Week 47: The super pile up

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 313 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 189 hours
I have reviewed 3,666 individual flashcards

This past week I discovered an entirely new world of frustration when it comes to studying Yiddish. A few months ago I found my forward progress stalled by a pile up of words and especially phrases that I had a hard time learning. All of them managed to show up in my flashcards at once and I just had to stop everything and spend hours just trying to memorize these flashcards long enough to be done with them for the present.

Well, it turns out this phenomenon is recurring. And it grows. The more words and phrases you learn, the more are going to be troublesome, and since the troublesome stuff is going to keep getting shoved to the front of your flashcards, there is just going to be this growing pile of stuff you have a hard time learning.

This time it took an entire week before I managed to get all these words and phrases behind me. I was trying to avoid what happened last time, which was that I was spending an hour or more on flashcards and just feeling frustrated and exhausted, so I try to limit my studies to 45 minutes at most, and if there are some words I don't learn in that time, well, they just get shoved to the next day.

This actually works just fine, in the sense that I didn't feel exhausted or overwhelmed by my studies. But, since I don't add new words when I am struggling with old ones like this, it means that there was a week of no new words.

This is probably okay. I probably should occasionally stop adding new stuff into my flashcard program and focus on the stuff that is already in there. I don't like to admit this to myself, because I hate to give up the idea that I can just effortlessly memorizing thousands of words and phrases and just like that be fluent in Yiddish.

Actual learning always involves abandoning a fantasy of learning, I guess.


A refugee Thanksgiving payer

"What is the holiday most celebrated by American Jews?" Micah Halpern asked in a recent story in The Jerusalem Post. The answer is Thanksgiving, which the author essentially declared to be the definitive secular Jewish-American holiday.

His reasoning is that, as a relatively recent immigrant group, Jews were eager to seize on Thanksgiving, perhaps the most American of holidays. It is, as Halpern points out, an especially appealing holiday for Jews because it is based around family and food, although this is hardly unique to Jewish celebration.

There was a story making the rounds a last year that Obama was considering changing Thanksgiving to "Celebrate Immigrants Day." The story was nonsense, but I think it accidentally puts a finger on why new Jewish immigrants to America appreciated the holiday. Because Thanksgiving is already Celebrate Immigrants Day, in that it revisits the immigration of European Pilgrim settlers to the American continent.

The foods we eat on the holiday borrow from something called the Columbian Exchange, which was the mutual transfer of culture and technology between Europeans and Native Americans after Columbus. There is, as an example, the turkey, a bird native to the Americas, which is cooked with the old world herb sage. There is an English festival food, cranberry sauce, alongside indigenous American potatoes and squashes.

And what is the story we tell but of refugee migrants coming to America only to be fed by the locals at their moment of need? Jews know the experience of the refugee migrant, and it may have been comforting to discover this story is so essential to the American experience. What were we, if not a recent iteration of a story taking place on American shores since the days of the Pilgrims?

One of the great qualities of holidays is that they tend to be so plastic, so malleable. What is Christmas? It can be an orgy of consumerism, a collection of delightful folk rituals, a religious event, or all of these at once.

Thanksgiving can be any number of holidays. It can be based around football, or "Mystery Science Theater" marathons (or, when I was younger, "Twilight Zone" marathons). It can be an intimate dinner between friends, a sprawling family affair, or, in one instance I have been to, a gathering of regional expatriates with nowhere else to go.

Ward heelers used to pass out turkeys on Thanksgiving to gin up support for their party, and civic-minded citizens still give turkeys dinners to to the homeless on the holiday. And even the exact details of these dinners, and other Thanksgiving dinners, are flexible, largely influenced by regional and ethnic tastes. In cities with large Bavarian populations, you'll find sauerkraut as a staple. Some Mexican-Americans serve their turkey with mole, and some Ashkenazi Jews (including myself) have noodle kugel with their dinners.

Given this flexibility, I'd like to suggest that we take the implicit subject of the Thanksgiving, that of native-born Americans welcoming refugee migrants, and make it a little more explicit. Jews do have a history of making this link -- going through past newspapers, I find repeated stories of Jews using Thanksgiving as a time to solicit donations for the assistance of Jewish refugees overseas.

In 1921, as an example, the American Jewish Relief Committee, as reported by New York's Jewish Daily News, made a Thanksgiving appeal for the "thousands of destitute Jews in Eastern Europe." The article beseeches: "It is not one child, not one refugee, not one widow but tens of thousands whose wants are still unsupplied."

I also found a 1938 Thanksgiving prayer, written by 16-year-old Martin Marden of the Bronx, a Jewish refugee from Germany. His prayer was published in newspapers throughout the United States, and his words specifically address the refugee experience. Here is an abbreviated version of his prayer:

One day of the year should be reserved for prayers of thanksgiving in which we give thanks for something that has been granted us; for having been saved from some great destruction caused by nature or man.

I am thankful I love in a land where, regardless of race, everyone may take part in national ceremonies.

I am thankful I live in a land where a person may sing the national anthem without having someone tell him he may not because of his race.

I am thankful I live in a country governed by democracy rather than force.

I am thankful I live in a land where one is not persecuted.

I am thankful I live in a land where there are people who have real sympathy for refugees from European countries who have gone through horrible experiences.

I am thankful I shall be able to realize my ambitions which would have been impossible had I remained in my native land.

I am thankful I live in a land where the youth of all races have a tomorrow, rather than in my native land, where the youth of the race is without a tomorrow.

I am thankful I am happy and free.

What happened to Martin Marden? He enlisted in the Army in 1940 at age 18 and served as an interrogator and interpreter in Europe during the second World War, and continued his military service in Korea and Vietnam, achieving the rank of Colonel. This is not uncommon -- nowadays, about 8,000 non-citizens enlist in the Armed Forces, and 65,000 immigrants (including non-citizens) are on active duty, representing about 5 percent of all active duty personnel.

I am going to try to keep the refugee experience in mind this year for Thanksgiving. I have donated to the International Institute of Minnesota, which assists in refugee resettlement locally, among many other services, with Martin Marden listed as the honoree. Along with kugel, I may also make a carrot and sweet potato tzimmes, to add a little more of the flavor of the Ashkenazi refugee to my dinner table. And I think I will read Marden's prayer out loud.

Actually, I think I will read it out loud at Thanksgiving from here on out.


Week 46: Think Yiddish Dress Lumberjack

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 305 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 184 hours
I have reviewed 3,652 individual flashcards

I've reached on of those moments again, when all the words I don't know and then about 50 long phrases that are hard to remember all show up in my flashcards at once. It becomes a logjam of just brute memorization, hours of it, and in order to get through it I must suspend learning new words and phrases or it is just too much.

