States (Shandler 2006: 177). And in 1902, the accomplished Hebrew essayist Asher Ginsberg using the pen-name Ahad Ha-'Am wrote that this "jargon" "is gradually being forgotten all over the world ... There is ... no doubt that before long Yiddish will cease to be a living and spoken language." (4) Such predictions were refuted many times over by the sheer numbers of Yiddish speakers in Europe and elsewhere. In fact, because it was spoken by millions of Jews, Yiddish was declared "a Jewish national language" at a landmark conference on Yiddish held in Czernowitz in 1908 (Berdichevsky 2004: 17-18).

By 1939, on the eve of World War II, an estimated 11,000,000 people spoke Yiddish worldwide (Shandler 2006: 1). After the decimation of countless Jewish communities in the Holocaust, however, the number of Yiddish speakers in the world was reduced by approximately 75 per cent (Dalby 2003: 97). A decrease of this magnitude could finally be considered a real threat to the survival of the language. In Melbourne at least, the threat was not yet realised. In fact, during the decade or so following the end of World War II, waves of migration by East European Holocaust survivors, mainly from Poland, to Australia's shores significantly increased the size of, and the prevalence of spoken Yiddish in, Melbourne's Ashkenazi Jewish community. Yiddish cultural activity in the form of plays, concerts, publications, readings and discussion groups, often at the Kadimah but also at private gatherings and cafes, became revitalised and reached a peak in the 1950s and 1960s. One such venue for discussions, meetings and general schmoozing was the Cafe Scheherazade, situated in Acland Street St Kilda and immortalised by Arnold Zable in the book of the same name (Zable 2001). (6) At home, families would have enjoyed the Yiddish staples of gefilte fish, chicken soup, gribinyes, and cholent with kishke, at weekly Sabbath meals, (7) and rye bread, schmaltz herring, pickles and similar foods more frequently. (8) They would have read Yiddish newspapers and books, and would have listened to records of Yiddish music, singing along with the songs and melodies.

The Australian Archive of Jewish Music (AAJM) (9) at Monash University contains long-play albums and 78 rpm record discs of Yiddish songs from those years. Some of these were produced in Melbourne; many more were brought here from America and Europe by the immigrants themselves

or imported by retailers and sold here. Examples of the range of Yiddish songs recorded in Melbourne and held in the AAJM include Gute Voch produced in 1945, sung by the students of the I. L. Peretz Yiddish school, with piano accompaniment by Miriam Rochlin and directed by Pinchas Sharpe; Kozaken produced around 1950, sung by Yehuda Grynhaus and accompanied by Miriam Rochlin; (10) Leo Rosner's instrumental Jewish Potpourri of well-known and well-loved Yiddish melodies, produced in 1956, and a staple in many Yiddish households; and Hosti Gisti Bisti produced around 1960 and sung by Bernard Potok who was visiting Melbourne at the time. Monti Maizels, a sound engineer at radio station 3KZ, mastered this recording all those years ago and donated it with others he had mastered to the AAJM. In most cases, however, the records housed in the AAJM have been donated by elderly survivors who were looking for a secure repository in which to preserve Yiddish heritage, or by children of survivors who usually had no means of playing the recordings (record players have become obsolete in many homes) or simply had no interest in listening to Yiddish music. The very existence of these recordings, especially the locally produced ones, in the AAJM can be regarded as physical evidence of the vitality of Yiddish language and culture in a substantial portion of Melbourne's Jewish community during the immediate post-Holocaust era.

Another tangible indication of this vitality was the size of the now defunct Yiddish-language newspaper called Di oystralishe yidishe nayes ("Australian Jewish News"), usually referred to as the Yidishe nayes. It was included as a lift-out section in the Australian Jewish News English language weekly newspaper. Both emerged in May 1935 after appearing in a number of different incarnations since the 1920s. The development of a viable Yiddish press in Melbourne in the 1930s was enhanced by the arrival of Jewish immigrants who ranged from highly educated Yiddish writers, such as the illustrious Pinchas Goldhar (Rutland 1995: 219-20), to little-known but also highly educated and skilled typesetters such as Abraham Zeger. Zeger, who had run his own printing business in Poland, migrated to Melbourne in 1938 and "almost as soon as he got off the boat" was hired by the Yidishe nayes where he was employed until he died in 1961. (11) His story exemplifies the behind-the-scenes craftsmen with a mastery of Yiddish who contributed to the success of the Yidishe nayes which in turn contributed to the growth of Yiddish literature and culture in Melbourne. The post-Holocaust migrant influx strengthened that situation--in the space of a decade, the Yiddish language was flourishing and in its prime as the lingua franca of Jewish residents in Carlton and surrounding areas, parts of Kew and parts of St Kilda, Elwood and Caulfield.

Language shift versus language maintenance of Yiddish in Melbourne

Now, around half a century later, the lingua franca of Jewish residents in these areas is English. Such a shift from immigrant language to the language of the host country has been a typical aspect of the immigration experience in Australia, which was to all intents and purposes a monolingual nation till the 1970s. The late Michael Clyne, a noted linguist who undertook research on language contact in Australia and especially Melbourne, observed that for most of the post-war mass immigration era, "there were still laws prohibiting bilingual education and limiting the amount of broadcasting in foreign languages'" (Clyne 2003: 16). Those laws would have had a considerable impact on immigrants when one considers Clyne's finding that "language use or shift (12) reacts to the dominant community attitudes and government policies on languages other than English" (2003: 31). Despite official policy, however, every migrant group privately set up after-hours community schools for their children, sometimes even in secret (Ozolins 2001: 789). Nevertheless, those children quickly learnt English in schools and this became their language of communication outside the home. So in the 1950s and 1960s, while immigrants could and would usually converse amongst themselves in their own language or mother tongue, their children were growing up in an environment where the mode of communication amongst themselves was usually English, and often continued to be so when they established their own homes. Klarberg verified such a waning of language use in families where Yiddish was the mother tongue (1976: 91-92).

The situation became more critical when the tremendous technological advances that began in the 1970s, and escalated substantially during each subsequent decade, helped make English a pervasive presence in the realm of media and communications. Even multiculturalism, which was also a development of the 1970s and which theoretically augured well for the creation of a multilingual society in Australia, could not stem the tide. Clyne's analyses of 1996 Census information found that the shift away from an immigrant language to English again remained "much higher" in Australian-born (or raised here from a young age) second generation population groups than overseas born first generation groups (Clyne 2003: 21-28). This leads one to ask: does the adoption of a new language necessarily bring about the rejection of the old one? Why not opt for bilingualism? Many immigrants do, but unfortunately bilingualism is often merely a stage in the process of language shift. As David Crystal explains, there are three broad stages of language shift. The first is political, social or economic pressure on immigrants to speak the dominant language. The second stage:

is a period of emerging bilingualism, as people become increasingly efficient in their new language while still retaining competence in their old. Then, often quite quickly, this bilingualism starts to decline, with the old language giving way to the new. This leads to the third stage, in which the younger generation becomes increasingly proficient in the new language, identifying more with it, and finding their first language less relevant to their new needs (Crystal 2000: 78-9).

