Yiddish Group Day 8

The lecture on “EU Policy and the Danube Region” by Dr. Filipa Figueira this morning gave us a very good insight of the political situation of the European Union nowadays. As British citizens (at least in my case), although we are a part of the EU, most of us don’t have a clear idea of how it functions and the structure which governs it. Also, there has been a popular debate of having a referendum on whether U.K. should leave the European Union in 2017, that’s why a deeper understanding of the EU is vital for us.

EU’s regional policy initially helped those recently-joined countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal with funding to maintain their economy. As time went by, these funds are given to all regions and areas, including the Danube region – EUSDR (EU Strategy for the Danube Region). Its incentive is to improve those countries’ political policies and to collaborate with each other. An average 1 billion euro is given to the Danube region, with different portion depending the role and the nature of the countries. Through this strategy, countries along the river will have the ability to promote their cultures and to boost their tourisms. Apart from the Danube region, we learned that the EU spent around half their budge on agriculture, which ironically represents only 1% of the European countries’ GDP. This practice does not reflect what the current economic situation, where more money is needed in order to improve unemployment and other problems due to the financial crisis. Thus, there are countries like Greece and the U.K. considering pulling out from the EU, yet the impacts of such action will have serious impacts on Europe as a whole, both economically and politically. It is certain that there should be changes and improvements on some EU policies, however, quitting the EU will not be a wise option, in my opinion.

Yiddish Group Day 7

“A language is a dialect with an army and navy.”

We began our bright, early and joyful morning with the fine words and charisma of Adam Nadasdy, a professor of English linguists (and I dare-say a specialist of many more languages, as was illustrated through his talk). We started with an entertaining reading of biblical extracts via the various languages of the Danubian lands. As we all have our own allocated language groups, it was a great chance for the rest of us to experience the different flavours of languages we hadn’t had a chance to sample through the week. It was a demonstration to illustrate the interconnectedness of the different languages and how easy it is to spot and enjoy the similarities between them. On one hand we have the Indo-European canopy of languages (which include Germanic, Latin, Slav and Indo-Iranian) on the other the Uralic canopy (branching into Finno-Ugric and Samoyed types). Interesting points were made on the nature of Aryans, how Germanic languages sought to associate with that heroic Aryan status and hence held a higher opinion of themselves whilst looking down upon those who were of “non-Aryan” descent. Whereas the non-Aryan Hungarians were proud to have independence from such heroic heredity and instead would upgrade the depth of their language into Turkic territory, somewhat linking them to the legends of Attila and the Huns. Development of languages overtime therefore holds such a rich palate of history, culture, fiction, non-fiction, social and political cues that a linguist could never possibly find themselves within the tendency to become bored. And we are all linguists in some fashion.

During our last Yiddish lesson we sampled some humus and Matzos, and we said goodbye to our wonderful language teacher Lily Kahn. Thank you, Lily for such a wonderful adventure in Yiddish!

Yiddish Group Day 6

After researching the Danubian influence in our local Thames region, we decided to further explore Yiddish culture in London. On Monday the 8th of June, we visited the Stamford Hill area to gather stories of Danubian migration, the impact of culture and about the Yiddish language. These stories would be found by interviewing locals, captured through the medium of film. Footage will soon be collated in our documentary ‘Looking for Yiddish’.

We left fairly early to start filming. When we all were together, we started walking down the street. After a short while, the occasional Yiddish shop name and poster started appearing among the usual English texts.

We first walked into a Kosher groceries store to ask about the area. It was a hustle of people scanning shelves and shelves of packeted goods, mostly covered in Yiddish.  When asked, the shop keeper dismissed their end of the street as not being an accurate representation of the culture in the area, and suggested we move further down to find more interesting footage.

Indeed, the shop keeper was right. we encountered a plethora of culture further up Stamford Hill.

On entering a Jewish clothing store, we settled on our first interviewee. Sat below rails of black robes, Joseph told us the relief of finding an area in London, where he could still exercise his traditions.  It will surely make for some interesting viewing.

Questions were asked to several other people, however, they were not filmed. Exploring the area revealed the international nature of the language. People from all over the world, i.e., not just Danubian regions, had been hugely influenced by Yiddish and still preserve it in their lives despite a rapidly changing world.

We wrapped up the day by going to the Cross-Strand event and the UnConference, where groups from the whole of UCL Summer School presented on how their view global citizenship and what an education for a global citizen should look like. You can read our blog post on the UnConference on our web page.

Yiddish Group: Day 5

We are deeply appreciated that we had a much better understanding to this marvellous river, Danube, right after the lecture. Danube is certainly a gift from God to the European residents, for most of the time it brings numerous benefits to the people, and it is the crucial element for the civilisation of the Danube region. However, sometimes it also brings flooding and causes casualties, which lead  to the both awe and esteem of this mother river. Overflow of Danube river also delivers the nutrients from the river to the neighbouring farmland and makes them fertile every single year. In the past, agriculture is the most important industry to a culture, therefore, a good harvest is meaningful to the whole country in terms of economy and national strength. In this lecture, we also discovered a sorrowful fact that most of the Jewish people immigrated to the European countries by travelling along Danube, but it was also one of the execution place for massacre of Jews during World War II.

