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Jewish miracle stories for Hanukkah: Yiddish in Sweden

As we light the Hanukkah candles tonight, let us reflect on the little miracles we encounter every day, sometimes in less expected places. This is the story of how a country in northern Europe has gone on to become a large producer of contemporary Yiddish content.

In 1999, Yiddish was declared an official national minority language in Sweden. It’s been spoken there by Ashkenazi Jews for hundreds of years. There are 20,000 Jews living in Sweden today, and, according to estimates, between 1,500 and 3,000 Jewish Swedes are native Yiddish speakers, most of them elderly. But the official status given to minority languages assures that Yiddish speakers can conduct government business in their native language. Sweden also offers Yiddish-language courses in universities, supports Yiddish language TV and radio programming, including a focus on children’s programming, and book publishers are creating media in Yiddish.

Malmo-based journalist Thomas Lunderquist produces a monthly Yiddish-language radio show for Sverige Radio, the national radio channel, which explores little-known connections in Yiddish language and culture. Sweden’s state television previously produced a four-part travel series which follows Yiddishist Tomas Woodski as he travels to four cities (Bucharest, Tel Aviv, Paris, and London) and talks to local Yiddish speakers. There are also Yiddish-language versions of well-known Swedish children’s shows. The Sveriges Jiddischförbund, Sweden’s largest Yiddish cultural organization, released a series of music videos teaching Yiddish songs to children, along with Yiddish vocabulary.

Happy Hanukkah!