"Their new needs" can often involve differing degrees of distancing from the literary, culinary and musical traditions that accompany the discarded language. Thus, for example, in the Yiddish homes of five families interviewed by the author, gefilte fish--a staple Sabbath food during their parents' and grandparents' time--currently appears only once or twice a year at meals where Jewish religious customs and ritual traditions are celebrated, such as Pesach (Passover) or Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). (13) Dalby, quoting Marianne Mithun adds:

When a language disappears ... the most intimate aspects of culture can disappear as well: fundamental ways of organizing experience into concepts, of relating ideas to each other, of interacting with other people ... Speakers commonly remark that when they speak a different language, they say different things and even think different thoughts (Dalby 2003: 252).

Clyne presents three decisive factors relevant especially to the Australian context that determine whether members of a cultural community would opt for "language maintenance," (14) or whether they would process through the "language shift" journey of eventual loss of their mother tongue. They are the degree of value placed on the culture's traditional language, the degree of cultural similarity to Anglo-Australians, and the degree of exogamy or marriage outside the culture (Clyne 1985: 3).

Considering each factor as it applies to the Jewish community in Melbourne, the overall picture does reveal reasons for language shift, but there is evidence also of instances favourable to language maintenance. Starting with the third factor, Clyne found that language shift is "considerably higher ... for those descended from exogamous marriages than those from endogamous ones" (2003: 28). From my own observations, the tendency towards exogamy in the Jewish context is often determined by level of observance and commitment to religion. Ultra-orthodox Jews (which constitute about 5% of the Jewish community) (15) are rarely exogamous. Accordingly, the incidence of Yiddish as a vital everyday language in many ultra-orthodox families is high. The language helps them maintain a degree of insularity from the influences of the host society. In fact, the ultra-orthodox Adass Israel community in Melbourne includes a small offshoot group of families who not only speak Yiddish in the home but also recently established a Jewish day-school--called "Divrei Emunah"--where Yiddish is the language of instruction. (16)

At the other end of the spectrum, the highest incidence of exogamy is found among secular members of Jewish communities. Sociolinguist John Myhill even writes that "Yiddish is all but dead among secular Jews" (2004: 141). In Melbourne, however, this is not entirely true. A constellation of enthusiastic Yiddish speakers of Myhill's "secular" variety are committed to passing the language down to the next generation. Many of these people have varying affiliations with the Bund and SKIF which includes as part of its motto: "fostering Jewish identity through Jewish and Yiddish culture." (17) In their secular milieu, where religious ties no longer serve as a marker of Jewish identity, language becomes a substitute marker (Safran 1999: 80). So while Myhill's prediction is pessimistic, it does not accommodate the whole picture. The very existence of groups deliberately maintaining the language carries with it the potential to help curtail language shift, even though those groups add up to a relatively small proportion of the Jewish community.

Turning to Clyne's second factor, that of cultural similarity to Anglo-Australians, his analyses have shown that the greater the similarity between dominant and immigrant culture the more likely that language shift will occur. Based on statistical tables derived from the 1976 Census, he contends that in Australia, Southern and Eastern Europeans are more likely to maintain their home languages than Northern and Western Europeans and offers the Greeks (South-eastern Europeans and culturally far removed from an English way of life) as an example of a people who have experienced the lowest language shift to English, and the Dutch (Western Europeans and culturally closest to the English) as an example of a people who have experienced the highest language shift (Clyne 1982: 35).

Similarly, members of Australia's Jewish community who came from Western Europe (and were rarely Yiddish speakers, were largely assimilated, and spoke the vernacular of their individual home countries) adopted the English language with relative speed. When the Yiddish speaking East Europeans arrived to this land, they were obviously culturally distinct from Anglo-Australians--so much so that some Anglo-Jews here saw fit to teach them how to behave unobtrusively--and many held on to their customs and language at their generational level. Their children, however, being raised here became acclimatised socially and culturally with predictable results as expounded by Crystal above: growing cultural similarity was setting the stage for language shift.

Clyne's first factor, as explained in a study by Smolicz and Secombe, pertains to the extent to which culture groups "emphasise their languages as core values" and in Jewish culture that extent is by and large negligible: "There are ... people in various countries of the world with a strongly developed sense of Jewish identity who for everyday communication purposes speak neither Hebrew, nor Yiddish, nor, indeed any other Jewish-developed language or dialect" (Smolicz and Secombe 1985: 11). Clyne questioned Smolicz's assertion that Jewish identity or ethnicity is language-independent, citing the role of Hebrew as a sacred, intellectual and national Jewish language as the basis for his doubt (1982: 32). Two decades or so later, John Myhill (2004: 13-57) upheld Smolicz's position with his own research.

The relationship between core values and language in Jewish culture is obviously not clear-cut and is an issue that deserves some scrutiny because it may further explain why so many Yiddish speakers in Melbourne abandoned their language. According to Smolicz:
   The theory of core values ... argues that every culture has certain
   core element(s) that represent its heartland and act as identifying
   values for its members. For most cultures, this core value is
   represented by the native tongue ..., although there are cultures
   where the core element appears to be anchored most firmly in
   religion, family network, or clan and descent (2001: 770).

With respect to Jewish culture, John Myhill (2004: 13) unequivocally offers two core elements or central variables that mark Jewish identity:

(1) personal ancestry/race and

(2) religious affiliation/beliefs/tradition/lifestyle.

He writes:
   One is a Jew if and only if (a) one's mother is a Jew [variable
   (1)] or (b) one has gone through a formal conversion ceremony
   [variable (2)]. It makes no difference at all what one's native or
   everyday language is, and it makes no difference at all what one's
   citizenship is or where one lives (2004: 13).

The latter part of his statement refers to two other basic variables he names that may have relevance to, but are not central to, Jewish identity, and these follow on from his above list as:

(3) native/everyday language and

(4) citizenship/residence.

Myhill consolidates this view with lengthy discussion and compelling argument. If one accepts the ideas of Myhill, Smolicz and similar thinkers who assert that language maintenance is not considered a principal means of preserving Jewish identity, it is little wonder then that Yiddish could so easily be abandoned, (with exceptions such as those mentioned above) when English became the usual mode of spoken communication among members of Melbourne's Jewish community. And yet, taking note of Clyne's concern about language independence, how does such a standpoint explain the embrace of Hebrew by large portions of Melbourne's Jewish community?

