"Bay Yiddish" is brought to you by Yankl Levitow, alias "Reb Yankl" or Jon Levitow. I was born in Los Angeles, CA, in 1958 to a family in which Yiddish was spoken on my father's side. I graduated from Stanford University in 1980 with a degree in English and went on to study English language and literature at Princeton University, from which I received a Ph.D. in 1986 (my dissertation was on James Joyce, who knew a lot of languages but probably not much Yiddish). I taught English composition and literature at Washington College in Maryland, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Merced College in Merced, CA, among others.
Meanwhile, the numbers of Yiddish speakers in the family declined, and I resolved that someone needed to work against this trend. Somebody had to keep speaking Yiddish! Even if it was me!
In 2,000 I began to study Yiddish in earnest at the "Workman's Circle" in Los Angeles with Yakov Basner, and I attended the "Art of Yiddish" winter language-immersion program in Los Angeles from 2001-2007. This program, which sadly no longer exists, brought top level teachers such as Pesakh Fishman (a"h), Yitshok Niborski, and Miriam Shmuelevitsh-Hoffman to Los Angeles for one or two weeks in December. It was there, thanks in large part to the influence of Pesakh Fishman, that I found myself mysteriously turning into what Pesakh used to call, "a soldier for Yiddish." I went on to study with Sheva Zucker at the NYU-Yivo summer program in 2008 and with Yitshok Niborski at the Tel-Aviv summer program in 2013. My translations of Yiddish poetry, particularly of the Ostrolenka poet Yisroel Shtern, can be found on the Monash University website, www.yiddishpoetry.org.
Since 2007 I've been the Yiddish language instructor at Stanford University and since 2011 at the University of California Santa Cruz as well. I also teach Yiddish at local south-bay synagogues (see "classes" for a complete list). In my spare time, I play old-time banjo and am learning to play the Arab qanun. I write poetry and prose in English and Yiddish (I've written an unpublished novel and am currently working on a screenplay based on the "In the Polish Forests" trilogy by Yoysef Opatoshu), and I have been known to enjoy learning a "blat gemore" at Chabad of S. Jose, all of this besides spending time with my inter-species family.
Answers to the Quiz on the Homepage: 1) Glen Alan, Yosemite Nat'l Park, CA, 2) the old synagogue in Warka, Poland, where Yankl's ancestors were Hasidim of the "Vurker Rebbe," 3) Big Sur, CA, 4) the house of R' Menakhem Mendl, the Vitebsker Rebbe (1730 - 1788), one of Yankl's favorite writers, in Tiverya, Israel, 4) Vitebsk, Russia, as depicted by Mark Chagal, who was also from there, 5) Ceret, France -- OK, I donn't know if anyone spoke Yiddish there, but the painting is by Chaim Soutine, who was a Jewish painter from Smilovitsh, Belaurus, and 6) the Allerton Gardens on Kauai (was Yankl the first person to speak Yiddish there? If you spoke Yiddish on Kauai before 2014, let me know!))