Dress British

Firstly, a quick note: I authored an article for Tablet about the first three months of my study of Yiddish. It can be found here.

Now, I wanted to talk a moment to explore the phrase "Dress British Think Yiddish." There is a sort of loose consensus about what it means: Dress mainstream, think outside the mainstream. I think I picked it as the title for my blog because I was born to Irish-American parents and adopted by a Jewish family, and so, even if I didn't already dress in tweeds and flat caps, I still end up looking like someone sculpted a caricature of an Irish guy out of a potato, and so the British/Yiddish thing is especially on the nose in my case.

As far as I can tell, the earliest appearance of the phrase in print was in the Greensboro Daily News on December 24, 1961 from the column "People, Places and Things" by CA Paul. He wrote:

Harry Golden believes it is time for IBM to abandon its motto, "THINK," and suggests a substitute: "Look British, Think Yiddish." 

Harry Golden was a newspaper editor and journalist, and years later, in his "The Golden Book of Jewish Humor" he seems to credit himself with the phrase -- I need to track down the book to get the complete story, but it looks like he wrote it in a column and then, literally a few days later, it was quoted back to him by a Hollywood press agent.

A year later, the Jewish Spectator quoted the phrase as the more familiar "Dress British, Think Yiddish," and said it was new. The same year, Commentary offered up the same phrase, and claimed it was dictated by Madison Avenue. In 1964, Show: The Magazine of the Arts credited the phrase to a sign in New York's garment center.

In 1965, the New Jersey State Bar Journal published my favorite version of the phrase, quoting Victor S. Kilkenny: PRESCRIPTION FOR SUCCESS: Look Irish — Dress British — Think Yiddish. 

I haven't found the original article, but the Jewish Journal of New Brunswick, New Jersey from Friday, October 22, 1965 ran an excited article summarizing the contents of an Esquire story (A Google search leads me to suspect it's from from Volume 64 - Page 115; maybe I'll try to get to the library soon to look it up). "Esquire Finds Yiddishe Kop on Madison Avenue." 

"The article is appropriately titled 'The Yiddishization of American Humor,' written by the humorist, Wallace Markfield," the story tells us, and goes on: "Esquire's author claims (he admits he can't prove it) that the Jewish comic style has invaded Madison Avenue advertising agencies, too. Such slogans as 'Fresher than this there isn't" (for a well-known cream cheese) and "With soap it's loaded" have a definite Yiddish ring to them. And certainly, who could deny that 'Dress British -- Think Yiddish' resembles 'Think British -- Think Byford.'"

Kildare Dobbs, editor of the Canadian general interest magazine Saturday Night, returned the phrase to the garment district in a 1968 story about a schmatte merchant named Hymie. "His creed is simple," Dobbs wrote. "Dress British, Think Yiddish."

By 1969, the phrase was popular enough to become a button, which I own an example of. Venture Magazine mentioned the fact in Volume 6 from that year, mentioning that they are sold alongside buttons reading "Jesus was raised in a kosher home," suggesting that the phrase had been adopted by a inchoate Jewish pride movement.

The Big Apple ran a piece on the phrase back in 2009, and they mention two additional possible sources: First, there was the law firm of Finley Kumble, where Mr. Kumble was famous for advising new layers with the phrase (as well as reportedly banning bagels for being "too ethnic.") But the firm was started in 1968, making it too later to claim ownership. The Big Apple also mentions the financial firm of Salomon Brothers, which supposedly had this as the unofficial policy for their stockbrokers, which included future mayor Michael Bloomberg.

They're a pretty old firm, founded in 1910. But the first mention I find of the phrase being bandied about dates it to 1966, in the book "The Prophet of Love: And Other Tales of Power and Deceit" by  Elizabeth Kolbert, and Bloomberg was there the same year, so it is very possible the firm picked up the phrase at the same time as anybody else.

Tentatively, I'm giving credit for it to Golden. I'll see if I can track down his book and will report back. (Note: Tracked down book, and he does indeed take credit for phrase.)


