JM: So your return to speaking Yiddish and promoting Yiddish, that happened after you retired?
AS: No it didn’t actually.
JM: Oh this happened before that?
AS: It happened before. In the last, I would say, three decades of my life probably is when I learned more Yiddish than as a young person. When I was in Victoria, I was contacted by a group of older people. Mostly older people who were native Yiddish speakers in most cases and they had a reading group called a leyenkreis in Yiddish, a reading group, a reading circle. They invited me to participate and I did and I, from that beginning I recaptured my language and learned a whole lot more and continued to and I also inherited, my father was a great Yiddish reader and supporter of the Yiddish literature in many ways. I inherited his Yiddish library which I’m sure on Vancouver Island where I lived for so long was the largest Yiddish library on all of Vancouver Island by far, most of which now is in the Peretz library here in Vancouver. But in any case that’s, to answer your question, I actually I think learned more of my Yiddish in the last three decades as an adult by reading and conversing as much as possible in Yiddish and I now co-lead a Yiddish group, a reading circle, conversation group here [in Vancouver] together with Shanie Levin, you may know her—she volunteers in the library here—we co-lead a Yiddish reading group that meets at the Peretz Centre twice a month, for again, people who have had some basic experience with Yiddish as young children but have basically abandoned it for like 40 years maybe, in some cases 50 years, and now wish to recover it and there is a surprising number of people who wish to do just that now. So that’s where I picked up the Yiddish and it’s very dear to me, Yiddish, the Yiddish language and the language implies a culture as you probably realize and so it’s that aspect as well.
JM: I think Yiddish is so beautiful and it also, because I’m a historian it is very significant to the history of all these people that migrated all over the world, that was their common language, you know.
AS: Yes it’s amazing to me, in fact, when I did travel in Europe many, 50, 60 years ago now almost as a young student, I was able to use Yiddish in various places around Europe, to my surprise. There was always somebody there who spoke Yiddish. To my amazement, even in a trolley bus once in downtown Moscow.
JM: Wow, how astounding.
AS: It’s, just by accident I happened to overhear a couple, a middle aged couple sitting near me, I was hanging on a strap there in this crowded trolley bus and they were conversing part time in Russian and part time in Yiddish. So I introduced myself, they were quite surprised that a young ‘American’—I was only in my early 20s at the time—would, you know, speak Yiddish.