JBuzz News October 28, 2012: For growing number of Polish gentiles, Jewish culture seen as part of their own heritage

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

For growing number of Polish gentiles, Jewish culture seen as part of their own heritage

Source: JTA, 10-28-12

Marek Tuszewicki is doing doctoral work at the Institute of Jewish Studies at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, teaches Yiddish at the Krakow JCC, and leads a club that brings together those who like to sing Chasidic songs and read Yiddish literature.

He also co-founded a Jewish literature and art quarterly called Cwiszn and publishes articles and poems in Yiddish.

There’s just one thing: Tuszewicki is not himself Jewish….READ MORE

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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.

Montreal International Yiddish Theatre Festival: Yiddish theatre celebrates history and culture

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Festival is about inclusion, says director Bryna Wasserman

Source: Montreal Gazette, 6-11-11

The Montreal International Yiddish Theatre Festival is not just about theatre and it’s not just for people who understand Yiddish.

More than 80 events featuring more than 150 artists from Canada, Romania, France, the United States, Israel and Poland gather to celebrate Yiddish in and through theatre, music, film, poetry, lectures, workshops, plus a symposium, at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, from Monday to June 22.

Yiddish is the predominant language, but there are also events in English and in French. English subtitles are supplied in both theatre and film, where necessary.

“What we’re seeing is a panorama,” director Bryna Wasserman said. “It’s grown from a theatre festival to a culture festival.”

Wasserman said the festival is about inclusion and the aim is to reach beyond the conventional Yiddish-speaking community to embrace a wider audience.

The opening concert is a case in point.

Soul to Soul features Israeli-born cantor Magda Fishman with African-American Broadway veteran Elmore James and African-American singer and actor Tony Perry. All three will sing in Yiddish.

“I think this is a festival which can forge extraordinary bridges,” Wasserman said. “It’s a program which emphasizes variety. We see everything from the cutting edge to the most traditional.”

Soul to Soul is presented by the New York-based National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene and created by its artistic director, Zalmen Mlotek.

In July, Wasserman leaves her job as director of both Montreal’s Yiddish Theatre and the Segal Centre to become the executive director of the National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” Wasserman said. “I’m excited, but at the same time these rooms and hallways (at the Segal) have a special meaning. I hope I’ve made a difference. And I am confident that there will be new and wonderful ideas coming to the Segal in the future.”

The festival program is packed with activities from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“And there will be coffee and treats to keep you going,” Wasserman said.

Every day ends with a Klezkabaret.

“It’s the type of cabaret that will get people dancing,” Wasserman said. “The idea is for people to connect, learn and celebrate.”

Those who want to learn can listen to people such as New York Times film critic J. Hoberman or film historian Eric A. Goldman talk about the history of Yiddish cinema. Or attend the symposium, which gathers some of the biggest names in the study of Yiddish culture, including keynote speaker Joel Berkowitz, director of the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Also part of the symposium is Université d’Ottawa professor Pierre Anctil’s French roundtable Parodie, Humour et Grotesque dans le Théâtre Yiddish.

On Father’s Day (June 19), the action moves to Mackenzie King Park. The free event, called Zumerfest, runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and features headline acts Sister of Sheynville, from Toronto, and Brooklyn’s Yiddish Princess. Special guests are Dis Meschugeles from Israel, Germany and Belarus; Jingju Canada (representing the Chinese community); Marco Gentille and Cynthia Cantave (representing the Haitian community); Sinag Bayan Arts Collective, from the Filipino community and Zaftik Trio from Australia.

The festival ends with the documentary Mending the Torn Curtain, directed by Raphael Levy and produced by Ben Gonshor, about the first Montreal festival.

The Montreal International Yiddish Theatre Festival is at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, 5170 Côte Ste. Catherine Rd., Monday to June 22. For program details and tickets, call 514-739-7944, http://www.segalcentre.org.

Searching for Yiddish Land — Teachers, Students and Scholars Weigh the Value of Yiddish in the Modern Age

Source: City on a Hill Press, 5-12-11

Yet humans — at least Jewish humans — continue to learn it, as they have for the last thousand years. Originally the language of Jews in Eastern and Central Europe, Yiddish spread across the globe on the tongues of Jewish immigrants, arriving in the United States in the 19th century as the spoken and written language of tens of thousands of Jews on the East Coast.

Following World War II, however, the Yiddish-speaking population of Europe was decimated. The adoption of Hebrew as the national language of the state of Israel dealt Yiddish a second deadly blow by denying it a homeland. In the United States, Jewish immigrants often neglected to teach their children Yiddish in an attempt to expedite assimilation, wiping out a pool of potential Yiddish-speakers in the course of a single generation.

Today, there is a popular misconception that because of all this, Yiddish is a dead language. While this statement is far from true, it is also not quite a lie.

