For playwright Miriam Hoffman, Yiddish is hardly a dying language. "It just doesn't want to die," said Hoffman, who will teach Yiddish at the Dec. 14-20 intensive language/culture immersion courses at UCLA and the University of Judaism.
"Yiddish was always a problem since its birth," said Hoffman, who writes children's books on the subject, lectures at Columbia University and writes for the Yiddish-language newspaper, Forvertz. "It had to compete with the sacred language, which is Hebrew. Yiddish carried [Zionism] on its back for 1,000 years."
The California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language (CIYCL) is sponsoring, "The Art of Yiddish 2003 -- Entering the Heart of a Culture Through Its Beat," with four levels of language courses, klezmer music and lectures on Yiddish literature. A finale performance will feature renowned actor and Yiddish true-believer Theodore Bikel.
Miriam Koral, CIYCL's director, expects several hundred people to float in and out of the various events and classes, but there also will be a core of about 30 people attending all the language courses, many returning for their fourth Yiddish winter seminar.
"They have been inspired to learn Yiddish in other venues," Koral said. "Our intention is to inspire people so that they have a real respect for this language, this heritage and language to go out and really sink their teeth into."
Bikel publicly has complained that many Jews feel a need to support Israel by emphasizing Hebrew over Yiddish. But Yiddish thrives among throngs of Chasidic and other Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles' Fairfax District and, in larger numbers, Brooklyn's Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Borough Park neighborhoods and upstate New York's New Square and Kiryas Yoel communities.
Hoffman told The Journal that when she leaves her Bronx home to visit those enclaves, "it's like going into Yiddishland. The children play in Yiddish in the streets, the restaurants are in Yiddish and there is the publishing of books in Yiddish for children. It's exciting because it all starts with the little ones."
"The Art of Yiddish 2003 -- Entering the Heart of a Culture Through Its Beat: An Immersion in the Living Language, Literature, Song and Dance." Dec. 14-20, Royce Hall, UCLA Campus and The University of Judaism. For more information, visit www.yiddishinstitute.org or call (310) 745-1190.