The Yiddish language is said to date from around the 10th century. It became the vernacular language of Ashkenazi Jews  in Central and Eastern Europe. It is a Germanic language with a significant Hebrew-Aramaic component, and with vocabulary deriving from Slavic languages. Yiddish literature, incoporating folk culture, was already in evidence in the medieval period in a variety of forms. Modern Yiddish literature developed in the 19th century and by the eve of the Second World War, there existed a huge corpus of poetry, fiction, drama. There were regular performances of song recitals, operas, cabaret and plays in Eastern Europe, the USA and beyond. At this time, Yiddish was spoken by approximately 10-12 million Jews throughout the world.


The Yiddish-speaking world was seriously diminished by the Holocaust, by Stalinist repressions in the Soviet Union, and by immigration to Israel where Yiddish was actively discouraged. It has always been a stateless language and its speakers have moved around the globe from medieval times until the present.

Yiddish is a rich language with a complex history, a vibrant culture and an extraordinary literature. At present there are approximately 1-2 million speakers, the majority belonging to the ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities. A smaller, separate group are descendants of Yiddish speakers who migrated to Israel, North and South America, Western Europe, South Africa or Australia. New Yiddish speakers are those who develop an interest in the language and its culture, and become speakers as a result of their passion and efforts.

JMI is committed to preserving Yiddish language and song. Among its Yiddish projects, JMI has previously supported the release of Yidishe Lider by the wonderful East End singer and Yiddishisht, Majer Bogdanski. There was a 60th Anniversary Celebration of The King of Lampedusa at Toynbee Hall, to coincide with publication of the play in Yiddish and with English translation (by Heather Valencia) and a concert given by Adrienne Cooper and Zalman Mlotek, Ghetto Tango: Wartime Yiddish Theatre, songs of the Polish and Lithuanian ghettos (available as a CD).

Since 2000, JMI has run Ot Azoy, an annual Yiddish Summer School and Di Goldene Pave/The Golden Peacock (previously known as Tumbala), an annual Yiddish Summer Song School: both take place at SOAS.

JMI has organised concerts and workshops across the UK with some of the top Yiddish performers such as: Michael Alpert, Joanna Borts, Hilda Bronstein, Efim Chorny, Adrienne Cooper, Shura LIpovsky, Polina Shepherd, Lorin Sklamberg, Karsten Troyke.

Classes and lectures have been held by specialists in Yiddish language and literature: Helen Beer, Barry Davis, Peysakh Fishman, Lily Kahn, Sonia Pinkusowitz, Annick Prime-Margules, Heather Valencia.

The summer schools continue to take place each year.

Visit the JMI events page for more details.

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