Film: Hester Street

Although sometimes it feels like Omaha is bereft of Yiddish, but for a few elderly Jews at the Jewish retirement home, this city did once contribute to the language in a significant way. This is the birthplace of a filmmaker named Joan Micklin Silver, and in 1975, Silver authored and directed a film called "Hester Street." The film adapted a novelette by Abraham Cahan, longtime editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, and much of the film's dialogue is in Yiddish.

The amount of Yiddish in the film was a bold decision on Silver's part, but there is little about the film that doesn't feel bold. American popular culture has tended to shy away from Jewish subjects when they seemed too Jewish, leading to puzzling phenomenon, like the fact that most of the Seinfeld cast was supposed to be Italian, despite the fact that they were based on Jews, played by Jews, and written as though they were Jews.

But Silver indulges the Jewishness of her story. For all the Yiddish in the film, it is still mostly an English language film, but the language is Jewish inflected. Jewish idioms are used and untranslated. Everybody has an accent, and so even if they aren't speaking Yiddish, they all continuously speak Jewish. Hester Street itself was an overwhelmingly Jewish thoroughfare during the Jewish migration from Europe at the turn of the 20th century -- so much so that one character wonders where all the non-Jews are.

While the film's male lead is proudly, if not entirely, assimilated, the bulk of the film's characters are almost stock types from Yiddish theater, including a greenhorn immigrant, a tormented Talmud student, a grotesque shop manager, and a nosy landlady. The conflicts of the film are Jewish, as assimilation presses up against tradition. Much of the film exists in the world of Jewish ritual, from the way letters are chanted when being learned to the complicated process of acquiring a divorce decree. If other Americans were afraid of being too Jewish, Silver seems afraid not to be Jewish enough. Her movie exists in a world without gentiles, a private world of Jewish experience, and, as a result, it sometimes feels like a peephole opened into the past.

It helps that the film is terrifically cast. This was an early role for Carol Kane, playing a recent immigrant, and she is so young that she seems to still be a teenager. Silver highlights her alieness, dressing her in Russian peasant wear and a strange, looped wig, but she often frames Kane like she was a religious icon; she positively luminous is some shots. Although Kane is required to perform much of her dialogue in Yiddish, she's extraordinarily natural in the role, as though somehow Silver had managed to locate an actual turn-of-the-century Yiddish speaking immigrant for the part. It was a huge surprise that Kane was nominated for an Oscar when the film debuted. It is no surprise watching it now.

She's married to a man who is, frankly, a cad. Played by Steven Keats, the husband is a swaggering showoff and more than a bit of a bully. Keats' performance is a bit more theatrical than Kane's, but he's playing a character who is himself playing a role: The husband is pretending to be an American. There is a scene in which he attempts to teach his son to play baseball, and both are terrible at it, with Keats performing a pantomime of the behavior of ball players. Silver reverses the character's dialogue in the original novelette, where he spoke Yiddish but peppered it with mispronounced English slang. Here, he speaks English, but throws in Yiddish insults and phrases when he needs to. The effect is the same: Keats is someone who knows there is something called an American, and wants to be it, but all he has to model himself after is a poorly understood pastiche of American behavior.

Keats' character can't stand that his wife is so old country when he so desperately wants to be new world, and he's awful to her as a result. He has been having an affair with another woman, he visits prostitutes, and he bullies Kane to drop the Russian Jewish mannerisms and start to act like an American. As she weeps and screams, he cuts off their son's sidelocks, he forces her to speak English, and he refuses to take her out of the house.

But he's made a mistake. This may be America, and he may be American, but it is Hester Street, and, in a Jewish neighborhood, a Jewish woman can find resources of her own. The film subtly reverses direction, as Keats' ambition leads him to make a series of ill-considered decisions, and his wife proves to be shrewder about taking advantage of them than might be expected.

I mentioned earlier that the film's characters seem drawn from Yiddish theater, but it's not just the characters -- the whole film evokes an older, vernacular style of storytelling, a lost language of Jewish drama, revived in this film alongside Yiddish, the language it was written in. It does not feel like a story for the modern era, but instead for an earlier one, people who not only understood Yiddish but also the literary and dramatic conventions of Yiddish storytelling. I still think Carole Kane should have won an Oscar, but I think she should have won it in 1896.


