Nakba in Yiddish

Hon, Gordon, Adwan, L. (eds.) (2008) Nakba in Yiddish. Mizna, 10, (1)


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. . . Although the refusal to learn a language is a form of political resistance in that it is an insistence on speaking on one’s own terms, it can also be disempowering. Hanna Deebi got around this through his mastery of other languages and by living outside the bureaucratic machinery of the state, where the official language fully asserts its powers. However, his relationship to Hebrew brings to mind its opposite in the form of the Israeli-Palestinian writer Anton Sham-mas, who wrote one of the most famous Israeli novels, Arabesques (1986). One of the most notable and, for many Israelis, shocking facts about the book is that it is written not just in Hebrew but in a highly nuanced Hebrew, with its many accents and subtle idiosyncratic dialects. What was disturbing to Israelis was the fact that this writer, who clearly demonstrated a complete intimacy with the language, was not only not Jewish but an Arab. Furthermore, as a non-Jew, he could only be this intimate precisely because he was an Arab and in particular an Israeli-Palestinian Arab. This book was a challenge to Israeli identity on many levels, not least because it was the voice of the other speaking from inside their own heads.
The book was written in a variety of Hebrews and exploited the fact that, as a language, it has come a long way from the pure language first conceived by Ben-Yehuda and much closer to what many of his fellow Zionists regarded as the degenerate bastardized language of Yiddish. In fact it has absorbed much of the vocabulary and syntax of Yiddish as well as many Arabic words and expressions. Shammas himself has commented that Hebrew has been Israel’s greatest accomplishment, and I would add that the measure of its success as a language is the extent of its impurities. It is in the promiscuity of Hebrew that I can see some hope for its speakers, whereas their state is moving inexorably in the opposite direction, toward a brutalizing segregation. The most disturbing example is in the transformation of Gaza into a ghetto. When Sharon first declared his unilateral decision to remove the settlers from Gaza saying, “[I]n the future there will be no Jews in Gaza.” There was, to my European ears, a deeply chilling echo of the term Judenfrei, which the Nazis used to describe an area or country “cleansed” of Jews. The murkiness of Sharon’s mind in his unconscious identification with Nazi rhetoric was contrasted with the transparency of his motives. The fact that these apparently unconscious echoes refuse to stop suggests a continuing failure of repression that operates at the level of language. . .

Item Type: Article
ISSNs: 1535-2331 (print)
Related URLs:
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Divisions : University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Art
ePrint ID: 156739
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
Date Deposited: 01 Jun 2010 15:21
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 13:26

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