Year 2, Week 13: Kishka and tongue sandwiches

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 425 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 269 hours
I have reviewed 4,853 individual flashcards

I was in New York for four days, and managed to study Yiddish on three of them, so I'm fairly pleased with myself. The image above is me on Hester Street, which was sort of a metaphor for me when I started this project: Because I was in Omaha, and there was no real Yiddish community around me, I would create a virtual Yiddish community, which I thought of as my own personal Hester Street.

"Hester Street" is, of course, a 1975 film, largely in Yiddish, written and directed by former Omahan Joan Micklin Silver and based on a novella by Yiddish author Abraham Cahan. It's also a street on Manhattan's Lower East Side, and was a center for Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants.

I will be writing about a lot of my New York stuff as separate posts, but I want to just make a note here: There is a great risk in this sort of project of simply giving in to nostalgia, of fantasizing about a past experience of Judaism that somehow seems more authentic than the current version.

I do not wish to do this, and neither do I wish to present New York as somehow being a locus of an older, more authentic Judaism. New York Judaism is one sort of American Jewish experience, and has maintained some elements that are hard to find elsewhere, in part because its Jewish community is comparatively massive.

I am a product of the New York Jewish experience, as both my parents are native New Yorkers and I was a frequent visitor in my youth. But I am also a product of the Midwestern Jewish experience, where we sometimes called delis "dells," and I won't brook having that experience treated as being somehow less authentic.

That being said, there are some vintage Jewish experiences that are just not available to Minnesota Jews. It is not possible to have an Eastern European schvitz -- there are plenty of saunas in the Twin Cities, but they are not that volcanically hot and wet style favored by my ancestors. Local delis do not offer kishka or tongue sandwiches. There is no Yiddish theater.

I hope to be able to recreate some of this here in Minneapolis, and to tell people how they too can recreate it. You may not be able to hire Russian men to beat you with branches where you live, but that doesn't mean you should be denied the pleasures of platza.

I will detail this more in a fuller essay about something called mayn bubbe's tam, or my grandmother's tastes, but for now I will say that as someone who has studied Yiddish in isolation for almost 15 months, it was nice to see a play in Yiddish, and to meet with Yiddishists, and to hear Yiddish in the wild, on the streets.

Judaism is not really something you do in isolation, but instead as part of a community. Language is the same thing. And so it is worthwhile once in a while to go someplace where a community exists that is doing the sort of things that I do in isolation, to see what it looks like, to experience what it feels like, and, perhaps most meaningfully in Judaism, to taste what it tastes like.