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Outwitting History!Sholom aleykhem.

For the past several years, we have been encouraged and delighted and amazed by the work of Aaron Lansky. He’s not an Anglican, not a web developer, and not a family friend. Aaron Lansky is the founder of the National Yiddish Book Center, an organisation in Amherst, Massachusetts that has harnessed living knowledge, technology, summer interns, mouldy books, fundraising, publication, and education in an extremely successful bundle to save the written and spoken life of Yiddish.

Lansky’s autobiography is an exciting account of his adventures, including midnight rescue trips to rain-soaked rubbish bins in which troves of Yiddish sheet-music or books had been discarded. Over the last three decades, Lansky’s pluck and determination have meant that — so much more than merely coming away from the brink of literal, material destruction — Yiddish now has what may be the world’s most in-print literature. Today you can listen to Yiddish radio, go to Yiddish concerts, and even select Yiddish as your language of preference while buying a MetroCard on the New York City subway. Linguists predicted in the 1970s that the language would be dead in their lifetimes; today it is alive and well, the object of serious study and active use by a growing community of people throughout the world.

What does all of this have to do with Anglicans? It’s not much to do with a Yiddish version of the BCP we discovered recently. Nor is it about a concern that language death is afoot in English- or Igbo- or Welsh- or Cree-speaking Anglican communities. Nor is it even about the perennial divide between traditional- and modern-language worship.

Aaron Lansky and the revitalization of Yiddish have a wonderful — and we think necessary — message to Anglicans, particularly if we believe that Anglicanism is itself a language to be spoken and lived, studied and sung. The message is that in order to live, a language must be loved and learned, and that life does not go without love, nor love without learning.

Anglican liturgy in YiddishIt’s not just the rancour of so much Anglican discourse that gives us concern about whether our language is alive and well. Rather, it’s the clergy, seminarians and active layfolk who write and speak with a passing acquaintance with our tradition and culture. In the last few months alone, we’ve heard leaders in our communities mention ‘Robert Hooker,’ the ‘Regents Professor of Divinity,’ ‘Thomas Cramner,’ ‘the Elizabethan Settlements,’ ‘Edmund Pusey’ and countless other non-entities as milestones in Anglican life. We are as patient as anyone else when it comes to such slips of the tongue, but the frequency and inaccuracy of these slips makes us begin to wonder whether they aren’t symptoms of a real lack of fluency in Anglican language and thought.

Like Yiddish speakers, we Anglicans have our own vocabulary, our own grammar, dialects, pedagogical methods, a vast literature, poetry and body of proverbs. Like Yiddish — spread from Buenos Aires to Birobidzhan and Montreal to Haifa, Shanghai, Brooklyn and Antwerp — you can hear and speak and write Anglicanism almost anywhere on the planet. But today it is vitally important for us to join our efforts with Hooker and Lansky who have worked so tirelessly

Though for no other cause, yet for this; that posterity may know we have not loosely through silence permitted things to pass away as in a dream*.

We at AO are convinced that Anglicanism, when it can and does speak with its own clear, authentic voice, is one of the noblest and most effective ways of communicating and living the gospel. If recovering Anglicanism and ensuring its future as a first language, a fluent language means a few decades of dumpster diving, flashcards, verb charts and declension tables, sign us up. We'll be there, and look forward to seeing you.

See you next week. Aleykhem sholom.

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Last updated: 27 November 2005

*Keble ed., Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Preface I.1

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