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A Yidisher Pop

Twilight, Tom Cruise, and a lesson in Yiddish

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How can a new generation learn Yiddish? Through pop culture, of course: What better way to introduce the language than to let it do one of the things it does best, kibitz about the beautiful and the famous? Handing down a great literary tradition is a serious enterprise, but there’s no reason not to have fun with it. And there’s no better language than Yiddish to get across ideas both profane and profound.

Join us, then, at this new educational feature on The Scroll, a recurring lesson we’re calling—in a pun on the Yiddish term meaning “a Jewish brain”—“A Yidisher Pop.” Each Friday for the next eight weeks, “A Yidisher Pop” will caption gossipy photos of politicians, athletes, and celebrities, giving readers a vibrant taste of Yiddish.

Though the lessons embedded in these captions are progressive in the way of any beginner course, this feature is intended, of course, as an introduction, not a comprehensive class. The Yivo Institue, Tel Aviv University’s Goldreich Family Institute, and the Vilnius Yiddish Institute all provide more resources.

And, in the meantime, if you need to brush up on your Yiddish alphabet, Yivo can help you with that, too.

A Yidisher Pop

יונגע… שיינע… און אַזאַ אוּמגעלוּמפּערטן פֿילם!

Transliteration:Yunge… Sheyne… un aza umgelumpertn film!

Meaning: Young… Beautiful… and such a clumsy film!

A Yidisher Pop

אוי וויי! זייַן טאָג איז געוואָרן נאַכט. קען עס זייַן אַז טאָם קרוּזעס לעצטער פֿילם איז טאַקע זייַן לעצטער?

Transliteration: Oy vey! Zayn tog iz gevorn nakht. Ken es zayn az Tom Cruise’s letster film iz take zayn letster?

Meaning: His day has turned into night. Could it be that Tom Cruise’s last film is really his last?

A Yidisher Pop

קלערן, קלערט זי… רעדן, רעדט זי… און וואָס וועגן אַרויסרעדַן וואָס זי קלערט?

Transliteration: Klern… klert zi… Redn, redt zi… un vos vegn aroysredn vos zi klert?

Meaning: She thinks. She speaks. But what about saying what she thinks?

A Yidisher Pop

אַ נייַע שטעלע… מאַק-קריסטאַלס עצה פאַר פּאַטרעוּס: רעדן איז זילבער… און שטילקייַט איז גאָלד.

Transliteration: A naye shtele… McChrystal’s eytse far Petraeus: redn iz zilber… un shtilkayt iz gold.

Meaning: A new position… McChrystal’s advice for Petraeus: Speech is silver… and silence is gold.

A Yidisher Pop

זיי שטערן אין פֿוּס-באָל שפּילן! אָבער … וווּנדערבאַר ווען מען לייענט די מגילה. המן, וועסט אוּנדז הערן!

Transliteration: Zey shtern in fusbol shpiln; ober kenen zayn vunderbar ven men leyent di megileh. Homon, vest undz hern!

Meaning: They annoy during football games! But perfect for megile-reading. Haman, you will hear us!

The Sounds of Yiddish יידישער קלאַנג

The letter aleph א signals two sounds in Yiddish: the komets aleph אָ sounds like o as in gold and the aleph with a pasakh אַ sounds like a. The name “Obama,” for instance, is spelled with both alephs: אָבאַמאַ. The tsvey (two) yudn with a pasakh ײַ makes the sound AY like zayn זײַן (meaning his) or nay נײַ (new), and without the pasakh makes the sound EY like sheyn שײן (beautiful) or like leyenen לײענען (to read). In Yiddish, the only sound the letter ayin ע makes is E as in עלעמענט (element) or as in klern קלערן (to think) or redn רעדן (to speak). The V sounds is represented by tsvey vovn װ, as in vey iz mir װײ איז מיר (woe is me) or vos װאָס (what). Finally, there is Yiddish’s OY as in froy פֿרוי (woman).

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lainie friedman says:

This is so fun! What a brilliant idea. Will refer to this often and memorize the phrases!
Looking forward to every Friday on Tablet!! Thanks!!!
Lainie Friedman

Robert HOFMAN says:

Really, great fun. A good way to brush up!

I love it! I am forwarding this to friends and family!

Norman Samuels says:

“A Yiddisher Pop” is a wonderful idea – and this is a great start!

