University will offer Yiddish for the first time since 2004

Natalie Sullivan

After a 10-year hiatus, the University is planning to bring back Yiddish as a language course next year since a professor who teaches the language recently returned to the University.

Starting in fall 2014, beginning Yiddish courses will be offered for students who want to start learning the language. The two-semester intensive sequence will allow students to fulfill the foreign language requirement for most majors in one year.

Kit Belgum, Germanic studies associate professor, said the availability of Yiddish professor Itzik Gottesman, who recently returned to teach at the University, allowed for the return of Yiddish at the University.  

“There is a very long tradition of Yiddish being offered in the department of Germanic studies at UT, until about 10 years ago,” Belgum said. “The idea to revive Yiddish at UT arose precisely because Dr. Gottesman was able to come back to UT. Under his guidance the program thrived in the 1990s and we expect it to be successful again.”

Belgum said Yiddish courses had been taught at the University starting in the 1970s, but after professors from the department left, courses were no longer offered in 2004.

Gottesman, who will also teach Jewish cultural classes, said he looks forward to teaching the language again and expects high levels of enrollment in the new courses.

“I taught Yiddish at UT in the 1990s, and the classes had wonderful registration,” Gottesman said. “A number of students have gone on to work with Yiddish as part of their research in history, linguistics and Jewish studies, and I expect there to be a great interest in Yiddish again.”

Gottesman said one of the benefits of teaching Yiddish was it allowed students to connect with their family members in an often-forgotten language.

“Some UT students spoke to their grandparents in their native tongue, and by the end of the course, they could enjoy the vast and rich world of Yiddish literature,” Gottesman said.

Attracting students to the new program may be difficult because of a lack of exposure to the language, according to Belgum, but she said Yiddish is useful for its rich history and cultural connections.

“The audience [for the program] may have changed,” Belgum said. “Whereas there are fewer students with Yiddish speaking family members now, we think there is a lot of cultural, social and historical interest in this Germanic language that is not only a document of an large part of Jewish European history but also the vehicle through which much of that culture was transmitted and is now stored.”

Belgum said she remains hopeful students will take advantage of the new course offerings.

“We hope that a lot of students find out about this revival of Yiddish at UT,” Belgum said. “It will be a challenge to rebuild the program from the ground up.”

Radio-television-film sophomore Alana Gross said her previous experiences with Yiddish gave her high hopes for the new course offerings.

“Last semester I took the course taught by Karen King, 'Jews in America: the Yiddish Experience,' so that gave me some more exposure to Yiddish,” Gross said. “I use Yiddish sayings on a daily basis. I’m really happy UT is offering Yiddish; I think it’s a great opportunity for students to learn about a nearly extinct language and culture.”