Oct 14, 2015
It is unfortunately a common refrain among teachers of Yiddish: how do we get more students to take first-year Yiddish courses? As the great “crisis of the Humanities” spreads across university campuses, there is increasing competition among departments to try and snatch up as many students as possible while eager administrators watch, looking to cut funding to departments and programs with low enrollments.
So Yiddish instructors, like everyone else, have had to come up with ways to make Yiddish sexy, relevant, and enticing to the dwindling number undergraduate and graduate students in the Humanities and to regular college students with language requirements to fulfill
There are many strategies out there, from appealing to mythologies of Yiddish humor or Yiddish radicalism to indulging in (or upending) various forms of Yiddish nostalgia. A recent ad campaign by Yuri Vedenyapin, Harvard’s Yiddish preceptor, caught our eye.
Vedenyapin wrote (or commissioned from former students!) advertisements for his Yiddish classes in Romanian, German, Polish, Ukrainian, Hungarian, and Russian. The idea was to catch the attentions of native speakers or students of these languages and explain the importance of Yiddish and Yiddish culture in understanding Eastern Europe. The Romanian ad talks of mamaliga and Itzik Manger; the German ad mentions the birth of Yiddish in German speaking lands; speakers of Polish are encouraged to discover eight hundred years of Jewish history in Poland; the Ukrainian and Hungarian ads recall the beginning of Hasidism; and the Russian ad describes the intimate connection between the two languages.