The immediate response that comes to mind is that Hebrew is inextricably linked to prayer and religious ritual and, as noted in Myhill's list, religion is a core marker of Jewish identity. By carrying religious and spiritual value, the language itself is usually considered central to Jewish culture and is most highly regarded. While Hebrew has always been acknowledged and studied as the sacred written language or Loshen-Koydesh (Yiddish for "holy language") of the Bible, it was revived, revised and developed into the spoken language referred to as Ivrit during the half-century or so leading up to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 when it became Israel's official language, all the while retaining its high status (Alter 1988: 13). The logic behind opting for Hebrew is also understandable. The fact that it is universally employed among Jews in a religious context attests to its all-inclusive quality, catering for Jews from anywhere in the world, whereas Yiddish has meaning mainly for Jews of East European descent.

The common perception of Yiddish as being associated with the Holocaust, victimhood, and Diaspora (especially ghetto) existence (18) was also a mantle that Israel was happy to discard. Such a stance unfortunately ignored the generations of Yiddish authors who had elevated the language from being mundane discourse signifying "low culture" to one abounding with literary merit (Chaver 2004: 7). Israel's policy of repressing Yiddish coupled with the wholesale promotion of Hebrew filtered through to Diaspora communities, and Melbourne's was no exception, thereby adding another dimension to the decline of Yiddish here. Hebrew was taught at the growing number of Jewish day schools and became accepted by many second-generation Jewish students as their "second language," English being their first, thereby resuming and maintaining a degree of the multilingualism that has been a characteristic of most Jewish Diaspora communities. In Eastern Europe, that multilingualism usually comprised Hebrew for religious practice, Aramaic for understanding traditional scholarship and law, Yiddish for vernacular interaction within the community, and finally the language(s) needed for interaction with members of non-Jewish host communities (Dalby 2003: 96).

The privileging of Hebrew over Yiddish in Melbourne is reflected in the changing character of AAJM collections of records produced from the late 1960s: Hebrew recordings greatly outnumber Yiddish ones. This trend not only confirms language preference but also indicates a broad engagement with Israel's music and culture by a substantial percentage of Melbourne's Jewish community. The comparative size ratios of the Yiddish and English sections of the Australian Jewish News also reinforce the idea of Yiddish's diminishing value in the Jewish community. In 1952, for example, many issues of the Yidishe nayes lift-out consisted of 16 pages, with the English section comprising slightly more. By the 1980s, however, a dwindling Yiddish readership resulted in the Yidishe nayes often comprising no more than four pages. In December 1995, it ceased publication altogether due to lack of demand, while the English language section continues to flourish. Besides the vanishing readership, the community was finally faced with a growing shortage of typesetters, editors, journalists and contributors with enough skill and knowledge of Yiddish to maintain a Yiddish press (Rutland 1995: 235).

Despite the fate of the Yiddish press in Melbourne, a more sympathetic attitude towards Yiddish did begin to emerge both in Israel and the Diaspora from the 1980s. For example, Molly Picon, appearing on Israeli television in 1980, speaks of a growing Israeli and worldwide interest in the revival of Yiddish, especially by "our youth." (19) In 1993, the Knesset in a special session paid homage to Yiddish "after years of denial and negation" (Shandler 2006: 10). And Oxford University in England became a leading centre of Yiddish studies in the 1980s and 1990s, "training a generation of young scholars, producing a series of books and journals in Yiddish and English, and sponsoring an intensive summer language course and academic conference." (20) In the AAJM, records of klezmer music, produced as a result of the so-called "klezmer revival" in America from the late 1970s, dominate the shelves of 1980s music. So, by the way, do Shlomo Carlebach records. (21)

These preferences may be based purely on enjoyment of the musical material, but at a deeper level they often reflect later generations' awakening curiosity (at the time) about their Jewish roots, both secular (in klezmer) and religious (in Carlebach), and in part they also represent a growing reaction to the homogenisation of cultures caused by globalisation. While Yiddish as a spoken language was being rejected, the music traditions associated with it became an important and acceptable replacement, precisely because of their historic association with the language, that is their heritage value. The term "heritage" here is used in the sense denoted by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, who writes: "While it looks old, heritage is actually something new. Heritage is a mode of cultural production in the present that has recourse to the past (1998: 7)." (22) Accordingly, the new klezmer music has twists and turns of melody based on traditional Jewish scales and on motifs that were played in early twentieth century recordings, but the improvisational aspect, the frequent presence of a singer (klezmer was originally purely instrumental), and the overall sound are products of contemporary developments and experience. In this way, klezmer represents both continuity and change in Jewish culture.

Although klezmer song lyrics are usually in Yiddish, Jeffrey Shandler in his thought-provoking book Adventures in Yiddishland points out an inherent inadequacy in klezmer music, or other heritage events like walking tours of former Jewish neighbourhoods, or locally the "Mameloshen: How Yiddish made a Home in Melbourne" exhibition mounted by the Jewish Museum in 2011-12, or Yiddish variety shows such as "Ek Velt" ("Tail End of the World" as translated in the show's program notes) presented by the Kadimah and Zaftik in 2012. (23) They "are all what sociologists term time-out' activities--that is, events that take place outside the normal routine, which functions in some other language. In each instance, special arrangements must be made to create temporary environments in which Yiddish is once again, whether actually or symbolically, a community vernacular" (Shandler 2006: 51).

In these postvernacular situations, as Shandler calls them, Yiddish has become "a topic of discussion more than an instrument of discussion"; it "is embodied rather than uttered" (2006: 197, 141). When klezmer concerts include vocal pieces sung in Yiddish, audience engagement with the language is passive (aural) rather than active (voiced), which is not entirely effective as a means of language preservation. Not only must a language be spoken, it needs to be passed down to and actively used by the next generation, that is, the children (Grenoble and Whaley 2006: 6). Michael Clyne similarly warns: "If a language is not transmitted in the home, it is not likely to survive another generation" (2003: 22). As Yiddish, to a large extent, is not being transmitted in the home, is there another option that could help reverse language shift?

The status of Yiddish in present-day Melbourne

The preliminary findings of a survey on "Jewish Continuity," conducted by Andrew Markus and his team at Monash University in 2008-09, confirmed the prime importance of the home in matters of Jewish identity (Markus 2011). (24) The survey findings also considered Jewish day schools an important factor in strengthening Jewish identity and promoting Jewish continuity. So while klezmer music and other heritage events can do their bit in staging Yiddish culture, offering Yiddish as a subject at a Jewish day school has the potential of assisting a more widespread revival and retention of the language. And there is reason to retain it. As Dalby cautions: "Every language that disappears for good is likely to take a culture with it" (2003: 210-11). Although Yiddish does not yet fall into this category, it still needs revitalisation and the precedent set with Hebrew would be an ideal model to follow. The remarkably successful revival of Hebrew started at school with students bringing it home and getting their parents to speak it. Myhill confirms: "in the actual process of reviving the language [Hebrew in Israel], parents almost invariably learned to speak the language from their children rather than the other way around" (2004: 78).

