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between Russian and Ukrainian?' I thought of Mr. Evans, who taught linguistics. When somebody mentioned Yiddish in class Mr. Evans said with a sneer, A mere dialect of German. He sneered a lot, had a superior air, summoned enthusiasm only for vacations in San Francisco or New Orleans, which might have meant gay. This was at Brandeis, a Jewish-founded university whose president said it was A host at last, but nobody pushed back, nobody thought to retort A language is a dialect with an army and a navy. Evans is a Welsh name; did Mr. Evans know Welsh, which doesn’t have an army or navy? Or was his name Anglicized from Epstein, the sneer for himself? Yiddish was my father’s native language, the mamaloshen. He was born in eastern Poland, which is now western Ukraine. He said the people in the town were Poles, Jews, and Slavs. The Slavs, I assume, became Ukrainians. My great-grandmother understood Slavish, so that when Russian soldiers came to the house, retreating, and one of them said, Let’s take the girl—my great-aunt—Baba knocked out the light and the family fled into the fields. On Mansfield Boulevard in Carnegie, PA, two churches, side by side, each with onion domes. One is a Russian church, the other Ukrainian. Both Orthodox. Between them a driveway—do they both claim it? These days Mr. Evans might be happier, might give Yiddish more respect, and if the State of Israel hadn’t made Hebrew its language, Yiddish might have an army at last.
Copyright 2022 Arlene Weiner
Arlene Weiner’s books include City Bird (Ragged Sky, 2016). She lives in Pittsburgh.