The question of identity has both personal and intellectual interest to me. Unpacking the identity discourse is part of my larger personal project of situating my experience as a born again Yiddishist within the larger context of American Jewish history. Why do I need Yiddish? and why didn’t I have Yiddish?– those have been two of my guiding questions. It’s impossible to answer these without stumbling over the related question of identity.As I’ve written elsewhere, studying Yiddish brought me to a deeper understanding of my own family and the Jewishness transmitted within my home. Similarly, the study of American Jewish sociology has helped me understand the larger Jewish American milieu in which I grew up, and how I ended up with my middle class, suburban, Conservative Hebrew school, shma and hatikvah, bacon is ok but ham isn’t, 1980s Long Island Jewish identity. You only have to look at the Pew study to see that for the majority of American Jews, that kind of minimal observance, minimal education, maximal pride, is very much the de facto American Jewish identity today. More »
by Rokhl, at the Rootless Cosmopolitan blog, where you can find it cross-posted, along with much more stimulating writing about Yiddish, American Judaism and its discontents, and otherDynamic Yiddishkayt for the New Millennium. –aryehbernstein
The Washington Post brings us an interesting chart from the Pew Research Center. The chart tracks language presence in the United States from 1980 to today. Because Yiddish had the most stark decline between then and now (from #11 in 1980 to dead last today) the Pew chart is labeled The decline of Yiddish, the rise of Tagalog. Which, ok, is pretty accurate. The Washington Post’s headline, however, is How We Stopped Speaking Yiddish. Which isn’t just bizarrely non-descriptive of this charticle (the ‘How’ never comes up), it also speaks to the media’s love of a good ‘Yiddish in decline’ narrative.
For comparison, Greek was at #8 in 1980 with 401,000 speakers. Today it’s at #14 with 307,000 speakers. In 1980 Yiddish had 315,000 speakers and today around155,000. (By the way, I’m pretty sure this is an underestimate given the population explosion in the Hasidic world and how that explosion does not show up in official records.) Between 1980 and today both Greek and Yiddish dropped six positions.
So, why no tears for the dramatic decline of Greek? Italian? Polish?
While the Washington Post leads with the disappearance of Yiddish, Salon reprints Ross Perlin’s Jewish Currents piece on Yiddish on the Internet. Perlin, a Yiddishist living in New York, finds a thriving Yiddish world on line.
It makes so much sense it’s shocking it hasn’t happened previously, but New Yiddish Rep, a New York-based theatre company, is putting on Waiting For Godot in a new Yiddish translation (with English and Russian supertitles).
From June 16th-July 7th, you can see Tales From Odessa at the Segal Theatre in Montreal, Quebec. Musical artist Socalled (Josh Dolgin) penned the music and lyrics for the production, based on the short story collection Odessa Tales by Isaak Babel. Tales From Odessa follows the life and rise of mob boss Benya “The King” Krik, who rules over the Jewish neighborhood in Moldavanka. Socalled maintains a blog about his work on the musical, and you can view the trailer for the production below.
TALES FROM ODESSA
A Socalled Musical
Music & Lyrics by Josh Dolgin AKA Socalled
Book by Derek Goldman
Based on the stories of Isaak Babel
Translated by Miriam Hoffman Directed by Audrey Finkelstein
A Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre Production
In Yiddish with English and French supertitles. Tickets start at $24.00. You can learn more about the artist Socalled at his website.
Filmmaker Alexander Bodin Saphir presents on the rescue of the Danish Jews at OresundsLimmud 2013
On March 5, our almost-a-minyan who comprise the steering team of Limmud Oresund 2013 was holding the penultimate meeting prior to our second annual Limmud day of Jewish learning and culture. Over 160 people had pre-registered, and we were concerned about logistics: Would there be enough space for a Limmud that had doubled in size since last year? Had we ordered enough food for lunches and snacks? Did Folkuniversitet, an adult education school that was again openomg its facility to us free of chage, have a room large enough for all participants to close out the day together with singing, learning, thanking the volunteers, and tasting the cholent made during a morning session?
Now that January is here, and the Israeli election is just a few weeks away, it’s time for… JANUARY MADNESS!!!! You may recall March Madness from 2006, or February Madness from 2009. Now, Jewschool and Mah Rabu are excited to announce our third Israeli elections prediction pool!
