The fate of Yiddish is something of a question mark — perhaps fitting for a culture famous for answering questions with questions.
Its use is popularly believed to be fading as Holocaust survivors and the people who learned Yiddish at the kitchen tables of their immigrant parents die off.
But scholars say not to write off Yiddish just yet. Many contend it has a brighter future as young people take up the language in some 30 college programs and institutes around the country. More significant, the ranks of ultra-Orthodox Jews, for whom it is the lingua franca, continue to mushroom.
It is this more sanguine outlook that explains why The Forward, the 115-year-old Jewish newspaper, is expanding its ambitions. Three decades ago, the paper trimmed back the schedule of the Yiddish-language newspaper from a daily to a weekly, and in 1990 it tried to win new readers by printing an entirely separate paper in English.
Now, encouraged by what it sees as renewed interest in Yiddish among younger people, The Forward will introduce a rejuvenated and enhanced Yiddish Web site (vebzaytl in Yiddish) on Feb. 4, complete with blogs and links to Facebook (Face-bukh). Because of a declining readership, however, the publication schedule of the print version of the Yiddish-language newspaper will be cut back to every other week.
In addition to featuring articles from the Yiddish newspaper, which the bare-bones Web site already does, the remodeled site will have a daily podcast of about 10 minutes rotating among Yiddish-speaking correspondents in Moscow, Jerusalem, Paris, Warsaw, Melbourne, Buenos Aires and New York.
There will be a blog called Vayter (Further) geared to students studying Yiddish, which will offer folk tales and Yiddish phrases, intended to provide lively reading matter and allow students to connect. By clicking on an unfamiliar Yiddish word, students can see a pop-up translation, something they cannot do in the newspaper.
There will also be a blog for Hasidim and other Haredim — ultra-Orthodox Jews — written by Haredim who will probably use pen names. (Haredim are discouraged from reading secular newspapers, though many privately read news on the Web). It will be called “Yiddish mit ayn Aleph” — a reference to the distinctive way Hasidim spell the language’s name.
“We’ve always had a minority of Haredi readers,” said Sam Norich, publisher of the English and Yiddish newspapers. “Some of them read the printed edition underneath the Haredi newspaper. But online there’s greater participation.”
The new Web site will continue some old traditions, like featuring videos on how to cook East European delicacies, like stuffed cabbage, and on international travel, but these will now have English subtitles. A new blog called “Yidishe parnose” (“It’s a living”) will consist of conversations with Yiddish speakers working in various professions, from cobblers to investment bankers.
Considering the Forward's anti-Orthodox bias, it has a tough hill to climb before it will be able to attract Hasidic readers. Maybe if they would write something nice about us once in a while I might become a subscriber.