At present, Sholem Aleichem College, a dedicated Yiddish day-school, is achieving commendable results in teaching Yiddish language and culture to children. The College was originally founded, in 1947, as a Sunday school which taught Yiddish and Jewish studies, and in 1975 it became a day-school offering education at preschool and primary levels. (25) An average of 225 children (from 3-year-old kindergarten to grade 6 inclusively) is enrolled annually at the College, (26) a number that constitutes a relatively small percentage of the total Jewish student body in Melbourne. A wider demographic base will improve potential for the revitalisation of the Yiddish language, so a survey of the situation in all the other major Jewish day-schools would be helpful. (27) Unfortunately, statistical information is unavailable with reference to Yiddish being taught in those schools. Anecdotally, the language has from time to time been included as a teaching subject in their curricula in the past few decades, with varying degrees of success. The issue is the intermittent nature of its appearance as a subject. Is it for example currently offered?

A written exchange with Alex Dafner proved fruitful in this regard. (28) Dafner, besides being Director of the Kadimah and former broadcaster of an erstwhile weekly Yiddish program on Radio SBS, is a Yiddish speaker, teacher and staunch advocate for the language. He confirmed that Sholem Aleichem is the only school currently teaching Yiddish. One of the reasons that Yiddish has been removed from the other schools' curricula is lack of demand. Another, specifically at VCE level, is that Yiddish is among the languages in examination assessments that have the minimum bonus points possible as compared to Hebrew, which is one of the languages that have the maximum. (29) When scores matter, why should students opt for potentially lower marks? (30)

By way of reassurance, Dafner also wrote: "In other ways Yiddish is still breathing in Melbourne" which is an odd turn of phrase because it is usually reserved for a person in mortal danger. "He's still breathing" implies he is still alive, and where there's life there's hope. "Yiddish is still breathing in Melbourne" acknowledges the waning of this language but enough is happening at present, more often in postvernacular than vernacular mode, to keep the language alive here. Dafner provided a list of examples:

* First and foremost is the Kadimah--the Jewish cultural centre that organises many Yiddish events, such as the weekly Wednesday Club with Yiddish as the language of conversation, now mainly attended by elderly members of the community. In 2012, there were more events than usual because the Kadimah celebrated its centenary (

* The regular SBS Yiddish program that gave Jewish audiences the opportunity to listen to the language (, but the program ceased transmission in May 2013 although a combined Hebrew and English program does include short Yiddish segments.

* The annual Yiddish Sof Vokh ("Yiddish Only Weekend") attended by individuals eager for opportunities to speak the language and experience Yiddish food, music, and cultural ambience, although participants usually average around 50 people only.

* The Yiddish choir established by talented musician, actor and teacher Tomi Kalinski.

* Research projects and courses on Yiddish in tertiary institutions such as Monash University ( jewish-civilisation/hebrew-yiddish/index.php).

The last mentioned item in this list is very encouraging in that it can produce graduates who are Yiddish teachers. Collectively they constitute a most important resource and prerequisite for the language's inclusion in Jewish day-school curricula. Another requirement is the creation of a Yiddish-friendly environment, that is, a positive attitude towards and acceptance of the language as a teachable subject--alongside Hebrew--in the school. Music is a valuable tool that can assist in attaining this state of affairs both as a pleasant means of conveying and popularising facets of Yiddish culture through song, and as a beneficial and powerful way of teaching the basics of the language, that is, simple Yiddish words and phrases.

The benefits of music on learning ability

Music's effects on thought processes and behaviour, and music's value in education generally, is increasingly being recognised, investigated and utilised. For example, the Hebrew University-Jerusalem held a conference earlier this year (10-13 February 2013) on the topic "Music and Brains: The Surprising Link--An Interface between Music, Cognition and Neuroscience." (31) Professor Petr Janata, one of the presenters at the conference, stated that music helps certain cognitive functions, such as imagining pitches accurately or keeping verbal information in mind. In America, music educator Bruce Pearson, after examining numerous studies about the impact of music education on other areas of learning, concluded that "Students who studied music have better discrimination skills for perceiving language and better articulation skills for speaking language" (1994: 17) and, most relevant to this article, for "the learning of a foreign language" (1994: 19).

Closer to home, The Australian newspaper, in December 2011, included a report on the success of a program called the Song Room, a non-profit organisation that provides schools, which could not otherwise have music or other performing arts classes, with specialist teachers. Professor Caldwell, a former Dean of Education at Melbourne University found that participating in the program, which usually provides only one hour of lessons a week, led to a rise in national literacy tests that was the equivalent of having an extra year at school. "It's extraordinary," he said. "It has enormous policy implications for the millions and millions of dollars being spent on programs to help boost literacy when an intervention like this has that impact." The report also noted that "attendance soared" on Song Room classes days. (32)

In October 2012, The Australian published a piece submitted by Richard Letts, executive director of the Music Council of Australia, which stated that "decades of research" have shown that "a continuous music education based on music-making contributes to better scores in core academic subjects such as maths and reading." (33) Timothy Sexton, chief executive of the State Opera of South Australia, is quoted, again in The Australian, as saying "People have not made the connection with language and music but it is an absolutely critical one". He also maintains that lack of pitch skills that should have been learnt at an early age makes children "ill-equipped to learn foreign sounds...[Y]ou need to have that music education to tune the ear to the pitch and subtleties of a foreign language; it is about developing a degree of aural sophistication across the board." (34)

An example of the many studies investigating the effect of music on language learning in young childhood is Kindermusik's ABC Music & Me. (35) The report summary includes among the benefits to be had from music instruction: improved verbal memory, larger vocabulary, and better listening skills. Furthermore, music instruction can also assist children with reading and other disabilities. Music therapist Catherine Wilmont maintains that music activities can improve auditory discrimination, memory and sequencing which are essential for good language development and adds that "applying melodies (especially familiar melodies) to information to be learned aids in retention and recall. A classic example is that of the alphabet. How many children ... have learned the alphabet through the song taught on Sesame Street?" (Wilmont 2001: 58).

A proposal for the revitalisation of Yiddish in Melbourne

As it is generally accepted that music instruction enhances literacy and language skills, going a step further and combining the two--learning a language, specifically Yiddish, informally through music--seems an effective, plausible and ultimately enjoyable task and a solid foundation for the subsequent stage of more conventional language teaching. (36) The responsibility and immediate goals of the music teacher in the music class would be to help spark interest in Yiddish through selected songs, to familiarise students with the language--the sounds and meanings of the words--and to begin a vocabulary base for continued expansion, and generally to offer students glimpses into the culture.