I am approaching the end of my first year of study, and I have somehow become unstuck in time.  At 46 weeks I am now 11.5 months into my studies, so should finish my first year in two weeks, but, of course, that's not true, because a month is never exactly four weeks. There are 52 weeks in a year, so I have six weeks until I complete my first year. That would put me in the first week of January of this coming year, and, yes, checking my calendar, the anniversary of the start of this project is January 6, so that's about right.

And yet my flashcards claim I am only 305 days into my studies, so I would have 60 days left -- two whole months! I suspect the discrepancy is because there were days in the past year when I was not able to study, and the flashcard program must not count them. I don't know whether I feel bad about having missed two whole weeks of study in the past year or am impressed that I only missed about a dozen days. After all, that's only, like, 3 percent of the whole year I missed. Still, I'm the sort of person who never has a sick day, so phooey.

I also don't know how to feel about the fact that I will end the year having learned about 4,000 words. I was hoping for 5,000, unreasonably, and expected to manage about 3,000, which I have exceeded. I supposed I have some time to cogitate on how I feel about this past year before I reach the end of it.

In the meanwhile, I find myself dressing a lot less British nowadays. I have always had an excess of civic pride for my home state of Minnesota, and the further away from it I have been, and the longer I have been away, the more irritatingly Minnesotan I have become. Although my adoptive family are native New Yorkers, it seems likely my biological father's family since the 1880s, making me a fourth-generation Minnesotan.

My girlfriend comes from a lumber family from the North Woods, and Minneapolis was originally a lumber town, and we've decided just to embrace that whole thing. I sort of feel like a character who appeared briefly in the television series "Northern Exposure." There is an episode in which the doctor in an Alaskan town, a Jewish transplant named Joel, learns of a death in his family. He attempts to assemble a minyan, and his friends scour the outlying territories for Jews. One of the people who answer the call is a burly, bearded trucker, and Joel cannot believe he is Jewish until he says the Shema on request.

So if you come to Minnesota looking for Jews, you're likely to find me, dressed in a plaid shirt, eating wild rice soup, living in an apartment of rustic wooden furniture, and studying Yiddish beneath photographs of a Northern lumber mill.

But I can say the Shema if you ask. Oh yah. You betcha.


A brief history of Yiddish Omaha

 Omaha has been a city of many languages, part of a country of many languages, and those languages each tell their own stories. There was Yiddish, as an example. The language comes from the same linguistic source as modern German, called High German. But Yiddish developed into its own language in the 9th century, and, following Jewish migrations eastward, picked up a number of Slavic words and grammatical forms, as well as borrowing a number of words from Hebrew. Yiddish became the common language of the Jews of Eastern Europe, and, as the migrated to America, they brought the language with them.

It’s hard to know precisely when Yiddish first came to Omaha. There have been Jews in the city since at least 1856, but it is likely many of them were of German extraction, and probably spoke German, rather than Yiddish. We know that a large number of Jews from Ukraine came to Omaha after they were expelled from the city of Kiev in 1886, but their language goes unmentioned in local newspapers until October of 1879, when the Bee ran an article about a performance of “In Gay New York” that would appear at the Boyd theater downtown and featured a “novel Yiddish specialty.”

Notices like this would continue to appear, such as one from June of 1899, when the World-Herald ran an ad for the Trocadero vaudeville theater of 14th Street downtown, which featured a performance by Julius Rose, who offered Yiddish ragtime songs and dances.

It is likely these performers were doing something called “dialect comedy,” in mostly English but with thick accents, but it does indicate that the character and language of the East European Jews was starting to get some stage time. Indeed, one such performer was local: Carl Reiter, manager of the Orpheum, would occasionally appear onstage performing “Yiddish” stories.

Local use of Yiddish as a daily language first found its way into the papers in 1903, in a World Herald story titled “Looking to Nebraska as a Haven of Refuge.” The story detailed the plight of Russian Jews, who were then experiencing anti-Semitic violence, and their need to find American cities that could accept them as refugees. According to the US Census, and by 1930, Omaha would home to more than 2,000 Jews from the former Russian Empire.

Soon, we find our first performance entirely in Yiddish. In June of 1904, a performance of  “Alexander, Crown Prince of Jerusalem” took place at the Krug theater, formerly the Trocadero; the theater would be home to similar events for years to come. Also in 1904, the World-Herald reported a new police officer in the downtown Market District would be expected to understand a variety of languages, including Yiddish. By 1906, local Zionist meetings in English and Yiddish were reported at 17th and Farnam.

1909 brought a Yiddish giant to Omaha: Boris Thomashefsky, one of the biggest stars in Yiddish theater, who was responsible for the first professional Yiddish theater production in America. Thomashefsky appeared at the Burwood Theater downtown, where film star Harold Lloyd made his debut. It must have gone well, as he was followed by another legend of Yiddish theater: Jacob Adler in 1910, whose daughter Stella taught Method Acting to Omaha’s Marlon Brando, who also picked up some Yiddish and used to read Yiddish newspapers in New York.

In 1911, the World-Herald listed three Omaha synagogues where the primary language was Yiddish, all downtown, two of them new. In the story, a local rabbi estimated there were 1,000 Yiddish speakers in the city. In a follow story, the paper opined within a generation or two, Yiddish would be a dead language.

It isn’t, as there is still a vibrant Yiddish-speaking community in the United States, but the language usage has dwindled in Omaha. There was a film in Yiddish, 1975’s “Hester Street,” that was largely in Yiddish and was written and directed by Omaha Joan Micklin Silver, and the town still sees Yiddish performance, including Mandy Patinkin, who sings traditional Yiddish songs.

It’s too early to count out Yiddish as a language. Studies have shown a growing interest in the language, especially among a younger generation of Jews. There may yet be a time when Omaha’s Market district, now it’s Old Market, is home to multiple languages, and Yiddish will be among them.


I Married a Jew

I am going to tackle an essay now that made the rounds a few years ago and originally dates back to 1939, so I'm not exactly treading new ground here. The article is titled "I Married a Jew" and was published in the Atlantic, which put its archives online in 2008, leading to the rediscovery.

I think it enjoyed  attention a few years back because the author, a liberal-minded young woman, manages nonetheless to be spectacularly wrong about just about everything. She's even wrong about Hitler, lecturing her Jewish husband that there is nothing especially notable or unique about the man, and that Jews are just being oversensitive about the subject.

