Yiddish Language Study at Hampshire
“It’s been unbelievable,” says Professor Asya Vaisman. “My class was full within weeks of being [announced], and it had a waiting list, a long waiting list.”
Competition to get into Yiddish classes is already fierce. Vaisman can guess why:
“The Yiddish Book Center is here, which is not a resource that exists anywhere else.”
That’s why the College and the National Yiddish Book Center partnered to create a Yiddish language class, with a teacher shared by the two institutions.
As of September 2012, Vaisman is both director of the Yiddish Language Institute at the Book Center and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Yiddish at Hampshire.
While the class is new, collaboration between Hampshire and the Book Center is anything but. The Center was founded by Aaron Lansky 73F in 1980, and moved to the edge of Hampshire’s campus in 1997. Students of Jewish literature, history, and culture have long used the Center as a major resource, as well as worked and interned there. For the last few years, Professor Rachel Rubinstein has taught classes on Yiddish literature and culture, making full use of the Center. She has also taught January term classes on the Yiddish language.
However, this is the first time that Hampshire has offered a full-semester, formal language course in Yiddish.
Teaching Yiddish like any other language, applying the most up-to-date language-learning methods, is a major interest of Vaisman’s. She grew up speaking both English and Russian, and has always been interested in languages.
Aside from teaching at both Hampshire and the Book Center, Vaisman is developing a new Yiddish textbook, one “that would be comparable to contemporary pedagogical methods in other foreign languages,” she says. “It’ll be fully illustrated, with audio, video, and interactive assignments combined.”
“I’m also working on developing an online Yiddish course,” says Vaisman. “People all over the world can sign up to take that.”
In the meantime, Vaisman’s schedule only allows her to offer a beginners’ class at Hampshire, although she and many of her students are interested in continuing on to higher levels. In the meantime, Vaisman points out, “they can take intermediate classes at the summer program here. Two levels are offered during the summer at the Book Center.”
By Michael Samuels 09F