top of page

“I can say the ‘Baruch ata adonai eloheynu melech ha’olam’ and know that these exact same words have come out of the mouths of my ancestors for generations and generations. I can feel their breath in my mouth. These words bend time. It is said in Judaism that healing goes not only forward but also back.” 

— Micah Bazant, TimTum: A Trans Jew Zine 

Historically, Jews were multilingual as a rule, fami-

liar with Jewish and secular languages. For most

Ashkenazi Jews, Yiddish served as a language of the

home and family, and of popular culture such as

folk music, theater, and literature. And for some,

particularly women who were not taught Hebrew or Aramaic, Yiddish functioned as a deeply spiritual language as well. For all the relative safety and privileges the United States has afforded Jews to practice our religion, the American disease of monolingualism has been devastating. We must re-incorporate multilingualism into Jewish education and community – this time, all languages available to all genders

– to appreciate the wisdom of our history, expand our perspectives, and enrich our lives. 

The Jews who came before us may not have ever imagined the types of struggles we face, and we will never experience many of the hardships they suffered. When we call upon traditional Jewish liturgy in our times of need, as our spiritual and/or biological ancestors once did, we honor their memories and affirm our own holiness. While reciting the exact same rabbinic Hebrew prayers as our ancestors can be incredibly powerful, we should also recognize and reclaim the tradition of Jews mumbling intimate pleas in their vernacular, and speaking to the divine in their own words. We may do these things privately, but we are not alone. 

Tkhines (private supplications in Yiddish, outside the traditional liturgy) were recited primarily by women and uneducated men), either improvised or read from a text. First appearing in the 16th century, printed tkhines by authors of all genders covered topics such as holiday observances, women’s mitsves (commandments) like lighting Shabes candles, and experiences like pregnancy, grief, and economic hardship. Professor Chava Weissler notes, “While domestic concerns run through these prayers, so, too, do grander themes from Jewish thought, especially the hope for the messianic redemption and the end of exile.”

I and many of my friends choose to learn Yiddish as a tool to build a more vibrant and inclusive Jewish future. Specifically, Yiddish offers many benefits for the goals of progressive neo-Hasidism. With Yiddish, we can better study the history of Hasidism (and other Jewish movements), and better understand Hasidic Yiddish-speaking communities (and those who leave them) today. Beyond what has traditionally been defined as Hasidic, Yiddish can also illuminate Jewish spiritual folk and women’s practices adjacent to Hasidic thought. These practices have been abandoned and erased by mainstream liberal Judaism and have never been given proper respect in the androcentric Hasidic teachings which excluded women and gender minorities. And to complement our spiritual and political work as progressive neo-Hasidim, we can embrace Yiddish secular and popular culture as well, which has been scorned by right-wing religious leaders.

I’m honored to bring the voices of three young scholars/cultural activists to Gashmius who are leading a revival of tkhines and other Jewish folk practices. Annabel Cohen, a doctoral student at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Kohenet-in-training, resurrects Yiddish practices around mourning and grief, recalling her personal experience with loss to lead events for her community. Grad student Hannah Wickham rewrites academic attitudes toward Yiddish women’s spirituality, challenging past misogynistic dismissals with their fascinating analysis. Rabbi Noam Lerman thoughtfully incorporates Yiddish women, trans, and queer voices into their pastoral work with students and marginalized populations and teaching at Klezmer on Ice, KlezCummington, and KlezKanada.

Let’s embrace Yiddish as a means for learning, community, and multiculturalism–and for resisting assimilation, anti-intellectualism, and fascism. Our progressive neo-Hasidic agenda must include multilingualism, women’s and people’s history, and oral traditions–to heal ourselves and our ancestors.

Read the three interviews below to learn more:

Reflecting Light by Hannah Altman

Sarah Biskowitz

The Past and Future
of Yiddish Spirituality

Sarah Biskowitz

Sarah Biskowitz works at the Jewish Women’s Archive as the Manager of the Rising Voices Fellowship, a writing program for high school students centering Judaism, feminism, and social justice. Previously, Sarah completed the Year Program at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and served as the Richard S. Herman fellow in bibliography and exhibitions at the Yiddish Book Center. A graduate of Smith College and five intensive Yiddish summer programs, her work has been published in Jewish Currents, Hey Alma, Pakn Treger, and In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies. She has spoken about feminist Yiddish culture at the Maine Conference for Jewish Life, the Association for Jewish Studies conference, and various synagogue and Moishe House events, and co-created the Instagram account @yiddishistke. Visit her website

bottom of page