Indeed, the whole essay is essentially one long harangue about the failings of Jews, so much so that New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait called her "the world’s first recorded Shiksplainer."

The story became popular enough that The Atlantic itself felt a need to respond, in the form of a column by staff writer Olga Khazan that essentially treats the whole article as a bizarre artifact of an ancient time. "It’s now basically an after-midnight SNL sketch in magazine-article form," she wrote, later adding that the story is a "a powerful remembrance of how much more hateful our world was just a few generations ago."

Faraway and alien

And the original story does seem faraway and alien, despite having been written not-so-very-long ago -- it was authored a year after my father was born. And yest, especially in the past few weeks, it does not seem so very, very faraway or alien. It's an essay that just reeks with privilege, and I don't think privilege has gone away.  If anything, I think the past election, in which a candidate pushing a white nationalist worldview was elected president, shows that not only is this sort of privilege still around, but it can decide the fate of nations.

What strikes me now upon reading the essay are not the things that seem different, although they are worth noting. She is adamant that Jews are a different race, which her Jewish husband agrees with. In general, this is not a widely held worldview anymore, except among rabid antisemites. She quotes her mother's concerns that her marriage to a Jew will bar her from certain circles, but that isn't so much the case anymore. The mother also declares Jews to be Oriental, and not only has the meaning of the word changed quite a bit (at the time it included the near Middle East), but the word has fallen out of popular uses except to refer to rugs.

She also declares Picasso a Jew, for some reason, and doesn't think much of him. She calls a synagogue a Jewish church, which is crazy. She seems to think it is literally impossible for someone from China to assimilate into American society, which was then a popular stereotype that doesn't get applied to the Chinese as much nowadays; no, instead we hear it is Muslims who are incapable of assimilating.

And, finally, as mentioned, she minimizes the threat of Hitler, who on January 30th of 1939 had announced his intention to annihilate the Jewish race in Europe. Writing the same year, the author of "I Married a Jew" tells her husband that "a hundred years hence the world will no more call Hitler a swine for expelling the Jews than it does Edward I of England, who did the same thing in the thirteenth century." In the entire history of predicting things, this may the worst prediction anyone has yet managed, and the fact that she had the temerity to lecture a Jew about antisemitism, its risks, and how real its threat is -- well, I just can't. I can't.

But what stands out for me is how little room she makes in her life for Judaism. She boasts that her husband does not look Jewish, does not have a Jewish name, and is not religious. It's the only thing that convinces her nakedly antisemitic mother to approve the marriage. The author learns almost nothing about Judaism, although she boasts that she has read the Old Testament, as though reading a document that is considered sacred to Christians is in some way a favor to the Jews.

There is a moment when she tries to describe the Yiddish used by her husband's family, and she manages two actual Yiddish words -- meshuge, meaning crazy, and tzimmes, a sweet stew. But then she also says chasseh, and I have no clue what she's trying to say, and I grew up with exactly the sort of Yiddish she describes and have studied it as a language for almost a year. In fact, if you do a Google search, the second result for "chasseh" is this article, and the first is for a Jewish history project from Maine that describes a man speaking Yiddish with a thick Mainer accent, so that the word for pig, chazzer, is rendered chasseh. Maybe that's what she's hearing.

Anyway, she doesn't like the Yiddish. Well, not the Yiddish, per se, but instead the fact that the husband's family "make no concession to me as a Gentile." She continues: " They go about their Jewish ways, tales of their Jewish problems, and consider me aloof if I do not enter whole-heartedly into all this and become as one of them."

Let me remind you of the thing that made the husband appealing to her: The fact that he didn't seem especially Jewish. There is no indication that she has made any room for his Jewishness in her life. But, then, it is pretty clear she thinks she shouldn't have to. Here is her harangue on the Jewish character:

Had the Jews seized these opportunities for amalgamation, eventually all the barriers would have been broken down. But the Jews did not seize the opportunity. They chose to retain their identity and remained in intact as before. Today it is America that is offering the children of Israel the greatest opportunity in history for absorption.

This paragraph is not unique. It's a subject she returns to again and again, almost obsessively -- indeed, she refers to her husband as "lapsing" back into Jewishness when he is around his family, which  feels alien to her. "Separately I am fond of them; individually I welcome them to my home; but in a large group of them I feel like a fish out of water," she complains.

And this is the crux of it. This is the privilege. She has grown up in a world where she has never been made to feel the outsider, and when she very briefly experiences it, when she very occasionally enters an environment where her concerns, experiences, and worldview are not dominant, she recoils. Never mind that this is how her husband's family feels all the time -- that is their own fault, as they are clannish, foreign interlopers.

She gestures at sympathy at one point, saying that we must meet halfway, that Jews must not be so entirely Jewish and Gentiles must not be so entirely Gentile, but she offers no concessions of her own. Well, one. When her husband irritably reminds her that many Jews have assimilated but been subjected to antisemitism anyway, she allows that this as true. But, when it comes down to it, whose fault was it?

The Jews. The Jews did not seize the opportunity. They chose to retain their identity and remained in intact as before.

Echoes of fascism

It is almost impossible not to hear echoes of fascism in these words. Here are two quotes, and I will not tell you whether they are from the article or from Adolf Hitler. See if you can determine who said what:

"The best characterization is provided by the product of this religious education, the Jew himself. His life is only of this world, and his spirit is inwardly as alien to true Christianity as his nature two thousand years previous was to the great founder of the new doctrine."

"The Hebrew religion must be divorced from the promulgation of that race consciousness which every synagogue and temple considers as important a part of Judaism as prayer; it should be mortified at least to the point where it does not belittle the great ideal of western culture and civilization: Christ."

It's the latter. I know that this is a little unfair, as typically Hitler was a little more blunt about his antisemitism, referring to Jews as vermin and enemies of the state. But both started from the presumption that Jews are interlopers, and that their refusal to assimilate was the crux of the Jewish question -- the difference between Hitler and our more tolerant Gentile wife is that the former did not think Jews could assimilate, by virtue of being a degenerate race, while the author of "I Married a Jew" thinks Jews can assimilate, but choose not to, and therefore encourage institutional antisemtism.

But both share a core belief: That the problem is the Jew. That antisemtism isn't a pernicious evil perpetrated by Gentiles upon Jews, but instead a predictable response to the fact of Jews. Particularly, that there is something about the Jewish experience that, by its clannish nature, makes it hard to trust the national identity of the Jew. "A few cultural, intellectual Jews announce they are first Americans and then Jews, but they are voices crying in the wilderness," she complains.

