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Mein Shtetele Schopfloch

By aharon granevich-granot, schopfloch, germany

The bavarian-german village of schopfloch might not have even been a dot on the tourist map, if a television producer hadn’t discovered its secret. While the old-timers who actually speak the mangled hebrew dialect are dwindling, even the young people are proud of their unique vernacular. There are no jews in sight, but the language on the street sounds oddly familiar …

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

in germany

The southern german countryside around the isolated valley is a stark contrast of colors, from the green, verdant fields to picturesque village homes, from the black paths that cut through the greenery to the red tiled roofs that cover the homes, both large and small. The entire scene is framed by tall green trees and the air is clear and refreshing.

But all this is only the external packaging of the quaint bavarian village that has attracted the attention of linguists — and jews.

On schopfloch’s main road, among the stores and spacious homes, we approached young residents sitting in the local bistro enjoying their beers. We had heard about the little village’s unique language, and had planned to seek out the elders of schopfloch to ask them whether what we had heard was true. But it turns out we didn’t need testimony from the past. The young people provided all the answers. Some residents of schopfloch still speak the village’s unique langue, a dialect of german peppered with many words introduced by the small jewish community that lived in the town for hundreds of years.

“hey, mein sheigetz!” One young man called out to us; he meant to say, “my friend.”  Apparently the local jews would call the non-jewish members of the town “sheigetzim,” but those gentiles did not understand the affront and assumed it meant friend.

kum zitz by di yoishvesi,” the young men invited us excitedly to the local bar. They call the bar, where they sit, a “yoishves,” from the hebrew root word meaning to sit. In shock, we followed the friendly young men, who ordered “sheichar”— beer — for us, and suggested we taste the “soiref,” the hard liquor that burns (“soref”) as it goes down — otherwise known as schnapps.  Before we could even respond, the local sheigetz was already pouring the drinks into our glasses. We refused politely. He couldn’t understand why, and tried to persuade us: “it’s not a lot. Just a pitzele.

Schopfloch, a small village of 2,500, is typical of the hundreds of german villages in which jews lived from the middle ages until the nazi era. In the 1830s, the town even had a jewish mayor and out of a population of 1,390, 332 were jews. And those jews left schopfloch with a unique legacy.

Hundreds of years ago, jewish schopflochers developed a local patois, a dialect based largely on hebrew. Over the years, as christians worked in jewish homes and the jewish community became more and more integrated, the dialect became popular among the non-jews as well. Known as lachoudisch (believed to be a contraction of of the words lashon kodesh), the dialect contains some 2,000 words of hebrew origin. 


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