Thursday, January 31, 2013

Teaching an Old Tongue New Tricks

The fate of Yiddish is something of a question mark — perhaps fitting for a culture famous for answering questions with questions.
Richard Perry/The New York Times
A view of the redesigned Web site. Forverts is the Yiddish-language sister paper of The Forward, which was founded in 1897.
Its use is popularly believed to be fading as Holocaust survivors and the people who learned Yiddish at the kitchen tables of their immigrant parents die off.
But scholars say not to write off Yiddish just yet. Many contend it has a brighter future as young people take up the language in some 30 college programs and institutes around the country. More significant, the ranks of ultra-Orthodox Jews, for whom it is the lingua franca, continue to mushroom.
It is this more sanguine outlook that explains why The Forward, the 115-year-old Jewish newspaper, is expanding its ambitions. Three decades ago, the paper trimmed back the schedule of the Yiddish-language newspaper from a daily to a weekly, and in 1990 it tried to win new readers by printing an entirely separate paper in English.
Now, encouraged by what it sees as renewed interest in Yiddish among younger people, The Forward will introduce a rejuvenated and enhanced Yiddish Web site (vebzaytl in Yiddish) on Feb. 4, complete with blogs and links to Facebook (Face-bukh). Because of a declining readership, however, the publication schedule of the print version of the Yiddish-language newspaper will be cut back to every other week.
In addition to featuring articles from the Yiddish newspaper, which the bare-bones Web site already does, the remodeled site will have a daily podcast of about 10 minutes rotating among Yiddish-speaking correspondents in Moscow, Jerusalem, Paris, Warsaw, Melbourne, Buenos Aires and New York.

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