What is the source of her sense that there is something suspicious about the Jewish experience in America, something that might be contradictory to the national interests of the country? She is never especially clear on this, but, based on her essay, I would guess it is this:

She thinks her experience, as a Gentile woman in America, is the American experience. When she is among unassimilated Jews, not only does she encounter an experience that is unlike her own, but one that does not defer to her experience.

It never occurs to her that this is what it is like to live in a multicultural America, because she was not witness to a previous generation's conflict, in which the loyalties of German Americans were seen as suspect, and were suppressed. No, she grew up in an America where German-Americans were comfortably mainstream. As a result, when she finds herself in a situation in which she feels her own experiences being marginalized, she makes an amazing leap: She is not sure she can trust these people as Americans.

But it's not that amazing a leap. The idea that the refusal of Jews to assimilate makes them a suspect people, an invading nation with Jewish loyalties, is a classic antisemitic trope -- it was the very one that Hitler used to justify the Final Solution. Our author grew up with a mother who was nakedly antisemitic ("Jews are sensual, aggressive, ostentatious, cunning—that is a heritage they can never overcome. They accomplish things in business because they are shrewder than Christians and never hesitate to seize an unfair advantage."). More than that, she grew up in an American that was more nakedly antisemitic than now. She absorbed that antisemitism as fact and, amazingly, decided to write an entire column in which she lectures her husband about the problems with Judaism, using these antisemitic arguments.

Not so dominant

With the rise of the belligerently antisemitic so-called alt right, it is tempting to look at how they use these classic antisemitic tropes. But I think most Americans are closer to "I Married a Jew's" author, and I think we're seeing a lot of this same sort of reaction right now. The dominant majority is not so dominant anymore, and soon won't be a majority -- by 2060, it is projected that non-whites will be the majority in this country.

That's still a ways off, but we're certainly seeing the effects of white people no longer feeling like they are being pushed out of the center. It shows itself whenever a minority asserts themselves in any way. "Black Lives Matter" is immediately responded to with "All Lives Matter," which must be understood as saying "How Dare You Craft a Slogan That Doesn't Include White People." Abigail Fisher insists, without evidence, that she was passed over for acceptance into the University of Texas in favor of less qualified black people, and takes the case to the Supreme Court. Pharmacists refuse to provide birth control to patients, and county clerk Kim Davis refuses to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, and both insist that they are not discriminating, but instead are being discriminated against, because their religion gives them the right to treat other American citizens unequally.

Never mind that it doesn't. But you'll note that, despite the fact that these people are violating the law, nobody ever questions whether or not Christianity is compatible with being American, or demands that Christians assimilate.

When I say Trump ran on a platform of White Nationalism, I mean that his speeches were meant to assuage white Americans that this is a white nation, and inflame their anger than it is becoming increasingly less white. Consistently, he targeted non-whites, particularly (but not exclusively) Mexicans and Muslims.

I won't spend any time on arguments that he reached his audience because he addressed economic insecurities, as he had no actual policies to address this. Instead, he ran on a platform that looked for scapegoats, and found them, and they were almost entirely people of color. He appealed to national humiliation, but his voters weren't economically humiliated -- Trump's supporter had a median income of $72,000, which is $20,000 higher than the national median income and $48,000 higher than the poverty rate for a family of four.

No, they were responding to racial humiliation. Trump painted undocumented Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, despite the fact that these immigrants commit, on average, less crime than American citizens. Trump painted Muslims as either being violent extremists or participating in a support network for violent extremists, despite the fact that your average American is almost totally unlikely to experience political terrorism, and if they do so it will likely be at the hands of a white extremist. 

Trump opposed globalism, but he almost exclusively pointed to Mexico and China as places where US manufacturing jobs have gone. But the truth is, while the US did lose about 5 million factory jobs since 2000, most of them didn't go overseas, but instead were lost to increased automization. Brown people didn't take the jobs; robots did. 

But white people aren't afraid of robots. Not the way they are afraid of brown people, afraid of being pushed out of the center. And it was a winning strategy -- although Trump did not manage to win the popular vote, the Electoral College, which was designed to protect the interests of slave owners, aligned with white nationalist concerns in this election, a stunning demonstration of both the tenacity of racism and the longterm effectiveness of institutions designed to support racism.


I suppose the thing that I find most illuminating about the essay it is fragility. That's a word that's enjoyed a lot of currency lately, and I think it is the right one. She presumes her privileged is somehow natural and earned, and that the experience of white Christians is the American experience. She spends almost all her time luxuriating in this while witnessing the real-world oppression of her husband. He is, as an example, denied the opportunity to join a fraternity due to his religion, and that's just one of the many opportunities that were denied to Jews in the 1930s. And this happens despite the fact that he does not look Jewish, does not have a Jewish name, and is not religious -- for all practical purposes, he has assimilated away his Judaism, to such an extent that the author admits the subject almost never comes up.

And yet, for the very brief moments when she is with his family, and her experiences are no longer assumed to be dominant, she becomes tremendously unhappy. So unhappy that she had to write an entire essay for The Atlantic discussing how Jews desperately need to be less Jewish or antisemtism will continue. 

And it is worth reading this essay knowing that the author is still with us, or at least her worldview is. There are a lot of people in America like her, who presume the experience of being white and Christian is the American experience. She couldn't stand hearing a little Yiddish -- imagine how hard it would be for someone like her to be in America that constantly challenges her dominance, her centrality, her status.

And we Jews must be mindful of this, both because we are still not so close to the mainstream, as the brutal antisemtism of the alt right reminds us, but also because we are close enough to the mainstream to likewise be threatened, likewise be fragile. 

When we hear our neighbors described as incapable of assimilation, or as having divided loyalties due to their religion, or as being unwelcome interlopers undeserving of the same rights or opportunities, we should remember that the same was said of us.

It was not so long ago. Some say it still.


Week 45: The last post about moving

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 299 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 180 hours
I have reviewed 3,612 individual flashcards

I promise this will be my last post about moving back to Minneapolis, but I just need to say: Moving is hard, yo.

We're in our new apartment at last, as of Saturday. But that means we are in an apartment crowded with unpacked boxes and one nervous dog -- although to Burt's credit, he seems to be adapting to his new home with alacrity. I haven't completely recovered from my cold, and the move Saturday was a whole day affair, so there was a day or two when I didn't have a chance to study Yiddish, god damn it.

But this should be winding down, and I should be back to something resembling a proper schedule soon enough. I have now been in Minneapolis, and at my new job, for almost five weeks, and am starting to get the hang of the latter.

