10.06.2021 - online

Book Talks: Yiddish: Biography of a Language

Jeffrey Shandler in conversation with Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov. Antony Polonsky, host of the GEOP series  “What's New, What's Next? Book Talks”, will moderate the meeting. 

  • 10 June (Thursday) 20.00 CET/ 2:00PM EST / 11:00AM PST / 9:00PM Israel
  • Watch the recorded meeting in English on Friends of Polin Facebook >>

Yiddish was the most widely spoken Jewish language before the Holocaust. Although often described as a “zhargon” (jargon) and held in contempt, Yiddish was also seen as the authentic language of the Jews of Eastern Europe. Despite predictions of its demise, which predate the murder of half of its speakers in the Holocaust, the language continues to play a significant role in Jewish life today. It survives among Hasidim, for whom it is a language of daily life, and among avant-garde performers and political activists who look to it for inspiration as the core of a radical secular Jewish culture. In “Yiddish: Biography of a Language”, Jeffrey Shandler presents its history and multi-faceted evolution from its origins to the present in the form of a biography. In a series of thematic chapters titled “Name,” “Date and Place of Birth,” “Religion,” and “Life Expectancy,” among others, he offers an innovative interpretation of the dynamic interrelation of the language, its speakers, and their culture and explores why Yiddish has been so important to them and to its other admirers and remains so to this day. 

Jeffrey Shandler, “Yiddish: Biography of a Language’, Oxford University Press, 2020, available here>>

"Jeffrey Shandler's biography of the Yiddish language is that rare book that is both entertaining and edifying. The book provides fascinating accounts of the linguistic and intellectual histories of Yiddish and those who study them. From the sweep of history to the politics of grammar, this book will be of interest to Jewish studies scholars and a more popular audience. A tour de force."

Ayala Fader, Professor of Anthropology, Fordham University, and author of “Hidden Heretics: Jewish Doubt in the Digital Age”


Jeffrey Shandler, author of “Yiddish: Biography of a Language”, is Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University. He received his PhD in Yiddish Studies from Columbia University and has held post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Pennsylvania and New York University. His publications include “Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language and Culture”; “Shtetl: A Vernacular Intellectual History”; “While America Watches: Televising the Holocaust”; “Jews, God, and Videotape: Religion and Media in America”; and “Holocaust Memory in the Digital Age: Survivors’ Stories and New Media Practices”. His edited “Awakening Lives: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland before the Holocaust” and co-edited “Entertaining America: Jews, Movies, and Broadcasting” and “Anne Frank Unbound: Media, Imagination, Memory”. Among his translations from Yiddish are Mani-Leyb’s children’s classic “Yingl Tsingl Khvat” and Yankev Glatshteyn’s “Emil and Karl”, a Holocaust novel for young readers. He has served as president of the Association for Jewish Studies and is a fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research.

Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov is Associate Professor at the Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences, and editor-in-chief of “Acta Poloniae Historica”. Her research focuses on the history of East European Jews in the 19th & 20th centuries, history of Yiddish culture and Polish-Jewish relations. She published three monographs and edited several volumes of studies as well  as several historical sources, including Emanuel Ringelblum’s notes from the Warsaw ghetto (2018) and, recently, the Polish translation of Rachel Faygenberg’s autobiography (forthcoming 2021). Her current book-length project deals with Yiddish press in interwar Poland.


Antony Polonsky - Professor Emeritus of Holocaust Studies, Brandeis University. Expertise: East European Jewish history and Holocaust studies. A founder and vice-president of the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies in Oxford and of the American Association for Polish-Jewish Studies, Cambridge, MA. Graduate and doctor of the University of Oxford, member of the British Royal Historical Society, honorary doctorate of the University of Warsaw and the Jagiellonian University.


“Book Talks”, a monthly series from December 2020 until June 2021, leads up to GEOP’s online international conference in October 2021: "What's New, What's Next? Innovative Methods, New Sources, and Paradigm Shifts in Jewish Studies"


This program was made possible thanks to Taube Philanthropies, the William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation, and the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland

logo Taube Philantropies logo William K. Bowes Junior Foundation