“I find a certain mystery in Yiddish, a refined and enigmatic musical note. I cannot explain it, but I have always felt a connection to this language.”
Contrary to what one might expect, the speaker is not a Polish poet or a German philosopher. He is Yusuf Alakili, 50, of the Arab Israeli town of Kfar Kassem, who is working on his master’s degree at Bar-Ilan University’s Literature of the Jewish People Department, while studying Yiddish for his own pleasure.
How did this affair begin? “In the 1980s I worked with a Jew of Polish descent in Bnei Brak, where Yiddish was the dominant language. I was fascinated by its sound and decided to study it earnestly. My dream is to read Sholem Aleichem’s ‘Tevye the Dairyman’ in its original language.”
And what bothers him? “I don’t know who to blame, but I don’t understand why this magnificent language, which has such an extensive body of literature, is being neglected. Did you know that (Nobel Prize laureate Shmuel Yosef) Agnon started writing in Yiddish and only later turned to Hebrew?” he asks.
Alakili is not alone. About one-quarter of the 400 students studying Yiddish at Bar-Ilan University are Arab, says Dr. Dov-Ber Kotlerman, the academic director of the the Rena Costa Center for Yiddish Studies.
Maybe Yiddish should be the language of Israeli diplomacy. It wouldn’t hurt in dealing with that putz, Ahmadinejad.