Jessie Sackler says:

I’ll echo all the comments above: A Yiddisher Pop is great. Now I have to learn the Hebrew alphabet (oh, dear!).

I have attempted to learn the mamaloshen many times. Maybe this new approach will actually work.


Binke says:

a dank. some friends and I have been studying Yiddish for 2 yrs. Classes dont meet in the summer but we will. The Yiddisher Pop will be a great learning tool for us.

efsher besser, a yidishe khap-
khotsh men hert a yidishe vort
iz es meglech to oysgebn finif tzi tzen yidishe verter
yeder vokh? [un vi men nuzt zei in a englishn mishpet].
zayt mir maztliakh

Anna says:

What a great idea to listen to Yiddish .Thank you.

Troim Katz Handler says:

What is a “Yidisher pop”? Do you mean a Yidisher kop?(head)

Hershl says:

Zol zayn mit glik!

They should have much nakhes from their work.

Did you hear about Yiddish graffitti in Brooklyn?

Over half a million people speak Yiddish there as their first language. Same for kids.

Yiddish lebt. Yiddish lives.

I am not sure about the pun … but the idea is great!

Congratulations, what a wonderful idea! We should unite our strength for the benefit of our Yiddish language. Language is culture and culture is wisdom.
Hot a sach hatzloche!

Yaira says:

Congratulations on this beautiful effort!
Yiddish does live, but to me its culture often seems to linger in a previous generation. What a great way to welcome Yiddish, and its speakers of all ages and generations, into the future by giving it a place in pop culture. I love it!

Goldie says:

Wow! This is such a great way to brush up on my Yiddish! I love that there is someone reciting the phrases – to improve my pronunciation and reading as well! A fantastishe ide’e!

Adina and Alyssa says:

Thank you ever so much for your comments, suggestions and votes of confidence while we work out the kinks of this feature. Please visit us each Friday for new and better developed content. Mit varemste grusn!

זײער שײן! איך שאַץ אָפּ אײַערע באַמיִונגען צו װירקן אױף מײנטשן זײ זאָלן אױפֿהערן צו באַטראַכטן ייִדיש װי אַלט־פֿרענקיש און אומרעלעװאַנט.

אַגבֿ־אורחה, (נישט װאָס איך װיל זײַן אַ נודניק אָבער) איך האָב געפֿונען אַ פּאָר גרײַזן — למשל, דאַכט זיך אַז אױף ייִדיש זאָגט מען “רעדן איז זילבער, שװײַגן איז גאָלד”. װען איר װילט װאָלט איך גערן געװען צו לײענען קאָרעקטור אױפֿן ייִדיש פֿון די װײַטערדיקע אַרטיקלען אײדער זײ גײען אַרױס.

Adina and Alyssa says:

To the last respondent, thanks for your enthusiasm. The problem isn’t in the editing as we realized with Lesson One, it’s the inability to enter edits into computer with current technology. But we’re working on it. Yes, “redn iz zilber, shvaygn iz gold”…(we were waiting for someone to catch this and we will change it—soon, I hope). Let us know what Yiddish-language software you are using (it looks superb!)And tune in on Friday.

Rebeca Govezensky says:

Profundamente emocionados por esta idea tuya y por tu creatividad que por otro lado no nos sorprende viniendo de ti Adina.. les auguramos Mucha suerte que seguro la tendran. Estamos conmovidos por esa lucha por no dejar morir al Yidish..Ribe y Luis

wendy kaplan friend says:

Truly enjoyable! A wonderful way to learn Yiddush. The pronunciation is wonderful and the voice is soothing as well.
Wendy Kaplan Friend

Jacquie says:

What a wonderful way to read,speak, refresh and learn yidish and yidish culture. Congratulations!!! Mazl tov,un a dank far di taiere, jojeme matone!! (I hope I spelled and said it correctly!)

Dos macht mir zayer zufrieden. S’iz ouisergevaintlach!

What a wonderful and effective way to teach Yiddish. Great snippets, great Yiddish voice-over, great idea.
Can’t wait for more.

Your site is very helpful. I found the information that I need and I will come back. Best Christmas Gift

Thanks for your website, it is very good. I found the information that I need and I will come back. Best Christmas Gift Ideas


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A Yidisher Pop

Twilight, Tom Cruise, and a lesson in Yiddish

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