Previously published in Examiner
The Montreal community and Canadian community in general with the strongest ties to the Yiddish language and culture today are the Hasidim. The Haredi is the fastest growing Jewish sect in Montreal because of the high birth rate in this community. The Tash community in particular is growing quickly, starting from a mere 18 families to a community of 250 families. The Haredim speaks Yiddish but remains a solidified separate community from the rest of the world.
“However, as Betzy Goldberg, a member of the Montreal Hasidic community, points out, although Yiddish is a mother tongue and widely used, “we don’t speak Yiddish to preserve the language, but to have a connection with our forefathers … The language keeps us between ourselves and minimizes outside influence” (Heinrich 2008). Hasidic community do publish community material with Yiddish content (see Lapidus 2007, Hatzolah Kyrias Tosh),
Yiddish itself-spelling, style, new vocabulary-is not cultivated. This worldview is expressed by Werzberger: “Yiddish is not a language. Yiddish really is a jargon, a joual.12 it’s a bastardized version of German. However, the Lubavitch community learn Yiddish to identify with the culture and the past.”
Montreal is unique in that the Yiddish language and culture is still preserved and hasn’t declined as much as the diaspora elsewhere. The Orthodox Jewish Hasidim is responsible for keeping Yiddish alive, while other Jewish sects have long forgotten. The culture of the East European Jews was cut short by the Holocaust and has pretty much died in North America except for the Canadian and New York Hasidim.
“Yiddish has increasingly come to be perceived within the Jewish community as a mechanism for preservation and monumentalization of a vanishing or vanished culture. Yiddish use in the Canadian mainstream reflects the “atomization of Yiddish” (Shandler 2006, 156), with isolated Yiddish language terms-often vulgar or expressing intense emotion-embedded in English. “Yinglish” usage in Canada includes terms such as drek (excrement, vulgar), narishkayt (silliness), tsuris (trouble), shmuck (jerk, vulgar, lit: male member), jutsper (khutspa, nerve) by non-Jewish news publications and politicians (Richler 2008).”
Nevertheless, Yiddish prevails; Yiddish can be learned from university courses, synagogues and Jewish community centers. There is still hope for the survival of the language for future generations to come. Preserving the language and culture thus remains a women’s issue in the Orthodox Jewish community.