Week 16: The Hound

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 114 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 54 hours
I have reviewed 1,534 individual flashcards
Correct learning: 68.99%
Correct young: 73.92%
Correct mature: 82.48%

We adopted a dog last week, a tiny Shiba Inu/Chihuahua mix named Burt who is three years old, has only one eye, and is morbidly obese. He's also a sweetheart, and the process of integrating him into my life made my schedule a bit cattywampus this week, resulting in something that hasn't happened since I started this project: A day where I didn't manage to study all my flashcards. I think the old ones I missed just got pushed back to the next day, but I think I also missed a few new ones for that day.

Not a big deal, I suppose, but I want to talk a little about how much time it takes me to work on Yiddish per day, because I think the various online language programs don't give a good sense of what a time commitment it is. So here is some back of the envelope math:

  • Studying the flashcards takes anywhere between 30 to 50 minutes, usually about 40 minutes
  • Creating the flashcards takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, and sometimes more on weekends
  • I also listed to a Audible version of a Yiddish language program, and that takes about 20 minutes per day. I do this during my morning commute, and generally do not do it on weekends
  • I read and try to translate every Forward headline that shows up on my Facebook page, which is usually about five minutes per headline, so maybe 10 to 15 minutes per day
  • And there are occasionally other activities related to this program. I listed to recordings of Yiddish songs fairly frequently. I listen to audio recordings of Yiddish stories maybe once per week. I read about the language every so often, and that can range from half an hour to a couple of hours at a stretch. This week I watched a Yiddish movie (Hester Street, which I will write about in another entry), and that took a couple of hours.

I also talk to my dog in Yiddish when I am in the mood, which is nice, because he doesn't seem to care one way or the other what language I am speaking, but I don't feel nearly so mad as when I would try to have conversations with myself in Yiddish. Admittedly, the things I say to my dog tend to be along the "Good dog" variety, and I like to describe him in Yiddish. He's kleine, he's fetz, he has ein oig. He's also zeyer zis.

All told, my daily work on Yiddish ranges from 45 minutes to two or three hours. Even doing the bare minimum -- creating and memorizing flashcards -- would take me about an hour a day. I post the amount I have studied at the top of the page -- 54 hours just now. But that's just the time spent studying flashcards. It doubles when you include creating the flashcard, and triples when you include all the other Yiddish stuff I do.

So, at the moment, I probably have worked on Yiddish for about 162 hours. Of course, if Malcolm Gladwell is right and it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything, I am one 1/61th of the way to expertise, and I have more than 6,000 days of study left -- 16 years! -- before I will have mastered Yiddish.

Thankfully, the 10,000 hours thing is probably a myth. On top of that, most people who can communicate in a language would not be considered masters of it, so it is important to distinguish between fluency and mastery; I'm shooting for the former, not the latter. I can't guarantee that I will spend 10,000 hours over the next decade and a half on Yiddish.

After all, I need some time to play with my dog.


Week 15: 20 Words for Idiot

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 108 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 51 hours
I have reviewed 1,465 individual flashcards
Correct learning: 69.36%
Correct young: 74.59%
Correct mature: 81.02%

I was having a bit of a panic last week. I don't know -- I just felt like maybe I was starting to develop too much of a backlog of sort-of-known words, they weren't showing up often enough, and so I wasn't really learning them.

I'm not sure what caused this. Perhaps it is the fact that there is a slow but constant decline in my stats for "correct learning" and "correct young," and, at some point in my life, I guess I became a grade grubber. I mean, for words I have already learned, if you look above, I am at about 75 percent correct, and that's a solid C, while for mature words that I have studied for a long time, I am at 81 percent, which makes me just barely a B student, were I being graded.

And I'm not a C or a B student, damn it. I'm an A student. And so I started to think that maybe I should reign in the introduction of new words until I was really comfortable with the words I am now learning. But I started to research the flashcard program I am using, Anki, and nobody seemed to think that it is possible to get overwhelmed, and some felt that I could actually add a lot more information without it being too much of a problem. "I had to learn to trust the program," one blogger wrote, or something like that. I am paraphrasing.