How to Enter: Go to the January Madness link and put in your predictions for how many seats each of the 34 parties will win. All predictions must be non-negative integers (0 is allowed), and your predictions must add up to 120. Entrance is free, but there is a suggested donation of $10 to the organization of your choice dedicated to making Israel the best it can be. Israeli citizens are encouraged to vote in the actual election as well.
Prizes: The winner gets a copy of The Comic Torah, which one Jewschool contributor has called “the perfect match for the zany lunacy and unbridled blood lust of today’s Israeli politics”. Second place gets a copy of Ghettoblaster by So Called, because the Yiddish Hip-Hop Accordion Party wouldn’t be out of place in the Knesset elections.
The Rules (for the real election): The 34 parties have submitted ordered lists of candidates. Here are the full lists in Hebrew, and partial lists in English. On election day (January 22), Israeli citizens will go to polling places in and near Israel, and vote for a party (not for individual candidates). All parties that win at least 2% of the vote will win seats in the Knesset, proportional to their share of the vote. For example, suppose the Pirate Party wins 1% of the vote, One Future wins 33%, and Kulanu Haverim wins 66%. Then the Pirate Party wins no seats in the Knesset (since it was below the 2% threshold), and the other parties will proportionally split the 120 Knesset seats: One Future gets 40 seats (so the top 40 candidates on its list are elected), and Kulanu Haverim gets 80 seats. If vacancies arise later in the term, there are no special elections – the next candidate on the party’s list (e.g. #81 on the Kulanu Haverim list) enters the Knesset. It is mathematically possible for all 34 parties to win seats in the Knesset, but experts say it is unlikely.
The Rules (for the January Madness pool): The deadline to enter is Monday, January 21, 2013, at 11:59 pm Israel Standard Time (4:59 pm EST). When the final election results are published, each entry will receive a score based on how many Knesset seats were predicted correctly. For example, suppose the results are as in the above example (Kulanu Haverim 80, One Future 40). I predicted 60 seats for One Future, 50 for Kulanu Haverim, and 10 for Da’am Workers Party. Then my score is 90, since I correctly predicted 40 seats for One Future and 50 seats for Kulanu Haverim.
Ties will be broken based on two tiebreaker questions:
1) Of the parties that do NOT win seats in the Knesset, which will come closest?
2) Which party will get the FEWEST votes?
The tiebreakers will be resolved in this order: exact match on question 1; exact match on question 2; closest on question 1 (if you picked a party that DOES win seats, you’re out of consideration for this one); closest on question 2.
In the coming weeks, we’ll put up a post with a handy guide to all the parties, and links to their websites.
If you have other questions, post them in the comments. Good luck!!!!
THIS looks awesome. Finally, an event that appeals to Jews who speak Ladino, Jews who speak Yiddish and Jews who speak neither. Its inclusive of all, and even caters to, literally, the kosher set with delicious dainties from the kitchen of Leah Koenig.
Yes, whether you like baklava or babka, this 1st Non-Annual Festival of Pan-Judeo Music and Pastries has something for you. It features the three major streams of Jewish culture and geography- the Mediterranean Sephardi, the Eastern European Ashkenazi and the ubiquitous New York Indie.
Just over a week ago, the world Yiddish community lost the greatest Yiddish songstress of our time, Adrienne Khane Cooper, who died on December 25, 2011 at the age of 65. Adrienne was a person of enormous passion and talent who, as both a performer and teacher, molded a whole generation of young Yiddishists and klezmorim.
In her short 65 years on this earth, Adrienne zigzagged the map, both domestically (living in Oakland, Chicago, and New York), and internationally, touring and studying far and wide, bringing with her a love of Yiddish that was contagious as it was deep. A scholar, a writer, a performer, and an innovator, Adrienne was a trailblazer in demonstrating to the world that the adventure of Yiddish has only begun. Adrienne’s profound love and respect for language, combined with her progressive politics made her the ideal figure for spearheading the contemporary Yiddish renaissance.
After working at the YIVO Language, Literature, and Culture summer program in New York City, Adrienne envisioned an intensified Yiddish cultural experience, and so, along with Henry Sapoznik, she created KlezKamp, the renowned annual Klezmer and Yiddish culture gathering in the Catskills, now nearing its 30th year. These two programs, both of which Adrienne had a significant hand in shaping, are responsible for the outpouring of new Yiddish cultural expression—fueled largely by the enthusiasm of their young participants—that has emerged in recent years.
