Black Lives Matter in Yiddish בלעק לײַװס מעטער


Deciding not to translate is the most Yiddish thing to do. Kudos to Anthony Russel and Jewish Current for this piece here cutting to a core, here about translating BLM into Yiddish and the attempt “to touch Blackness from inside Yiddish,” especially for black speakers of Yiddish. (For more on performer, composer, and arranger of music in Yiddish, Anthony Mordechai Tvi Russel, see his website here.)

My previous considerations about the attempts to translate “Black Lives Matter” into Yiddish informed the group’s final decision to directly transliterate the English phrase into yidishe oysyes (Hebrew letters). A direct transliteration of English into normative Yiddish sounds renders “black lives matter” into “blek lives metter,” which is, to our thinking, a close enough approximation:

בלעק לײַװס מעטער

The group also decided that the transliteration of “Black Lives Matter” should be immediately followed by a parenthetical with a direct translation of the phrase into Yiddish using the descriptor “African American” instead of “Black.” A number of interpretations were produced:

אַפֿראָאַמעריקאַנער לעבנס האָבן אַ װערט  

Afroamerikaner Lebns Hobn a Vert    

אַפֿראָאַמעריקאַנער לעבנס זענען וויכטיק

Afroamerikaner Lebns Zenen Vikhtik

אַפֿראָאַמעריקאַנער בלוט איז נישט קײן װאַסער

Afroamerikaner Blut iz Nisht Keyn Vaser     

The first two interpretations, to our thinking, were very close to the original sentiment. The last one—literally “African American Blood is Not Water”—interpreted the essence of the phrase through the adaptation of a pre-existing Yiddish version of the idiom “Blood is thicker than water” (literally: “Blood is not water”).


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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1 Response to Black Lives Matter in Yiddish בלעק לײַװס מעטער

  1. Stephen Simons says:

    I would appreciate my response being shared with Anthony Russel. I maintain that the Yiddishists with whom he consulted are lacking in knowledge of Yiddish as was spoken in East European prior to world war II as well as among Yi8ddish speakers in America between 1900-1945. The colors black and white regarding racial groups require a noun: A shvartser mentsh, a vayse froy, a shvartser Yid, vayse birger, Shvartse lebns, etc. The word shvartser or vayser alone is actually a pejorative which denies the humanity of the individual or group. I have read multiple accounts in which references to black individuals are Yiddish translations of “Negro.”: Neger.ContemporaryYiddishists may be offended by this legitimate Y?iddish word, because of its similarity to the very pejoritive N word. Using shvartz as an adjective, not a pejorative, I would suggest the translation: Shvartse Lebns machen oys..
    I would be happy to discuss this with Mr. Ruusel.

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