A Resurgence of Yiddish in Finland

14 Mar 2019

There are about 1,500 Jews in Finland, 1,200 of whom live in Helsinki. The history of the Jews in Finland begins with the Cantonists, Jewish boys from Czarist Russia who were conscripted into the military from the 17th through the 19th centuries. After being discharged, Russian authorities allowed them to settle in Finland, where a number of them eventually built a community. In the 1920s and 30s, the National Library of Finland became a repository for Yiddish books published in the waning years of the Russian Empire and in the Soviet era.

Helsinki was home of the recent Limud Helsinki Conference. According to conference co-organizer Ariel Nadbornik, most Finnish Jews don’t speak Yiddish but they do feel a connection to the language. “Every time we offer a talk about Yiddish, the room is packed,” he said.

Many European Jews see Yiddish as a source of home-grown pride. Conference participant Tamás Buchler of Hungary spoke on attempts by Jews to build settlements, usually with Yiddish as the lingua franca,  in Uganda, Angola, Australia, and elsewhere – including in the United States. The only Jewish settlement most people know about today is the one that succeeded – Israel – though many over the years tried to save the Jews from Europe’s pogroms and persecution.

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