Who is taking cultural ownership of Yiddish in Sweden?

DoreenDoreen El-Roeiy came to the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in the fall of 2014 as a Fulbright Scholar. She is conducting qualitative research on the impact of Yiddish as a national minority language of Sweden. She has a B.A. from Brandeis University in International Relations and an MSc from the London School of Economics in Global Politics.

Explain your research.

I am canvassing the Swedish-Jewish community for reactions to and feedback on the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML), which is a European treaty to promote and protect historical regional and minority languages in Europe. Yiddish was one of the languages protected when Sweden ratified the treaty in 2000.

What have you found?

My research suggests three elements. First, it is very difficult to categorize support of Yiddish as a national minority language within the Swedish-Jewish community. On one hand, you have a non-practicing 22 year old girl singing in a Yiddish choir, genuinely cherishing Yiddish’s status as a national minority language. On the other hand, you have a male second-generation Holocaust survivor who grew up speaking Yiddish and yet he questions the time and effort put into preserving or revitalizing Yiddish in Sweden. Second, no one in the community is teaching the language as a primary mother tongue to their children. Finally, approximately 60% of those interviewed did not believe Yiddish would pass as a national minority language if the ECRML would have been ratified in 2015.

Why are you interested in the ECRML?

Because it’s so hidden. Even in academia it doesn’t feel like people are aware of it. With multiculturalism coming to the forefront, it seems strange that no one is talking about it.

What does your research add to the literature?

Right now I think there’s a spotlight on the Jewish community in Sweden and Europe, so I think it contributes to the debate around religious minorities and how governments will evolve to support and promote these ethnic identities in the future.

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