Monday, February 22, 2016

After 30 years, this New York Yiddish translator still has her days in court 

A lawyer requested a Yiddish interpreter for the deposition of a client in New York.

When interpreter and translator Ruth Kohn showed up, the lawyer asked her if she speaks Lithuanian Yiddish. She speaks Polish Yiddish. 
"But my client speaks Lithuanian Yiddish," said the concerned lawyer.

"Listen, you're lucky to even get a Yiddish interpreter at all," Kohn told him.

That was 15 years ago when there were a handful of Yiddish translators on call for the New York court system.

Today, Kohn is the only Yiddish interpreter and translator registered with the courts in New York, the region with the majority of the United States' 159,000 Yiddish speakers.

These days, most of America's Yiddish speakers are Hasidic Jews, but at one time Kohn would also translated for Jews who had immigrated to the US from countries such as Russia, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. However, the case in which the lawyer requested a Lithuanian Yiddish translator was the last Kohn worked that involved a non-Hasidic Jew.

Different Yiddish dialects aren't a problem. As Kohn had expected, she and the lawyer's client understood one another just fine.

"Yiddish is Yiddish. All Yiddish speakers can understand one another," Kohn said in a recent interview with The Times of Israel at her home in Manhattan.

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