[From The Economist]
On the first Sunday of Krakow’s recent Jewish Culture Festival several rain-soaked families took their seats in a tiny pop-up library behind a 15th-century synagogue. It is the oldest of seven in Kazimierz, the historically Jewish quarter where the festival takes place every year. Agnieszka Legutko and Anna Rozenfeld greeted the group: “Shalom aleikhem!” “Aleikhem shalom,” replied the five young girls and their parents. Ms Legutko and Ms Rozenfeld, who were leading this children’s Yiddish workshop, introduced themselves in Yiddish, and started a chain. “Ikh heys Marianna” went the first girl, followed by Lotka, Edyta, Natasza and Lila. Then the singing began.
According to the Department of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University fewer than one million people worldwide still speak Yiddish, compared with over 11m in 1939. Five of the six million Jewish Holocaust victims spoke Yiddish. A “nearly murdered language”, is how Michael Alpert, an American klezmer musician, describes it. But the decision made by the organisers of the Krakow festival to focus not on Hebrew or Holocaust studies but on Yiddish was unsurprising: the language appears to be recovering. Mr Alpert says the number of Yiddish speakers has increased in recent years, citing both the high birthrate of Hasidic communities worldwide, who still use the language, and also its appeal as “hip and cool, part of the new face of Jewish Poland”.
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