The Yiddish language specialist, when eventually hired, would be responsible for the conventional language teaching stage, imparting the pedagogical aspects of grammar, syntax, semantics and punctuation. Songs would be included in the pedagogical framework of the language classes because of their value and effectiveness in assisting and solidifying the speech, writing and comprehension skills being taught. The participation of the music teacher might be required, but minimally, to help teach those songs in language classes. The ultimate goal would be to have students as fluently conversant in Yiddish as they are in Hebrew. However, instilling in students an engaging awareness of the Yiddish language could also be considered a successful outcome as renewed interest regenerates relevance which, in the context of Crystal's observations above, may therefore assist in reducing language shift.

It should be noted that the process to attain these results is a slow one, requiring years of continuous effort (Grenoble and Whaley 2006: 41). Realistically, the music and language teachers cannot carry the burden alone when the revitalisation of a declining language is the aim. Input from certain members of the Jewish community is essential at the start to lay some groundwork before the Yiddish music program part of the process can begin. Dynamic, committed and fluent speakers of Yiddish can (and would be willing to) advocate the importance of maintaining the "golden chain" of tradition, offer guidance, and push for the inclusion of aspects of Yiddish language and culture in the curriculum. With careful planning, gentle persuasion and effective public relations, they can strive to enlist full cooperation from school principals and other senior teaching staff who in turn can help convince music teachers to incorporate Yiddish elements into their Jewish day-school music programs.

In order to win over students who generally seem either to be uninterested in Yiddish or negatively disposed to what they perceive as a quaint old language, an effective tactic would be the inclusion of lively klezmer music in extra-curricular band repertoire and concert programs. The relatively unusual sounds and energetic rhythmic nature of the music can awaken interest in students unfamiliar with it. Seeing the music performed by professionals can also help foster a positive attitude. Music budgets usually cater for excursions, incursions or workshops by specialist music organisations like Musica Viva. Groups such as Klezmania or Klezmeritis, which constitute a vibrant Jewish community resource, could also be approached for this type of activity.

Once interest in klezmer music is established and accepted as a standard performance genre in the school, its function should broaden to become a resource in music classes for all class levels. In my experience as a former teacher and Director of Music in a Jewish day-school, a most effective method of teaching elements of music, such as rhythm, pitch, form, texture and so on to students is through performing or listening to selections of songs and instrumental pieces. Klezmer music, particularly the instrumental variety, would be a strategic addition to those selections. Focusing on the instrumental sounds first establishes a purely musical appreciation; the next step is language awareness and comprehension with the gradual introduction of vocal klezmer pieces containing the all-important element--Yiddish lyrics.

Listening to the words, imitating them and singing along with the music can be followed by discussions of their meanings and how those meanings are expressed in terms of vocal intonation and embellishment, rhythm, changing speeds and moods. When klezmer becomes entrenched as an ongoing teaching resource, the way is paved for introducing further genres and styles of Yiddish music material into the inventory of English, Hebrew and other language pieces at a music teacher's disposal. A wealth of songs for use in music classes can be found in Yiddish music books and anthologies, often with accompanying CDs. Some of the more well-known publications include the 4-volume Anthology of Yiddish Folksongs edited by Aharon Vinkovetzky, Abba Kovner and Sinai Leichter; Pearls of Yiddish Song: Favorite Folk, Art and Theatre Songs compiled by Eleanor and Joseph Mlotek; and the many Jewish songbooks compiled and arranged by Velvel Pasternak, a very useful one being The Yiddish Fakebook: Folk, Love, Nostalgia, Wedding, Theatre, Klezmer, Freylech, Humor.

At secondary school level, music lessons periodically delve into music history, appreciation and analysis, so in addition to works by well-known twentieth century composers such as Debussy, Bartok, Shostakovich and the like, students can be exposed to the Yiddish chamber pieces of Leo Zeitlin--for example, his Reb nakhmons nign for string quintet, published in St Petersburg, in 1912 by the Society for Jewish Folk Music; or the Yiddish art-songs of Lazar Weiner--for example, Gramen geshriben in zamd ("Rhymes Traced in Sand") which he composed in 1965. The song's lyrics were originally a poem written by the famous Yiddish poet Melech Ravitch, (37) who came to Australia in the 1930s and specifically to Melbourne in 1933 where he made his home for a few years and had a noteworthy, positive impact on the Jewish community. As this indicates, music teachers can indirectly offer students gems of Yiddish poetry for discussion and insight.

There is also a treasury of musical material available from the heyday of American Yiddish theatre in the first half of the twentieth century with compositions by Abraham Goldfaden, who was also a poet and playwright and is considered the father of Yiddish theatre, Joseph Rumshinsky, Sholem Secunda and Herman Yablokoff. These are only a few of the many composers who contributed to the success of "Second Avenue" as the Yiddish Stage in New York was affectionately called. (38) The ubiquitous Yiddish lullaby Rozhinkes mit mandlen ("Raisins and Almonds") was one of the songs from Goldfaden's operetta Shulamis which was written in Russia in 1880 (39) and performed there soon after; it was performed in New York in 1929. Much more recently, the Internet generates an ever increasing range of Yiddish musical material, especially old songs played in a contemporary style that would be more meaningful for teenage students, for example Sha shtil by the Yiddish metal band Gevolt on YouTube. (40)

To fully appreciate song selections from the sources mentioned above, students have to understand the words and how they relate to the musical notes. To perform the songs, they have to utter and learn the words. This should not be too difficult because in most cases, the lyrics appear in transliterated Romanised script instead of, or in addition to, the original Yiddish script, which appears in Hebrew lettering. The transliteration is usually accompanied by a translation into English. Audiovisual versions of the material are in some cases also available. The financial aspect of incorporating Yiddish in music education should not be an insurmountable issue because all that is required initially is a wider selection of songs, songbooks and audio/audiovisual materials for instruction. However, future budget planning needs to allow for Yiddish language teacher salaries. Even then, strategies are available for addressing funding problems, one example being the seeking of financial endowments from philanthropic foundations, especially those which have a strong interest in preserving Yiddish culture and tradition.

Another consideration is the student age group that should be targeted for optimum effect. In Jewish day-schools, music is usually an elective after Year 7 so the size of music classes may be relatively small. In order to maximise language acquisition through music, it would be prudent to apply a stronger focus on the primary school sector because it includes music classes for all students. Moreover, the most critical years for language learning are the kindergarten and lower school levels: young children can absorb and process information far more readily at that stage of development due to the plasticity of their brains. According to Dr Susan Curtiss, Professor of Linguistics at UCLA, the power to learn language in a four- or five-year old is so great that "it doesn't seem to matter how many languages you seem to throw their way ... They can learn as many spoken languages as you can allow them to hear systematically and regularly at the same time. Children just have this capacity. Their brain is just ripe to do this ... there doesn't seem to be any detriment to ... develop(ing) several languages at the same time." (41)

As senior kinder and prep students are most receptive to language absorption, they are well-equipped to learn the alphabet and how to read, and could thrive from intensive immersion in Yiddish music. A song like Oyfn pripetshik is ideal for their music classes because it is about learning aspects of the Yiddish alphabet (see Figure 1). Children at that level are also increasing their vocabulary in areas that have meaning for them. In a kleinem shtibele would therefore be appropriate because it enumerates parts of the body and can entail hand movements for greater appeal and enjoyment (see Figure 2) and Bay dem shtetl is home oriented and refers to farmyard animals (see Figure 3). The songs also have melodies that are repetitive, and easy to sing and remember, these factors additionally creating the potential for Yiddish word retention.

