JBuzz Reviews May 31, 2013: New York Times Reviews Ruth R. Wisse: No Joke: Making Jewish Humor

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

‘No Joke,’ by Ruth R. Wisse

Source: NYT, 5-31-13

No Joke: Making Jewish Humor
Ruth R. Wisse

Princeton University Press

Reviews | Table of Contents | Introduction [PDF]

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“No Joke,” a subtle and provocative new book by Ruth R. Wisse, who teaches Yiddish literature at Harvard, recounts the long history of Jewish humor and brings it up to date. She includes the effects of the Holocaust and Stalin on Jewish storytelling; she discusses American humorists from the borscht belt stand-ups of the 1940s to Larry David, and novels from Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint” to Howard Jacobson’s “Fink­ler Question,” which won the Man Booker Prize in 2010. And she reviews the lively state of humor in Israel today….READ MORE

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JBuzz News December 3, 2012: Gennady Estraikh: St. Petersburg: Then and Now

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

St. Petersburg: Then and Now

Source: Lubavitch.com, 12-3-12

According to Professor Gennady Estraikh, the Rauch Associate Professor of Yiddish Studies at New York University, the influx of Jews, however small in number, would be crucial in forming a uniquely Russian Jewish identity….READ MORE

Sarah Traister Moskovitz: CSUN Professor Emeritus Preserves Warsaw Ghetto Poetry in Online Book

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Source: San Fernando Valley Sun, 8-25-11

Sarah MoskovitzPolish Jews faced a cruel destiny in 1940. Nazis soldiers had crammed more than 400,000 Jewish citizens into 1.3 square miles of territory known as the Warsaw Ghetto. From there they would be taken by trains to death camps.

Left in ruin, with faltering spirits, shattered hope and deteriorating health, the people of the ghetto began collecting all kinds of information to document their history for the future. The group was called the Oneg Shabes — Joy of Sabbath group. It was organized by a history professor who was an underground leader and social worker in the ghetto named Emanuel Ringelblum.

Their work came to be known as the Ringelblum archives. They contained, among other things, underground newspapers, public notices by the Jewish council, stolen Nazi propaganda and poetry, which was all illegal to write and possess under penalty of death.

“I thought it would be very interesting to look at the Yiddish poetry,” said Sarah Moskovitz, professor emeritus at California State University, Northridge who compiled poems from the Warsaw ghetto into a new online book, “Poetry in Hell.”

“I became interested in the material and I knew it was housed in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. I was fortunate to learn from the historian Samuel Kassow that this poetry had recently been sent in microfiche format to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C.”

In 2001 Moskovitz applied for a grant from the Emeritus and Retired Faculty Association (ERFA), proposing to translate the poetry. She was awarded $1,500 from ERFA and invited to come to the museum as a visiting scholar with an additional grant from the museum. With the help of her husband, Irving. spent three weeks going through the relevant microfiches to make copies to translate when she returned to California. He also made unreadable microfiche copies readable.

“It’s been a 10-year endeavor,” Moskovitz said. “I not only wanted the English translations, but wanted to keep the original Yiddish language in case future scholars wanted to see the originals, which has made getting it published very difficult.”

The collection contains 153 poems, most of which was written during the Nazi occupation of the Warsaw ghetto. Some were written by professional poets, some by amateurs. Several were not written in the ghetto, but were the favorites of people living in the ghetto so they were collected with them, Moskovitz said.

Moskovitz divided the poetry into five different groups: “Nature;” “Home, Love and Life;” “Ghetto;” “Hunger and Struggle;” “Death, Protest and Mourning;” and finally, “Tradition, Faith and Legacy.”

Moskovitz starts with “Nature” because she wanted to introduce a sense of familiarity to the reader. Each section deals with particular themes. “Home, Love and Life” is people recollecting normalcy. Poems about home life, parents. “Ghetto” is life in the ghetto, which included the daily struggles and hunger the poets suffered and witnessed. “Death, Protest and Mourning” deals with loss of family, attachments people one loves through illness, death, people being taken away, dying, disappearing. “Tradition, Faith and Legacy” deals with the underground, forbidden schools that were training young people who survived to continue with tradition.

Most of the poetry was written by adult males in their 30s. About one-fifth of them are anonymous, while the others have an author attributed to them. There are six poems written by women and one written by a child.

“What piqued my interest and made it intense was my own life,” Moskovitz said. “My parents were Polish Jewish immigrants. I never met my other family that both my parents left behind in Poland, like cousins, aunts and uncles. I have one picture of an aunt Rivele with her husband and three children taken in 1938. They disappeared in the Holocaust and were never heard from again. Murdered in Treblinka? Auschwitz? Babi Yar? Even the Red Cross Tracing Service does not know. By the time I was 13 I knew that if I hadn’t grown up in the United States and my parents had stayed in Poland, I wouldn’t be alive.