Among the countless Yiddish scholars and artists whom Adrienne mentored are such prominent figures in the Yiddish world as Yiddish scholar Jeffrey Shandler, acclaimed Yiddish singer Lorin Sklamberg, and outstanding Klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals. The assembled crowd at the New York memorial service for Ms. Cooper (which packed Ansche Chesed’s main sanctuary on Sunday, January 1st) was a veritable ‘who’s who’ in the Yiddish world, and each person in attendance seemed to have at least one story of how Adrienne had changed her/his life. Each of the twelve speakers who eulogised Adrienne at this memorial service shared thoughts regarding the varied and far-reaching aspects of Adrienne’s life and legacy. Upon exiting Ansche Chesed after the memorial service, I overheard an older man ask his friend, “Did you work with Adrienne?” his friend replied, “Of course. Who didn’t??”
As one who delights in all things Yiddish and also sees in it a larger social mission, it warmed my heart when I heard dramatist and political activist Jenny Romaine read an excerpt from the Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker award, which was presented to Adrienne by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) in 2010: “For all of this, and for never working from a place of chosen-ness or nostalgia but from a place of justice, empathy, and complex Yiddish polyphony, JFREJ is deeply honored to present the 2010 Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker Award to Adrienne Cooper. ” Indeed, for Adrienne, Yiddish language and culture was not a quaint novelty trapped in a glass box in a museum, but rather a living, breathing, and evolving hands-on process which could help create a better world.
Perhaps my favourite memory of Adrienne was a Yiddish song workshop she facilitated at the 2008 YIVO summer program, where both myself and Adrienne’s daughter, Sarah Gordon, who is a talented and innovative Yiddish songstress in her own right, were students. At the aforementioned workshop, I witnessed the special beauty of the bond between Adrienne and Sarah, a bond, spanning the generations, of shared dedication and love, both for Yiddish language and culture and for each other. This special bond was best summarised by the final eulogy delivered at the memorial service last Sunday by Sarah, who stated simply, but most eloquently, “She was my mother.” All too often, when we speak of great figures, we forget the unique and personal relationships that are truly the defining aspects of life—the relationships that make us who we are. After hearing eleven people speak beautifully of Adrienne as a legend, Sarah reminded us that she was also a “Yidishe Mame.”
Because of her dedication to helping create a better world, Adrienne served on the Board of Directors of JFREJ, and the family requests that donations in her memory be made to them: www.jfrej.org/. Koved ir ondenk.
If you’re in New York this week, you should check out the “Other Zions” exhibit, currently on display at YIVO. Curated by Krysia Fisher, this absolutely fascinating exhibit showcases the impressive ambitions and efforts of three related Yiddish organisations, all committed to establishing a Jewish homeland within the Diaspora, documenting an oft-neglected chapter in the history of modern Jewish settlement. The exhibit marks the 70th anniversary of the all-Yiddish publication Afn Shvel, the 30th anniversary of the League for Yiddish, and 75 years since the establishment of the Freeland League for Jewish Territorial Colonization.
In July, YIVO hosted an opening for the exhibit, featuring acclaimed Yiddishists, both young and old. The evening centered on the accomplishments and ideological legacies of prominent figures in the Yiddish-speaking world, such as Abraham Rosin, the first editor of the Yiddish literary-cultural journal Afn Shvel; Dr. Mordekhe Schaechter, Yiddish linguist and third editor of Afn Shvel, and founder of Yugntruf; I.N. Steinberg, exiled religious, leftist Freeland activist; and other members of the Freeland movement. Several of the speakers and performers, children and grandchildren of the aforementioned figures, spoke first-hand about the legacy of their forbearers.
To get a schmeck of the history of the Jewish Freeland League, you can watch “No Land Without Heaven: I.N. Steinberg and the Freeland League,” featuring Dr. Adam Rovner (University of Denver), here and learn about the little-known history of the Freeland League, which included attempts to establish Yiddish-speaking Jewish settlements in such places as SW Tasmania, Surinam, and NW Australia. These efforts were ultimately thwarted, most notably by the establishment of the modern state of Israel, and perhaps that is why these stories are seldom related in standard histories of Jewish settlement.