Moving away from the most receptive age group, by about grade 3 children develop conceptual skills so songs like Abi gezunt, which contains a range of loosely connected ideas, would be suitable (see Figure 4) as would songs which have a distinctly traditional flavour like A nigundl (see Figure 5). And around grades 4 to 6, which deal with more detailed instruction about, for example, rhythmic relationships, chants in Yiddish could be added to notation charts that demonstrate different combinations of crotchets, quavers, semiquavers and dotted notes (see Figure 6). Once the songs and chants are taught, the students should memorise the words (which is a common practice) and learn and absorb their meanings. No singing or chanting experience is really complete without the ability to understand every word.

At this stage, teachers enlist the involvement of parents by repeatedly setting an important homework task: in order to help their own memory retention, the children must teach their parents the songs and their meanings, with the assistance of any one or more of phonetic flash cards, transliterated and translated lyric sheets, audio aids and audiovisual aids, depending on the child's age level. This is a deliberate strategy based on Myhill's observation above that one of the reasons for the successful revitalisation of Hebrew in Israel was the role-reversal situation, of parents learning to speak the language from their children. Reflecting the views presented by Shandler, however, some may argue that the music class merely adds another postvernacular forum for the engagement with Yiddish. This may well be true, but the point is that for the duration of the homework tasks, parent and child interactions involve active immersion in the language. Every time a new song is taught, language immersion is repeated and reinforced. Getting Yiddish sung (and even spoken) in the home can help raise interest in the language and more importantly, lead to an increased demand for official Yiddish language classes taught by Yiddish language teachers. And if this process is successful, other communities in the world can follow suit.


Do music teachers need to know Yiddish to teach Yiddish songs? Although it would be desirable, being conversant with the language is not essential. Speaking from personal experience, the methodology for teaching songs in a language other than English includes listening to original versions of the pieces, and taking note of correct vowel sounds, inflection, accent and phrasing. The importance of inflection, accent and phrasing cannot be overstated for most languages but it is especially true for Yiddish. This point is brought into stark, if humorous, relief in a YouTube clip where Stan Daniels warms up an audience before a taping of The Mary Tyler Moore show in the 1970s. Daniels recites the words of the song Old Man River (from the musical Showboat) in English with an immediately recognisable Yiddish accent. (42) He also has appropriate breath breaks, which is another aspect that music teachers need to note and chart when listening to Yiddish songs. Finally, obtaining close translations of the lyrics is critical. If certain issues do surface and cannot be resolved, there are Yiddish specialists who could be consulted for their expertise, for a reasonable fee.


Incorporating Yiddish songs in the music class of a Jewish day-school creates a broader base of material from which to choose items for concerts, religious festivals, presentation nights and so on. Instead of school engagement with Yiddish being restricted to Shoah-related songs and commemoration performances, as it usually is, imagine a speech night choir singing Der rebe hot geheysen (The Rebe Said), or a vocal group at a concert singing Oyfn yam (On the Sea) (43). The inclusion of such pieces would not only be innovative, but would also reinforce the point that Yiddish is far more than "the language of the Holocaust" (Myhill 2004: 140). It is in fact a vast repository of Jewish history, one that is unique and has spanned a millennium. It expresses a particular identity that adds to the diversity and rich tapestry of Jewish custom, belief and folklore. It also boasts a wonderful array of literature that needs to be read in the native tongue to be fully appreciated. In short, Yiddish symbolises a rich and longstanding cultural tradition.

Joshua Fishman, noted pioneer of sociolinguistics, goes so far as to say that "the language is the culture" in most of life's arenas and "neither law nor education nor religion nor government nor politics nor social organization would be possible without it" (Fishman 1991: 445). Without language transmission, then, the full meaning of inherited knowledge, of personal histories, of myths and legends, of literature, is lost because the hidden connotations and real significance of words and phrases are usually missed in translation. It is timely here to recall the question posed in the introduction of this article: "Why bother?" (to revitalise Yiddish as a spoken language). For all the reasons just mentioned.

Some may ask why the Yiddish language in particular should be selected for revitalisation. Why not Ladino, for example, as it is another Jewish language on the endangered list? In Melbourne's Jewish community, the decline of Ladino does not have as much relevance or attract as much interest because it never reached the level of near-universality enjoyed by Yiddish. (44) In fact, Yiddish was so pervasive that it was often the language of discourse during official Jewish communal affairs meetings as highlighted by William Rubinstein's reference to an item in the Australian Jewish News newspaper. A writer in the 22 November 1957 edition, reacting to "the increasing frequency of Yiddish" at meetings of the Victorian Board of Deputies, asked: "Is English a Dying Language?" (Rubinstein 1991: 17). Ironically, just over 50 years later, the same question may be asked, with "Yiddish" replacing "English" in the quote. Increasingly, parents have chosen not to transmit Yiddish to the next generation.

Using the success of the Hebrew revival in Israel as inspiration, this article has proposed to remove that responsibility from the parents and place it into the hands of teachers, specifically music teachers at first, with the assistance and guidance of Yiddish experts and advocates from the Jewish community. Students learn the songs in class and are then required to get parental assistance with song memorisations and meanings of words at home. In this way, the teaching of Yiddish songs and music in the Jewish day-school music class carries with it the potential to increase the vernacular cohort, that is, the number of people who speak Yiddish; the potential to increase the demand for formal Yiddish language lessons; the potential to increase the postvernacular forum for engagement with the language's cultural aspects; and ultimately the potential to ensure the continuity of the language for future generations.


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(1.) UNESCO lists the Yiddish language as "definitely endangered" in Europe--see Moseley 2010: Online version:, accessed 7 August 2012; Tapani Salminen in Helsinki in 1993 (updated in 1999), listed Yiddish as "seriously endangered", accessed 7 August 2012; Rhea Tregebov, spearheading a project on revitalising Yiddish in Winnipeg in 2006 and thereby earning a place on the UNESCO Register of Good Practices in Language Preservation, begins her introductory remarks with "Yiddish is an endangered language, mostly because its (Jewish) primary communities in Europe were destroyed in World War II, but also due to cultural assimilation" and further "At present, the use of Yiddish continues to diminish in North America, and many Yiddish speakers' abilities (in speaking and, particularly, in reading) are declining" (see, accessed 7 August 2012).