“In a way, I was uncovering what could have been my past and paying homage to the families that belonged to my family. I learned a lot about history. A lot of detail and a lot of courage it takes to go into it,” she said. “I wanted to know. I was inspired by the fact that there are people who can write even while living in tragedy. I, myself, shut down during tragedy. I admire that ability and it is inspiring that some people were able to do that.”

Sarah Moskovitz taught at California State University, Northridge for 28 yearsand retired in 1997. She taught human development and even developed a course in adult development. She also taught individual counseling, group counseling and family therapy.

She did research on people who were children during the Holocaust and established the first organization that gathered them together in the Los Angeles area called Child Survivors.

“In that first group, there were only 35 people,” she said. “Now there are thousands who meet internationally. These are people who lived in Europe during the war and survived. Some survived camps. I gathered them together and wrote a book in 1981 called ‘Love Despite Hate: Child Survivors of the Holocaust and their Adult Lives.'”

Moskovitz’s current poetry collection of the Ringelblum Archive Poetry translated from Yiddish to English can be found and freely downloaded online at www.poetryinhell.org. It contains a forward and introduction by two eminent historians: Professor Samuel Kassow of Trinity College in Connecticut and Professor Michael Berenbaum at American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

Reviews: David Shneer: Remembering Soviet Yiddish

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BOOK REVIEWS

Source: Jewish Journal, 7-26-11

Since the 1950s, the so-called Night of the Murdered Poets has become a summertime ritual for Yiddish cultural circles in the United States. The gathering commemorates Stalin’s attempted deathblow to Yiddish culture: On August 12, 1952, the major group of Yiddish writers, thinkers, and critics, who were the leading activists in the wartime fight against Nazism, were shot dead, marking a bloody full-stop to a chapter of what may have been the most intense flowering of Yiddish culture in history…..

The simultaneous covert embrace and public rejection of Yiddish Communist culture points at the difficulty in celebrating it. How can you celebrate poets who wrote enthusiastic odes to Stalin, or worse, denounced one another? How do you applaud the only state in the world that gave official, often generous, support to the flowering of Yiddish letters and also murdered its greatest writers?

This summer, two new books examining Soviet Yiddish creativity shed light on what the Cold War obscured: one of the most productive periods in Jewish cultural history. The first, Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust, by historian David Shneer, looks at the way Jewish photographers invented photojournalism in the USSR. The second, A Captive of the Dawn, edited by Shneer with Gennady Estraikh, Jordan Finkin, and the late Joseph Sherman, is a scholarly examination of the foremost Soviet Yiddish poet, Peretz Markish. Both books, in their own way, look at a certain “Jewish” aesthetic.

Through Soviet Jewish Eyes focuses on the presence of Jews in Soviet photojournalism as a key to understanding a striking aspect of crafting Jewish history. Famed Jewish historian Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi once linked the entry of Jewish life into modernity with the Jewish drive to create history. In fact, the heavy Jewish presence in photojournalism was by no means limited to the Soviet Union, but was a global phenomenon throughout the twentieth century—think of the iconic images captured by Robert Capa and Joe Rosenthal.

In the United States, this “Jewish eye” in the arts in the early twentieth century may be associated with social, often leftist, critique. In the Soviet Union, writers and photographers worked, proudly and confidently (not out of fear, as some who wish to rewrite history claim), in the service of the Soviet State. Although it may be strange to admit, Russian Jewish visual and literary artists in the wake of the October Revolution became the fledgling Soviet Union’s most eloquent advocates.

Shneer’s book challenges the accepted rhetoric that came out of the Cold War’s distortions of Soviet history. In particular, Shneer examines previously neglected work to show that the often-repeated claim that the Soviet Union’s attempt to cover up Nazi atrocities is not only untrue, but completely the opposite. Jewish photojournalists in Russia were able to keep Nazi atrocities on the front page and continually emphasized the Jewish aspect of Nazi violence.

A Captive of the Dawn breaks similar new ground by presenting a complete view of this complex poet, so little known outside of Russia and academic circles. When his name is evoked at the Murdered Poets events, Markish is easily flattened as a simple martyr in the Stalinist “Great Terror.” This volume tells the full story of his creativity and, in doing so, tells the story of this incredible era in Jewish culture.

This year the commemorations of the murdered poets will continue as usual, but, perhaps, with a new focus. A new generation of Jews, both local Angelenos and Soviet Jewish émigrés, who have made LA their home, grew up in the age of bar mitzvah “twins,” perestroika, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. They appreciate art created in the USSR and, even, in service of the State. This generation that was offered only dissidents as Soviet Jewish heroes can now see a richer and far more complicated story of Jewish culture in Russia.

