This first-ever popular history of Yiddish is so full of life that it reads like a biography of the language. For a thousand years Yiddish was the glue that held a people together. Through the intimacies of daily use, it linked European Jews with their heroic past, their spiritual universe, their increasingly far-flung relations. In it they produced one of the world's most richly human cultures. Impoverished and disenfranchised in the eyes of the world, Yiddish-speakers created their own alternate reality - wealthy in appreciation of the varieties of human behavior, spendthrift in humor, brilliantly inventive in maintaining and strengthening community. For a people of exile, the language took the place of a nation. The written and spoken word formed the Yiddishland that never came to be. Words were army, university, city-state, territory. They were a people's home. The tale, which has never before been told, is nothing short of miraculous - the saving of a people through speech. It ranges far beyond Europe, from North America to Israel to the Russian-Chinese border, and from the end of the first millenium to the present day. This book requires no previous knowledge of Yiddish or of Jewish history - just a curious mind and an open heart.