Wednesday, November 03, 2004

"A big-boned, cherubic blonde--a goy!"

So there's this woman, she's not Jewish, but she's into Yiddish. Not a big deal, right? Apparently it's a huge deal. The NYT can't get enough of this woman and her shocking shiksosity:

"Caraid O'Brien must rank among Yiddish culture's most ardent and least likely champions. An actress, playwright and translator, she is 29, Irish and Roman Catholic, a big-boned, cherubic blonde - a goy! - with a bachelor's degree in Yiddish literature who speaks English with a hint of lilting brogue and Yiddish with disarming fluency."

"'Everyone is interested in the idea of this strapping Irish girl with Yiddish coming out of her mouth,' Ms. O'Brien said with a smile."

Yeah, it's sooo interesting, isn't it, that someone might study a language and heritage not her own. I mean, I like to freak people out by speaking French--I am not remotely French, and yet I speak the language (or try to) and study French literature. Is what's fascinating that Yiddish is not a popular language for anyone to study, or that this particular woman happens to be large and blonde? Would there even be a story about her in the Times if she were small, dark-haired, and Irish or large, blonde, and Jewish?

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

ever taken a Jewish history/literature/etc. class at the U of C? I've taken quite a few, and here are two things I've noticed over the past couple of years:

1) enrollment in Jewish courses is extremely limited, with 10-12 students being the average size (more specialized courses - i.e. medieval jewish history, yiddish literature - will typically see 1-5 students)

2) the few students who do enroll for these courses tend to be Jewish, almost without exception. this is true even in the more popular judaic civ. courses. contrast that to Chinese or Islamic Civ., which attract large numbers of non-Chinese and non-Middle Eastern students.

bottom line: no one gives a shit about the Jews except for the Jews. the NYT article only confirms what i've long observed. it's a bit depressing, but not really all that surprising.

Amber said...

I actually wanted to take Hebrew in college, but I thought everyone would think it was weird because I'm not Jewish. This article only confirms that notion.

Phoebe said...

It seems silly not to take Hebrew because people might think you're weird taking it if you're not Jewish. (You're presumably a blogger--isn't that also pretty darn weird to most people?) I'm currently taking intro Hebrew, and there's a guy in the class who's an international student from Egypt. Which would theoretically feel a lot weirder than being a non-Jewish American, but everyone's focused on grammar and vocab, not background of individual students, not all of whom are Jewish. And I did take one U of C Jewish history class, which was also not entirely made up of Jews, and which had a decently large turnout, despite its narrow topic.

Anonymous said...

Unlike French, Yiddish is a language inextricably linked to a particular religious group. The speaking of Yiddish is a marker--like the keeping of Shabbas or adherence to Kashrut--of being Jewish. However, this association has been questioned by at least one scholar, who's proposed the original speakers of Yiddish were Turks and Slavs who converted en masse to Judaism:
http://www.santafe.edu/~johnson/articles.yiddish.html

Amber said...

That wasn't determinative; I also had already filled my subjective quota of limited-utility languages with three semesters of Russian. I ended up taking a sculpture class where everyone looked at me funny because I was an econ major who wanted to make sculptures that looked like real things.

Molly said...

Actually O'Brien came to my high school. I was president of the "Woman's Issues" club (I know...) and we had some joint event with the "Yiddish Club" (so this means about six people were there including teachers) and she was the friend of some teacher at my school and she was a Woman and did Yiddish things, so you know. Back then she had done a translation of Sholom Asch's God of Vegence which is a sort of wild cool story. I don't remember if she was cherubic or not, but she was blond, but sort of in a punk way, if I remember correctly.

Phoebe said...

I'd say Jewish-themed classes are probably something like Gender Studies classes--of interest mostly to the obvious people, but often with some curious and less obvious students as well.

Joel Jarrard said...

I don't think it's strange at all for someone to study Yiddish despite having a completely different background. At least Yiddish is a real language. Believe it or not, there are people who study Klingon. And people who study one of two different dialects of Tolkien Elvish, Quenyan or Sindaril Elvish. Those people are truly the weirdos.