Crippled by genocide and decades of bad luck, Yiddish survives in sizable pockets of speakers — mostly ultra-Orthodox communities of Jews and enclaves of aging native speakers in New York — but lacks the cohesion or popularity needed to regain its stature as a daily language used by Jews at home and in public.

In 1970, the U.S. Census found almost 1.6 million Jews who spoke Yiddish as a home language. By 1980, that number had dropped to 315,953. In 1990, it fell again to 213,054. Between 2000 and 2007, the number of Yiddish speakers in America fell to 158,991 — almost a 90 percent drop between 1970 and 2007.

Despite its wounds, Yiddish continues to thrive in some circles. More than a dozen Yiddish programs have sprouted up in American universities in the last 20 years, according to a 2010 study by Dr. Zachary Berger entitled, “The Popular Language That Few Bother to Learn.” In the midst of budget cuts and slashed language programs, Yiddish has managed to take root at UCSC with only a handful of students and educators.

Openly passionate about the language and the program, a small pocket of students and teachers are making a stand to preserve the cultural and linguistic heritage of a language they have come to love….

Professor Murray Baumgarten, co-founder of the Jewish studies program at UCSC, said knowledge of Yiddish also allows students to access thousands of texts accumulated over the centuries that would have been lost to the ages if not translated into Yiddish.

“One of the things that marks Yiddish is the numerous number of texts of world importance that were translated into Yiddish,” Baumgarten said. “I mean, political science, economics, literature — there was a great sense that Yiddish wanted to be connected to the larger world of Western culture.”…

Despite a rich literary tradition, some Yiddish scholars worry that even as the number of programs devoted to teaching Yiddish culture and literature at the university level increases, the actual number of speakers learning Yiddish outside of Hassidic or Charedi communities is dropping at an alarming rate.

A 2006 study by the Modern Language Association found 969 students enrolled at four-year colleges and graduate programs learning Yiddish. In 2009 (the most recent year available), that number dropped to 336. Although this drop is partly due to the drastic class reductions in one rabbinical academy and one state school, it still represents an enormous blow to the national Yiddish-speaking community.

Michael Wex, Yiddish scholar and New York Times best-selling author of “Born to Kvetch,” a humorous linguistic and sociological history of Yiddish and Jewish culture, said the plight of Yiddish is best reflected in the Jewish community’s sudden interest in preserving Yiddish.

“There’s a very positive attitude towards Yiddish these days, and has been for a couple decades now — and that worries me,” Wex said. “When Yiddish was healthy and flourishing, everyone was ashamed of it and trying to hide it. Now it’s not very healthy and it’s become our legacy.”

Wex said symptoms of Yiddish’s poor health are evident in the popularity of Yiddish phrase books that promise to teach readers exotic food words, cute endearments and juicy curses. Wex said these books promote a superficial knowledge of Yiddish that at best scratches the surface of Jewish culture, and at worst misinforms the reader.

“The interesting thing about Yiddish is that the number of people who know the difference between ‘fuck on’ and ‘fuck off’ is tiny and diminishing,” Wex said. “I’m not a prig, but the Yiddish is wrong — a book that tells you how to ‘fuck on’ is absolutely useless.”

One of the most basic problems obstructing Yiddish education is the lack of certified teachers. Berger cites the Yiddish Teacher’s Seminar in New York — which was closed in 1987 — as one of the last institutions to offer graduate students serious education as Yiddish instructors. Wex mentioned the article as he addressed pressing issues facing Yiddish advocates.

“Who is teaching the spoken language in universities? How many of these people are native speakers?” Wex asked. “It’s a big problem because you’ve got some relatively capable people who are trying to immerse themselves in the language, but it gets harder and harder because there are fewer places to go.”…READ MORE

Jeffrey Veidlinger and Dov-Ber Kerler: Awarded preserving Yiddish memory from before World War II NEH grant

Source: Indiana University, 5-5-09

Preserving Yiddish memory from before World War II NEH grant will enable IU professors to share oral histories collected in Eastern Europe:

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded two Indiana University faculty members $267,000 to preserve and annotate oral histories they collected from Yiddish-speaking residents of Eastern Europe and make the material available to scholars, educators and the public. Professors Jeffrey Veidlinger and Dov-Ber Kerler were awarded the grant through the NEH Preservation and Access program. Their project, which also received a 2005 NEH grant, is called Archives of Historical and Ethnographic Yiddish Memories, or AHEYM — aheym is the Yiddish word for homeward…..

“Many of these people we interviewed hadn’t spoken Yiddish for 20 or 30 years. But the minute you turned it on, they were completely fluent,” said Kerler, the Dr. Alice Field Cohn Chair in Yiddish Studies, professor of Jewish studies and Germanic studies at IU Bloomington. Veidlinger is the Alvin H. Rosenfeld Chair in Jewish Studies and associate professor of Jewish studies and history at IU Bloomington….