As far as my studies go, I always feel like I just don't know any words at all, and it always turns out that I actually perfectly know somewhere between 68 and 80 percent of the older words, the ones I learned first and so rarely show up in the rotation of flashcards. So a happy percent of what I have been learning manages to stick, but it feels like it doesn't, because there are so many recent words that I have not yet really learned, and they come up all the time.

In fact, an overwhelming number of my cards are "mature" -- about 2100, as compared to about 1400 "young and learning cards." So, at my worst, I have a vocabulary of about 1700 words that I can reliably access, which seems like it isn't that many words, but, then, there are an awful lot of words that I sort of know -- it only takes a quick review to refresh my memory.

I suspect there will get to be a point where I am less concerned about how many words I have learned and how well I have learned them, but it's really all you have to go on when you're studying alone as a hobby.


Trump's America and the Failure of Assimilation

At the top of this page is a map of America in the process of voting Donald Trump to be our next president. There are going to be a lot of think pieces about this upset, a lot of hot takes, and a lot of work to be done. But for the moment a lot of us look at this map and see the same thing:

Half of the country hates us.

Trump's victory is the victory of the rise of white nationalism. This was not an election that was based around qualifications, as Trump has none. It was not based around policy, as Trump has none that are clearly articulated, and those he has are mostly the usual sort of plutocratic tax cuts for the the very wealthy. No, his campaign was entirely about demonizing the other. He started with Mexican immigrants, quickly moved on to Muslim refugees, and somehow, by the end of his campaign, had managed to be thoroughly misogynistic, encourage outright racists, nod his head at homophobes, and capped it off with a final ad campaign that was instantly recognizable as an antisemitic dog whistle.

A lot of people are looking at this map right now and thinking that half of America hates them. Pretty much the other half of the country. A little more than half of this country probably feels hated, in fact, as it looks very likely that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.

This is a Jewish blog, so let me address a Jewish subject. It's something I have been thinking about a lot lately, and the election of Trump has clarified the subject a great deal for me. And that is the question of being publicly, visibly a Jew in the United States.

It's becoming a hard to time to do that. The rising tide of white nationalism, especially expressed by its activist wing, the alt right, has targeted Jews. Emboldened by Trump's rhetoric, they have become the vanguard of the sort of relentless campaign of harassment pioneered by Gamergate in their attempts to suppress feminist criticism of video games. If you are identifiably Jewish on Twitter, there is a good chance you will, at some point, be subject to gleefully antisemitic language and imagery, increasingly coupled with threats.

And this hasn't just happened in the online world. There has been a rise in real-world antisemitic incidents, including assault, as reported by the Anti-Defamation League.

This troubling trend points to a few things, none of which are surprising to anyone who knows the history of antisemtitism:

1. It is important to note that there are many Jews who are not white. But these incidents remind us that even for light-skinned Jews in America, whiteness is provisional. Americanness is provisional. The ancient mythology of antisemitism has us as rootless others, eternal interlopers whose only allegiance is a clannish impulse toward power and money. This view of Jews never went away, and is enjoying new popularity among white nationalists.

2. Antisemitism is complicated because it simultaneously privileges Jews and punishes them for their privilege.  This puts Jews in the unenviable position of being pressed between those who are worse off and see Jews as representatives of privilege and those who are better off and see Jewish privilege as suspect and unearned.

3. Antisemitism is appealing to people with the sort of paranoiac worldview that leads to them seeking out conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, Americans seems unusually susceptible to this sort of mindset, first clearly documented all the way back in 1964 by Richard Hofstadter in his essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." Classic antisemitism seems perfectly designed for this mindset, and so we are seeing a revival of popularity of such hoary antisemitic golden oldies as the International Banking Conspiracy, Jews Conspiring Against the Greater Good for their Own Best Interests, and  Jewish Ownership of the Media.

I'd like to briefly take a look at Trump's final campaign video, which made use of one of these tropes. The ad took as its text Trump's dark musings in a speech on October 13 in which he opined that Hillary Clinton “meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty” and that “a global power structure” is in league against the interests of everyday Americans.

The ad made explicit who he was talking about, putting faces next to his statements: business magnate George Soros, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System Janet Yellen, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. All Jews.

Note how perfectly this fits the structure of antisemitism. All three are assimilated and accomplished American Jews (although Soros was born in Hungary). There are no specific charges levied against any of them, only the general accusations that they are in league against U.S. sovereignty. There are no non-Jews including in this roundup of villains, and this cannot be an accident, not with how effectively it positions Jews as suspicious interlopers pursuing clannish, anti-American schemes.

And, for me, this is a reminder that the great American experiment of assimilation has been a failure. Jews can be accomplished businesspeople, the most American of pursuits, as George Soros is. Jews can attend the most WASPy, old money educational institutions, as did Yellen (Yale) and Blankfein (Harvard). And yet all somebody need do is mutter some old accusations and suddenly they are nothing but plotting Jews. Soros is especially a popular demon of the right, as he has undeniably used his power and influence to sway elections -- but so have the Koch brothers. And this is how antisemitism works. Behavior that is unremarkable when done by a gentile becomes suspect when done by a Jew.

I don't know how many actual, active antisemites there might be in America. But I know that half of the country either is incapable of recognizing antisemitism or does not care about the issue, because those people voting for someone who made antisemitism part of his campaign, and has received full-throated, unanimous public support from people who are unambiguously antisemitic.

I am not here to rail against assimilation as a personal choice. I am a big tent Jew, and I think all sorts of expressions of Judaism are legitimate and marvelous and should be celebrated. Hasids would no doubt look at me and see a thoroughly assimilated America Jew, especially since my relationship with Judaism is almost entirely secular.

But assimilation is not simply a personal choice. It is also a tactic, and a deliberate one. There is a long history of Jewish assimilation and opposition to assimilation, but when we talk about it in the modern sense, we are talking about something that started with the Haskala, the Jewish enlightenment. It came at a time when European Jews were increasingly living an urban life, which increased both their visibility and their contact with their gentile neighbors.

Assimilation was specifically developed as a tool for increasingly economic and social opportunities with non-Jews, especially for Jews who were in the upper classes. It was also seen as a tactic for combating antisemitism. Assimilation probably did work in the former case, but, as has repeatedly been demonstrated, was a cataclysmic failure in the latter case. Worse, because of the way antisemitism works, assimilation ends up playing into the idea that Jews are unwelcome interlopers with unearned success. Every step of the way, Jewish success is met with antisemtic pushback.

Jews are not unique in this. Jewish assimilation is a sort of an early precursor to respectability politics, which black communities and gay communities have both wrestled with, among others. There is always a sense that if we could just placate the majority, convince them that we are not so very different, they will accept us.

