In an ideal world, we would all love to speak to our children in Yiddish, but many find our own command of the language sorely lacking. A tool created by an American-born chossid in the 1980s might help.
Today many Chabad parents have a complicated relationship with Yiddish. In an ideal world, we would all love to speak to our children in Yiddish, which has been so closely associated with our nation for centuries and through which we learn from the Rebbe.
But most of us find our own command of the language sorely lacking.
Some persevere and speak to their first few toddlers in Yiddish before “breaking down” and switching to English. But most of us don’t even try–feeling it’s a losing battle.
Rabbi Moshe Moscowitz, veteran educator and creator of Shazak, can relate. Born and raised to American-born parents in Chicago, he did not know Yiddish until he went to learn in Tomchei Temimim in Montreal at the age of 15.
A decade later, he became a first-grade rebbi, tasked with teaching exclusively in Yiddish to a classful of children, most of whom did not know the language from home.
“The most powerful tool I had was storytelling,” he says. “I made sure to use basic Yiddish and often translated unfamiliar words into English. I told the kids such exciting stories that they found themselves hanging onto every word and gaining familiarity with the language without even trying.”
The stories – laced with humor, some of it directed primarily at parents – were the basis of what would eventually become the Shazak series of products, Queen of Persia, Miracle Lights, Out of Egypt, and most recently Shazak Parsha Videos, enjoyed by thousands globally.
He recorded the stories and sent the cassette tapes home with the children, who would listen to them together with their siblings. The stories were also played on the bus ride home (Rabbi Moscowitz drove the Cheder bus), during “coloring time,” and even recess.
By the time Yud Aleph Nissan came, the children gained such proficiency and confidence that they would write their own Panim to the Rebbe in Yiddish.
Many children who grew up attending Chicago’s Cheder Lubavitch in the 1980’s still wax nostalgic when they share the memorable jokes and beloved quotes from the “Rabbi Moscowitz stories” they grew up on.
More than 30 years after they were released on cassette, the stories are all available on YouTube, a free resource for anyone wishing to infuse Yiddish into their family or classroom.
Note to the public: Many cassettes were released to the public and no original “master” was retained. If you have any old Rabbi Moscowitz recordings, please be in touch at [email protected].