This year the Los Angeles August 12th Commemoration “Words Like Sparks: Celebrating Modern Yiddish Creativity in Russia,” will be held on Sunday, August 14th at 3:00 PM at Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring 1525 South Robertson Boulevard.

Dr. Robert Adler Peckerar is Professor of Jewish Literature and Culture at the University of Colorado, Boulder and is the executive director of Yiddishkayt LA.

Allan Nadler Reviews Rebecca Margolis: Montreal, A Yiddish Love Story – Jewish Roots, Canadian Soil

Source: Jewish Ideas Daily, 6-28-11

International Yiddish Theater Festival.

The second International Yiddish Theater Festival, an elaborate ten-day fete whose program ranges from carnavalesque performances to academic symposia, just wrapped up last week in Montreal.  What is especially surprising about this young and very youthful celebration of what most Jews today consider the vernacular of the elderly and the Hasidim, is that Montreal is a city with a Jewish population of less than 80,000 (of whom almost 30,000 are non-Ashkenazim).  Toronto, Canada’s largest city, now has a Jewish population well more than twice that of Montreal’s.

The immediate explanation for the venue is that Montreal remains the only city in the world with a Yiddish theatrical company that actually owns its permanent stage.  The Montreal troupe itself is able to recruit Yiddish-literate performers from the only remaining Jewish day school system in North America in which Yiddish is a mandatory part of the curriculum. But such explanations are akin to the classical Yiddish penchant for answering one question with another. The deep question is why any such Yiddish institutions have survived in Montreal at all, given that they have disappeared almost completely in New York, once the world’s greatest center of Yiddish culture, as well more than a dozen smaller American Jewish communities. The historical answer to this question is expertly provided by Jewish Roots, Canadian Soil, a new volume on the subject by Canadian Jewish historian Rebecca Margolis.

Margolis’s detailed and engaging exploration of this bittersweet topic offers a fascinating contrast between the trajectories of Montreal and New York. Montreal emerged quietly as a relatively minor satellite of Yiddish culture in the initial years of massive east European Jewish migration to North America, from the 1880s through the First World War. Simultaneously, Yiddish culture in New York was exploding—during this period it would become the major center of Yiddish literary, journalistic, musical and theatrical activity, eclipsing even Warsaw and Vilna. In chapters devoted to Montreal’s Yiddish press, literati, secular schools, theater, and finally the unique Yiddishe Folks-Bibliotek (“Jewish People’s Library,” known today as the Jewish Public Library), Margolis meticulously documents the slow but steady growth of Yiddish cultural institutions in Montreal.

But Margolis’s book is more than a record of a historical trajectory.  It also offers a cogent explanation as to why Yiddish has managed to survive in Montreal in a manner unparalleled in far larger Jewish communities. One rather obvious explanation lies in the fact that Montreal Jews, educated in the English Protestant school system, always constituted a minority within a minority in a diverse, already bilingual Quebec. More interestingly, immigration to Montreal remained a small trickle until 1924, when the United States’ Johnson-Reed Immigration Act set severe quotas on the numbers of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Canada was a natural second choice for the tens of thousands who could not enter the United States, and this later wave, arriving after the Soviet revolution, constituted a more sober, less radicalized group than the fiery Yiddish socialists and communists who had flooded New York in the previous three decades.

By far the most significant factor distinguishing the Yiddishists of Montreal was their adoption of some form of Jewish nationalism. The two competing Yiddish day schools were both led by passionate Zionists affiliated with the socialist Zionist organization, even as they differed as to the proper balance between Hebrew and Yiddish in the curriculum (the Yiddisher Folkshule stressed the importance of the former; the Peretz Shule insisted on the primacy of the latter). By way of contrast, no Yiddish schools in New York included Hebrew in their curriculum or dared fly the flag of Jewish Palestine (and later Israel) on the masts of its building. Both of Montreal’s Yiddish schools did.

The Jewish Public Library was the first and only communal public library in North America whose main commitment was to promote Yiddish literary culture (though it also actively built Hebrew, English and French collections over the years). As for the Yiddish press, Montreal’s Yiddish reading community was only large enough to support a single daily Yiddish newspaper  (Der Kenneder Odler) which could in turn not afford to espouse any particular Jewish sub-ideology exclusively. Its editors over more than a half-century, the venerable scholars Max Wolofsky and Israel Rabinovitch, both assembled editorial staffs representing the full gamut of Jewish thought, from various radical ideologues to Orthodox rabbis.