So I decided just to trust the program. After all, I do have a goal, and that is to familiarize myself with 3,000 words by the end of the year, or the words used in about 95 percent of written Yiddish, which is, I am given to understand, the amount you need to be able to suss out the meaning of unknown words in a sentence from context.

I am at nearly half that number of flashcards in just over 100 days, although that includes a number of sentences and several hundred words of slang, including perhaps 20 variations of the word "idiot." Just as the Eskimos are supposed to have 50 words for snow (an untruth, as I understand it), Jews seem to have a need for an endless number of words for morons and fools. As it happens, so do I.

Perhaps when I get to 3,000 words, I will want to take time to really dig in with the flashcards I already have, and will add fewer new words. But I suspect not -- the next goal is 6,000 words, which is the amount that is defined as "intermediate fluency" in ASL courses, and I'm not going to get there any time soon if I stop adding new words. I think what is happening is that I need to develop some new tricks for learning words that I have trouble with.

Also, my score has taken a bit of a hit because I have had to correct the gender of many of my cards, and so now, while I know the meaning of a card perfectly well, I sometimes get the gender wrong. This should be self-correcting soon enough, but presently is irritating, and makes me feel like any one of 20 words for idiot.


Book: Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular & the New Land

There's a marvelous book on Yiddish called "Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular & the New Land," and it is mostly associated with writer Harvey Pekar, who is pictured above. Pekar, who died in 2010, gained notoriety for authoring a series of autobiographical independent comics called "American Splendor." He also worked as a freelance book and music critic, and favored avant garde literature and jazz records, often championing work that he felt had been neglected.

This book feels very Pekar. Much of it is in comic form, with some autobiography -- Pekar related that he grew up in a Yiddish-speaking household, and it was his first language. Pekar's fascination with literature and music is here too, with him providing a detailed primer on Yiddish literature.

But there is another editor who worked on this book, and it feels like his book as well, even if he isn't a character in the book, as Pekar is. He is Paul Buhle, an author and scholar at Brown University who has specialized in the history of radicalism in the United States. Although Buhle is not Jewish, his studies in radicalism caused him to learn Yiddish, and he has gone on to author a number of books about Jews and popular culture, including a three-volume series titled, simply, "Jews and American Popular Culture."

Buhle is very much here, in his shared interests with Pekar -- comics, music, and socialism, in particular -- and also in detailed histories of Yiddish popular culture, including film and theater.

I'd call the result an alternative history of Yiddish, focusing on secular, political, and artistic expressions of the language. But an alternative to what? I suspect the Hasidim have their own history of Yiddish, in which it is a language of faith and of religious culture, but that history is not widely available. No, if Pekar and Buhle's book is an alternative history, it is an alternative history of America, a defiance of the myth of the melting pot, demonstrating that before World War II much of the Jewish experience in America was unmelted. In their version, we were a people with an alien language, unpopular European politics, and a thriving cultural life that existed apart from mainstream America.

It's not the whole story, of course. The experience of religious Jews is given short shrift in the book, Zionism scarcely makes an appearance, and the story of assimilation is left untold. Even elements that would fit into this particular history go mostly untold: Yiddish radio is overlooked, and while the book briefly tells of Socialism summer camps, it mostly overlooks the story of the Borsht Belt, which may have been the single greatest incubator of American Yiddish popular culture.

The book makes no claims toward comprehensiveness, and I don't demand it. But every book I read about Yiddish reminds me that there are stories yet untold. This is a bit frustrating, but also wonderful -- I like to know that Yiddish was once so huge that a single book could not contain it. That it would taken many books, most as yet unwritten, to understand the story of Yiddish.


Week 14: A Change of Name

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 100 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 47 hours
I have reviewed 1,334 individual flashcards
Correct learning: 69.74%
Correct young: 75.37%
Correct mature: 79.54%  

I've changed the name of my blog to Dress British Think Yiddish, for no reason, I suppose, than I prefer it. I still continue to learn Yiddish on my cell phone, so the former name of the blog, Cell Phone Yiddish, still works, but as I expand beyond simply writing about learning the language to writing about additional aspects of Yiddish, it doesn't seem broad enough.