Today, Mordekhe Schaechter’s grandson (and one of the speakers at the “Other Zions” opening this summer), Naftali Ejdelman, is working to achieve his grandfather’s vision with the establishment of Yiddish Farm in Goshen, NY. Naftali spoke of his grandfather’s attempts in the 1950’s to found a Yiddish-speaking colony on farmland in Roosevelt, New Jersey. Yiddish Farm opened its ‘doors’ to the public this summer with its first annual Golus Festival, an outdoor Jewish culture camping festival with live entertainment. Schaechter’s project unites secular and religious Jews through common love of Yiddish language and agricultural work. On a more micro level, other Schaechter progeny are discussing the establishment of a Yiddish-speaking Moishe House in New York City. If you are potentially interested either in working on the Yiddish Farm or living in a Yiddish Moishe House in NYC, please feel free to contact Naftali at firstname.lastname@example.org …and maybe you can live in “another Zion.”
Have a Beautiful Purim with a Righteous Heart from all of your Comrades at Jewschool.
Children in Purim Costume (pictured above), at the S.M. Gurewicz high school in Vilna, 1933. Note the two Native Americans complete with headdress and bow and arrow, two Gypsy girls complete with timbrels and beads and various other ethnographic costumes. Who are you dressing up as?
Here is the cover image of the May 1932 issue of Der Hammer דער האמער, illustrated by Jewish artist William Gropper Der Hammer, an interwar socialist daily with strong communist leanings, fashioned itself as the magazine of the Jewish Worker. It’s here as a reminder to all those in current struggles for justice and peace, and also to honor the upcoming anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and to honor the struggle of Chinese workers contracted to Apple Computers for a safe and healthy working environment free from chemicals that cause neurological damage.
I picked up this little clay Hasid paperweight in a tourist market in Krakow. He has a diamond in his hand. Reactions to him vary, from astonishment to rage.
Some interesting Jewish things floating around the culture:
Rabbi Duvid Bergman of the Radziner Shul in Boro Park gives spectacular shiurim in a concise and eloquent Poylish Yiddish. For all of our Yiddishists out there – s’iz nisht keyn treyf-posl.
Juan Goytisolo, arguably Spain’s great living novelist, released a radical revision of his text Juan the Landless. In this new revision-translation, we meet a Spaniard tortured by a vicarious guilt for the crimes of his country – the persecution of Muslims, Jews, and homosexuals. A man with no land, no history… ain’t nothing like a little Occidental guilt.
A recent digital exhibition of Nomi Talisman’s project META/DATA is up on the website of The Judah L. Magnes Museum. Quirky.
As you may have heard, two separate arson attacks in January have devastated the 600-year-old synagogue on Crete and left its extensive library and archives in ruins. Two Americans, two Britons, and a Greek citizen have been arrested. The Yiddish Book Center has offered to help replace some of the books that were destroyed – and we in turn are calling on our members and friends. You’ll find a current list of needed titles on our website.
Most of these books are in English, Hebrew and Greek (there are no Yiddish readers in Crete). Could I ask you to look through the list and check your shelves at home? Any of these titles you can spare will be enormously appreciated. To save time and money, books may be transshipped at domestic rates through an American APO address. Please send any books directly to:
PSC 814 Box 36
FPO AE 09865-0036
Please email us or use our website to let us know which books you send, so we can update our online list and avoid duplication.
Aaron Lansky, President
National Yiddish Book Center
P.S. According to David Webber, a Canadian in Crete, the Jews there “continue to pray in a burned and gutted sacred structure one has known to be blessed, beautiful and gracious.” When I emailed Nicholas Stavroulakis, a leader of the Crete community, to tell him I would be writing to our members, he sent this reply: “Thank you so much for your help – books are of course the heart of our lives, and the loss of so many has really been very hard to handle. Be well my friend.”
As we all know, book burning tends to escelate and can do so quickly. The Jewish community of Crete could use some new (or used) books. If you can consider sending them along.
It is with great sadness that I learned, a few days ago, of the death of the great modernist Yiddish poet Avrom Sutzkever ז”ל. Sutzkever’s immense talent as writer was matched only by his heroism as a freedom fighter. During WWII, Sutzkever fought as a partisan and famously saved Yiddish documents in Vilna from destruction at the hands of the Nazis, who killed both his mother and his son. After the war, Sutzkever immigrated to Israel, where he became editor of the Israeli Yiddish literary quarterly Di Goldene Keyt.
Sutzkever has never received his proper due among literary audiences, especially Jewish American readers, and if you have never read anything by him, I commend his understated but intensely powerful writing to your attention (yes, go ahead; buy two copies: one for you and one for the Yiddish lover in your life). Here is a poem he penned in 1948, entitled Yiddish:
Shall I start from the beginning?