(2.) Ashkenazi refers to Jews whose ancestors in mediaeval times lived in Germany then spread to neighbouring countries, particularly Poland and Russia.

(3.) As these Jews were an interest group intent on embracing modernity by assimilating German language and culture, they were happy to promote rejection of a patois that was (to them) crude and backward.

(4.) Cited in Shandler (2006: 178) who provides the following bibliographic details: Ahad Ha-'Am, 'The Spiritual Revival," in Selected Essays by Ahad Ha-Am, translated by Leon Simon (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1912: 282)." Shandler writes that the essay was "originally an address delivered before the general meeting of Russian Zionists at Minsk, in the summer of 1902."

(5.) The Kadimah is a Jewish library and cultural centre that was established in Melbourne in 1911.

(6.) Avram and Masha Zeleznikow opened and operated Cafe Scheherazade from 1958 till 2008. In 2010-11, Therese Radic wrote a play that was loosely based on Zable's book and also called Cafe Scheherazade. The play was first performed in March 2011 in Melbourne's "fortyfivedownstairs" theatre, to great acclaim.

(7.) Sabbath (or shabbes in Yiddish) denotes the Jewish day of rest that begins a few minutes before sunset on Friday night and lasts until nightfall on Saturday night. Three meals are usually eaten on shabbes. The fish and soup were among the foods typically eaten at the first meal (Friday evening) and the cholent among the foods at the second meal (Saturday lunch).

(8.) Gefilte fish is stuffed boiled fish, usually served cold; gribinyes is chicken skin and onions fried in chicken fat or oil; cholent consists of meat, potatoes, beans and other vegetables very slowly stewed or baked and the kishke, which is intestine stuffed with flour, fat, spices and sometimes vegetables, is usually the favourite part of the cholent. Schmaltz herring is very fatty salted herring pickled in brine.

(9.) The AAJM was co-founded by the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation and the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music at Monash University in December 1994. The author has been the research archivist for the AAJM since it began actual operations in May 1995.

(10.) I have argued elsewhere of the strong possibility that this song was actually composed by Grynhaus himself, possibly together with Rochlin (see Kornhauser 2011).

(11.) Personal communication (19 June 2013) with his granddaughter Leonie Fleiszig who is director of the Lamm Jewish Library of Australia, formerly the Makor Jewish Library.

(12.) According to Clyne (2003: 21-22), "language shift" can be considered in terms of a continuum of change away from a language, including any or all the various stages during the change process to actual completion (meaning non-use of the language).

(13.) This example is meant to illustrate one of the ways that loss of language may impact on attendant cultural routines, and should not be considered a universal occurrence. In fact, some non-Yiddish-speaking orthodox Jews currently enjoy gefilte fish as part of their weekly Sabbath meals.

(14.) Grenoble and Whaley draw a distinction between "language revitalization," the goal of which is "to increase the relative numbers of speakers of a language and extend the domains where it is employed, and "language maintenance," which "serves to protect current levels and domains of use." The authors also advise that "in practical terms the distinction is often unimportant, as the dividing line between the need for maintenance and revitalization is inexact and, regardless, the programs involved in both can be similar" (2006: 13). As a consequence, and because both terms involve reversing the advance towards complete language shift, they are occasionally used interchangeably in this article.

(15.) This ratio is taken from statistics published in,frameless.htm?nrmode=published, accessed 20 June 2013.

(16.) Personal communication with Shoshana Ralph (30 May 2013), who is acquainted with "Divrei Emunah" families.

(17.) The Jewish Labour Bund was a secular socialist movement that originated in 1897 in Russia and spread to many parts of the globe. SKIF (Sotsyalistisher Kinder Farband or Socialist Children's Union) was founded in Eastern Europe as the youth arm of the Jewish Labour Bund and was established in Melbourne in 1950. See, accessed 12 June 2013.

(18.) Vladimir Jabotinsky, who adopted the Hebrew name Ze'ev and was a linguist among other things, was especially hostile to Yiddish, denigrating its sing-song inflections as a development of European ghetto existence, the culture of a conquered people. He described what he considered the whining and weeping nature of Yiddish intonation as "horrible" (mechoar--[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), a "disgrace" (chiur--[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), and at odds with the content or sentiment expressed in a sentence (1930: 37-38).

(19.) See, accessed 12 June 2013. Molly Picon, born in New York in 1898, was an acclaimed actress who starred in Yiddish and mainstream theatre and films in America. She was also a strong advocate of Yiddish language and culture. Nathan Gilboa and Shmulik Atzmon, both residents of Israel, brought Picon to their country in 1980 because of their involvement in the Yiddish revival there.

(20.) See the "Yiddish Literature" page of the Jewish Virtual Library, 2012: 2_0021_0_21265.html, accessed 12 June 2013.

(21.) Shlomo Carlebach (1925-1994) was a rabbi and charismatic singer-songwriter, influenced by the popular folk music style that became fashionable in the 1960s. Migrating to the USA in 1939, Carlebach became an adherent of the Lubavitch stream of Judaism and wrote catchy and hypnotically soulful melodies to religious texts. Klezmer on the other hand is centuries old, developing in Eastern Europe, taking the form of energetic instrumental music played at weddings and public events by itinerant musicians.

(22.) Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is a Professor of Performance Studies at New York University. The narrower dictionary meaning of "heritage" is "that which has been or may be inherited" (Oxford English Dictionary: 2007:1223).

(23.) "Zaftik" (meaning "juicy and voluptuous") comprises the talented trio Elisa Gray, Tomi Kalinski and Evelyn Krape. The show was performed at the Phoenix Theatre in Elwood, 29 February to 10 March 2012, with most of the dialogue and songs in Yiddish (and overhead surtitles in English).

(24.) The survey, titled "Gen08," was conducted within the Jewish communities of Melbourne and Sydney from September 2008 to April 2009. Interestingly, the questionnaire used in the survey asks, on page 13, for the first language or mother tongue of the respondent and family members, and the order of languages to select from is English, Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, Hungarian, German, other. The order of this list, which is not alphabetical, suggests certain hierarchical assumptions: from greater to lesser numbers of speakers per category and therefore perhaps comparative reduction of importance of language per category. Yiddish is fourth after English, Russian and Hebrew!