And yet here it is, 2016, and half of America just voted to essentially elect an orange bellows with the word "hate" scrawled across it. No matter how hard you try to be to be respectable, to fit in, to seem nonthreatening to the majority, they still find space within their mean little hearts to shout "All lives matter," to shoot up a black church, or a gay bar, or to make commercials accusing Jews of being a global conspiracy against the United States.

It's exhausting, it's maddening, it's heartbreaking. But it's something else as well. It is liberating.

Because it means that we can choose to assimilate or not assimilate as we wish. We can be as visibly or invisibly Jewish as we want to be, because it does not make a lick of difference to the dominant majority. Whether we walk around with peyes or in jean shorts, they still are going to put brackets around our names and read to each other from "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." No matter what we do, antisemites are still going to antisemite.

Me, I think I'll continue finding ways to be a little Jewier. I always found assimilation to be a bore, and so will continue to look for ways in which I can be publicly, visibly what I am: a busily, noisily, actively, aggressively secular Jew with a particular interest in Jewish cultural expressions and Yiddish.

I suppose that's what I have been doing all along with this blog. But I sort of feel like I need it now more than I did yesterday.


Podcast: Vaybertaytsh


Years ago I stumbled onto a book called "Radiotext(e)," an anthology of essays about the early years of radio. The book was both fascinating and frustrating, as it detailed a wildly experimental era of radio. Because the medium had not developed, had not been monetized, had not been corporatized, radio could be anything that involved the transmission of sound. 

This was not the radio I grew up with, for the most part. There were a few eccentricities here and there, from rebroadcasts of radio dramas to the novelty songs found on Dr. Demento's show. But radio had cycled its way down to a decreasing collection of options, including top-40s pop music, very serious newscasts, and, most awfully, the rising popularity of right wing talk radio.

I don't know how long it will last, but this moment, now, the early years of podcasting, recalls the madly experimental early era of radio. I listen to a lot of podcasts, hungrily, thrilled by the variety, the recklessness, the sheer abandon of it all. 

So you can imagine I was thrilled to discover a Yiddish podcast recently. Not just Yiddish -- Yiddish and explicitly feminist, called Vaybertaytsh. I can't imagine how large or how small the audience for such a podcast might be, but, then, one of the great pleasures of podcasting is that this need not be a concern. If you wish, you can narrowcast to as small an audience as you wish to reach. How many feminists speak enough Yiddish to enjoy such a program? 100? 1,000? Well, that's the audience, along with anyone else who wishes to listen.

I'm the audience, to an extent. I certainly support the show's feminism, although my Yiddish is just barely good enough for me to catch the drift of what is being discussed on the show.  No matter -- my Yiddish will get better, and I can always go back and relisten to the show as it improves, and follow more of the discussion.

I reached out to the creator of the show, Sandy Fox, to discuss Vaybertaytsh.

First, could I get some background on you. I gather from your bio that you're a PhD candidate in American Jewish history at New York University, and that, delightfully, you have studied summer camps. But can you fill me in on a little more of your bio, especially how you got to be interested in Yiddish and where you learned?

I got into Yiddish by accident: I had to take a department exam in a relevant research language, and I had just started to think of changing fields from Israel studies to American Jewish history when my friend Naftali Ejdelman started urging me to spend time on his farm in upstate New York -- Yiddish Farm -- learning Yiddish intensively. 

At the time I thought, okay, sounds like a pretty fun, charming way to learn Yiddish quickly, and to knock out this exam -- it’ll be sort of like going back to summer camp, which, of course, I’m always down for. In those two weeks at Yiddish Farm, I fell in love with the language quite unexpectedly, and the interest grew from there. That was three and a half years ago.

How did you come up with the idea for the podcast, and how does goes from idea to actually being a podcast. Is there much of it that is scripted in advance?

I came up with the idea from the podcast because I love podcasts, plain and simple. I don’t just listen to them, though: I sit and dissect them, thinking about what I like or don’t like about the sounds, transitions, voices, and formats. I've wanted to make something in Yiddish for a while now, and I suppose I just naturally gravitated to my favorite medium.

I’ve taken all of the stuff I’ve learned from listening and attempted to combine the good parts of my favorite podcasts to make Vaybertaytsh’s sound and format work for me. (For podcast listeners who are curious, Vaybertaytsh’s sound is most inspired by “Death, Sex, and Money,” “The Heart,” and “Strong Opinions Loosely Held.” I also aim to interview like Terri Gross, but of course that’s an extremely high bar that practically no one can meet). In terms of scripting, I don’t script much in advance, but I do have notes to keep the order in check.

I am interested in particular in your decision to do the podcast entirely in Yiddish. I don't know that I have any specific questions, but it seems to me that you probably have some thoughts on the subject, and I'd be curious to hear those.

There was no question in my mind that this podcast had to be entirely in Yiddish. I’d love to make another podcast someday in English, but in that imaginary scenario, that podcast would probably have little or nothing to do with Yiddish, because I’m just not interested in talking about Yiddish in English. I’m interested in using Yiddish to talk about the world around us, our lives, relationships, histories. That’s how, I believe, a language moves forward.

Your podcast is explicitly feminist. Can you discuss that a little, and discuss how feminism informs your use of Yiddish and your choice of subjects for discussion, as well as how Jewish history and Yiddish inform your feminism? I know there is a long history of Jewish feminism, but I am curious to know if there are explicitly feminist Yiddish models you are drawing from.

Being a Yiddishist and a feminist are two crucial elements of my identity. As I said before, I really didn’t want to make a Yiddish-speaking podcast about Yiddish, so I thought about what I would want to talk about week after week, and how the podcast could be, in some small way, contributing to making this world more just. Combining the two interests and identities seemed rather obvious.

Getting involved in Yiddish has strengthened my feminist resolve, for at least two reasons: firstly, Yiddish led me back into more Orthodox spaces and social situations (mainly at the farm, and in the social extension of the farm in NYC), and though I am fairly observant, I’m committed to egalitarian Judaism for feminist reasons. Facing orthodoxy again after many years (my parents tried orthodoxy on when I was a pre-teen) brought my feminism above the surface.

Secondly, I noticed a certain gender dynamic when I first started learning Yiddish among a lot of the younger Yiddishists I know. Most of my most fluent friends, the people who have been learning or speaking Yiddish for a longer amount of time, are men. My teachers have also been, by and large, male. I found that sys-men's voices were being heard more often than those of sys-women and transfolk. I want to be clear that I’m not pointing fingers -- I love my guy friends who speak Yiddish, and have learned so much from them.