While Margolis emphasizes the main difference between the New York and Montreal Yiddishist communities as being the latter’s commitment to communal consensus and moderation, she ironically fails utterly to do justice to the institutions and personalities of the mainstream Jewish community….READ MORE

The Forward Relaunches Jewish Daily Forward Online

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Source: Business Wire, 6-14-11

Site Returns Paper Full Circle to Become the Leading Daily Jewish News Source

The Forward, America’s most influential Jewish weekly newspaper, is relaunching the Jewish Daily Forward online at Forward.com. The redesigned and expanded website provides fresh news, features, arts coverage and opinion every weekday, in addition to the blogs on arts, food, popular culture and women’s issues and the podcasts and videos that readers have come to expect and enjoy. The Forward’s content offerings also have been expanded to include:

“The new Jewish Daily Forward website completes a transformation that has been underway in our newsroom for several years, as we’ve moved from being a print-only newspaper with a website to a fully integrated news organization in print and online”

  • “Forward Thinking,” a new blog where Forward editors will discuss and analyze the most important Jewish news of the day – and other stories from a Jewish perspective.
  • “The Yiddish Scene,” a new online content channel, in English, focusing on Yiddish culture and translating the best new articles and essays from the Yiddish Forverts.
  • New columnists in print and online, including Eric Alterman, Deborah Lipstadt and David Hazony.

“The new Jewish Daily Forward website completes a transformation that has been underway in our newsroom for several years, as we’ve moved from being a print-only newspaper with a website to a fully integrated news organization in print and online,” said Jane Eisner, editor of the Forward. “The new Forward.com is designed for readers to come to our site every day to receive the latest news and fresh content in the Forward’s well-written, analytical style. The Forward will still produce a dynamic and relevant weekly print edition, but the new website is a response to the change in today’s media landscape, making it a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in the Jewish story.”

Samuel Norich, publisher of the Forward said, “Many Jewish websites offer some news, opinion, arts and culture, but none can come close to the breadth and depth of coverage that a fully staffed newspaper, with a wealth of tradition and experience can provide. The new Forward.com epitomizes our unique role and value as the only truly independent Jewish newspaper in the United States, unaffiliated with any branch of Judaism, unbeholden to any religious or communal authority, and free from bias or conflicts of interest. It is the natural evolution of a paper that started in the 19th Century as a daily Yiddish paper, evolved in the 20th Century into weekly English and Yiddish newspapers, and now in the 21st Century is embracing the potential of digital media channels to be a more accessible and more immediate news source, appealing to Jews and to a broader community.”

With this initiative, the new Jewish Daily Forward online will feature a new blog “Forward Thinking,” a place for timely analysis of the news and sharp meditations about the issues and trends facing the world, served up by a talented group of editors in an environment that invites lively exchange. Featured on the blog will be editor Jane Eisner, opinion editor Gal Beckerman, and editor-at-large J.J. Goldberg, whose insightful, individual blog will be folded into “Forward Thinking.” In addition, Goldberg will continue to write his popular, weekly column and Beckerman will add his own monthly commentary to the newspaper.

Also joining Forward.com will be three new columnists who will write regularly for Forward.com. They include:

  • Eric Alterman is a distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Alterman will be moving his column from Moment magazine to Forward.com. He is also “The Liberal Media” columnist for The Nation and a fellow of The Nation Institute, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., where he writes and edits the “Think Again” column, and a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute. He most recently won a “Mirror Award” for excellence in media industry reporting from the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University.
  • David Hazony is a writer based in Jerusalem, whose writings have appeared in Commentary, the New Republic, the New York Sun, Policy Review, the Jerusalem Post, and other publications. From 2004-2007, Hazony served as editor in chief of Azure, the quarterly journal of Jewish public thought published by the Shalem Center. Currently a frequent contributor to Commentary’s “Contentions,” blog, Hazony will now bring his conservative perspective to a monthly column on Forward.com.
  • Deborah E. Lipstadt is a professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University and the author of “The Eichmann Trial,” published in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial.

The new site will also feature “The Yiddish Scene,” showcasing all of the Forward’s Yiddish-related content and the best of the Yiddish language newspaper, both in English and in Yiddish. In doing so it creates a bridge between the English Forward and Yiddish Forverts’ websites, and provides an easily accessible spot for English readers to read about Yiddish and Yiddish culture, regardless of their Yiddish fluency. In addition, it provides a window onto the rich offerings published each week by the Forverts.

For more information, please visit http://www.forward.com

About The Forward:

The Forward, published weekly since 1990 with online content added daily to http://www.forward.com, is widely regarded as American Jewry’s essential, independent newspaper. The English language weekly grew out of the legendary Yiddish language newspaper, Jewish Daily Forward, founded in 1897. The Forward is committed to rigorous reporting and balanced, thoughtful commentary on news, politics, arts and culture in the Jewish world. Headquartered in New York, the newspaper is owned by the Forward Association, Inc., a not-for-profit, 501(c) 3 organization. It is published on Fridays and is available by subscription and on newsstands in selected cities nationwide. For more information, visit http://www.forward.com.