(25.) For more information about Sholem Aleichem College, see, accessed 24 November 2013. Anne Gawenda from the College writes "Sholem Aleichem College is a unique Jewish school in Australia and indeed the world. It is the only Australian Jewish school which teaches Yiddish language and culture in the context of a Jewish studies program that includes Hebrew, Jewish history and the celebration of Jewish festivals and yomtoyvim. Sholem Aleichem College is a secular school and our focus is on Yiddishkeyt which of course includes an examination of yomtoyvim and their meaning. Yiddish is taught as a living language through a focus on stories, songs, plays and humour. Some of our students go on to do high school Yiddish here at the college and then VCE Yiddish. At present we are the only secondary school in Australia to offer VCE Yiddish. Some students then go on to do tertiary Yiddish studies as well. Teachers are sent to intensive Yiddish courses all over the world to enrich their Yiddish, recently to France and New York, and they return even more passionate than before. Yiddish academics are invited to come to Australia to run intensive Yiddish courses here with our teachers. The college also offers adult Yiddish courses for beginners and for advanced Yiddish speakers including a VCE Yiddish class for adults."

(26.) Personal communication with Leonard Hain, Executive Director, Australian Council of Jewish Schools, 29 November 2013.

(27.) Melbourne boasts 9 major Jewish day-schools. Listed alphabetically, they are Adass Israel Boys' School, Adass Israel Girls' School, Beth Rivkah Ladies' College, Bialik College, Leibler-Yavneh College, Mt Scopus College, Sholem Aleichem College, The King David School and Yeshiva College. Several smaller communal ones (such as Yesodai Ha Torah) have also emerged in recent years. See, accessed 18 June 2013.

(28.) Personal communication with Alex Dafner, 31 January 2012.

(29.) Certain subjects at the final year levels (Years 11 and 12, called VCE in Victoria) of secondary school are given bonus points in examinations to reflect the extra degrees of difficulty they contain when one tries to master them. All languages carry bonus points, but the amount varies per language.

(30.) A handful of students, however, do undertake Yiddish at VCE level at special classes held at Sholem Aleichem College.

(31.) See, accessed 15 June 2013.

(32.) The article was written by Justine Ferrari, national education correspondent. See "The Nation" section of The Weekend Australian, 17-18 December 2011 edition, page 3.

(33.) See the "Inquirer" section of The Weekend Australian, 27-28 October 2012 edition, page 21.

(34.) See "The Nation" section of The Australian, 1 November 2012 edition, page 2.

(35.) "The Impact of Music on Language & Early Literacy: A Research Summary In Support of Kindermusik's ABC Music & Me," pdf, accessed 18 June 2013.

(36.) A detailed discussion of the subsequent conventional stage is beyond the parameters of this article.

(37.) Melech Ravitch was the nom-de-plume used by Zecharye-Chone Bergner.

(38.) See: gs+of+the+American+Yiddish+Stage for an enlightening history of the Yiddish stage in New York, accessed 30 June 2013.

(39.) There is some debate about the origin of this song. Some groups attribute its creation to Goldfaden (see: rozhinkes-mit-mandlen/, accessed 18 June 2013); others believe that it was initially a folk song and when Goldfaden adapted it for his play, it became enormously popular (see, accessed 18 June 2013).

(40.) See, accessed 7 February 2012.

(41.) Quoted in benefits/research_notes.html(2010), accessed 20 June 2013.

(42.) See embedded&v=eUPWMBZIU0w, accessed 15 June 2013.

(43.) Both songs appear in Bluestein and Metis 1994: 122-25 and 116-21 respectively.

(44.) Of course, the suggestions put forward in this article for reviving Yiddish can apply to Ladino as well, but the community members concerned about Ladino may be too small in number to fuel the energetic input, commitment and finance needed for such a project.
Figure 1: Oyfn pripetshik--verse 1 only (Source: Vinkovetzky et
al. 1983: 37-38)

OYFN PRIPETSHIK                   In the Tiny Grate

Oyfn pripetshik brent a fayerl,   In the tiny grate burns a flick ring
Un in shtub is heys,              And the room is warm,
Un der rebe lernt kleyne          And the Rebbe teaches little
  kinderlekh                        children,
Dem alef-beys.                    The alphabet.
Refren:                           Refrain:
Zet zhe, kinderlekh, gedenkt      Look children, remember dear
  zhe, tayere,                      ones
Vos ir lernt do;                  What you learn here
Zogt zhe nokh a mol, un take      Say it one more time and even
  nokh a mol:                       one more time:
Komets alef--O.                   "Komets A" (sounds like) O.

Figure 2: In a kleinem shtibele--first part only (Source:
Vinkovetzky et al. 1983: 21-22)


Voynt an alte yidene    Lives an old woman
Mit ire zibn kinder--   With her seven children--
Ale oyf beyz vunder:    Wondrous all:
Mit azoyne nezer,       With such noses!
Mit azoyne kep,         With such heads!
Mit azoyne hor,         With such hair!
Mit azoyne berd,        With such beards!
Mit azoyne baykher,     With such stomachs!
Mit azoyne rukns,       With such shoulders!
Mit azoyne fis,         With such feet!
Mit azoyne hent!        With such hands!

Figure 3: Bay dem Shtetl--verses 1and 6 only (Source:
Vinkovetzky et al. 1983: 35)

BAY DEM SHTETL                     Near the Village

Bey dem shtetl shteyt a shtibl     By the little townlet stands a
                                     little house
Mit a grinem dakh,                 With a green roof.
Un arum dem shtibl vaksn           And around this little house grow
Beimelekh a sakh.                  Little trees, many of them.
Koyft a gandz mit a vaysn haldz,   Bought a goose with a white
Federlekh vi shney,                Little feathers like snow,
Koyft a hon vos kvoket, kvoket,    Bought a hen that cackled,
Biz zi leygt an ey.                Till she laid an egg.

Figure 4: Abi gezunt--verses 1 and 2 only (Source: Bluestein
and Metis 1994: 12)

ABI GEZUNT                       If You Have Your Health

A bisl zun, a bisl regn,         A little sun, a little rain,
A ruik ort dem kop tsu leygn.    A peaceful place to lay your head.
Abi gezunt, ken men gliklekh     If you have your health, thank
  zayn                             your lucky stars.
A shukh, a zok, a kleyd on       A shoe, a sock, a dress without
  lates,                           patches,
In keshene a dray, fir zlotes.   In your pocket three, four shillings.
Abi gezunt, ken men gliklekh     If you have your health, thank
  zayn.                            your lucky stars.

Figure 5: A nigundl--first verse only (Source: Bluestein and
Metis 1994: 66-69)

A NIGUNDL                      A Little Tune

Hobn mir a nigundl,            We have a little tune,
In nakhes un in freydn,        In joy and in delight,
Zingen mir es bay di zmires,   We sing it at the Shabbes table,
Klingt es azoy shayn!          Where it sounds so nice!
Dos hobn dokh gezungen         This very (tune) was sung
Di bobe mitn zeydn             By grandma and grandpa
Ven zey zaynen kinder nokh     When they were still children.
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Author:Kornhauser, Bronia
Publication:The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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