I have started adding longer phrases into my studies, although not the sort of thing I am likely to use every day, as they are mostly curses. I have both "You should meet a fire" and "you should die an unusual death" added into my flashcards, because you're not always in the mood to tell someone to burn to death but not in a mood to be more precise about how they should die. But I need to get some phrases into my head, and I figure it will help if they are things I want to remember.

But otherwise, my program continues much the same. Let me precise about the flashcards I am building just now, and their sources:

1. I have a list of the 1,000 most common Yiddish words, which stretches to about 27 pages on the PDF I have on my iPod. I have completed 8 of the pages, so roughly a third. I add in a new page every few days, and I often have learned quite a few of the words on the list already, so each page gives me somewhere between 15 and 30 new words.

2. I have an old Berlitz phrasebook that has been rerelased as an audio book through audible, and I work on one chapter of it every week or two. There are 57 pages in the accompanying PDF, and I have completed 23 of these. This is the sort of brutal, functional, everyday Yiddish you typically learn in classes: How to order food at a restaurant, how to talk about the weather, etc.

3. I purchased a English/Yiddish dictionary, and have been going through it page by page. I do three things: First, I cross off words I already know, and make sure that the gender of the word is right on my flashcards (it often isn't, thanks to the fact that Google translate thinks about 90 percent of Yiddish words are feminine.) Then I add in any cognates or near cognates, since those are words that are relatively easy for me to learn. Finally, I add in any words that I think is interesting or useful. A page of the dictionary will generally add about 15 words. I am up to the letter E just now.

4. I have a selection of books with titles like "Dirty Yiddish" and "A Dictionary of Slang and Idioms," and I add in a handful of words any time I start feeling like my language learning has become a little too stolid. As a result of this, I have discovered that I am already capable of forming shockingly filthy and mean-spirited Yiddish phrases, which was all I really wanted to do anyway.

Some things I was doing but have put on the backburner:

1. Translating Yiddish poems and songs: The language of poetry and song is just too idiosyncratic for the level of language I am at. Neither are written conversationally, and so they can be hard to translate, and, further, a phrase that works as a song lyric might sound quite odd when spoken as part of a sentence.

2. Seeking out someone I can engage in conversational Yiddish with: I've realized this is not a priority for me just now, and, besides, I don't feel like I have a good enough grasp on how to make a sentence or a quick enough ability to grab words from my memory for this yet. This is a split from the sort of street language programs that inspired this blog, which really encourage people to engage in conversation with their language as soon as possible. But there are a lot of ways to engage language besides conversation, and, at the moment, the ways I am doing it are enough. At some point in the future I will likely want to level up my conversational abilities, but I think at that point I will enroll in an immersion program.

3. Work from a grammar book: I'll get back to it, but I have noticed that the grammar book approach is just not the useful for me now. And I think it is for this reason: Grammar books give 10 phrases that are almost identical, but for subtle changes:

I am looking at the student
I am looking at the female student
I am looking at the students
I am looking at the female students
I am looking at a student
I am looking at a female student

Etc. And the fact is, I find this simply impossible to remember in flashcard form. I can remember if it's dem students, di studentkes, or what. Because my brain has memorized the basic phrase but not the variations. And I think I need more sentences, and sentences that aren't so general, for the grammar machine in my brain to kick in. I will think about this a little more and get back to it.


Film: YidLife Crisis

I've just caught up with the web series YidLife crisis, or, rather, sort of caught up. The creators, Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman, have a side-project called Global Shtetl, in which they travel to Jewish hotspots around the world, and I haven't watched that yet.

But their main project is a series of short films, largely in Yiddish, in which the two play friends who often meet in restaurants in their native Montreal and fight about food, life, and Judaism. There's a puzzling conceit at the core of the show, the idea that two modern semi-secular Jews would know Yiddish enough just to chat in it. The show never really explains this, although, in one episode, when asked about his use of Yiddish, Batalion shruggingly says that he's reviving it.

And that will do. There is something charming about the idea that a couple of people might just spontaneously decide to speak Yiddish. I mean, I'm doing it on my own in Omaha, Nebraska, where it arguably makes even less sense. Some backstory might help, but isn't necessary.