The disparity probably stems from a broader trend of men being more interested in the nitty-gritty of languages. Men are more likely to be hyperpolyglots, too, according to some research I’ve seen. I want Vaybertaytsh to be a space for women, and for feminists more broadly (anyone, regardless of gender identity, can participate, as long as they are interested in creating what can loosely be defined as feminist content) to speak unselfconsciously and be heard, partly to even out that dynamic.

You mentioned your accent in an interview I read, and it struck me that you don't seem to be attempting any sort of classic Yiddish accent, but instead are speaking Yiddish with your own American accent. I like this fact, because as far as I am concerned any accent used by a Yiddish speaker becomes a de facto Yiddish accent, but I wonder if you have any comments on the subject?

Recording alone is a very strange experience. I’ve found that it is extremely hard to put on an accent in a room alone by myself. When I speak to someone else in a natural conversation who does have an accent, I tend to speak a bit differently, a little less American. No matter what, though, I sound American, because I learned Yiddish from Americans who have American accents, even if they do a nice resh and speak a heymish dialect, even if they learned it from the home.

I wish I could tell you that my accent in the episodes stems from some big ideological decision on my part. Though I agree with you that an American accent has it's own legitimacy, I would be happy to have the ability to speak a bit differently. But when you put on an accent, you need someone to mimic. In Hebrew, I can turn on an Israeli accent when it comes in handy, because there’s this whole country of accents to emulate. Whose Yiddish accent can I mimic when 95% of the time I’m speaking to people who also have an American accent?

The thing is though: it's totally fine. Through all the editing and listening to my own voice, I’ve come to really like my Yiddish voice, American and imperfect as it may be. I think the show is making my Yiddish better, which is an added bonus. (I listen to my mistakes and re-record myself when possible, which turns out to be a great autodidactic practice). I hope future contributors and interviewees will also find that they love their own Yiddish voice, even with mistakes and American, Israeli, or any other "inauthentic" accents. It can be a very affirming exercise to just hear your voice and be cool with it.

The podcast is still very new, so I wonder if you have specific plans for the future of it, and to what extent is it an experiment, where you will discover what the podcast is in the process of making it?

It’s very much an experiment. I can tell right now that my personal interest lies interviews and conversations on specific themes, but I’m hoping that other people will bring different types of content to the table. Vaybertaytsh has several new episodes in the works right now, including some that are produced by other people (though I’ll still be introducing and editing them). I find that really exciting. I can’t wait to see what other people come up with!


Week 44: Elliot Park

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 293 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 175 hours
I have reviewed 3,504 individual flashcards

My health finally did something that nothing else seemed capable of: It briefly stopped me from studying Yiddish. I didn't have an especially bad cold, but a bad enough cold as to make concentration impossible. So I took a break of a few days, maybe three days, and now am back to studying again.

This was probably the best week possible for ill health, however, if such a thing exists. It was a short work week, and I was able to leave early two of the four days I worked. This coming weekend, I take everything I own out of storage in my girlfriend's parent's house and movie it into a new apartment in my old neighborhood of Elliot Park, and you don't want to be sick for that. And I had some big tasks at the end of the last week, including opening a new bank account and getting a local ID, and was feeling well enough to get it all done.

I will be glad to be into my new apartment on Saturday. This transition happened both very quickly and has stretched itself out over a longer period than I expected: One day I was in Omaha, the next in Minneapolis, and had to adjust to a sudden change, but I have been living in a spare bedroom for a month, and have had to adjust to being in a long limbo, and both have been stressful. It has been impossible for me to develop anything like a routine, and study benefits from routine. Next week, I should start finding my rhythms again, and I am anxious to have this begin.

I went back and reread many of my earliest entries on this blog, back when I was obsessed with how many words I could memorize and how quickly I could do so. I hoped to learn 3,000 words by the end of my first year, profoundly underestimating how much I could learn. I am now 11 months into studying and have learned something in the area of 3,500 words, and should have learned more than 4,000 words by the anniversary of my first blog post, which my calendar tells me is January 6, eight weeks from now.

When I started this project, eight weeks of study seemed like a mammoth undertaking. Now it seems barely consequential, like I could just lie down to sleep and wake eight weeks later without noticing its passing. I shall try to wrap up several of my projects in the next two months, though, so I can think about what my second year of study will be like. I should have the following finished:

1. I have been working my way through a small English-Yiddish dictionary and am now up to the letter S. I should be done with this by then.

2. I have been writing down Yiddish curses. I should have about 40 by the end of the year and this seems like enough curses for the moment.

3. I have been learning from an audio course called "Yiddish Crash Course" taken from a Kaplan language program. I will be done with that.

That leaves one project to carry over into the new year: That of learning the entirety of "Say It in Yiddish,"which is slow going, as I only teahc myself a few phrases from the book per day, and, at the moment, the phrases all sound like this: "Did I leave my luggage at the airplane and will I need it for the customs officer?"

I know two projects I wish to begin in the coming years. Firstly, I plan to buy the massive "Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary" and use that to continue learning vocabulary, as well as going back and building on vocabulary I already have.  My current flash cards do not give the plural form of any word I use, because none of my resources have been very comprehensive about giving plurals, and so I must add that in on every flashcard  for a noun that I have already created.

Secondly, I need to work my way through a really good Yiddish grammar book. I have been saying I must do this for 10 months now, so it will be time to stop saying it and start doing it. 

I do not know what else I wish to accomplish in my second year of study and I suppose I will have to just make it up as I go along, as I have for my first year. I do feel strongly that my second year should include some creative projects, rather than these faux-academic projects I have been engaged in, but I don't know what those might be.

Well, I have two months to think about it, and I will be in a position to sit and really think about things on Sunday, the day after moving day, when I will no longer be in transit but instead settled in my Elliot Park home.


Dress British Drink Yiddish: Mazel Tov Cocktail

This is not ordinarily a topical blog, but last night Donald Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes claimed that a Jay Z video "starts off with a crowd throwing Mazel Tov cocktails at the police," and this is just too delightful to pass up. This is especially thrilling as a Minnesotan, because we have a member of the North Stars Roller Girls who calls herself Mazel Tov Cocktail, who hails from St. Louis Park, where, as I live and breathe, I am currently sitting and writing this.

So obviously the time of the Mazel Tov cocktail is upon us, and what would it be? 

Firstly, perhaps it need not be stated, but what Hughes meant to say was Molotov cocktail, the improvised explosive device named after Vyacheslav Molotov. He was, if you don't know, the Russian diplomat behind the behind the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact that guaranteed no Soviet aggression against the Nazis that lasted all of two years, until the Nazis decided to get aggressive against the Soviet Union by attacking Russia.

