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Yiddish is Alive
June 21, 2012
Yiddish is Alive

Posted by Peggy Kaufman

In 1942, weeks before his death, my grandfather wrote a ten-page letter to my father. The letter was written in Yiddish. Before his death in 1977 my father gave the letter to my older brother. It sat in my brother’s desk drawer for 33 years. Last year my brother mentioned the letter to me and wondered out loud if there might be someone at JF&CS who could translate the letter so we could learn more about our grandfather’s last words to his son.

I contacted a colleague, who mentioned, unbeknownst to me, that there is a Yiddish Group right here at JF&CS. The group met, discussed my need, and agreed to try to tackle the letter. My first task was to work with an employee at Kinko’s to get the crumbled, seventy-year-old document in legible shape. The Kinko’s employee scanned the letter and exclaimed, “I’ve never seen this language before!”

With copy in hand the Yiddish Group worked as best they could. After weeks and much effort they decided that the text was way too challenging to decipher and translate. I was heartbroken and wondered about other resources.

One member of the Yiddish Group remembered a man well into his nineties who gave a talk in Yiddish about Jewish writers in the former Soviet Union for one of the JF&CS Café Hakalah programs.

When I contacted him, he explained in very broken English that he could translate from the Yiddish but could not write the English and would have to engage another person to help him with that part of the translation.

The letter arrived from him three weeks later. I cherish having this piece of written history in my grandfather’s words and am thankful to our Yiddish Group for their enthusiasm and encouragement.

Peggy H. Kaufman, MEd, LICSW is the founding director of the JF&CS Center for Early Relationship Support. With a background in perinatal emotional health and the growth and development of parents, her interests include the earliest relationships. Ms. Kaufman is the recipient of multiple awards for her groundbreaking programs and her commitment to increase awareness of postpartum depression and maternal mental health.

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