Culture, Global, Identity, Mishegas, Politics

“Other Zions: From Freeland to Yiddishland” Exhibit Ending this Tuesday

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 [email protected] …and maybe you can live in “another Zion.”

8 thoughts on ““Other Zions: From Freeland to Yiddishland” Exhibit Ending this Tuesday

  1. I wish I could be at this exhibit but alas I’m not on the east coast. either way, what differentiated this kind of diaspora nationalist effort from any kind of settler colonialism? Did territorialist’s have some kind of “noble savage” discourse about the people around whom they would settle? did they just not care? would love to be pointed in the right direction!

  2. That is an excellent question. From what I understand, the Jewish, Yiddish-speaking Freeland-ers were different than other European colonising movements of their times, insofar as they did not necessarily seek full autonomy. Their exchanges with people of the various prospective host-countries indicate a basic respect (and did not suggest any “noble savage” mentality–although it would have certainly been interesting to see what kind of relationship would have developed among the territorialists and the ‘locals,’ had they achieved their vision). Rovner, Sheva Zucker, or any of the descendents who spoke at the opening (such as Gitl Schaechter-Viswanath, Gisele Rose Green, Esther Siegel, Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, Naftali and his brothers, Binyumen Schaecter and his daughters) would really be the ones to ask.

  3. interesting, i’ll see who i can get in touch with. i have tons of questions about this, maybe the exhibit could come to the magnes?

  4. Eli, I don’t think I can directly answer your question, and I don’t know if the exhibit deals with any of the settlements in South America, but throughout Argentina – and to a lesser extent, Brazil, Paraguay and Chile – there are various European agricultural colonies or settlements. Most commonly, you see German, English and Welsh colonies. There also are Mennonites and even some Japaneses agricultural colonies. In Argentina, a number of these agricultural colonies were Jewish.
    The land that these settlers moved into had, to a large extent, already been emptied of its original inhabitants in a military campaign earlier in the 19th century that has parallels to the settling of the American West but was perhaps more explicitly genocidal. There wasn’t really a “noble savage” dynamic or even a “not caring” dynamic with the European settlers because there wasn’t really anyone else living there by the time they showed up. (And in fact, you don’t see these types of colonies in the Andean or Caribbean countries where substantial indigenous or African-descended populations were/are on the land.) The settlers bought land, worked it, established villages where they spoke their own languages and had their own schools. There wasn’t the same emphasis on assimilation that existed in the United States. But they weren’t really autonomous in a political sense.

    Here’s yet another opportunity to live in an-all Yiddish setting. There’s already a Yiddish House in the Bed-Stuy neighbourhood of Brooklyn. They’re currently seeking a new roommate, to move in in December. Contact Leyzer ( [email protected] ) for more information.

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