Modern Hebrew by Norman Berdichevsky

Modern Hebrew: The Epic Transformation of a Language

While teaching modern Hebrew in England and the United States, Norman Berdichevsky got a shock. Many of his students, he found, “were unable to utter a sentence in the modern language”—despite having attended Hebrew school at their synagogues for four or five years. “In modern Israel, they would be functionally illiterate,” Berdichevsky says. The experience led him to write a book on the topic, which came out last month: Modern Hebrew: The Past and Future of a Revitalized Language. Stateside, many still equate Hebrew with its rabbinical counterpart, the purview of bar mitzvahs and synagogue prayer. In Israel, the story is different. In the 1880s, early Zionists sought to adopt a modernized version of the ancient biblical language. Most believed it couldn’t be done. Today, Israeli Hebrew has become the most successful language revitalization project in...

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The Death of Yiddish?

By Merav Levkowitz For 25 years, the American klezmer band The Klezmatics has been unable to sustain itself solely from their Yiddish klezmer music. The reason is not for lack of talent: In 2006, they won a Grammy award for Best Contemporary World Music Album for their album Wonder Wheel: Lyrics by Woody Guthrie. In an age when music gains fame through social media and viral marketing, a Grammy award may not mean instant fame and success for anyone.  Yet the Klezmatics, the subject of a  documentary called On Holy Ground, have faced difficulties with deeper roots: the decline of Yiddish. For centuries, Yiddish was more than just an “Oy gevalt” and a “What chutzpah!” thrown into other languages for comic effect. Rather, Yiddish was the beacon of a rich East European Jewish culture of language, literature,...

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