JERUSALEM — Oy Gevalt! Yiddish has been uttered in the Israeli parliament!
Long disparaged in Hebrew-speaking Israel as the native tongue of Diaspora Jews, the centuries-old lingo made a comeback Tuesday with the first ever Yiddish Culture Day.
Marking 150 years since the birth of Sholem Aleichem, the popular Russian-Jewish author of Yiddish literature, and 20 years since the establishment of the Yiddish theater in Tel Aviv, lawmakers gathered to discuss ways to preserve and promote the German-based language written with the Hebrew alphabet.
It was the language of Jews of eastern Europe. They were decimated in the Nazi Holocaust of World War II, just as the founders of the Jewish state were promoting Hebrew and ridiculing Yiddish, leaving the language without a wide base.
At Israel's parliament on Tuesday, organizers handed out a Yiddish handbook to lawmakers so they could study poignant Yiddishisms, and guests were treated to a Yiddish concert.
Yiddish traces its origins to the 10th century and flourished among Jewish Ashkenazi culture in the 20th century before the Holocaust.
Sholem Aleichem's Yiddish stories about Tevye the Milkman were the inspiration for the 1964 musical "Fiddler on the Roof." The most notable Yiddish writer of recent years is Isaac Bashevis Singer.
The language is currently spoken in patches of ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel, the United States, the former Soviet Union and elsewhere.
"People have been eulogizing Yiddish for 500 years, but it is much too soon for that _ Yiddish will live on forever," said lawmaker Lia Shemtov, chairwoman of the parliamentary lobby for the preservation of Yiddish. "It is more than a language. It is the culture and the history of our people."
Zevulun Orlev, a 63-year-old lawmaker, recalled how Yiddish was his mother tongue as a child in Israel before he and his older sister forced their Polish-born parents to adopt the local language.
"So my parents learned Hebrew, but we lost our Yiddish," he said. "Today, I regret that very much. Only now, when we have shed our Diaspora complex, do we feel secure enough in our Israeli identity to appreciate this rich language."