There is a real-world backstory. Both actors are graduates of Bialik High School in Montreal, and Batalion reportedly gave the valedictorian speech in Yiddish. And the pair are doing something in the real world that is as linguistically unlikely as their fictional version doppelgangers: Their reviving Yiddish as a language of comic performance. And credit to them, they dove in head-first, as both admit their spoken Yiddish is weak to near-nonexistent. There is something to be said about writing and starring in a web series in a language you almost don't know.

They've gotten dinged for it, too, by Yiddishists -- something that appears as a joke in an episode of this season. Elman speaks with an older woman, and she is at first delighted that he speaks Yiddish, and then, moments later, criticizes his grammar. I don't speak Yiddish well enough to know how accurate their Yiddish is, which seems a little beside the point anyway. Two characters who have just decided spontaneously to revive Yiddish are going to be imperfect in it anyway, and so their broken language is a necessary part of the show, reflecting the city they are in, Montreal, which is so diverse that some episodes it seems every speaks to each other in broken versions of half-learned languages.

The show is both a little less than it could be and a little more than it should be. Like many web shows, the quality of the performances can vary a lot, although the two lead actors are reliably excellent. Like many web comedies, the show sometimes lacks the razor-sharp editing that comedy requires, and so jokes will feel abrupt, or linger too long, or get punctuated oddly, as though the whole cast turned to the camera after a punch line and waggled their eyebrows. These are minor complains, and I only add them as prelude to my next paragraph, where I will discuss what that show does that I think is genuinely remarkable.

It is a product of a startling ambition. It is not just that the show tackles Yiddish, and genuinely seems to be looking to rescue Yiddish from its current status as the language of religious extremists and return it to being the language of Jewish secularism. That alone is so oversized a goal as to be enough -- or, as they frequently say on the show, genug.

But the pair are using the language expressively, as a tool of comedy, a tool of religious debate, and a tool of exploring Montreal. And sometimes, as an artists, you must say genug -- art often benefits from precision, from not tackling too many things at once.

But to prove that Yiddish can be a language of modern, secular Judaism, the show's creators must use it as the language of secularism. And they must use it to discuss anything that might be interesting to a secular Jew. It's a sort of proof-of-concept disguised as a web show, and it's using some very clever techniques to get people to look at it. Firstly, it is a comedy, and people like comedy. Secondly, the show has made infrequent use of guest stars, and they may not be Tom Hanks, but they are still the sort of actors who would be out of reach for most web shows. Howie Mandel, for one, who responds to one of the two actors with a torrent of abusive Yiddish,despite claiming that he only understands very little of the language, as though Yiddish insults are a Jewish instinct.

Most recently, the show included Mayim Bialik -- a distant cousin to the poet Bialik, the namesake of the school the two actors attended.  She appeared in character, as a potential date for one or the other castmember who turned out to be as comfortable with Yiddish as either of them. It's an interesting development -- so far, but for old people (and, for reasons very hard to explain, a Chinese couple), nobody in the series has spoken Yiddish but for the two main characters. I would be curious to them in a world where they aren't lone oddballs, speaking Yiddish with each other for who-knows-why, but instead part of a larger community of modern secular Jews who likewise have reclaimed Yiddish.

But that's just because I would like to imagine such a world. It gets lonely learning Yiddish in Omaha. I'd like to believe that, were I to get lonely enough, I could board a plane to Montreal, and there would be people there, waiting to talk to me. Even if it were only a fantasy, a story cooked up by two actors for a web series. Even that would be genug.


Week 13: Checking In

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 93 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 43 hours
I have reviewed 1,232 individual flashcards
Correct learning: 69.84%
Correct young: 76.11%
Correct mature: 79.06% 

I started this project three months ago, inspired, as I said then, by a street approach to language learning that favors an extremely blunt and direct approach to language acquisition. You memorize 1,000 of the most common words, and then you learn sentences from a grammar book to put it into context.

These approaches set a date on when you can start to expect fluency, which, in fairness, they define as a continuum. They don't claim that you'll be a native speaker, but, within a certain amount of time, you'll start to understand the language you are studying. That time period is generally about three months.

