Michel Celemenski’s parents are Jewish survivors of the Holocaust who found refuge in France. In the 50s, the Celemenskis moved to Canada, fearing a civil war due to the “Algerian cancer”. They taught their child the currently disappearing Yiddish language. On the 14th of January, Mr. Celemenski came to explain the difficulty of maintaining cultural identity in a globalized world where languages are deeply threatened.
To begin with, Michel Celemenski defines identity as “who you believe you are”. He refers to a french philosopher who says “on fait du bricolage”, meaning that each identity is made up of a sense of belonging. We should continually ask ourselves: what is our identity? The multiples facets of our identity are complementary and make our diversity. It’s a dynamic process that takes place continuously.
Afterwards, Michel Celemenski explains what the difference between Hebrew, Ivrit, and Yiddish - which people tend to confuse. Hebrew, like Latin, found its roots in Aramaic. Ivrit is the modern version of Hebrew, it is:“to Hebrew what Italian is to Latin”. Yiddish is a completely different language. Indeed, the Yiddish language is based on a german dialect with Slavic influences, such as polish or Russian. It also maintains some of the Hebrew language. Before the War, there were 12 million Yiddish speakers, but this number has decreased to about 8 million. Mr. Celemenski insists on the fact that Yiddish is not a religious language.
Concerning modern history, Israel, at its foundation in 1947, refused to take Yiddish as the official language, considering it as a handicap for the unification of the country. So it chose Hebrew to assure the Israeli cohesion.
Furthermore, Michel Celemenski underlines the link between biodiversity and cultural diversities. “Linguistic is as important as biodiversity”. Biodiversity is a key to maintaining culture.
This diagram, published by UNESCO, sums up how heavily cultural and biological diversities depend on each other.
In our globalized world, one of the biggest threat is the disappearance of cultural identities due to the loss of human diversity areas. The traditional lifestyles and cultures of people from South America, or small Indonesian islands for example, are directly threatened by globalization and increasing urbanisation. Migration trends show that people are moving to big industrialized cities.
We have to preserve those cultures and traditions just like we already preserve natural parks or reserves. There is a direct link between maintaining diversity and maintaining culture identities. Indeed, languages are very often linked to a very detailed knowledge of the ecological environment. A half of languages will disappear in the end of this century.