Articles written for AUFBAU by Leonard J. Lehrman

AUFBAU 62:20 Sept. 27, 1996 p13
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU
August 16, 1996

Yiddish in Bayreuth?

I would like to express my surprise at "Singing Yiddish in Bayreuth?" by Leonard J. Lehrman
Mr. Lehrman seems hardly representative of German-Jewish culture. We did not speak Yiddish. I only learned that there was such a language, when I worked in the garment shops after immigrating to the U.S. Also, "Sof" is the Hebrew word for End (Schluss) and it is written with Samach, not sof, which can be verified in any Hebrew dictionary. It bothers me that this man appears to think of himself as a spokesperson for people of the Jewish faith.

Stefanie Perlstein, Bridgeton, NJ

Dr. Leonard Lehrman replies:

[Writers are always glad to hear from readers; it means they're reading what we write, and thinking about what they read.]

One of Ms. Perlstein's three points is quite interesting: There is a great deal of Yiddish culture in Germany today, but most of it came originally from elsewhere in Europe; German Jews spoke German. Today, however, the majority of Jews living in Germany right now did not grow up speaking German as their mother tongue. Yiddish is one of many bonds among them, and since it is closer to German than to any other spoken language, many Germans with an interest in but no other connection to Jewish culture can usually understand and often relate to it.

In her other points, Ms. Perlstein is on less firm ground. Yes, the Hebrew word "sof" is spelled with a samach, not a sof. Sof is not a letter in modern (Sefardic) Hebrew, only in older (Ashkenazic) Hebrew. If the word were spelled in modern Hebrew with the letter in question it would be pronounced "tof." (If you spell out the letter "double-u" you won't use a "w" either!) But the derivation of the word is in fact the last letter of the Yiddish alphabet. Look at the last page of any Yiddish dictionary. Soffice it to say it doesn't take a lot of sofistication to see that!

So far as speaking for people of the Jewish faith, few rabbis would ever pretend to be able to claim to do that, and I am not even a rabbi. Nor would I ever claim to be "representative of German-Jewish culture." I have, however, lectured in German on Jewish music, in Berlin, Dsseldorf, Basel, and Wien, and in 1983 founded the Juedischer Musiktheaterverein Berlin, which in 1986 named me its Ehrenkapellmeister. Three of my eight operas (six of them on Jewish themes) have been translated into German; two have had German productions. But my family background is in fact Russian Jewish, and years ago whenever I was asked "What do you like best about Berlin?" my reply would invariably be: "that it's not in Germany!" For better or for worse, one can of course no longer say that.


Leonard J. Lehrman

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