FIRST YIDDISH LANGUAGE CONFERENCE
 
I. L. Peretz
(1851 or 2-1915)
 
Speech at the 1908 Czernowitz Language Conference
  
Honored Conference: 

Three liberating moments in Jewish history created our movement. 

I donít want to he a prophet, and to proclaim that we are now experiencing a new historical moment, that we are uncovering a new source of fresh, living waters in Godís vineyard, and that from this day forward this place will be watered and will bloom. "Something," though, has been achieved among us, and that something was elicited by those three liberating moments. 

The poor Jewish masses, the poor ignorant Jews begin to liberate themselves. They lose confidence in both the Jewish Talmudic scholar, and in the rich man. The rich manís "charity" does not fill his stomach; the Talmudic scholarís Toyre doesnít give him any joy. The masses long, feel, want to live their own poor lives in their own way. And Chassidism emerges. Toyre for everybody. 

And this is the first moment. 

Yiddish doesnít begin with Isaac Meir Dik. The Chassidic tale, that is the "Genesis." The tales in praise of The Baal-Shem and other tales are folk-poetry. The first folk-poet is Reb Nakhman of Bratslav and his seven beggars. 

Also, the Jewish woman - the Jewish wife - the Jewish girl awoke and demanded something for herself. Womenís books appeared, and out of Judeo-German was born a "mother-tongue." 

And the Jewish people still has two tongues: a language for the scholars in the house of study - the language of the Toyre, the language of the Gemore, and the second for the masses and the Jewish daughter... 

But from these three moments alone the Yiddish language would not have emerged. Now the Jewish worker appears, the Jewish proletariat, and creates for itself an instrument for its struggle for life, its working-class culture in Yiddish. The worker is simply not satisfied just with womenís prayers and prayers from the womenís synagogue, and not just with the wonder-tales from behind the stove in the synagogue. He wants to and he must express himself in Yiddish. And the Yiddish secular book in the Yiddish language appears. 

But all of that would not have brought us together; if we have come together from many different countries and states to proclaim equality for Yiddish language among all languages, it is also as a result of a forth socio-political international impulse. 

The nation-state, to which small and weak people were sacrificed - as children were in ancient times to Molokh - the nation-state, that had because of the interest of the ruling classes and peoples wanted to level everything, needed to make everything uniform: one army, one language, one school, one police, and one civil law - that nation-state is losing its luster. 

The dense, oily smoke that wrapped itself around the sacrificial altar is becoming thinner and is being dispersed. The folk, not the nation-state, is the modern concept! The people, not the Fatherland! And separate cultures, not borders protected by patrols, guard the separate folk cultures... 

The weak, oppressed people awake, and struggle for their language, for their own culture against the nation-state. And we, the weakest, have also joined their ranks. 

The nation-state will no longer falsify the cultures of its peoples, no longer suppress individuality and differentness. This is the byword of the multitudes, and we are in their ranks under our own banner and in the name of our own cultural interests. 

We donít want to be anyoneís handmaiden. A lackey people can-not create cultural riches - and we do! 

And the best place for our gathering was here in Bukovina, especially its capital, Czernowitz. Here where people of various nationalities, speaking many languages, live side-by-side, it is easier to do our work in our language. We stroll in the evening in the streets and from various windows stream out the sounds of different languages, all kinds of folk-music. We want our own windows! Our own distinct motif in the folk-symphony. 

We no longer want to be fragmented, and to render to every Moloch nation-state its tribute: There is one people - Jews, and its language is - Yiddish. 

And in this language we want to amass our cultural treasures, create our culture, rouse our spirits and souls, and unite culturally with all countries and all times. 

We did not come here simply to talk amongst ourselves and to issue proclamations. We have come here to work together. There will be various proposals for important tasks, but two such tasks that I consider of the utmost important I want to mention at the outset. If Yiddish is to become a real language for us, then all the old cultural treasures of our great past must become a part of it. If Yiddish is to become a full member in the family of the languages of the world, it must become accessible to the world. 

I, therefore, want to propose the translation into Yiddish of all our cultural treasures from our free, golden past, primarily the translation into Yiddish of the Bible. Also the transliteration of our best cultural treasures into Roman letters. We no longer want to be crude, unrefined parvenus or upstart newly-rich. Culture includes tradition! And we donít want to introduce our culture to the peoples of the world through mechanical translations that deaden the living word. 

We have come here to talk less and work more. Consequently we ask everyone to work more [applause]. We thank Dr. Birnboym for bringing us all together. We thank the academic association "Yiddish Culture" which dedicated itself to this purpose and with all its strength helped to publicize our conference. Also, let us remember today that great man, the first to create works in our modern, authentic Yiddish literature; who gave us the first classic work in the Yiddish language, and who is unfortunately not here. We are without Mendele Moykher-Sforim! [loud applause of many minutes duration] Permit me to propose that we should, in the name of the entire conference, send him a greeting telegram [more applause]. 

*This speech appeared in Dr. Birnboymís Vokhnblat #2, Czernowitz, 1908 (Translated by Marvin Zuckerman and Marion Herbst from Nakhmen Meisel, Briv un redes fun I.L. Peretz (New York: YKUF, 1944) 
 
Reprinted with permission from "Selected works of I.L. Peretz" (edited by Marvin Zuckerman and Marion Herbst) / Malibu, Calif.: Joseph Simon/Pangloss Press, 1996. 485 p. The book is available from the National Yiddish Book Center.

 
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