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Weinreich became a professor of Yiddish at City College and re-established YIVO in New York City.
Max Weinreich died in 1969; his son and heir to the calling, Uriel, predeceased him by two years.
Yiddish speakers are also found in the self-isolated communities of the Orthodox Jews of Williamsburg, New York, and in some very Orthodox communities in Israel (the Haredim, who reject the state and its language, Hebrew), but these speakers are far from eager proselytizers of the language.
Yiddish is taught as a foreign language at a handful of universities in the United States and Europe, including Indiana University, UCLA, Columbia, and Oxford.
As Dovid Katz, one of the champions of modern Yiddish, recently admitted, “for anyone to whom modern Yiddish and its literature and culture are dear, the most bitterly painful time is the present,” because the last native speakers of prewar Europe—writers active into their 80s, 90s, and some, even, beyond—are dying.
It is hard to speak or write dispassionately about the tongue that the eminent literary critic Harold Bloom (whose first language was Yiddish) called “a murdered language.” It seemed that all the attention for Yiddish fell, deservedly, on its recent history and imminent future, and its origins long past posed few unanswered questions of academic or general interest.
Hip and funny Yiddish is also far from its life with native speakers today, who are largely isolated, some by choice, others by geography and poverty.
“His most distinctive physical features were an irresistible smile … saw everything, even deep inside you.” Weinreich was a leader who could gain the allegiance of those great and small on behalf of his beloved Yiddish.
This challenge to Weinreich’s historical narrative is academic and impersonal for Wexler but deeply personal for most of Wexler’s readers.
To understand why, you have only to look more at Weinreich’s biography and his grand project to preserve the lifeblood of pre-Holocaust Jewish culture.
They also provide a subtle counter-argument to his lifelong thesis.
Weinreich was a careful, fair, and judicious scholar, and it was in the notes to his monumental work that he gave place to the vexing confusion of counter-evidence to his main, and beloved, story of Yiddish origins and, by implication, the origins of millions of East European Jews and their descendants in America.