New Yiddish courses "an important foundation" for Jewish studies at UBC

UBC students will soon be able to take two new three-credit courses in Yiddish language under the course codes YDSH 101 and 102.

The courses will cover basics of the language, beginning with learning the Hebrew alphabet, which Yiddish is written in. Students will be able to use the courses towards fulfilling Arts language requirements.

Beyond beginner grammar rules and vocabulary, the courses will draw connections to cultural elements such as Yiddish music, film and literature.

Several members of the Department of Central, Eastern and Northern European Studies (CENES) collaborated to develop the courses, according to Dr. Kyle Frackman, an associate professor in the department who was involved in the process.

“Our department focuses partly on Central and Eastern Europe, which are areas of the world that were extremely affected by the Holocaust and in the Second World War,” Frackman said. “We thought that this [course] would be an important foundation for thinking about Jewish culture and Jewish history.”

While the department hopes the courses will be on offer next fall, an instructor for them has yet to be hired.

Frackman said this was “one of the most exciting things,” about the new courses.

“We're going to have to bring in a new colleague, probably a sessional lecturer, to teach the two courses,” Frackman said.“We know that there are Yiddish speakers in the Vancouver community, so hopefully we can find a really enthusiastic teacher to come in to lead those classes.”

Adam Dobrer, the Advocacy Coordinator at Hillel BC, praised the new courses. Hillel BC is an organization that supports Jewish students at post-secondary campuses in the province.

“UBC taking the step to offer Yiddish as a language … opens the possibility [of] exploring Ashkenazi European Jewish culture,” said Dobrer.

“Yiddish was … the lingua franca for the Jewish community in Europe … the majority of which were murdered during the [Holocaust].”

Ashkenazi Jews are a diaspora population who originated in Central and Eastern Europe. Yiddish developed as an informal language amongst Ashkenazis, using elements from Hebrew, High German and other European languages.

However, the Holocaust decimated the population of Yiddish speakers. Prior to the second World War, it’s estimated 11 million people spoke the language, while current estimates suggest there are between 1 and 2 million speakers worldwide.

Dobrer noted that including perspectives from a variety of disciplines, including language, but also history and religious studies, is critical to understanding Jewish studies.

“Jewish studies is an interdisciplinary field that takes different skill sets from different departments that already exist at UBC … there’s a lot of potential exploration."

Dobrer hopes UBC will continue to expand their course offerings to allow students to explore Jewish topics in further depth.

“Yiddish is hopefully the first step in bolstering the UBC community’s understanding of … Judaism as a people, a culture, and a religious tradition that has spanned the world and has experienced change over time.”