So here I am. I'm not sure that I have memorized all 1,000 of the most common words, but I've got most of them, and I'm only partway into my grammar book. But, nonetheless, I have learned enough that I should be able to start to test these claims.

The first I want to test is the claim that if you learn the top 1,000 words, you'll understand about 70 percent of what you read. I've concocted a simple test for this: I have grabbed four headline from the Yiddish Forward, and I have translated them to the best of my ability. I will type out my translation, leaving blanks for words I could not translate, and I'll mark the percentage of words I got right, along with some notes about how well I understood what I was reading.
מיכאל פֿעלזענבאַום באַדויערט, וואָס די סאָוועטישע מאַכט האָט פֿאַרשוויגן, וויפֿל פֿון די סאָוועטישע העלדן זענען געווען ייִדן

Michael Felsenbaum_____, what the _______ makes has _____, how many of the _______ ____ are given Jews.

I understand 76 percent of this sentence, sort of, by way of very literal translation. I somehow missed that sovetishe is Soviet, and that the entire sentence, more accurately translated, is as follows: Michael Felsenbaum rejects what the Soviets power had concealed, how many of the Soviet heroes were Jews.

So, I understood, but did not understand. I turned the idiom for "were" into "are given," and I also didn't know the word for "heroes," which means that I got a lot of the words but none of the meaning. Next sentence:
פֿון אונדזער אַרכיוו: זעט ווי אַזוי די ייִדישיסטן און באָבעווער חסידים האָבן געפּראַוועט פּורים אין 2011

From our archive: __ how so the Yiddishists and Bobover Hasidim have ___ Purim in 2011.
87 percent translated correctly, and, although I am missing a few words, I'd say I understand this sentence pretty well. A better translation: From our archive : See how Yiddishists and Bobever Hasidim have celebrated Purim in 2011.

I sort of thought the word zet might be related to seeing -- they are all ze words -- and I knew azoi wasn't going to be used as "so," but wasn't sure how it would be used. I didn't know the word for celebrate, but I assumed that's what they were going for in context. All in all, I'd say this sentence was a success.
דער ספֿרדישער הויפּט־רבֿ יצחק יוסף טענהט, אַז די גויים טאָרן ניט וווינען אין ארץ־ישׂראל. יואל מאַטוועיעוו האַלט, אַז דאָס איז אַ סימן, אַז די מיזרחים ווערן קולטורעל אַסימילירט אין דער עקסטרעמער חרידישער שיטה

The Sephardic High Rabbi Yizhak Joseph ___, is the non-Jews ____ not live in Israel. Yoel Matveyev stop, when that is a ____, when the Mizrachim ____ cultural assimilation in the extreme Haredim ___.
About 82 percent correct, and, I mean, close. I get that it is a conflict between factions in Israel and is about assimilation. I didn't really get the final sentence, which is better understood as saying that the Mizrachim, the Eastern Jews, can be seen as having been assimilated into the Haredim, the ultra-Orthodox. I'd say I half understood this sentence.
אַ פּאָדקאַסט פֿונעם „מילקען־אַרכיוו פֿון ייִדישער מוזיק‟ פֿאָרשט אויס די השפּעה פֿון דזשעז אויף חזנות

A podcast ____ "Milken-archive of Jewish music" ____ out the ____ from jazz of cantors.
About 81 percent correct. A couple of key words missing, but I get that it's a podcast that has something to do with jazz and cantorial music. Of course, what I'm missing is that the podcast explores the influence of jazz on cantorial music, and this feels significant, as it's the crux of the relationship.

All told, I approximately correctly translated an average of 81.5 percent of the headlines I read. This is more than I expected, and I suspect it helps that I can identify names and know Judaism well enough to know when a culturally specific word appears in a sentence.

Still, I'd say I only actually understood one of the sentences, somewhat understood two more, and missed by a country mile on one. If fluency is a continuum, I am all the way at the far end of it, and have perhaps edged a toe in.

Which is, I must say, nonetheless astonishing to me. Three months feels like a long time while you're in the middle of it, especially when you're impatient, as I am. But it feels like no time at all when you're done with it. When you have studying languages in the past, some for years, and have nothing like this level of comprehension when you read those languages, it positively feels like a magic trick.