Molotov started producing propaganda in support of the pact that was widely mocked, especially by Finns, who suffered bombings under the Nazis that Molotov insisted were food runs. So the Finns started calling Nazi bombs "Molotov bread baskets," and when the Finns started throwing bottles filled with petrol at the Nazis, these were, of course, called Molotov cocktails, because why ruin a lovely food metaphor?

There is a bit of Jewish history hidden here, as Molotov replaced Maxim Litvinov as diplomat, and Litvinov was Jewish. Litvinov was replaced, in part, because the Germans refused to have anything to do with him, calling him "Finkelstein-Litvinov." Stalin then ordered Molotov to purge the ministry of Jews. There are longstanding rumors that Litvinov was later murdered by Stalin in a faked auto accident, although Litvinov's widow denied this; nonetheless, his dismissal marked the start of a growing official antisemitism under Stalin.

Even putting that aside, Molotov's pact with the Nazis kept Russia out of the war for two years, until 1941. So, for many reasons, Jews have plenty of cause for mocking Molotov.

But what should the cocktail be? There already is an actual cocktail called the Molotov, but there is nothing to it: It is vodka with high-proof rum floated on top, and the rum is then set on fire. I think we can do better. For one thing, I think the drink must be served in a bottle to preserve the iconic look of the improvised bomb. I would suggest a Mexican Coke bottle or the like, as wine or whiskey bottles will simply be too large for a single cocktail.

I don't mind the suggestion of starting with vodka, and, as this is a Jewish drink, I would suggest starting with rye vodka, which was the sort Jews were associated with manufacturing in Eastern Europe. I strongly think the drink should preserve some of the flavors of Finland, since they named the thing, and the Finns have something called Lonkero, made by mixing gin with grapefruit soda, so we're going to add in some Fresca.

Of course, all we have now is soda and vodka, and a proper cocktail must have three ingredients or it is, as Peggy Olson says, an emergency and not a drink. This would be the moment when we can really make the drink Jewish, as we should. As it turns out, there is a bit of a hidden tradition in grapefruit cocktails of using cherry as a flavoring -- the sweetheart martini, as an example, combines both. So we're going to put some Cherry Heering in, which will make it a drink your bubbe might have loved, assuming she also loved setting fire to things. I suggest not blending the drink, because then we have the thrill of watching the Heering spread through the vodka like blood through water.

Finally, the drink needs a wick, and, believe it or not, people make wicks to put into bottles (here's an example).  I haven't tested this, but the alcohol in the cocktail should be a high enough proof to feed the wick's flame. It is low enough, however, not to be incendiary should the flame touch the drink itself. So just stuff some of these wicks into your bottle and pass them around, still burning. When people are ready to drink, they need merely snuff the wick and down the drink with a hearty "Mazel Tov!"

It's everything I like in a cocktail. It's a novelty, a history lesson, a floor show, and a bottle of booze all in one.


Week 43: Sick

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 291 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 174 hours
I have reviewed 3,494 individual flashcards

I have come down with a cold, which is thoroughly unsurprising. Moving from one state to another to start a new job is extremely stressful, and, worse, I have been staying in my mother's townhouse with my dog, my girlfriend, my mother, and her boyfriend, and he has a cough severe enough that he wakes up at night to go downstairs to bark for a half hour or so.

I have been likewise coughing, and achy, and exhausted, and so took a break yesterday from plugging new vocab words into my flashcard program. It's probably for the best, as today was another day when I was swamped with sentences that I have a hard time learning, and so I could have spent an hour or more studying, and that's too much when you're feeling punk. I was foggy enough not to be able to remember words I know quite well, like the numbers. "Acht," I would say aloud, bewildered. "Acht? Acccccchhhhttt?" It means eight.

It occurs to me that I have not spent much time discussing the how-tos of my studies, probably because different things are going to work differently for everybody. As I mentioned, I based my studies on one book that argues that instead of memorizing grammar rules, you should just memorize examples of grammar rules, and your brain will do the rest of the work. This has turned out not to be true at all. There is a Yiddish word, zikh,and it's reflective particle, whatever that means. It must be important, because it shows up in sentences all the time. Ikh lern zikh Yiddish, I am studying Yiddish. Haltn zikh, to persevere. But I'm buggered if I know how to use it properly.

Here is advice I will give, because I am sure others will find it useful: Feel free to go in and change your flashcard if you're having trouble memorizing something. I had a bunch of words for genitals in my collection, but, of course, they are all actually euphemism for genitals, but I put a bunch of cartoon images of actual genitals on my flashcards. As a result, I couldn't remember a blessed thing. Is that supposed to be a schmuck or a schlong? Is that a piege or a knish?

This was solved quite easily by putting an image of the non-euphemistic use of the word: A schlong is a snake, for example, so by having both a cartoonish dong and a rattler on the flashcard, I can remember which version of the word is in play.

Also, if a word is pronounced differently than it is spelled (which especially happens with Hebrew and Aramaic loan words), I go ahead and transcribe the proper pronunciation, because there is no way I will remember it otherwise.

I have to modify my flashcards all the time, in fact. I started this project with just a word list, and it did not identify the genders of the words, and Google turned out to be spectacularly wrong on most of the words. So once I got a better dictionary, I went through and corrected the genders. As it turns out, as with English, a single Yiddish word can mean several things.

For a while I was giving each of those things their own flashcards, but it proved to be impossible to remember all possible permutations of a word when they are scattered across thousands of flashcards and show up once every few weeks. Now I just group all the meanings together on a single flashcard when they are similar: Breg, for example, means coast, shore, edge, and border, and those are all similar enough to go on one flashcard.

However, toyb means both deaf and dove, and those are different enough that they need their own flashcards, and I just have to remember that there are two very different meanings for that one word.

And sometimes I have picked an image that just does not tell me what the word or phrase is. I'll stare at in, utterly befuddled, and when I look at the words I can't remember why I picked the image to go with it. When that happens, I change the image. If I don't immediately know what the image is referencing, it is the wrong image.

As I mentioned earlier, if no image at all communicates the word I am learning, I look for an image that actually has the translation written on it. I have found I quickly ignore the English version of the word anyway and focus on the image.

I had not thought I would have to think this hard about flash cards. I guess you never learn on thing, but instead learn the thing that you want to learn, and also learn the things that you have to learn to learn the thing that you want to learn.

I would have no idea how to say that in Yiddish. There is probably a zikh in there somewhere, but where?