The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History (My Soul Desired Yiddish)
The short story, “My Soul Desires Yiddish”, talks about how the Jewish society rejected its language, Yiddish. It is important to discuss the author’s relationship to his subject matter. The writer is a member of the community (the subject) he is talking about in the story. The relationship is demonstrated in the first sentence of the first paragraph of the story when he says, “observing ways of our people” (Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz 382). This perspective is conveyed through language use. The word “our” in this case shows that the author identifies with these people. He feels that he is part of them and that is why he feels frustrated by the fact that they reject their native language. However, he is determined to change their attitude towards Yiddish. His personal opinions are evident throughout the story. He questions why he should toil, trying to write his compositions in the native language while the target audience shuns it. He expresses his love for the language despite the unfavorable view the society has towards it. The author creates personas to help convey a personal feeling. He argues that women and the poor sometimes try to read Yiddish, but without understanding it. It demonstrates that the majority of people in this society are not keen on learning the language.
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The writer speaks directly to the reader instead of acting as a third-person narrator. He is telling the audience that his people are ashamed of their language. The use of phrases such as “our people”, “I soon inspired”, and “my story” shows that the author is speaking directly to the audience about personal experiences (Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz 382). It is also evident that he avoids the use of symbols and references to express personal experiences. This approach makes it easy to understand the aim of his narrative. He is talking about the difficult journey he took to promote a native language that he believed was important but is loathed by his people.
In this short story, the voices of different people can be heard. This approach conveys the idea differently than more conventional historical writing, by presenting views of various people and justifying their position. An example of the language used to express the idea of the author is the Yiddish itself. The author uses the phrase ‘das kleine menschen’, which means the little people, to emphasize his love for the language (Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz 382). The voice says that “we are not ashamed of reading Yiddish, but we do not understand it” (Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz 382). Then there is the voice of the rest of the learned population, which says, “we can read and understand Yiddish, but we are ashamed of it” (Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz 382). The author seeks to find a common ground for all these voices.
Found Treasures: Stories by Yiddish Women Writers (The Veil)
The story talks about Manya, a teenage Jewish girl who had a longing to see the world, to disappear and explore it, to be loved, and to forget the pain and misery back at home. The author’s relationship with the subject matter is that of an observer who has been watching the pain the family goes through after the father disappeared, leaving the mother to take care of the children without any support. This perspective is conveyed through language by describing the exact feelings of Manya. It is also reflected in the conversations among different characters. The author’s personal opinion is evident. He creates two personas, Manya and her mother, to convey a feeling. Using Manya, the author expresses teenagers’ desires and how they might conflict with the views of their parents, especially when they come from poor families. Manya wants to explore the world, interact with fellow teenagers, and develop her self-esteem. On the other hand, her mother expects her to be home to help with family needs. The author has used the mother to express the pain and agony that women go through in this society when they are abandoned by their husbands.
The writer does not speak directly to the reader but instead acts as a third-person narrator. This strategy gives him the ability to explain what is in the mind of Manya, the main character, and various forces around her. He can explain complex societal issues, which are beyond the comprehension of Manya, such as why her mother cannot remarry, while at the same time reasoning as a teenager by expressing the desires of the adolescent girl, some of which may be a threat to her own life. The reference to God helps in explaining some of the socially complex forces in society. Whenever one feels overburdened by life events, he or she should not forget that God will eventually reward those who remain faithful. Manya’s mother is a constant reminder of the burden and responsibilities that she as an adolescent girl should not forget (Forman et al. 101).
Various voices can be heard in this story, top of which is that of Manya and her mother. This approach conveys ideas differently than more conventional historical writing. As a third-person narrator, the author has unique powers to get into the mind of the characters and explain their desires. An example of the language used to express the idea of the author is hyperbolism. The author says, “She felt she was carrying the weight of the world” (Forman et al. 103). The voice of Manya expresses her desire to move away from home to a place where she will be free from pain and suffering. Her voice is revealing the conflicting interest of wanting to love and explore the world while at the same time help her mother. The rebellious voice is getting louder. On the other hand, the voice of her mother indicates the desire to protect and provide for her children.
The Literature of Destruction: Jewish Responses to Catastrophe (40 Shem and Japheth on the Train)
This story is a personal account of the experience of the author traveling on a train from one part of Germany to the other. The train brings together Shem (Jews) and Japheth (gentiles, especially Germans) together. Society is discriminative, and Shem is constantly viewed as the enemy responsible for all or most of the misfortunes in society. The author belongs to his subjects – he is a Jew. The opinion of the author is evident. There is love and loath towards his people as expressed in the choice of words used. The perspective is conveyed in the language of the author. He creates different personas to express his personal feelings. The author says, “An unattractive-looking woman with a bleak nose faced me” (Roskies 124). The statement shows the low regard that he has towards the subject matter. The same tone is evidenced when describing the woman who fell while struggling to find a seat on the train. Instead of sympathy for the woman, he gives a funny description of how she behaved after falling. However, it is important to note that he also shows his concern towards the poor family.
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The writer speaks directly to the reader instead of acting as a third-person narrator. He is part of the subject and explains his experiences with different people on the train. He conveys his ideas subtly using symbols to express his idea clearly. An example of symbolism used is the comparison of the woman who fell with a goose. When the woman fell while trying to board the train, he compares her confused look to that of a goose that is waiting to be slaughtered. He uses such comparisons in a comical way to display his personal feelings towards the subject matter.
The story presents several voices. The narrator is the first voice. Other main voices include that of Yankele’s father (the husband of the unattractive woman) and Penie Przescczwinczicki, the stranger who hid in the luggage to avoid paying for the ticket. He manages to use these voices to convey his ideas differently from conventional historical writing. The voice of the narrator is that of a learned young man whose ideas conflict with his culture. His language criticizes some of the practices of Jews, such as having many children. On the other hand, Yankele’s father is a strong defender of family values as defined in his culture. Penie is a critic of gentiles (Japheth) who is constantly blaming Jews (Shem) for all the social problems. He believes the society is avoiding the true evils that affect its members.
Forman, Frieda, et al., editors. Found Treasures: Stories by Yiddish Women Writers. Second Story Press, 1994.
Mendes-Flohr, Paul, and Jehunda Reinharz, editors. The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History. 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2011.
Roskies, David, editor. The Literature of Destruction: Jewish Responses to Catastrophe. The Jewish Publication Society, 1988.