In the Yiddish lesson, we had a delightful time and we learned about the Yiddish name of some common food, for example vegetable soup and Bagels. And we watched a youtube video about cooking some traditional Jewish food, which further widen our horizons. We understood how important potato is in traditional Jewish cuisine, and even learnt a song that about ‘potato’. During the project tutorial, we took part in country research. We tried to find out the differences of Yiddish culture among all the countries that Danube passes through, and the division of labour made our work highly efficient. We expected that our team can finish the outline of  our poster.

Yiddish Group Day 4- The Romani, Kahoot and linguistics

An increasingly tired mass of students arrived in the morning only to be livened up by a particularly engaging lecture on the history of Europe’s Roma population. First examining the Roma protests in Marble Arch and the British media’s vitriolic reaction, Michael Stewart took us through the origins of a people who have so often been the victims of social change forced upon them (only after establishing how little most of us knew about the Romani through the interactive game Kahoot). Professor Stewart discussed how Communist countries forcibly attempted to assimilate the Roma, who were perceived as an underclass, through modernisation and banning elements of their culture.

We then examined the varying fortunes of Romani people following the collapse of the USSR. On the one hand, huge numbers lost the jobs or were forced into professions such as street cleaning- and still remain poor today. On the other, about 1/3 of the population, such as Chappie who was one of professor Stewart key informants during his field research on Hungarian Roma, made a success out of their new circumstances, by trading. Either way, they were once again driven by forces largely beyond their control.

Stewart’s last point seemed especially salient given the social tensions in Britain today: that culture is an exchange which should connect us, yet we use it to differentiate instead. The fact that he made his point with clips of some impressive dancing  (Hungarian, Russian and Roma respectively) was an added bonus. Those dances were all very similar and had the same origin, and yet on national level they are treated as different as if owned by the nation.

Other elements of the lecture were also relevant to our focus on the Yiddish community, as well as the global citizenship programme as a whole. These factors led our group discussion. We asked how people can construct an identity without a motherland, the difference between higher “Culture” and lower “culture” and how forcing traditional requirements of citizenship on groups which only value local sovereignty can be problematic.

We attempted to form some sort of conclusion about how we can address these issues through active engagement. Maybe through education schemes; maybe through changing our own perceptions of citizenship. Either way, in order to truly be global citizens we have to try and practice what we preach.

The second lecture of the day again tackled the merge of high and low culture through the lens of linguistics. The city of Prizen proved to be a fascinating melting pot of ethnicities, but one which depressingly reaffirmed how culture is being used to separate people. The linguistic element, and how the adoption of different elements from various tongues became part of everyday vocabulary, echoed our study of Yiddish- a language which reflects the diverse background of Danubian Jews and their complicated past.

Speaking of Yiddish, our speaking class stepped up a difficulty notch today. Trying to incorporate a variety of new words and phrases proved challenging at first, but by the end we gradually got to grips with it. I still can’t believe how much we have done in a few days!

Yiddish Group: day 3

Day three. The thinning ranks of the impassioned “Danubians” seem to finally expose them for what they really are: students who thought they have had their share of lectures and coursework. We may all agree that the “not being talked at” part and the “shut up and listen” component of the programme must work dialectically if they are to coexist at all. But this morning lecture had more in store than a mere gratification for those alarm-nostalgic / curriculum builders, or whoever you may be. As the Chapel Hill horticulturalist once had it – pardon the analogy –  “there is more to weeds than weeding” – or, as clear from Wendy Bracewell’s remarks, there is more to travellers’ logs than their own historical biases. The historical distinction between the western and the eastern Danube, not unlike the common separation between our western industrialised countries, and, well, pretty much everyone else- does in fact tell us something essential about the way we make sense of our everyday life.

The literary depictions of the eastern Danube as the realm of the uncivilised and the uncanny (and, in case of Bram Stoker, also the unpunctual) are a direct result of what the authors had been exposed to for most of their lives; indeed, Belgrade seemed much less exotic to those travellers who were returning from a trip to Istanbul.

Expanding on this point:  Today’s increasingly rapid and massive movements of people and knowledge seem to have turned us all into 21st travellers, capable of, not unlike the Danube itself, cutting through cultural and political boundaries and step into a global, interconnected world- But this tightly knit web of information, with which we tried to better come to terms in today’s tutorials, is marked as much by the breaking of boundaries as their reworking into new configurations.  In our own case, perhaps most evidently, the violent course of history has seen the dispersal of a once locally integrated (along the banks of the Danube) Yiddish culture throughout the whole world, to the point where the best place to document its current development is probably a city famous for its cultural diversity and variety (in fact, possibly one of the most locally disparate cities in the world), London.

The premise of the whole global citizenship is, nonetheless, the global integration of these demarcations, and what will matter most in tackling the resulting complexity is precisely the sort of attitude and stance we choose to embrace.  We may try to overcome our own assumptions of, say, Northern-Congo hunter-gatherers, (but we needn’t go that far: we can start with Yiddish) and we will hopefully end up with a better sense of who we are. (p.s this is the core quest of anthropology-  as an anthropology student myself I can but warmly recommend you take some modules in anthropology next year- if you feel like this is your thing).