Shall I, a brother,
Smash all the idols?
Shall I let myself be translated alive?
Shall I plant my tongue
Till it transforms
Into our forefathers’
Raisins and almonds?
What kind of joke
My poetry brother with whiskers,
That soon, my mother tongue will set forever?
A hundred years from now, we still may sit here
On the Jordan, and carry on this argument.
For a question
Gnaws and paws at me:
If he knows exactly in what regions
Levi Yitzhok’s prayer,
To their sunset —
Could he please show me
Where the language will go down?
May be at the Wailing Wall?
If so, I shall come there, come,
Open my mouth,
And like a lion
Garbed in fiery scarlet,
I shall swallow the language as it sets.
And wake all the generations with my roar!
The following is a guest post by Yisroel Bas. He blogs at אומשלאָף.
This past spring I decided that I wanted to start wearing tsitsis, at least on Shabbos. This decision came out of an embrace on my part of biblically-based Jewish symbolism/self identification. However, I was not attracted to the traditional undershirt variety and I wanted something a little more special. So I designed a T-shirt style beged to wear on Shabbos. I chose blue ribbons to match the color of tekheles. Although it took some time, I convinced my mom to make it for me. I wanted the garment to be as square and shirt-like as possible, and a preliminary look at the Torah yielded no problems with my design.
When my mom finished the garment, I spent an afternoon figuring out and eventually tying the tsitsis (Ramban Teymeni style). I was really happy with the final project and decided that I would wear it for the first time at Yugntruf‘s Yiddish Week retreat. While there, several people asked me why I had tsitsis on a shirt with closed sides. I was told that the majority of the beged needs to be open in order for it to be khayev tsitsis. I asked for the source of such a rule and was met by a lot of “I’m not sure”s and “gemora”s. After the retreat I started on a journey to find the source of this “rov beged” injunction. I would walk around on Shabbos with the shirt on and go from shul to shul asking the rabbis if my beged was khayev tsitsis. One told me that the source as Manakhos in the Gemora. Another had no clue. And yet another was convinced that as long as it has daled kanfes, it’s khayev tsitsis.
I went home, found a translation of Manakhos, read it, and found no mention of “rov beged” or even the slightest hint of a definition of kanfe. Finally the Chabad Shliakh in my building found the injunction in his Shulkhan Orukh, but he did not know where the Shulkhan Orukh got it from. Finally after asking the shliakh at my school a million times to look up the source, he put me on the phone with the chief librarian at the Chabad library. He found the source: the students of the Maharam of Rothenburg (d.1293).
Okay, so my shirt is fine according the Torah and Gemora, but not the Maharam (nor anyone who thinks that the Shulkhan Orukh is from Sinai). On top of my own doubts and uncertainties, I now had several rabbis telling me that I can wear it all I like, but just not on Shabbos (because if the beged isn’t khayev tsitsis, then I am “carrying” them about when I wear the beged). I’ve been wearing it anyway, partly because I like how I feel when I wear the beged, and partly because I am not sure of how much the Maharam and what he supposedly taught matters to me. For all I know the beged is khayev tsitsis in that the majority of the beged is open (sleeves and bottom), just not contiguously. Right now I am getting ready to make another similar beged and I think I’m going to stick with “closed” sides.
ראה הפֿקדתיך היום הזה על־הגױיִם ועל המלכות
זע, איך האָב דיר געשטעלט הײַנטיקן טאָג איבער די פֿעלקער און איבער די מלכותן
אױסצורײַסן און אײַנצוּװאַרפֿן
און אונטערצוברענגען און צו צעשטערן
צו בױען און צו פֿלאַנצן
I love their humor, antics, energy and they’re pretty damn cool people as well. Its no surprise that others in Chicago, including the Reader’s Peter Margasak, feel likewise and have grown their local audience considerably over the years.
A recent article in the Washington Jewish Week reports that the University of Maryland in College Park may discontinue its Yiddish language courses after a 30 year run. As a campus with one of the most vibrant Jewish student populations in the U.S., UMD’s decision carries a special symbolic weight. Many Yiddish language activists and supporters are discouraged by the impending decision, which the UMD Meyerhoff Jewish Studies Center director and history professor Hayim Lapin attributes to general university-wide budget cuts. If you would like to show your support for the continuation of Yiddish study, please visit www.jewishstudies.umd.edu/academic/YiddishLetter.html, and sign on to the petition to save the Yiddish program at the University of Maryland.