Exploring Yiddishland Part II: Tel Aviv University

By Julia Rothkoff

I completed the “Exploring Yiddishland” component of the program feeling invigorated by the future of Yiddish studies. I had not participated in a formal Yiddish class in a year, and I felt eager to continue my Yiddish education through Tel Aviv University’s Naomi Prawer Kadar International Summer Yiddish Program. However, the first week of the program was incredibly overwhelming for me. I struggled to keep up with the schedule, since the morning in New Jersey is the evening in Israel. I was required to adjust to a new routine and needed to figure out how to convert the 24-hour clock to the 12-hour clock, and then convert Israel time to Eastern Daylight Time on top of that. I also soon learned that Sunday is a work day in Israel, so while my parents and siblings lounged by the pool on Sundays, I spent time on Zoom. I felt content that if I was expected to spend my Sundays in class, at least it was learning Yiddish rather than math or science.

All of these small additions to my daily routine were exasperated by my struggles with returning to an academic Yiddish environment. The program coordinators originally placed me in the advanced class, which I quickly realized was not the proper level for me after an extended hiatus from Yiddish. I lasted three days in the asynchronous advanced level before I switched to the live intermediate course. When I first joined the Zoom room to try the intermediate course, I was nervous. I worried that the other students would be unwelcoming to a new person in the class. However, my fears could not have been a more inaccurate representation of the actual academic environment. I thought that I would spend the first session observing the flow of the course and feeling like an outsider. Instead, my lererke (teacher), Dr. Sasha Polyan, included me in each activity. During the first class session alone, I discussed professions, Yiddish grammar, and folktales with my new classmates. This warm introduction solidified that I made the correct decision by switching levels.

Figure 1. Students attend the welcome reception for the Naomi Prawer Kadar International Yiddish Summer Program at Tel Aviv University. Some students attended classes in-person, while others participated via Zoom.

My favorite feature of this course was the international aspect of it. Our class was a small group of eight students, only three of which were from the United States (New Jersey, New York, and San Diego). The other five students hailed from Slovenia, Romania, Israel, and Italy, with the instructor living in Russia. Dr. Polyan is fluent in many different languages, so if the two Israeli students, for example, struggled with a grammatical concept, she would explain it to them in Hebrew to ensure that they understood the topic fully. Dr. Polyan regularly asked for student input on the assignments. When we finished the textbook, the students chose to listen to Yiddish news from Israel, Australia, and Argentina. In Yiddish class, I struggle with listening comprehension the most, so I enjoyed the challenge of hearing Yiddish spoken by people with different accents. At Columbia, Dr. Legutko often talks about how our Yiddish class is a mishpokhe. I am delighted to finish the Yiddish summer program at Tel Aviv University with an additional mishpokhe.

Image Source

Figure 1. https://www.facebook.com/TheNaomiPrawer/photos/pcb.394488970563 8882/3944879158973270/. Accessed August 23, 2021.

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