Playing cards save lost language

A Philadelphia businessman recently funded a project to help save the Yiddish language.

Eric Brewstein refused to fold on his promise to his bubbie.

When his grandmother, passed away, he gave her his word that he would continue the Yiddish language tradition by teaching it to his children.

Since launching a Kickstarter campaign in March, Brewstein has not only kept his promise to his bubbie, but he has also created a fun way for the rest of the world to learn the language, too.

In one month, the Philadelphian was able to raise $6,641 – almost $1,000 more than his goal. The Yiddish playing cards began as flashcards Brewstein created to teach his 2-year-old and are now on high-quality casino and poker cards illustrated with playful illustrations.

Brewstein, founder of Lost Languages: Yiddish Playing Cards, was born and raised in Philadelphia. Owner and operator of Corsa Advertising, LLC, he’s arguably a “macher” – which means “big shot” in Yiddish. He has meticulously overseen the planning, creating, manufacturing and delivering of the project and said he hopes eventually to market Yiddish coloring books, picture books and even coasters.

Considering that more than 200 people have already pre-purchased the playing cards, Brewstein’s ambitions do not seem far off. He said he realizes there is not a huge market, but evidently the interest is there and people are willing to support his efforts. He even mentioned getting in touch with Seth Green and having a Yiddish snippet on Cartoon Network’s “Robot Chicken.”

Joking or not, Brewstein’s genuine excitement about the project will take him beyond his initial focus.

“2013l, for me, is about an entrepreneurial spirit and putting time and focus on my own initiatives and family time,” Brewstein said.

The cards are manufactured by the United States Playing Card Company. The standard 54-card deck comes complete with pronunciation and definitions of the most used Yiddish words chosen by Brewstein and his team. The team’s original design and simple presentation modernize the use of Yiddish and make it into an educational tool that even adults can enjoy.

“I have been [sitting] on several ideas for many years and think that there are so many ways to get a product or project exposure,” Brewstein said. “I am excited to try many of them out and compare results. Marketing and sales are something I am curious and comfortable with in a corporate frame, but I am enjoying the time learning a lot about modern media and access and realizing how much of a personalized and loyal culture we have become.”

A self-proclaimed “elitist mess,” Brewstein looked at every angle and potential glitch before pitching his pledge to the public to be open to backers – the supporters of the project who are offered rewards for pledges.

Lost Languages: Yiddish Playing Cards gets the family involved by offering supporters, who pledge $600 or more, five personalized caricature cards making a royal flush, along with posters  of the collection. This also gives a sibling the chance to turn his or her younger brother face down when he is acting like a “schmuck.”

The rewards vary based upon how much a backer pledges.

The cards are scheduled to be delivered late August and may eventually be available at synagogues in the Philadelphia area.

Great-grandchildren of  Jewish immigrants who came to America from Eastern Europe are not being taught Yiddish by their parents, because the language is not considered a priority to learn anymore, Brewstein said. However, Brewstein still finds the dialect relevant.

“Yiddish is used more than people realize,” Brewstein said.

Many students on Main Campus said they have heard of Yiddish but claimed to not know a single word. Students were surprised to hear that words like “glitch” and “schmuck” are of Yiddish origin.

Anna Alter, a senior English major at Temple, was familiar with the Yiddish word “chutzpah.”

“It’s their version of saying someone has balls,” Alter said.

Students questioned if Yiddish is a dead language like Latin. But Brewstein’s success is proof that the public still has some sort of connection with the language.

If people let it die, the language will be obsolete, but through efforts like Lost Languages: Yiddish Playing Cards, Yiddish could potentially have a strong pulse once more in the present day.

Chelsea Thompson can be reached at

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