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David Goldman, Associated Press
Yiddish teacher Miriam Udel, left, leads a class in singing a song to teach Yiddish at Emory University Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011 in Atlanta. This isn't music appreciation or even a class at a synagogue. It's the first semester of Yiddish at Emory University in Atlanta, one of just a handful of such program at colleges across the country studying the Germanic-based language of Eastern European Jews.

ATLANTA — A handful of programs at North American colleges aim to keep the Yiddish language alive.

The language came close to dying after the Holocaust as millions of Yiddish speakers were either killed or fled to countries where their native tongue was not welcome.

But Emory University in Atlanta and other universities like Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and McGill University in Canada are working to bring the language back. They also hope to foster appreciation for the rich history of European Jewish culture and art.

Experts estimate there are between 1 million and 2 million native speakers in the world, but only about 500,000 speak it in the home — mostly orthodox Jews.