Knesset: Say It in Yiddish

For the first time, the Knesset is officially marking Yiddish Culture Day. A Yiddish Knesset lexicon was released for the occasion.

Nissan Ratzlav-Katz , | updated: 7:50 PM

Yiddish recruitment poster (archive)
Yiddish recruitment poster (archive)
Israel News Photo: (file)

For the first time since its founding, the Knesset is officially marking Yiddish Language and Culture Day on Tuesday. A Yiddish-Hebrew Knesset lexicon was released for the occasion.

The date for the parliamentary nod to Yiddish, a language once spoken by more than 12 million Jews, was selected to mark 150 years since the birth of the Yiddish author Shalom Aleichem. This past week was also the 20th anniversary of the founding of Yiddishshpiel, Tel Aviv's all-Yiddish theater.

The day's events include a joint meeting of the Knesset's Absorption, Immigration and Diaspora Committee and the Education and Culture Committee to discuss Yiddish culture. The Knesset is also holding a special session to discuss the place of Yiddish in modern Israeli society. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Deputy Minister of Pensioners Affairs Leah Ness are delivering the main speeches of the session.

Ahead of the unique Knesset session, a lexicon of the Yiddish translations of several key phrases often used by Israeli parliamentarians was distributed to all Knesset members. A few key phrases from the lexicon that veteran MKs may find useful include:

Ich hob eich nisht geshtert, toshter nisht mir! - "I didn't interrupt you, don't interrupt me!"

Ich ruf eich tzum seder dus ershte mol.... - "I am calling you to order for the first time...."

Ordners, derveitert im fun zal! - "Ushers, remove him from the hall!"

Vehr siz far, zol veilen 'far'. Vehr siz keigen, zol veilen 'keigen'. - "Whoever is in favor, vote 'in favor'. Whoever is opposed, vote 'opposed'."

In the Knesset auditorium, members of the Yiddishshpiel theater troupe are performing songs and selected scenes from the Yiddish theater and from Jewish tradition. Throughout the day, the Knesset halls will host an exhibition from the Shalom Aleichem House, which is dedicated to preserving the author's legacy.

More than 450 people were invited to take part in the Knesset festivities and events.

Behind the cultural initiative stands Knesset Member Lia Shemtov (Israel Beiteinu), chairperson of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee, who grew up speaking Yiddish in her family home in the Ukraine.

"This language represents for me the language, culture and history of the Jews of Europe," Shemtov said. "Yiddish is a rich, pungent, humorous, sweet and indulgent language. ...Yiddish, for me, is mein mameloshen, mein tateloshen, mein bubbeloshen und mein zeydeloshen ('my mother tongue, my father tongue, my grandmother tongue and my grandfather tongue')."

The two parties with the most Yiddish speakers, Shemtov said, are Yisrael Beiteinu and the Ashkenazi hareidi-religious United Torah Judaism party. Three Yisrael Beiteinu MKs - Shemtov, Avigdor Lieberman and David Rotem - speak Yiddish, as do all five MKs from UTJ. Other MKs who list Yiddish as an additional language on their official Knesset webpages are Avishai Braverman (Labor), Shai Hermesh (Kadima) and Yaakov "Ketzaleh" Katz (National Union).