Some of the images out of Haiti these past weeks have been heartstopping. They’ve clearly had an effect on decision-makers at the British Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC is well-known for its radio and TV services in languages other than English. The latest addition is a radio program in Haitian Creole that ran for just a few weeks in the aftermath of the earthquake. The program, Koneksyon Ayiti/Connection Haiti, was broadcast out of Miami and heard in Haiti via FM relays and on short wave. At the time, many Haitian radio stations were off air, their infracture damaged, many of their staffs injured or dead. This was at a time when relaying information to the public was crucial: where to go for food, shelter, medical treatment, etc. Koneksyon Ayiti also put Haitians in touch with loved-ones. There’s a nice explanation here on how the program came into being.
Then the main course in this week’s podcast: the past, present and future of Yiddish, the language that refuses to die. This also comes courtesy of the BBC with a nice slide show here. Once spoken by millions in Europe, Yiddish was nearly wiped out by the Holocaust and through assimilation. That’s why until recently news stories about Yiddish tended to be about its inevitable decline, with the language spoken only by the elderly (pictured: Asya Yanovskaya, one of the last surviving Yiddish speakers of a small town in Belarus). Today Yiddish survives, and not only as the language that gave English klutz, kosher, kvetch and other evocative expressions. It is undergoing a revival in many parts of Eastern Europe and the United States. The BBC’s Dennis Marks’ documentary (part one of two) focuses on how Yiddish took hold in New York in the mid-twentieth century, and how Yiddish songs and plays influenced American culture. Some Yiddish expressions are so assimilated into English that non-Yiddish speakers wouldn’t even question the origin of the words. I mean, I know where putz and chutzpah come from, but nosh? tush? In next week’s pod, Marks will tell us how some young American Jews are are trying to keep Yiddish alive for their generation and beyond.